Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Context, Context, Context

Pentecost 18, Proper 24, October 16, 2011, St. Christopher's Episcopal Church, Rev. Paul Moore

Last weekend a significant event happened in the world of college football.  A momentous game was played between the University of Texas and Oklahoma University.
Unfortunately, the game was decidedly uneven.  The final score of 55 to 17 is an embarrassment to UT fans all over the world, I spoke on Monday to a former member of St. Christopher's who happens to be an OU fan, even she was embarrassed!  But it is not fair to consider that this is the nature of the game between these two teams.  There is a larger context into which to put this.  This "Red River Rivalry" goes back more than 100 years, some other decidedly unbalanced games were:
1908: OU 50, UT 0
1952: OU49, UT20
1956: OU 45, UT 0
1973: OU 52, UT 13
1986: OU 47, UT 12
1987: OU 44, UT 9
2000: OU 63, UT 14
2003: OU 65, UT 13

The only "blow-out" in UT's favor was 1909, OU 0, UT 30.  This makes it look like OU is the stronger team, but not necessarily.  UT holds 59 wins over OU since 1900, and OU only 42.  (5 games were ties.)  To understand the Red River Rivalry one must place the games played in the context of more than 100 years of games.

Context is what we see reflected in the lessons today.  In the first one, through the mouth of the prophet God calls Cyrus of Persia His anointed one.  The word is the same as "Messiah."  Now Cyrus is a pagan king at this point, yet what Cyrus is going to do fits into God's overall plan for him, and so from the beginning God claims Cyrus as his servant.  The will of God is the context in which to understand Cyrus.

In the Epistle Paul writes to the Thessalonians.  He praises them for their faithfulness, yet in the end he gives thanks to God for them, for even their faithfulness is a gift.  The grace of God is the context for their spiritual lives.

In the Gospel lesson those pesky Pharisees try to trap Jesus again.  They move the conversation into the realm of politics.  Is it right to pay tribute to Caesar?  The word is best translated "tribute," not "tax,"  Tax, for us, is kind of a franchise.  You pay your money, you get to live here and enjoy the amenities of the place.  But tribute is different.

Many scholars (though there is no solid consensus on this) identify the Tiberius denarius as the coin involved.  The inscription on it says, “The worshiped son of a worshiped god.”  Tribute is a statement of loyalty, loyalty to Tiberius Caesar, the emperor who declared himself to be God.  And so, is it right to pay allegiance to Caesar as God?

Jesus asks for a coin.  But Jesus says, Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, but to God what is God’s.  God alone is God, and God mints no coins nor is represented by an image.  It is OK to pay tribute to Caesar, because Caesar is not God, in spite of his claims otherwise.  But give to God what is God's.  Pay your tribute as an act of recognizing that God is not reducible to a coin or an earthly kingdom, Much less this Tiberius upstart.  The nature of God is the final context of this question.

One cannot minimize the importance of context.  In real estate one says that there are three things that are important in buying or selling a house: Location, Location, and location.  There are three things that are important to you as a Christian:  context, context and context.

There is a delightful Zen story of a man who wanted to become the student of a certain master.  He pleaded with the master until finally the master conceded.  For three years the man lived with the master, watched his every move, and studied his every action.  But the master said nothing to him.  Finally he blurted out, “I have spent 3 years living with you as your student and you have yet to teach me anything!”  The master replied angrily, “What have you been doing all this time?  I have taught you every day by what I did, were you not listening?”  God is our “Zen Master.”  A very wise person said that God shows up disguised as your life.  If you say that you do not have God in your life, in once sense you are completely correct.  You do not have God in your life, God has you in His.  If you do not know it it's because you have not yet woken up.  The spiritual life is life that is awake.  Spiritual disciplines are the process by which we wake up.

For most of us, our bodies wake up in the morning by hearing an alarm clock.  That buzzer is like the spiritual disciplines of the Christian life.  They call you to certain behaviors that tend to open  your spirit to deeper questions and deeper movements.  They get you in touch with how God has shown up disguised as your life.

This is easily illustrated with money.  You can say that the context of your financial health is a combination of:  Your earning power, your spending history, your capacity to save, and your values as a person.  But if you look more deeply you see that God gave you the gifts you have to earn, God granted you the ability to spend, and God expects to inform your values. God is the context for your finances.  So it is to God that you express your gratitude for all the above, offering back to him a percentage of what you have received, and exercising the spiritual discipline of the stewardship of treasure.  Your pledge for next year is not a tax, it is tribute, tribute to God, a statement of loyalty in gratitude for showing up as the context of your life.

Remember, you do not have God in your life, God has you in His.  Wake up and smell—heaven!

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