Monday, October 17, 2011

The Third and Fourth Possibility!

“They were amazed.”
Why were the religious leaders that come to entrap Jesus so amazed at his answer?
Because they never for one minute considered that there was any other possible answer to their question.
They thought that they had thought of the perfect question to entrap Jesus.
Either he says, “Yes”, or “no”.
If he says that it is lawful to pay taxes to the Roman Empire then he would turn the crowd against him.
Jews in Jesus day hated paying taxes. (I guess not much has changed)
They hated it because it was giving money to Caesar who claimed equality with God.
If Jesus answers yes, then he is going against the teaching in the Torah that the land belongs to God and therefore Israel, and they should not pay taxes to a graven image.
More so they hated it because the system was rigged against them.
They paid so that corrupt politicians could become richer and more powerful.
They paid so the empire that oppressed them could continue to do so.
If Jesus says that it is not ok to pay taxes then he is going against the empire.
Jesus is creating an act of treason.
It would be easy for the religious leaders to get rid of him and charge him with being a zealot out to rise up an army and retake the land.
Either answer Jesus gives in this situation it appears that the religious leaders have painted him into a corner.

But Jesus does not fall for the trap.
He does not fall for the idea that there are only two possible answers to a question, and he comes up with an answer that is both and neither.
He comes up with a third option that upholds both our living in this world and our call to a new reality under God.
“Give to the things that are Caesars and toGod the things that are God’s”
Jesus gives a third option that drives us away from the position that it can only be one or the other.
It can only be God or politics; it has to be about us and them.

This is a big problem in our world still today.
We are often left thinking that the solutions to the problems we face, the choices we have, are only two.
It is either this or that, yes or no.
Being a Christian I think takes us away from such a harsh dichotomy of thinking.
It is not that we are against the idea of right and wrong.
It is that as Christians we use our imaginations to think of better alternatives then the world gives.
We consider ways to build bridges to understanding.
In our political discourse it seems at times that all we have are two options.
Often we don’t think outside the box.
We don’t consider that beyond the political rhetoric there are better ways.

One thing that disturbs me about our current religious and political climate is that people too often use God to back up their political ideology.
Sometimes it seems that people are using their political ideology to dictate their theology, rather than using God’s ways in dictating their lives.
For example, I have heard people from the tea part movement argue that God is for fewer taxes on the rich, because to tax rich people and use it for helping the poor breaks the 6th commandment. (Though shall not steal)
It seems to me this is really stretching the meaning of that commandment.
It appears that in their political ideology they have tried to squeeze out a meaning of the Bible that is not intended.
I have heard Michelle Bachman talk about God’s desire for a government that is smaller.
In an infamous incident she claimed that recent natural disasters were God’s wake up call for Washington.
“I don't know how much God has to do to get the attention of the politicians.
We've had an earthquake; we've had a hurricane.
He said, 'Are you going to start listening to me here?' Listen to the American people because the American people are roaring right now.
They know government is on a morbid obesity diet and we’ve got to rein in the spending."

On the left we have an equally egregious ideology.
People on the left believe that social security, Medicare, and Medicaid are somehow ordained by God.
They hold that Government’s job is to follow the Biblical mandate to help the poor by having a certain tax code.
Al Sharpton has implied on many occasions that God would be displeased with the way our tax policy is geared towards the rich.
There is no doubt a Biblical mandate to help the poor.
I am not sure that Jesus had a particular legislative agenda in mind.

So maybe the best thing would be for religion to stay out of politics all together.
There is after all a separation of Church and State.
I would argue that this is impossible.
That whatever we are doing as Christians God is always on our mind.
That even in the voting booth God is there with us.
To suggest that somehow we can divorce ourselves from our faith simply because we enter the public square would be ridiculous.
And it would mean that we were making some kind of arbitrary rule about how to compartmentalize our lives.

Instead I would suggest this morning that we always begin our lives by searching for the third way.
By searching not for our ambition but striving for the kingdom of heaven.
And the first step towards that is moving away from the dichotomy of us versus them.
And towards a worldview that we are all one.
We are all on this ride together.
As one of my college professors would say to us, “We are all bozos on this bus.”

An Episcopal priest whose congregation is on Wall Street wrote this about the protest happening in Manhattan,
“I write and preach regularly that in God's economy there is only an "us," and whenever we fall back to us-and-them thinking, we are contributing to a powerful but failed system that Jesus came to tip into collapse.
Jesus in his Resurrection, steps beyond death and creates a new dimension.
There is no retribution for his killers, how could there be? – he has just stepped into larger life where the only message can be: "Come on, join in the party."
Any act of scapegoating - it's their fault; this one is to blame - feeds the old death-bound beast.
Making something new is making something together - receiving something together from a God who gives all.”

In our public lives we can be amazed to know that there is a third way, maybe even a fourth way.
A way that points us forward not to a political triumph, but to a life lived under the reign of God.
My friend and I were talking this week about how bad our politics have become.
It seems that the only thing that politicians care about is winning.
It is creating a system of us versus them.
A system with winners and losers.
Jesus teaches us a new way.
A way were the last are first, were the mourners rejoice, were the old and young come together, were the rich are overly generous, and were we are all one under God.
It is a way of no losers only us working together for a better tomorrow.

When rendering to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s we can never forget that we are bound to something so much more.
We are bound to a God who sees no limits and has no bounds.
We are bound to a God who is not bound to our two dimensional thinking.
A God who is not trapped into an either/or mentality.
We are bound to a God who is always outside the box.
A God who talks of a King who invites good and bad people to the wedding feast, a God who opens up a better tomorrow, a God who is generous beyond our comprehension, a God who loves more deeply than our prejudices and dislikes, a God who does not give us what we deserve but gives us what we need.
This is the God revealed to us in Jesus Christ.
This is what amazes us is God’s constant grace for us.
It is a God who loves enough to give up everything for us.
For you this morning God has given up everything and asks nothing in return except for your love, trust, and devotion.
There are no taxes to pay for God’s love.
In short, God asks you for everything, but in return you get more then you can possibly imagine.

God is not boxed in by our thinking.
God does not have to give only one of two possible answers.
God can give a third answer, even a fourth.
May we have the creativity and grace to always look for that third and fourth possibility.

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