Rev. Susan M. Hudson, St Pauls Presbyterian Church,October 19, 2014

Discerning the Difference: Glory or Greed?

[Exodus 33:12-23; Matthew 22:15-22; I Thessalonians 1:1-10]


Let us pray.  Holy & wise God, we enter your presence to be made pure, so that we might reflect your glory. Let our lives be transparent, so your glory will be visible to all who cross our paths.  Empty us of greed, jealousy & fear, for these motives are not from God. We pray in Jesus’ name, Amen.

The Pharisees, who were the Jewish keepers of the law, along with the Herodians, who were supporters of Herod Antipas, tried to entrap Jesus. They questioned him, hoping he would slip up, like many politicians in today’s world, hoping Jesus would implicate himself as a traitor and be arrested!

 Jesus never did.  He was wise, careful to distinguish what was most important, hearing the questions beneath the questions, never losing track of his purpose or of God’s will.  We have been reading the book of Matthew the stories that occurred during the last week of Jesus’ earthly life, after his triumphant entry into Jerusalem on a donkey’s back, after he had challenged the religious leaders by cleansing the temple, calling it a den of thieves rather than a holy place.  The Pharisees have had enough of him at this point, because Jesus also told two “damning” parables indicating the Pharisees would be cut off, because they failed to recognize him as God’s Son. The Pharisees teamed up with the Herodians, a group they would not normally support, in hopes Jesus would make the fatal error of disrespecting the Emperor.

The Pharisees begin showing due deference:  “Teacher, we know you are sincere, and teach the way of God in accordance with truth, and show deference to no one; for you do not regard people with partiality….”  This compliment is a set up. If they could get Jesus to disrespect the emperor in front of the Herodians, this would give the empire an excellent case for arresting Jesus. “Tell us, then, what you think about this.  Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, or not?”  Jesus saw where this was leading and posed a counter question:  “Why are you putting me to the test, you hypocrites? Show me the coin used for the tax.”  So they brought him a denarius.  When he asked whose head was on it, they replied: “The emperor’s.”

Jesus responds:  “Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”  The Pharisees were amazed and left him, for he didn’t fall into their trap!  Jesus came to reveal a different kind of “glory” than the Emperor’s glory.  Roman Emperors were dictators and expected to be worshiped. Having their images engraved on the coins was one of many ways they asserted absolute control of the empire’s wealth and decision-making.

But Jesus didn’t come to challenge the political authority of Rome. Jesus came in a kind of glory the religious leaders didn’t anticipate. God’s glory reveals itself in humble service & compassion for all people.

 God’s glory first appears in the Bible in Exodus 33, where Moses and God are having an intimate conversation. In the earlier verses of Chapter 33 the Lord tells Moses to leave Mt. Sinai and travel to the land promised to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, but God says he could not go with them, because God’s “glory” would consume them, since the Israelites were a stiff-necked and disobedient people.

 However, Moses intercedes for the people of Israel, reminding God the people could not travel further without God’s presence among them. Moses says:  this nation is YOUR people, God!  Although Moses had found favor with God, God was still skeptical about the people.  Could they survive in the presence of holiness without being consumed? After all, God is a consuming fire. Whatever is not purified is destroyed.

Moses does not flinch and presses God further, saying: “Show me your glory, I pray.”  Moses wanted to know God better and grow closer, whatever the cost.

The word for glory, “kabod,” in Hebrew, means “heavy in weight.”  When you glorify someone, you recognize that person’s importance, or the “weight,” of some desirable uniqueness that person possesses. Beauty, majesty, and splendor are the main ideas the word, “glory” conveys.

God promises to do what Moses asked. God will “make all God’s goodness pass before Moses.”  As God does this, God will “proclaim before him God’s name, which is: “The Lord.”  The title “Lord” – is the same title which the Roman Emperors of Jesus’ time used for themselves. God also declares God will be gracious to whom God wills and will show mercy to whom God wills. That is the Lord’s decision!

As God prepares Moses to see “God’s glory,” God puts Moses in a small cleft in the rock of the mountain and covers Moses with God’s hand, while the glory passes by.  Moses can only see the “back” not the front of God.  Why? Because God’s glory is so awesome, amazing and magnificent, that it’s like staring directly at the sun. We dare not look directly, full force, at God’s glory, for it would consume us. That is why the Hebrew people never utter the name of God out loud.  Four Hebrew letters are used for God, YHWH. All are vowels. The name of God is unutterable, too wonderful to speak.

With this realization, it’s remarkable that Jesus brings God’s glory into human form for the first time. We call this the Incarnation. God’s glory became flesh, and the religious elite failed to perceive it.  Their tedious study of the Torah did not prepare them to perceive God’s glory in Jesus. Instead they tried to trick and entrap the Son; they criticized the Son’s healings in the Temple on the Sabbath.  When the glory of God took up residence among them, they didn’t show honor and respect.

Discerning the presence of Christ is not automatic!  If the Pharisees and other religious people of Jesus’ day failed to perceive God’s glory in Jesus, when he was physically present, how much easier is it for people in our generation to dismiss, minimize and ignore God’s Son in our gatherings!  Spiritual discernment is even more important today!  God calls us to discern the spiritual presence of Christ here and now in what we say and do as God’s people.

SPPC is riding high after a successful Ingathering! More money changes hands this week than any other week of the year in our congregation.  Thanks be to God so many people in the community support this effort: buying lunch & dinner plates, raffle tickets & bidding at the Silent and Live Auctions!  Baptists, Methodists, Pentecostals & the uncommitted joined us! So where did YOU see God this week?  I saw God in the lives of people I have missed this year. I saw God in the hard work of committed people. I saw God in strangers I had never met before and in people who had historic ties to this church, but had not been back in decades. I saw God in the team work, the camaraderie, and the laughter!  I saw God in the mail we received, the donations given, and in the bidding patterns of those who remained for the Auction. I saw God in the folding up of the tables and the cleaning of the kitchen. I saw the Body of Christ moving together, checking on one another, tag teaming to accomplish a common goal for God’s glory.

We did make money, but Ingathering is so much more than money.  I saw God’s ancient church’s story, bringing its bud to glorious flower.  And the REASON we do what we do is to glorify Jesus Christ, the head of the church, the life-blood flowing through all of us.

What is the goal of God’s kingdom?  Perhaps the Apostle Paul says it best when he writes to the Christians in Thessalonika, saying:

“For we know, brothers and sisters beloved by God, that he has chosen you, because our message of the gospel came to you not in word only but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and will full conviction… And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, for in spite of persecution you received the word with joy inspired by the Holy Spirit, so that you became an example to all…For the people of those regions report… how you turned to God from idols, to serve a living and true God, and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead—Jesus, who rescues us from the wrath that is coming.”

I hope it is true of us that we have received the good news of Jesus Christ, not just in words, but in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction, so that we no longer are caught up in the pursuit of money for its own sake.

The Westminster Catechism states our purpose so clearly:  What is the chief end of men & women?  The answer:  To glorify God and enjoy God forever!

Last week, I had the privilege of spending time with Rev. Tseganish Asele Awele, the only ordained woman in the Mekana Jesus Evangelical Church of Ethiopia.  Phillip serves on the Presbytery’s Peacemaking Committee and introduced us last Friday. Beth, David and I took her to the County Fair on Friday night. On Saturday I heard her eloquent prayer for peace at the Presbytery Meeting. Sunday night Lisa and I heard her preach at Bethany Presbyterian Church in Lumberton. 

Rev. Tseganish was “radiant” with the good news of Jesus Christ, literally aglow with love.  As a Peace Ambassador to the Presbyterian Church (USA), from Ethiopia, Rev. Tseganish’s story is refreshingly simple: The Gospel of Jesus Christ IS peace. We will not find peace in political movements, governments, technology, money or globalization. Her father received the Word of God from missionaries to Ethiopia and her family has “kept the faith” ever since. Jesus IS the one & only source of peace in the world, because Jesus is truly the impartial one, as the Pharisees described him. Jesus shows what peace looks like and how it operates among people.

When people in Ethiopia observed the extremist Muslim jihadist movements gaining momentum in neighboring African nations, the people of Ethiopia came together to pray. People of all faiths humbled themselves and prayed, earnestly, that ISIS, ISIL & other extremist groups would not get a foothold in their nation. According to Rev. Tseganish, their prayers have so far been answered. She gives God the glory! According to Rev. Tseganesh, the responsibility is on all of us not to lose sight of the Kingdom’s goal: which is proclaiming Jesus Christ as God’s GOOD NEWS for the world. We can’t blame anyone but ourselves if the next generation fails to receive this news. The ball is in our hands: to experience, embody and enthusiastically share the good news of Jesus Christ within and beyond our walls. Let us pray.