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29th Sunday in Ordinary Time year A 2020

1. It is the bane of every preacher,

a. Catholic or Protestant, Christian or Jew, Conservative or


2. That person who comes up after worship and says,

a. “Stop mixing politics and religion in your homilies!”

3. (Sigh). When I was younger,

a. I would stop them before they ran off.

4. I would ask them

a. if they knew that the Book of Exodus was about a slave


b. That the Book of Joshua was about an armed invasion by

foreign troops;

c. that the Books of First and Second Kings were about . . .

well, KINGS!

d. That the prophets spoke out against injustice in their day,

e. That the Book of Isaiah called the king God’s Messiah in his,

f. that John the Baptist was beheaded by Herod

g. and Jesus was crucified by Rome

i. because they were seen as revolutionaries and threats

to political power.

5. In short, that the Bible is full of politics,

a. and in order to be faithful to the Bible

b. and understand what it says,

c. our sermons have to deal with it as well.

6. But I don’t do that anymore. I am tired of arguing.

7. And in a way, I have come to respect their position.

8. It is not strange.

a. Their position is rooted

i. in the enlightenment tradition of our own country

1. which separates of Church and State,

ii. it is rooted, in the pluralistic nature of American


1. which, with so many people of different creeds

living together,

2. needs to balance religious conviction with the

common good.

iii. And it is rooted in the conviction that religion is a

matter of the heart and home,

1. not the public square.

9. But perhaps most importantly, their position is not new.

a. For while the separation of politics and religion

i. would have seemed strange to the world of the Bible,

b. that far deeper separation between God and the things God

has created;

i. most notably us and our world, was not.

10. And perhaps the greatest representative of this separation

a. was a group of people whose very name,

i. according to most scholars, means “the Separate


11. We know them as the Pharisees.

12. Pharisees were experts when it came to separating things.

a. For that is what their interpretation of God’s law required

them to do,

b. To separate what was pure from what was impure

c. Separate what was holy from what was unholy

d. And most importantly to separate God

i. from the things God created.

13. Why? So that in that way their people would remain

faithful to God alone;

a. and be God’s holy people.

14. And that was the problem they had with the Romans

15. It wasn’t so much that the Romans were powerful,

a. though their power had overwhelmed the people of Israel.

16. It wasn’t that they were wealthy,

a. though their wealth was seductive the people of Israel,  

17. It was not even so much that they were immoral,

a. though their immorality was often attractive to Israel.

18. It was that they were idolaters,

a. and thus, mixed God with the things God had made.

19. They took trees and springs and rocks

a. and turned them into temples of the gods.

20. They took stone and wood and metal

a. and made them into images of the gods.

21. They even took people

a. and worshiped them as gods.

22. The whole stability of the Roman Empire

a. rested on the willingness of every citizen

b. to worship Caesar, or at least his image, as God.

23. For the Romans anyone who did not do this

24. was not only an atheist but a traitor.

a. That is why the people of Israel

b. refused to associate with the Romans,

c. and resisted paying them taxes to support their empire.

25. For it involved making gods out of their leaders.

26. Or as we might say,

a. mixing what should be kept separate;

b. politics and religion.

27. That is why Jesus knew something was up that day, 

28. when some pharisees approached him;

29. accompanied by a group called the Herodians.

a. They were a group that supported king Herod,

b. who supported his Roman masters.

30. Thus, the Herodians payed their taxes,

31. Even though Roman coins were stamped with the face of

the emperor,

a. and to use them alone was enough to commit idolatry.

32. It all seemed logical enough;

a. Two groups coming to Jesus to resolve a dispute

b. about whether God’s people should pay taxes to Rome.

33. But Jesus realized it was a trap

a. for If he said that they should pay the tax, 

i. he would be advocating idolatry,

b. If he did not,

i. he would be advocating treason.

34. That is why he asked for one of the offending coins

a. with the graven image of Caesar on it.

35. And why he uttered the famous quote, 

36. “Repay to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is


37. This quote has been seen as the blinding insight of Jesus;

a. to separate the realm of the secular from that of the sacred;

38. It has been the corner stone of the way most Christians in

western democracies deal with their government and with God,

39. It is the reason we, following Thomas Jefferson, separate

Church (and synagogue, mosque and temple for that matter) from


40. It is how we preserve the pluralism necessary for a

democracy to function

41. It is why we have come to understand the place of religion

a. as being in the heart and the home,

b. rather than the House and the Senate.

42. And yet - WHY has it ALSO been the reason, throughout


a. That the Church has come to be persecuted by the state?

b. That the Church never settled into a perfect relationship

with any state?

c. That there were revolutions against the state led by the


i. and reforms of the Church imposed by the state?

43. Perhaps because while Jesus advocates giving to Caesar

a. what was created in Caesar’s image,

i. for that is what belongs to Caesar; 

44. the implication is that we must give to God

a. what was created in God’s image . . . because that belongs

to God

i. But that, according to Genesis, is us . . . all of us.

45. IN this we see, Jesus was no student of Jefferson

a. separating a private church from a public state,

46. Nor was he a pharisee

a. separating a holy people from an unholy world

47. Jesus was, is, the image of God in this world, 

48. challenging people to be reflections of that image

a. by giving themselves to God, 

b. not by separating their faith from their world,

i. but by practicing it, 

c. not just here on Sunday,

i. but on Monday through Saturday as well, 

49. not just by the way we think and believe at home, 

a. but by the way we choose and act everywhere else.

i. By the way we treat others,

ii. and by the way we treat ourselves,

iii. By the way we pay our taxes

iv. and by the way we listen to our conscience

v. and allow that gift of God to guide how we vote.

50. This is why people come up to preachers and complain

a. because something the preacher says

b. does not agree with how they understand

c. the complex relation between

i. faith and freedom,

ii. Church and state,

iii. politics and religion.

51. It is why some preachers,

a. Seek to coerce people with threats of hellfire and


i. if they do not accept how they understand this

complex relationship.

52. it is why many leave the church entirely,

a. complaining about how the preacher mixes politics and


53. Ann all of this is why after 25 years of priesthood

54. I have a sympathy for those who would wish

a. that the world with its complex questions be left at the door

of the church

b. rather than be dragged in so that we have to wrestle as

people of faith with finding answers.

i. For those answers are hard to find,

ii. and we often come up with different ones.

55. And yet, as people of faith, how can we do otherwise?

56. For if “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us”,

a. as the Gospel writer John says about Jesus,

b. well then that means that Jesus

i. does not just dwell here (indicate the congregation)

ii. on in here (point to the tabernacle)

iii. but out there (point to the doors);

c. in the young and old, poor and rich, with different skins,

sexes, languages, cultures and lifestyles.

57. Because as Catholics we are guided by Jesus

58. who proclaims that we are created in the image of God;

a. and so is everyone else.

b. And thus, when we love them, we express our love for God,

c. when we serve them, we show our service of God, 

d. when we see them we see the image of God. 

59. And when we do not think and speak and act and pray and

vote guided by the example of Jesus and his command to love

God and neighbor as we would love ourselves,

a. we dishonor that which we claim to hold most true.

60. Because we all belong to God.

61. At least that is what Jesus says.

a. And despite the different ways we see the relationship

between Church and State, politics and religion, or faith and


b. Despite all the voices clamoring for our attention claiming

theirs is the only truth,

c. And despite the different conclusions we will come to

concerning the questions we face this fall.

62. We are still guided by him.

63. Or at least we should be.

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