20 PENTECOST 22 OCT 2017 Of all the material I have in my genealogy files a few things stand out: pictures I acquired in the last decade or so of long gone ancestors and of the places they lived. When I first saw pictures of great grandpar-ents or of the family farms or even of my grandparents when they were young, I felt a connection and bond to them I had never felt before. It was tangible, they were suddenly real. Perhaps even more thrilling was obtaining a few letters that came from grandparents or even great grandparents. There words and how they wrote told me more about them than family lore ever had.
And so it is with Paul. Today we heard the beginning verses of 1st Thes-salonians. This is actually the oldest manuscript of the entire New Testament, probably written from Corinth in about 52 CE. This would place it less than 20 years after the death of Jesus. Thessalonica is in Mac-edonia and is a harbor city, very important and vibrant in Roman times and home to many religious practices. That is what makes this letter so wonderful; it is a window viewing a very early Christian community of gentiles. Paul greets them with grace and peace, not security and peace. What Christianity offered them and us is not the security of the state, not the Pax Romana, but rather a way of living that brings us to a life with God and in God, but not safety. It was not safe then and is not safe now to be a Christian. A life in the church is faith and love and hope; this is what defines us as a Christian people. We as a church are a community; the very word comes from ecclesia, meaning an assem-bly. That we think of the word as a building and not a movement and a gathering is to our great loss. You are the church!! The Thessalonians were pagans; their entry into Christianity was much different than ours but it perhaps a better one. Whether we grew up in Christian house-holds or not, Christianity is almost 2000 years old and, sadly, for those of us living in much of the world carries all the history of the movement, like a ship covered in barnacles. We must look at these words as if Paul were speaking to us. Unless we see that God is active in Word and Power and Spirit, there is nothing but a shell for us in our faith. I ask you, then, how has God been active in your life this week and how will you look for God to be active this coming week? How will you act?
We may never talk to God, as a friend would. Moses seems to have been the last person to be that intimate with God, but if we look we know God is near us and with us. Was the burning bush that Moses stopped to see there for others? Was it only Moses who took the time to look? If you spend your days looking ahead and trying to stave off every possible disaster, you will not see what is at your very feet. Mo-ses set his eyes on God, just as Paul did. Both of them knew that God is with us, Immanuel. Moses has just come off the whole golden calf affair and reminded, yes reminded, God just who God's people were. Remember God was ready to have done with the whole lot of the Isra-elites and make a new nation from Moses' line, but Moses' vision was clear. And now he tells God that he cannot do this alone and the whole of Israel cannot go it alone. Immanuel!! Be present with us. We will be distinct from all other peoples only if you are with us. God remember your promise to Israel and to us. Is there another religion that believes God wants to be with us, each of us as individuals and all of us as community? As Christians, I think, we believe (and I do not often ven-ture into the realm of orthodoxy nor will I ever tell you what you must believe) that we are led by the Spirit to follow the Way of the Son and thereby live into the glory of God. Moses asked to see the glory of God but what God said was that he could see his "goodliness" and by seeing the backside of God he was actually allows to see where God had been. What Moses saw, we can see. I have never seen God face to face, but I have seen where God has been. I have seen the presence, or rather felt the presence, of God when I have been with someone terminally ill. I have known God in moments of my own fear. I have seen the presence of God when a child is born and when someone shares their umbrella or their food. If you think about it, you too have seen the back of God, the places where God has been. I hope, for those of you who have been Christian a long time and those of you newer to the faith, you look for the burning bush and you eagerly await God to pass by. But all of us have seen where God has been. We have seen it in our own work and in the work of others. We have seen in in the face of the best of times and in the worst of disasters.
Jesus may have been thinking about this when he was confronted with the question of whether or not to pay taxes to the Emperor. We have heard a paraphrase of this often: give to God what is God's and to the state what is the state's. Easy. Separation of church and state, of reli-gion and secular affairs. It should make it easy; we put everything in neat little boxes. But what if that is not at all what Jesus said? The coins were minted by the Roman Empire and were needed to pay a special tax. That part was simple enough. In the temple no graven im-age was allowed, yet one of the temple authorities produced the coin that Jesus upon which Jesus commented. Interesting in itself. Already a conflict of interests. And perhaps that is the take home point for us. When what our government does is beneficial for all there is little, if any, reason to argue. I think that good safe roads are a benefit to all citizens and that we need schools and libraries. We need resources to fight fires and to handle major natural disasters. So far so good. But what happens when the government says we need to expel all illegal immigrants? When it defines Muslims universally as a threat? When transgendered people are denied the ability to be soldiers? When Afri-can Americans are denied justice under the law? When the Attorney General of the United States has used the "N" word in court and refus-es to enforce civil rights laws? When pipelines that carry unneeded oil are allowed to proliferate to generate profit for a few? When the Pres-ident of the United States has, at the very least, engaged in gender discrimination and at worst sexual misconduct? When climate change is ignored? When health care for millions has been jeopardized? While you may or may not agree with me on the specifics, the problem of when the government, be it local, state or national, puts the desires of the few above the welfare of all, then we have a problem of figuring out what to render to Caeser and what to render to God. In the end I believe everything belongs to God and that we are the re-cipients of the graciousness of God. There is no reason that all people should not have enough to eat and the means to make a decent living. Render unto God that which is God's. Render everything to God, for in the end everything comes from God and we are all, each and every one of us, children of the Most High. That means, I believe, that we are all made to follow the presence of the living God, the same God who led the Israelites by day and by night, and we are all responsible for one another, with no one being better or more deserving than any other child of God.
Mighty King, lover of justice, you have established equity; you have ex-ecuted justice and righteousness in Jacob. 5 Extol the LORD our God; worship at his footstool. Holy is he! 9 Extol the LORD our God, and worship at his holy mountain; for the LORD our God is holy.