Proper 24A (OT 29)

242: Oct 22, 2017

  1. 1 Thessalonians 1:1-10
  2. Matthew 22:15-22

  3. Psalm 99

  4. Exodus 33:12-23

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Matthew 22:15-22

Initial Thoughts

  • Favorite passage for those wanting to extrapolate Jesus as either a political figure or as one who capitulates to ruling authorities.  Both sides of the fight seem to appeal to this, and both sides miss the point of the passage.

  • The concept of the separation of church and state was not invented in this exchange.  That concept would be completely foreign to the writers and readers of this gospel.  

Bible Study

  • Literary Context - Part of the growing conflict between religious leaders and Jesus.

    • Jesus had just answered the pointed question “By whose authority do you do these things” with three parables that condemned the religious hypocrisy of the rulers.  In the midst of this dispute, the chief priests and elders decided that they needed to arrest him.

    • This exchange opens with “Then the Pharisees and Herodians went and plotted to entrap him.”  This question is not an honest question.  It is a part of the rising conflict.

    • Herodians and Pharisees would not have usually been allies.  They were generally in opposition to each other, but were joined in their opposition to Jesus.

    • In the next chapter, Jesus’ condemnation of the scribes and Pharisees comes to a boiling point.  Over the course of the next day, he condemns the leaders, predicts the destruction of the Temple, reveals signs of the end of the age, tells parables about the coming judgment (if you fed me, you’re good), and predicts his own death and resurrection.  In just a few days, Jesus is arrested and crucified.  In other words, things are starting to heat up.

  • Question is not an honest debate.  “Is it permissible” has religious undertones.

    • Paying taxes to Caesar acknowledging that he is the rightful owner of the Land, even though the Law says that only God is the rightful owner.  (Douglas Hare, Interpretation: Matthew, p. 253)

    • Paying taxes is wildly unpopular to the people.  It is not only an economic hardship, but it is symbolic of the oppression of the Roman rule.

    • Not paying taxes is illegal, and inciting others to not pay is grounds for arrest.

    • So - either Jesus will give them the legal means to arrest him, or he will alienate himself from the people and advocate breaking the law.

    • Which law will he follow?  Caesar's Law or Moses’ Law?

  • Jesus’ answer is no answer.  Instead, it further points out the hypocrisy of those that are coming to trap him.

    • When he asks for a Roman coin, the leaders readily produce it.  It would, presumably, have the Emperor’s face on it as well as an inscription that reads “Son of the Divine Augustus.”  Having such a coin within the Temple is itself against the law.  Simply by producing the coin, the leaders have fallen into their own trap.

    • Render unto Caesar what is Caesar's, and to God what is God’s is neither a condemnation of taxes nor capitulation to the authorities of Caesar.  It is a reminder that the coins they produce have no value in the Kingdom of Heaven.  

    • Jesus’ answer reminds the crowds that in fact, all things first belong to God.  “Jesus is not saying, ‘There is a secular realm and there is a religious realm, and equal respect must be paid to each.’  The second half practically annuls the first by preempting it.  In Jewish religious thought, foreign kings had power over Israel only by permission from God.  Tax may be paid to Caesar because it is by god’s will that Caesar rules.  When God chooses to liberate his people, Caesar’s power will avail him to nothing.” (Douglas Hare, Interpretation: Matthew, p. 254)

  • Jesus’ answer is open-ended.  (David Lose, from Working Peacher)

    • Is Jesus saying that we owe nothing to a false God like Caesar and should reserve all things for God?

    • Is he inviting us to recognize that we while we may, in fact, owe the emperors of this world some things -- like taxes -- we owe God other things -- like our whole selves?

    • Is Jesus instead inviting us to avoid giving our allegiance to the material and temporal things of this world that our coins can buy (and that seem to delight emperors) and demanding our ultimate devotion go to God?

    • Is Jesus saying that we should capitulate to governmental leaders, because it is only God who ordains their power?

    • All of these answers are plausible.

Preaching Thoughts

  • What is God’s?  If the answer seems easy - “all things,” the implication is anything but easy.  What does it mean to render all things to God?  

  • The coins we carry are not all that different than the coins that the Romans carried.  They have pictures of our Caesars, and the inscription “In God We Trust.”  Yet are those words an empty promise? In what do we truly trust?  “We write ‘in God we trust’ upon the god we truly trust” (Chris Rock and Brian McLaren).

Exodus 33:12-23

Initial Thoughts

  • I would do anything for love, but I won’t do that.

Bible Study

  • Literary context - especially first part of chapter 33 - is important. We are entering into the middle of a conversation about the nature of the relationship. Moses and God are having “The Talk” that couple need to have when they decide to become exclusive.

    • Last week: The making of idols while Moses is with God is proof that the people are a “stubborn” people (stiff-necked, sinful).

    • 33:1-5

      • God tells the people that they must go to the Promised Land and that he will send a messenger before them, but that he will not go with them.

      • God seems to have changed God’s mind after the golden-calf thing. He has been hurt, and realizes that he cannot trust the people.

      • “For their own good,” because his presence is so great, it could not abide with a people that are so sinful

    • 33:6-11

      • Moses and God enjoy close intimacy

        • NRSV: “Thus the Lord used to speak to Moses face to face, as one speaks to a friend”

      • God gives Moses advice on how to rule over the people

    • Next chapter: God cuts new commandments out of a new set of stones.

  • Moses pushes back and gets a victory

    • God relents and decides that he will go. NRSV - incorrectly adds “with you.”

      • “Moses appeals to the unique intimacy of the relationship between Moses and God (Exodus 33:12-13). Moses also reminds God that the Israelites are “your people” (Exodus 33:13b). After the golden calf incident, God had tried to put some distance between God and the people by referring to them as “your people,” Moses -- not mine (Exodus 32:7; 33:1). Moses was having none of that! These are your people, God -- not mine!
God then concedes that instead of the angel, “my presence will go” (Exodus 33:14). The New Revised Standard Version translation incorrectly reads verse 14 as “my presence will go with you.” But the phrase -- “with you” -- is not in the Hebrew. God agrees to go to Canaan but not “in the midst of” them, not “with” them, not “among” them. Maybe in front of, alongside, behind…but “not with us” (Dennis Olson, Working Preacher)
  • Moses pushes too far.

    • “And Moses now demonstrates that he has listened at last by asking the most astonishing thing of God he could ever ask: "Reveal to me now your glory!" (Ex. 33:18). More than God's ways, God's actions, Moses wants to look right into the heart of YHWH. But he has now gone too far.” (John Holbert)
    • “Commentators have long puzzled over this passage, especially because just a few verses earlier, it says that, "the LORD used to speak with Moses face to face, as one speaks to a friend" (Exodus 33:11; cf. Deuteronomy 34:10).
One can explain this seeming contradiction, of course, by appealing to different sources or traditions. But the text as we have it now speaks to a central, paradoxical theme in Exodus and in Scripture as a whole that is worth exploring; that is, that the Creator of the whole universe, whose glory fills the heavens, deigns to abide with finite human beings.” (Kathryn Schifferdecker, Working Preacher)

Preaching Thoughts

  • Boundaries. How can you have intimacy with God who is also transcendent? What about relationships with church leaders?

  • “Our English texts usually say that Moses could “see his back,” but that’s an inaccurate translation. Moses caught no sight of the “body” of God. He saw the place where God just was.  That preaches, I think, because it’s how I often experience God. In the busyness of life, I’m not anywhere near aware or awake enough to see God’s Presence. I’m answering emails, making visits, writing sermons, picking up kids from school, washing the dishes…But, when I look back over my day, with intention, I can see God’s Presence so much easier. (Rick Morley, A Garden Path)
  • Moses understands the relationship with God - perhaps even better than God does. He knows that the relationship is entirely one-sided. The only hope the people have is to experience God. “Moses knows that the only basis for rebuilding the broken covenant relationship between God and people rests on who God is. The people’s hope does not rest on who the people are or what the people do. Without God, the Israelites are no better than the Egyptians” (Dennis Olson, Working Preacher)

1 Thessalonians 1:1-10

Initial Thoughts

  • Thessalonians

    • Great resource: Enter the Bible

    • Letters are written with understood context and issues- think of your church newsletter - the underlying issues must be reconstructed from what we know of the context and what is implied in the letters

    • Thessalonica was on Paul’s journey from Galatia (modern Turkey) and Asia (Also in modern Turkey) through Macedonia (Philippi) down to Corinth

    • Thesselonica

      • founded in 316 BCE, named for Alexander the Great’s sister, Thessalonikki.

      • Cultic and commercial center (not on a scale of Athens or Alexandria, but still important) - was on the major highway across Macedonia linking Rome with Eastern provinces

      • Benefited from the “Pax Romana”- erected a statue to Augustus and welcomed in an “Augustan Era”

      • Tension between the pax Romana and Augustus as the supreme benefactor and Jesus as the true way, peace and savior

    • Apocalyptic

      • Theme within many of Paul’s letters

      • Culminating “now, but not yet” eschatology - now: what God has done in Jesus’ life, death and resurrection; not yet: parousia and the coming Kingdom of God

      • Apocalyptic theology is a challenge to the existing order and status quo

  • 1 Thessalonians

    • Paul formed the Church in Thessalonica shortly after Philippi where is was “shamefully treated”

    • Gentile congregation - While Acts 17 says Paul stopped at the synagogue-there is no archeological or historical evidence that there was a synagogue on Thessalonians (Abraham Smith, NIB, p.682)

      • Opposition to the countercultural apocalypticism and glorification of Christ

      • Stability of congregation - not built on an established faith community

Bible Study

  • Two sections

    • vv.1-5 - greeting

    • vv. 6-10 - beginning of apocalyptic treatise

  • vv.1-5 - Greeting

    • Thanksgiving for work in faith, effort in love and perseverance in hope

    • What do we give thanks for?

      • money in the coffers and butts in the pews?

      • Pax Americana or an abiding peace?

    • When was the last time you gave thanks for the ministry of another church in your area?

    • Works of Faith, Labor of Love and steadfast in hope- what do these mean and how do they guide our ministry? (cf. 1 Cor 13:13)

  • vv.6-10

    • Accepted a message from the Holy Spirit in spite of great suffering: following Jesus does not preclude or exempt us from suffering but often calls us into suffering

  • Turning Serving and Waiting (Nathan Eddy)

    • Turning (repenting) from false idols or things that distract us

    • Serving one another and God- doing justice loving kindness and walking humbly with God

    • Waiting actively for the Kingdom of God.

Preaching Thoughts

  • What do we give thanks for?

    • money in the coffers and butts in the pews?

    • Pax Americana or an abiding peace?

  • When was the last time you gave thanks for the ministry of another church in your area?

  • When was the last time your church suffered for the sake of the Holy Spirit? Do you mourn that or celebrate it? (not suffering for suffering’s sake, but doing the work of the Spirit, even when it requires great cost)


Thanks to our Psalms correspondent, Richard Bruxvoort Colligan (,@pomopsalmist). Thank you to Scott Fletcher for our voice bumpers, Dick Dale and the Del Tones for our Theme music (“Misirlou”), Nicolai Heidlas (“Sunday Morning”,"Real Ride"and“Summertime”) and Paul and Storm for our closing music (“Oh No”).