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  • Mairzy Dotes – Pastor David’s Sermon – 2014/10/19

    Scriptures:
    Psalm 99
    1 Thessalonians 1:1-10
    Matthew 22:15-22

    Sermon:

    (Sorry the video starts abruptly; enjoy what there is of it!)

    Does anyone here know what a “Lady Mondegreen” is? It’s from a poem – one of Percy’s Reliques (pronounced “relics”):
    “Ye Highlands and ye Lowlands,
    Oh, where hae ye been?
    They hae slain the Earl o’ Moray,
    And Lady Mondegreen.”
    A “Lady Mondegreen” is what happened to that last line. Now, when we read this in an Irish accent, in particular, we start to hear the problem. “Lady Mondegreen,” you see, is not a person at all. “Laid him on the green” is what is actually written in the poem; but hearers of the poem often couldn’t tell. There are a million examples of this in English. From the Psalms:
    “Surely, Good Mrs. Murphy shall follow me all the days of my life.” That one has the added bonus of being a bit creepy.
    “’Scuse me, while I kiss this guy,” instead of “’Scuse me, while I kiss the sky,” from Jimi Hendrix’s Purple Haze.
    “There’s a bathroom on the right,” instead “There’s a bad moon on the rise,” from the Creedence Clearwater Revival song.
    Of course, there’s “Olive, the other reindeer.”
    The Pledge of Allegiance could be heard like this: “I pledge a lesion, tooth and flag, of the United States of America. And to the wee puppet, for witches’ hands, one Asian, under God, invisible, with liver, tea, and justice for all.”
    Probably the most familiar would be “Mairzy dotes:” “Mairzy doats and dozy doats and liddle lamzy divey. A kiddley divey too; wouldn’t you?”
    These are all examples of the “Lady Mondegreen.” It’s a silly thing that happens when words are misinterpreted. As you all might have figured out by now, I love these kinds of things – little tricks with words that can change meanings, or just plan make you laugh. Because tricks with words are fun – until someone goes too far with a little word trick.
    So, in today’s reading from Matthew, we have the Pharisees. Now, we all know about the Pharisees – they’re just about always set up as the “bad guys” in a story from the Gospels, particularly in Matthew. And this passage today is no different. The Pharisees come in flattering Jesus – but they of course don’t mean it. They say to him, “Teacher, we know that 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. Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, or not?”
    Now, obviously, this flattery is false, because they don’t believe that Jesus is always right or always in tune with God’s will; in fact, by asking this very question about taxes, they are specifically trying to trap Jesus.
    Here’s how it works, and why I started off with word games today. They ask Jesus if it’s “lawful” to pay taxes. Obviously it’s lawful, right? What would be unlawful would be to not pay taxes, right? Not so fast; this is where the trick starts. Obviously, under Roman law, it is lawful. However, under Jewish law? Well, that’s not quite so clear. The New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary was really helpful on clarifying these things for me. You see, in order to pay taxes to the Roman government, you had to pay in Roman currency. Duh. You pay American taxes in dollars and cents, not loonies and toonies or pesos or pounds or Euros or yen or anything else. It was no different then. Pay with the right kind of money.
    Okay, so that makes sense. The issue, as we’ll see explored more later in the passage, is that the coins have the image of the emperor on them. Again, this isn’t necessarily a problem in and of itself. You can have pictures of things in Jewish law – just not pictures of God. The issue, though, is what’s written on the coins. Each coin in Jesus’ day had an inscription: “Tiberius Caesar, august son of the divine Augustus, high priest.” That is “Tiberius Caesar, son of the divine,” or “Tiberius Caesar, son of God.” Are you starting to see the problem?
    You see, we begin with the fact that, if this is the son of God, then depicting him would probably be considered making an idol; that is specifically forbidden. But that’s not the biggest problem – the biggest problem is that this is someone who’s claiming to be divine, but really isn’t. This isn’t just an image of the true God, which would be illegal; this is a false god, just like the Golden Calf. You see, paying taxes to the emperor was seen by many Jews as a betrayal of the rightful Lordship of God. First of all, it came with Roman currency, which, when you used, gave tacit approval to the words on the coin. But beyond even just that, it meant that you were claiming that a part of your wages belong to Rome, which meant Rome (and thus Caesar) was your rightful lord. This was, in the days before the separation of church and state, a legitimate crisis of conscience. To deny one thing will certainly mean his arrest; to deny the other is to deny the faith that sits at the core of who Jesus is.
    So the trap is set. They ask him this question with the impossible answer. If he says Roman taxes are legal, he seems to be betraying God. If he says they’re illegal, well… the Pharisees could have him hauled in by the Romans for treason, since he would be claiming that the emperor himself was not the rightful ruler. It’s quite the conundrum. So what does Jesus do? He does what he always does; he answers their question with a question.
    First, he asks them to pull out a coin – a denarius, which is the Roman currency. They give him one. Now, we could go into the hypocrisy of these people who are trying to trap Jesus regarding these idolatrous coins having these selfsame coins, but we’ll leave that issue for now. Anyway, they give him the coin, and he says, “Whose face do you see?”
    They say, “The emperor’s,” and of course they’re right.
    So Jesus tells them, in one of the most well-known Bible verses out there, “Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” So Jesus gives what many pastors have argued is the introduction of the idea of separating church and state – that the government gets theirs, but that doesn’t supplant nor exclude what we give to God.
    But that’s not the whole point of this passage. It’s not challenging or particularly helpful or even useful to have a Bible passage that just affirms what we as Americans already believe; that doesn’t get us anywhere. Instead, if we go just a hair deeper, we’re forced to answer a question. And the question that this passage forces us to ask is this: what is God’s? What things in our lives are God’s? The whole idea of figuring out what’s the “emperor’s” is easy. Someone tells you what you owe, so that’s what you pay. But with God? Well, that’s a lot harder.
    The tempting thing for us to do is to look at it like we do with taxes. God asks for, say, 10%. We can give 10% – at least some people can (and do) do that. And for those who can’t afford, they look at an amount that’s possible for them to afford, and that’s what they give, like it’s a fee to come to church or something. But the thing is, that’s not really the spirit Jesus has in mind when he talks about giving.
    Not to mention the fact that Jesus isn’t really talking about money (or at least not money alone). We live in a culture in which it’s emphasized that everything has a price. Money drives our commerce, our interactions, even our time – “time is money,” after all. We think of everything in terms of finances, because that’s how we’re trained to think. So we think, “Well, I don’t have the time to do this thing, so I’ll just give some money.” In other words, I don’t have an hour, so I’ll give an hour’s worth of wages – that’s a square deal.
    And on the one hand, that’s true. We know that everyone can’t do everything, so it’s fine to give money to things. We know that so many causes do need money, so we give to those things, knowing that even just a few dollars can go a long way.
    But there are consequences; look at the way we’re shaped when we view our giving to God the same way we view any other transaction in our lives. God because just another one of Uncle Sam’s men, coming to collect a tax. Or we line up our bills for the month, and we see Heat, Gas, Water, and God. And that is not the way that Jesus wanted us to look at our lives.
    When we try to think of what’s God’s, we should know the answer already – everything. Everything belongs to God, and everything that we have is a gift from God. So when we give, we’re not asked to do it in a spirit of bill-paying. We’re asked to do it in a spirit of joy. We give to God, not because we’re obligated to, but because we’re alive, and because we’re thankful, and because we’ve been given a Savior in Jesus Christ who comes to rescue us, even when we’re at our lowest point.
    And this spirit of giving, in which we’re supposed to give of ourselves, goes beyond our money to our time and our relationships. We need to offer more to God, because we need to be grateful for what we have.
    Look, this is not supposed to be one of those sermons where the pastor asks you for more money for the church. Honestly, we’re doing a lot better than most churches this size, though more money never hurt any church and wouldn’t hurt ours. But this is not a lesson about how important church is. This is a chance to say that we owe our lives to God, and that means that we need to live like it.
    When we choose to spend a few minutes with our families talking in person or even on the phone, instead of going out and buying something we don’t really need, that’s giving some of ourselves to God. When we decide to have a conversation with that person at school who no one really talks to or likes, just because he or she looks lonely, that’s giving to God. And we need to be doing those things; the ordinary things that mark us as Christians. We need to ask ourselves, “How am I different because of Jesus Christ?”
    We know that we are saved by Christ; but that is, on some level, selfish knowledge. To worry only about “my salvation” is a very self-centered view of the world. That’s not what it’s all about. That’s only part of the story. The full story means incorporating what God wants for the world, and working toward it. And that means making sure that our habits align with the kind of living God calls us to.
    With our confirmands this year, we’re reading through the Heidelberg Catechism, one of the documents from the PCUSA Book of Confessions. Heidelberg was written in the 1560s, but still has a lot to say to us today. The very first question in the catechism is this: “What is your only comfort in life and in death?”
    And the answer: “That I am not my own, but belong – body and soul, in life and in death – to my faithful Savior, Jesus Christ.”
    In other words, our lives, while they are unique to us, do not belong to us. They belong to God. So when Jesus talks about giving to the emperor that which is the emperor’s, that means some money. But what are we called to give to God? Everything. Our actions, our time, our talents, and yes, some of our money. But the important thing is that we realize, not just who we are, but whose we are. And we are not our own; we are God’s. So we must strive to show it, each and every day. Amen.

  • Mairzy Dotes – Pastor David’s Sermon – 2014/10/19

    Scriptures:
    Psalm 99
    1 Thessalonians 1:1-10
    Matthew 22:15-22

    Sermon:

    (Sorry the video starts abruptly; enjoy what there is of it!)

    Does anyone here know what a “Lady Mondegreen” is? It’s from a poem – one of Percy’s Reliques (pronounced “relics”):
    “Ye Highlands and ye Lowlands,
    Oh, where hae ye been?
    They hae slain the Earl o’ Moray,
    And Lady Mondegreen.”
    A “Lady Mondegreen” is what happened to that last line. Now, when we read this in an Irish accent, in particular, we start to hear the problem. “Lady Mondegreen,” you see, is not a person at all. “Laid him on the green” is what is actually written in the poem; but hearers of the poem often couldn’t tell. There are a million examples of this in English. From the Psalms:
    “Surely, Good Mrs. Murphy shall follow me all the days of my life.” That one has the added bonus of being a bit creepy.
    “’Scuse me, while I kiss this guy,” instead of “’Scuse me, while I kiss the sky,” from Jimi Hendrix’s Purple Haze.
    “There’s a bathroom on the right,” instead “There’s a bad moon on the rise,” from the Creedence Clearwater Revival song.
    Of course, there’s “Olive, the other reindeer.”
    The Pledge of Allegiance could be heard like this: “I pledge a lesion, tooth and flag, of the United States of America. And to the wee puppet, for witches’ hands, one Asian, under God, invisible, with liver, tea, and justice for all.”
    Probably the most familiar would be “Mairzy dotes:” “Mairzy doats and dozy doats and liddle lamzy divey. A kiddley divey too; wouldn’t you?”
    These are all examples of the “Lady Mondegreen.” It’s a silly thing that happens when words are misinterpreted. As you all might have figured out by now, I love these kinds of things – little tricks with words that can change meanings, or just plan make you laugh. Because tricks with words are fun – until someone goes too far with a little word trick.
    So, in today’s reading from Matthew, we have the Pharisees. Now, we all know about the Pharisees – they’re just about always set up as the “bad guys” in a story from the Gospels, particularly in Matthew. And this passage today is no different. The Pharisees come in flattering Jesus – but they of course don’t mean it. They say to him, “Teacher, we know that 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. Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, or not?”
    Now, obviously, this flattery is false, because they don’t believe that Jesus is always right or always in tune with God’s will; in fact, by asking this very question about taxes, they are specifically trying to trap Jesus.
    Here’s how it works, and why I started off with word games today. They ask Jesus if it’s “lawful” to pay taxes. Obviously it’s lawful, right? What would be unlawful would be to not pay taxes, right? Not so fast; this is where the trick starts. Obviously, under Roman law, it is lawful. However, under Jewish law? Well, that’s not quite so clear. The New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary was really helpful on clarifying these things for me. You see, in order to pay taxes to the Roman government, you had to pay in Roman currency. Duh. You pay American taxes in dollars and cents, not loonies and toonies or pesos or pounds or Euros or yen or anything else. It was no different then. Pay with the right kind of money.
    Okay, so that makes sense. The issue, as we’ll see explored more later in the passage, is that the coins have the image of the emperor on them. Again, this isn’t necessarily a problem in and of itself. You can have pictures of things in Jewish law – just not pictures of God. The issue, though, is what’s written on the coins. Each coin in Jesus’ day had an inscription: “Tiberius Caesar, august son of the divine Augustus, high priest.” That is “Tiberius Caesar, son of the divine,” or “Tiberius Caesar, son of God.” Are you starting to see the problem?
    You see, we begin with the fact that, if this is the son of God, then depicting him would probably be considered making an idol; that is specifically forbidden. But that’s not the biggest problem – the biggest problem is that this is someone who’s claiming to be divine, but really isn’t. This isn’t just an image of the true God, which would be illegal; this is a false god, just like the Golden Calf. You see, paying taxes to the emperor was seen by many Jews as a betrayal of the rightful Lordship of God. First of all, it came with Roman currency, which, when you used, gave tacit approval to the words on the coin. But beyond even just that, it meant that you were claiming that a part of your wages belong to Rome, which meant Rome (and thus Caesar) was your rightful lord. This was, in the days before the separation of church and state, a legitimate crisis of conscience. To deny one thing will certainly mean his arrest; to deny the other is to deny the faith that sits at the core of who Jesus is.
    So the trap is set. They ask him this question with the impossible answer. If he says Roman taxes are legal, he seems to be betraying God. If he says they’re illegal, well… the Pharisees could have him hauled in by the Romans for treason, since he would be claiming that the emperor himself was not the rightful ruler. It’s quite the conundrum. So what does Jesus do? He does what he always does; he answers their question with a question.
    First, he asks them to pull out a coin – a denarius, which is the Roman currency. They give him one. Now, we could go into the hypocrisy of these people who are trying to trap Jesus regarding these idolatrous coins having these selfsame coins, but we’ll leave that issue for now. Anyway, they give him the coin, and he says, “Whose face do you see?”
    They say, “The emperor’s,” and of course they’re right.
    So Jesus tells them, in one of the most well-known Bible verses out there, “Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” So Jesus gives what many pastors have argued is the introduction of the idea of separating church and state – that the government gets theirs, but that doesn’t supplant nor exclude what we give to God.
    But that’s not the whole point of this passage. It’s not challenging or particularly helpful or even useful to have a Bible passage that just affirms what we as Americans already believe; that doesn’t get us anywhere. Instead, if we go just a hair deeper, we’re forced to answer a question. And the question that this passage forces us to ask is this: what is God’s? What things in our lives are God’s? The whole idea of figuring out what’s the “emperor’s” is easy. Someone tells you what you owe, so that’s what you pay. But with God? Well, that’s a lot harder.
    The tempting thing for us to do is to look at it like we do with taxes. God asks for, say, 10%. We can give 10% – at least some people can (and do) do that. And for those who can’t afford, they look at an amount that’s possible for them to afford, and that’s what they give, like it’s a fee to come to church or something. But the thing is, that’s not really the spirit Jesus has in mind when he talks about giving.
    Not to mention the fact that Jesus isn’t really talking about money (or at least not money alone). We live in a culture in which it’s emphasized that everything has a price. Money drives our commerce, our interactions, even our time – “time is money,” after all. We think of everything in terms of finances, because that’s how we’re trained to think. So we think, “Well, I don’t have the time to do this thing, so I’ll just give some money.” In other words, I don’t have an hour, so I’ll give an hour’s worth of wages – that’s a square deal.
    And on the one hand, that’s true. We know that everyone can’t do everything, so it’s fine to give money to things. We know that so many causes do need money, so we give to those things, knowing that even just a few dollars can go a long way.
    But there are consequences; look at the way we’re shaped when we view our giving to God the same way we view any other transaction in our lives. God because just another one of Uncle Sam’s men, coming to collect a tax. Or we line up our bills for the month, and we see Heat, Gas, Water, and God. And that is not the way that Jesus wanted us to look at our lives.
    When we try to think of what’s God’s, we should know the answer already – everything. Everything belongs to God, and everything that we have is a gift from God. So when we give, we’re not asked to do it in a spirit of bill-paying. We’re asked to do it in a spirit of joy. We give to God, not because we’re obligated to, but because we’re alive, and because we’re thankful, and because we’ve been given a Savior in Jesus Christ who comes to rescue us, even when we’re at our lowest point.
    And this spirit of giving, in which we’re supposed to give of ourselves, goes beyond our money to our time and our relationships. We need to offer more to God, because we need to be grateful for what we have.
    Look, this is not supposed to be one of those sermons where the pastor asks you for more money for the church. Honestly, we’re doing a lot better than most churches this size, though more money never hurt any church and wouldn’t hurt ours. But this is not a lesson about how important church is. This is a chance to say that we owe our lives to God, and that means that we need to live like it.
    When we choose to spend a few minutes with our families talking in person or even on the phone, instead of going out and buying something we don’t really need, that’s giving some of ourselves to God. When we decide to have a conversation with that person at school who no one really talks to or likes, just because he or she looks lonely, that’s giving to God. And we need to be doing those things; the ordinary things that mark us as Christians. We need to ask ourselves, “How am I different because of Jesus Christ?”
    We know that we are saved by Christ; but that is, on some level, selfish knowledge. To worry only about “my salvation” is a very self-centered view of the world. That’s not what it’s all about. That’s only part of the story. The full story means incorporating what God wants for the world, and working toward it. And that means making sure that our habits align with the kind of living God calls us to.
    With our confirmands this year, we’re reading through the Heidelberg Catechism, one of the documents from the PCUSA Book of Confessions. Heidelberg was written in the 1560s, but still has a lot to say to us today. The very first question in the catechism is this: “What is your only comfort in life and in death?”
    And the answer: “That I am not my own, but belong – body and soul, in life and in death – to my faithful Savior, Jesus Christ.”
    In other words, our lives, while they are unique to us, do not belong to us. They belong to God. So when Jesus talks about giving to the emperor that which is the emperor’s, that means some money. But what are we called to give to God? Everything. Our actions, our time, our talents, and yes, some of our money. But the important thing is that we realize, not just who we are, but whose we are. And we are not our own; we are God’s. So we must strive to show it, each and every day. Amen.

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    Sunday Church Service: 9:30 am
    Adult Sunday School: 10:30am
    Wednesday Youth Service: 6:30 pm

    102 East 1st Street
    Marion, SD 57043
    Phone: (605) 648-3876
    Email: emmanuelpc@goldenwest.net
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