Proper 24 (October 19, 2008)
Common Lectionary Texts:
Is. 45:1-7; Ps. 96:1-9; I Thess. 1:1-10; Matt. 22:15-22
This was a week for planning, reflecting and celebrating. We worked on nearly 20 “concept papers” for new or expanded projects in Palestine/Israel, Jordan, Iraq and Iran, which we hope will receive above-budget funding next year. In the end, we commit these plans to God and trust that they can be used to bless and encourage our partners and all whom they serve.
We also were privileged to meet with MCC’s Jordan Advisory Committee. MCC is creating local advisory groups in each country where it works. These groups provide feedback and counsel regarding MCC’s in-country priorities. This was the second meeting of the Jordan Advisory Committee. They asked many questions and offered suggestions for our work. It was humbling to see how much trust MCC has engendered across the years. While acknowledging that MCC is a small organization, local leaders have high expectations about what MCC can accomplish.
A highlight of the week was attending a Palestinian wedding, Saturday evening, on the Mount of Olives — followed by a lively and delightful reception in Bethlehem. While Palestinians have lived under extremely difficult circumstances for some 60 years, they have not forgotten how to celebrate! We have much to learn.
The Common Lectionary readings this week are about false gods and the one true God.
The prophet Isaiah writes that God anointed, called and used King Cyrus of Persia for God’s purposes, even though he didn’t know God (Is. 45:4-5). As sovereign creator, God is able to bend the actions of rulers to serve God’s plan and purpose. “I am the Lord, and there is no other;” God declares, “beside me there is no god” (v.5).
The psalmist draws this distinction: “For all the gods of the peoples are idols, but the Lord made the heavens” (Ps. 96:5). False gods have no creative power of their own – only the power that we give them.
In the Epistle reading, Paul commends the church at Thessalonica because they “turned to God from idols, to serve a living and true God” (I Thess. 1:9) – and because of their “work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ” (v. 3).
In the Gospel reading, the Pharisees try to trap Jesus with a question about ultimate loyalties: “Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, or not?” (Matt. 22:17). Rather than giving a yes or no answer, Jesus puts their question into perspective: “Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s” (v.22).
With all of the political and economic uncertainties in today’s world, it is far too easy to place our trust in false gods like financial well-being, military might and best laid plans. But the recent, rapid decline of global financial markets and the poor “results” from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan remind us that such “gods” are not worthy of our loyalty and trust.
It is reassuring to remember that God alone holds the power to create that which is truly good. God alone is able to turn powerful kings into unwitting instruments to serve God’s purposes. When our allegiance is given to God alone, our lives, too, will reflect works of faith, labors of love and steadfastness of hope.