Old Testament: Exodus (33:12-23)
Moses said to the Lord, “See, you have said to me, ‘Bring up this people’; but you have not let me know whom you will send with me. Yet you have said, ‘I know you by name, and you have also found favor in my sight.’ Now if I have found favor in your sight, show me your ways, so that I may know you and find favor in your sight. Consider too that this nation is your people.” He said, “My presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.” And he said to him, “If your presence will not go, do not carry us up from here. For how shall it be known that I have found favor in your sight, I and your people, unless you go with us? In this way, we shall be distinct, I and your people, from every people on the face of the earth.” The Lord said to Moses, “I will do the very thing that you have asked; for you have found favor in my sight, and I know you by name.” Moses said, “Show me your glory, I pray.” And he said, “I will make all my goodness pass before you, and will proclaim before you the name, ‘The Lord’; and I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy. But,” he said, “you cannot see my face; for no one shall see me and live.” And the Lord continued, “See, there is a place by me where you shall stand on the rock; and while my glory passes by I will put you in a cleft of the rock, and I will cover you with my hand until I have passed by; then I will take away my hand, and you shall see my back; but my face shall not be seen.”
The Response: Psalm 99
1 The Lord is King;
let the people tremble; *
he is enthroned upon the cherubim;
let the earth shake.
2 The Lord is great in Zion; *
he is high above all peoples.
3 Let them confess his Name,
which is great and awesome; *
he is the Holy One.
4 “O mighty King, lover of justice,
you have established equity; *
you have executed justice
and righteousness in Jacob.”
5 Proclaim the greatness of the Lord our God
and fall down before his footstool; *
he is the Holy One.
6 Moses and Aaron among his priests,
and Samuel among those who call upon his Name, *
they called upon the Lord, and he answered them.
7 He spoke to them out of the pillar of cloud; *
they kept his testimonies
and the decree that he gave them.
8 “O Lord our God, you answered them indeed; *
you were a God who forgave them,
yet punished them for their evil deeds.”
9 Proclaim the greatness of the Lord our God
and worship him upon his holy hill; *
for the Lord our God is the Holy One.
The Epistle: 1 Thessalonians (1:1-10)
Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy, To the church of the Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ: Grace to you and peace. We always give thanks to God for all of you and mention you in our prayers, constantly remembering before our God and Father your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ. For we know, brothers and sisters beloved by God, that he has chosen you, because our message of the gospel came to you not in word only, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction; just as you know what kind of persons we proved to be among you for your sake. And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, for in spite of persecution you received the word with joy inspired by the Holy Spirit, so that you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia. For the word of the Lord has sounded forth from you not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but in every place your faith in God has become known, so that we have no need to speak about it. For the people of those regions report about us what kind of welcome we had among you, and how you turned to God from idols, to serve a living and true God, and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead–Jesus, who rescues us from the wrath that is coming.
The Gospel: Matthew (22:15-22)
The Pharisees went and plotted to entrap him in what he said. So they sent their disciples to him, along with the Herodians, saying, “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?” But Jesus, aware of their malice, said, “Why are you putting me to the test, you hypocrites? Show me the coin used for the tax.” And they brought him a denarius. Then he said to them, “Whose head is this, and whose title?” They answered, “The emperor’s.” Then he said to them, “Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” When they heard this, they were amazed; and they left him and went away.
by the Rev. Michael Kreutzer
Today’s first reading is the ninth and final selection that we have from the book of Exodus. It is a fitting passage to conclude the series because, even though there are seven chapters left, this exchange between Moses and God is, in many ways, the culmination of the entire exodus story.
Up to this point, God has made preparations for and has led the people out of their bondage in Egypt, has brought them through the Red Sea, has sustained them in the wilderness, and has established a covenant with them at Sinai. But, as we heard last week in the story about the golden calf, the people kept looking for another kind of god: a god whom they could control, a god who would do exactly what they wanted. It was only at Moses’ insistence that God agreed not to destroy them in response to their rebellion. Moses then convinced God to forgive Israel and to reestablish a covenant relationship with them.
Then comes today’s passage: one that is key to understanding God’s fundamental relationship for all time — with Israel, with us, and with all of humanity. In order to assure himself and others of God’s continuing presence, Moses asks God: “Show me your glory, I pray.” “Show me your glory.” But God transforms the definition of the divine “glory” by responding: “I will make all my goodness pass before you, and will proclaim before you the name, ‘The Lord’; and I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy.” God’s true glory has little to do with the earthquake and fire and terrifying cloud of smoke that once covered Sinai; instead, God’s true glory has everything to do with God’s goodness and graciousness and mercy.
These are the characteristics that make God truly great. These are the characteristics that make a nation truly great. And, as the scriptures insist from the very beginning, these are the characteristics that make us, who have been created in the image and likeness of God, truly great as well. Our true glory comes when we faithfully reflect God’s overwhelming goodness and generosity and graciousness to all people.
That affirmation is a key to understanding what stewardship is all about. Certainly, stewardship means giving back to God generously from all that God has given to us generously. But it also involves much more. Stewardship of God’s many blessings is the way that we live up to the image of God in which we were made. It is the way in which we are true and faithful to who we are called to be. And that stewardship includes the generous sharing of God’s goodness and generosity and graciousness with others.
When we freely give of ourselves, including of our time, talent, and treasure, to further the work of God in the world and to help our sisters and brothers who are in need, we reflect to the world God’s own, infinitely generous giving to us. And, in doing so, we show the world what God is like. And that is our deepest calling.
Showing the world what God is like is both the ultimate honor and an awesome responsibility. And we, who have been blessed by God in so many ways, have also been entrusted by God to use whatever we have in order to live up to that honor and responsibility.
Obviously, we have varying amounts of time, of special gifts and abilities, and of money. But one thing that doesn’t vary is our obligation to give generously of whatever we have in order to further God’s work in the world and to enable those in need to share in God’s gifts: gifts which have been given to meet the needs of everyone.
Here at St. Mark’s, we have many very generous people who strive to do just that. Some spend a great deal of time here, usually when no one else or just a few people are around, caring for our buildings and grounds, preparing for our worship services and Sunday School classes, getting ready for and cleaning up from meetings and special events. Other members of the parish make use of the special knowledge and skills that they have in order to do needed repairs and make improvements to our facilities. Still others exercise what is often called “sacrificial giving,” stretching themselves and going without some of the nice things that they would like to have for themselves and their families, in order to make very generous financial contributions to the church. Often, the same people do more than just one of these.
To use Jesus’ words from today’s gospel reading, they not only give to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, but they also and especially give to God the things that are God’s. It is through our pledge to the church and through following up by keeping that pledge, that we join with our fellow parishioners in giving to God the things that are God’s.
To return to today’s first reading, to that culmination of the entire exodus story: the passage concludes with Moses catching a glimpse of God. And Moses comes to realize that God’s true glory is to be found, not in the great displays of power that he has seen, but in God’s goodness and graciousness and mercy.
Our most important task and challenge in life is to enable other people to see in us that glimpse of God: to see and experience in us God’s goodness and graciousness and mercy. And it is in our faithful and generous stewardship of God’s gifts of time, talent and treasure that we enable that to happen.