Tuesday, March 10, 2015

A New Kingdom - Chilling with Jesus

Preached Sunday, March 8, 2015

Scripture readings: Exodus 30:11-16; Matthew 17:22-27

It is said that the gospels never show us Jesus and the disciples on a laundry day. These verses in Matthew are about as close as it comes to showing us a laundry day with Jesus. It’s as strange as if the gospels told us that Jesus woke up one morning and nothing much happened.
Saddle Mountain, North of Desert Aire-Mattawa WA
February 2015
There were no crowds. Most of the disciples weren’t even there. It was just Jesus and Peter. There was a question asked but there was no controversy or debate. There was a miracle that day, but we never see it happen. Nothing in these paragraphs serves as a famous memory verse. It was the kind of day when Jesus pretty much said, “Let’s not upset anyone today. Let’s not even go out.” So it was a day for Peter to chill with Jesus.
But how can I just leave it at that? How can I just let the lesson be a day for chilling with Jesus?
It was a tax day. That could have been annoying.
Every Jewish male, twenty years old or older, paid the Temple tax once a year. Exodus chapter thirty tells us about that tax. It was a half shekel, the equivalent of two drachmas. It was two days’ pay for the average working man.
Some people resented this tax. It was a tax for the support of the sanctuary: the Temple. But the Temple was fabulously wealthy and it didn’t need that money for its support.
Priests and their assistants didn’t have to pay it. Rabbis didn’t have to pay it. Jesus was, technically, a rabbi. It was a tax Jesus didn’t have to pay. The man who asked Peter whether Jesus paid knew exactly what he was doing by asking that question. It was sort of a snide, quiet insult to Jesus and to Peter. It was as if Jesus didn’t deserve to be considered a rabbi.
Jesus had become infamous for opposing the leaders of the Temple. He opposed how they used (or misused) the Temple. Jesus had spoken of the Temple as temporary. The Temple was something that Jesus had come to replace. The new Temple was going to be Jesus. (John 2:19, Matthew 26:61) Jesus had predicted that he was going to Jerusalem and to the Temple, and the result was that he would be killed there, and rise from the dead.
It was supposed to be a laundry day and Peter was chilling with Jesus. The taxman’s question disturbed Peter and threatened to make it into a different kind of day.
The great danger that Jesus spoke of and that Peter feared (the death of Jesus) may have only been a few days or weeks away. There was this storm brewing in Peter’s mind, and Jesus read his mind.
Jesus said to Peter, “Peter, if it’s the money you’re worried about, don’t worry, chill out. Take a hook and a line and throw it in the lake. The first fish you catch will have a coin in its mouth. That will be enough to pay for you and for me.”
Jesus said to Peter, “Peter, if you are worried about supporting a Temple that has fallen from what God intended and has become a den of thieves; don’t worry, chill out. The Temple is actually the house of my Father the king, and I am the king’s son, and you are with me. Neither you nor I need to pay the Temple anything. Let’s just do it because we are free. Let’s do it because I am the king’s son and you are with me. Let’s do it for love and not fight any battles today. Let’s just chill out today.”
When I was a teenager, my hangout in school was the science room. I was really a history geek but there were no other history geeks and so I managed to be a science geek. In study hall I usually sat at the smart boys’ table.
In our school, the geeks formed an invisible kingdom. But that never seemed to matter. The kingdom of the school that really mattered (as a visible kingdom) was ruled by the athletes and the cheerleaders. There were a few kids who lived in both kingdoms, but I wasn’t one of those kids.
There were one or two kids firmly in the sports kingdom who were my friends, especially a guy named Chris. We didn’t do a whole lot of stuff together; because Chris was always doing sports stuff. But we would sit, and talk, and joke, and even drive around together. When we did that, I wasn’t just a geek. For a while, we both planned to go to Humboldt State College and study forestry, and I wasn’t going to be a geek any more.
It was as if Chris was saying, “Dennis, you’re with me.” It seemed like this was going to set me free.
Jesus was a rabbi and he didn’t have to pay the tax. Peter knew that Jesus was the Son of the living God (Matthew 16:16) and didn’t have to pay the tax. Jesus said to Peter, “You’re with me. You’re exempt. You’re going to be free from now on, because you’re with me.”
There is so much out there, and so much that you are in the middle of, and so much to worry about and make decisions about. There’s so much to argue about, and to argue for. There’s so much to fear, or to get angry about. There are reasons to be dissatisfied. It’s all important, and it will all have its day.
But sometimes there is nothing more important than to have a laundry day with Jesus. There is nothing more important than to make it your priority to chill out and hear Jesus.
Hear what Jesus wants to say, “You are with me. That makes you the king’s son. That makes you the king’s daughter. You are free.”
Jesus wants to tell you that he loves you and that you are his friend. Take some time not to fear, and not to judge, and not to argue, and not to blame, and not to worry, and not to play at strategies and battles in your head (or in fact). Let it rest! Chill out with Jesus.
The coin for the tax (the coin in the fish) was an odd thing. In the Old Testament, in the Book of Exodus, the coin is called one root word that means ransom and atonement. Sometimes it is translated as redemption.
In order to have a share in the count of the people of Israel, in order to have a share in the sanctuary (which was the place where you could find God dwelling with you), it was required to pay this small coin that stood for ransom, redemption, and atonement.
It was the price of freedom. It was the price of being one with the Lord. It was the price for being his friend. The Temple tax (in some strange way) stood for this.
It was a tiny token of a something huge. It was like a small piece of bread or a small sip from a cup standing for the cross and for everything that Christ is, and everything that Christ has done, and everything that Christ promises. It was a tiny token of a huge ransom that God came into our world to pay for us to rescue us from sin.
Sin is the struggle for independence and superiority that separates us from God, and from others, and from our true self. Sin is like a shadow self that follows us everywhere; and life shrivels and wilts in that shadow. Sin in the human heart is what makes our beautiful world into the place of fear, and violence, and dishonesty, and injustice that it is. The servanthood of Jesus, the suffering and death of Jesus on the cross, and the resurrection of Jesus from the power of death is the great price that ransoms us from this struggle, this shadow, and this darkness in the world.
The ransom, the redemption, the atonement, for Peter (and for us), was something that Jesus promised to take care of. Jesus hid the gift in a fish’s mouth.
Peter’s whole life had been about fish. The truth is that the fish came to stand for Jesus and the gift was to be found in him. The early Christians understood the story this way. Peter found the price of his own freedom in a fish, just as he found it in Christ who died as a ransom for the freedom of the whole world on the cross.

Jesus says, “You’re with me. I’ve paid for that.” The most important thing you will ever do is to stop, and be quiet with Jesus: chill out, and listen to him say, “You’re with me. I’ve paid for that.”

1 comment:

  1. Oh, I love this sermon. When we are baptized in the Episcopal Church, the priest makes a sign of the cross on the forehead of the one being baptized and says, "You are sealed by the Holy Spirit in baptism and marked as Christ's own forever."