October 22, 2023
Exodus 33.12-23 — Moses asks to see God. He does—but only from behind.
Psalm 99 — celebrates God’s might, remembers God’s mercy toward the Israelites in the wilderness, and gives thanks for Moses and Aaron, who led the people on their journey.
1 Thessalonians 1.1-10 — Paul commends the people of the church: “Despite persecution you became examples.”
Matthew 22.15-22 —To pay or not pay the tax to Caesar? Jesus’ wise (and convicting) answer.
We’re accustomed to Charlton Heston’s majestic portrayal of Moses but actually he’s kind of a hapless dude, pushed around by God, tormented by his people, utterly dependent on Arron, Joshua and Miriam, and often unsure of himself. Here his anxiety shows. Despite God’s consistent promise to be with Moses and the people, Moses asks God three times (in almost a whiny voice, I imagine) for God’s reassurance. I guess we’re like that.
Moses is right: unless we go with God we go in vain. However, we usually want God to come with us on our way rather than promising that we will go with God on God’s way. Still, this promise is magnificent: “My presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.” (I hear echoes of this when Jesus says “Take my yoke upon you and I will give you rest.”)
“I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy.” Mic drop. Oh, how we want to tell God who to be merciful to. But it’s God’s choice—it is God’s nature. This is akin to God’s declaration in the burning bush: “I am who I am,” or “I will be who I will be.” God says this right here, while talking about “proclaiming before you the name YWH,” because God’s mercy and graciousness is God’s name, God’s nature. Mercy is what God is.
Moses only gets to see God from behind. This doesn’t mean Moses sees God’s butt instead of God’s face. It means we’re always a little behind. (The Hebrew actually implies “behind” in terms of time, not space.) We recognize God after the fact. Kind of like Jacob saying “God was in this place and I—I did not know it.”
Ooh, we love to see Jesus skewer the cynical authorities with their own swords. Jesus loves honest curiosity, but sabotages a trick question. Like this one. In Jewish law it’s illegal to honor Rome by paying the tax; in Roman law it’s illegal not to. So they can nail him either way, right? Well, says Jesus: if the coin has Caesar’s image on it it must belong to Caesar. Give it back. And likewise —here the Pharisees’ trap backfires!— give to God what is God’s, that is, what has God’s image on it, that is, yourself. Boom. Another mic drop. It’s not about taxes. It’s about our relationship with God.
The important thing is not just that Jesus has a good answer, but that he doesn’t play games. Notice how often people who want to trap him do so by framing the question in terms of power and authority, right or wrong, included or excluded. But Jesus doesn’t step into the trap they’re already stuck in: he reframes the issue in terms of grace. This encounter points out not only the difference between a trick question and an honest question, it’s also the difference between operating in a sphere of human power and authority, and the realm of God’s grace. It’s a different dimension.
What does your life look like when you really believe that you are not your own, but God’s? God does not really give your life to you, but to the world, placing it in your hands to give away, like the chef handing the waiter a delicious plate of food. How do you practice good stewardship of your life? What might it be like to live as if you have nothing to lose, because you know your life is God’s? If you are God’s coin, how might God want to spend you?
Call to Worship
Leader: Eternal God, giver of life, you are our Creator; we are your creatures.
All: We come from you. We belong to you. We bear your image. Alleluia!
Loving Christ, sharer of life, you are our companion; we are your lovers.
You accompany us. You heal and forgive us. You lead us. Alleluia!
Holy Spirit, power of life, you are our breath; we are your vessels.
Alleluia! Come, Holy Spirit, sweep us way in your love, drown us in your grace,
and birth us anew in the waters of your womb.
Spirit of death and resurrection, baptize us in your life-giving grace. Alleluia!
Leader: God you are our Creator, our Source; we are made in your image.
All: We belong to you, and we praise you.
Christ, you are our companion and our leader; we are your Body.
We belong to you, and we thank you.
Holy Spirit, you guide us and empower us; we are vessels of your grace.
We belong to you, and we serve you.
Holy God, in praise and devotion we worship you. Alleluia!
Leader: Holy One, source of life!All: Divine Presence, blossoming of love!
Spirit of Unity, breathing among us!
We open the window of our hearts to your light.
We worship you in gratitude, in readiness, in peace. Alleluia!
Leader: Eternal God, you create us in your image.
All: You are re-creating us even now.
We are yours. We belong to you.
It is you who give us to the world.
You give us in love, extravagant, generous love.
Alleluia! We give ourselves to you, so that you may give us to the world.
Come, Spirit of Life, and transform us by your grace. Alleluia!
Leader: Loving God, as the colors in the trees sing your praise,
the goodness of your Holy Spirit in us shows forth your glory.
All: Transform us that we may glow with the beauty of your love.
Be present in us, that we may be present for one another.
Alleluia! Come, Holy Spirit, and transform us by your grace. Alleluia!
Leader: Creator God, all that we have is yours.
All: We thank you for your abundant generosity.
All that we are is yours.
May our whole lives be your praise.
We are your precious coin. Stamp us with your image; spend us as you will.
We worship you now so that in all our living we may worship you, and serve you.
Leader: Creator God, you have blessed us abundantly with gifts we cannot count.
All: You have placed in our hands lives that shine with your glory.
Come and claim the lives that are yours.
Take them and use them as you will.
Alleluia! Come, Holy Spirit, and transform us by your grace. Alleluia!
Collect / Prayer of the Day
Creator God, we come from you, spoken into being by your Word, made in your image. Speak to us now; re-shape us again by your Word of love, as a potter re-shaping a vessel. We belong to you. Make us as you desire, and use us as you wish. We pray in the name of Christ and the power of your Holy Spirit. Amen.
God of love, you hold our hearts in your hands.
God of love, you hold our lives in your light.
God of love, you hold our present in your care.
We are still, and we listen for your voice. Amen.
Loving God, like Moses in the wilderness, we want to see you. We want assurance of your presence and your guidance. But we do not see your face. Instead we seek you in your mercy. We listen for you in scripture. We open our hearts to you in your Word proclaimed. We give thanks for your gracious, faithful presence in our hearts and among us. Bless us, as we listen for you. Amen.
Gracious God, the trees bear gold, and the color of sun.
Each day we pass through the gates of heaven.
You are with us, and we rejoice.
You speak to us, and so we listen.
Re-create us by your Presence; shape us by your Word;
make us into your glory, by your grace;
mint us as your coins that you may spend for the world
as boldly and with as deep joy as the trees of the field. Amen.
God of love, eternal creator, you have made us in your image. We are the evidence of your love. Speak your Word to us, shape us in your image, set your seal upon us, that we may be all you have created us to be. We pray in the company of Christ and the power of your Holy Spirit. Amen.
(suitable as a Collect, preparation for hearing scriptures, or invitation to prayer)
by the mystery of your grace
we are stamped with the image of your love.
Let your image shine in us now;
be our worth and our beauty.
Let us hear your love in us
speak your word. Amen.
Prayer of Confession
The grace of God be with you.
And also with you.
Trusting in God’s tender mercy, let us confess our sin to God with one another.
Most merciful God, we confess that we have sinned against you.
We have thought our lives our own.
We have spent them according to our desires
and protected them according tour fears.
And therefore we have not served you perfectly,
nor loved our neighbors as ourselves.
reclaim us, and restore your image in us,
that we may faithfully love you and serve you. Amen.
[Silent prayer… the word of grace]
… God, we confess we have paid the tribute of our lives
to worldly authorities and not to you.
We have forgotten that we are made in your image,
and we are yours.
Receive us again, reclaim us, redeem us.
Forgive our sin, heal our fear,
and stamp us with grace
so you may give us freely to the world.
More than enough
more present than I can see or feel,
more gracious than I can understand,
more loving than makes sense.
I rest from needing to know,
I rest from having to believe,
I rest even from faith and from wisdom.
I see enough.
I receive enough.
You are here, more than enough,
pure goodness, more than enough.
Response / Creed / Affirmation
We believe in God, eternal Creator, who makes us in God’s image, who creates all that is and all that is to be.
We follow Jesus, God’s Christ, who embodied God’s love, teaching and healing, proclaiming grace and reconciling people. He gave himself fully in love, even to death, and God raised him to life again. He showed us how to live, and lives among us still, calling us to extravagant compassion.
We live by the Holy Spirit, God’s presence alive in us, who makes us the coin of God’s realm, the image of God’s love. God’s Spirit us as one church, the Body of Christ, by whose grace we embody the forgiveness of sin, the power of resurrection and the gift of eternal life. In the Spirit’s power we give ourselves to God, that God may spend us lavishly for the sake of the healing of the world, in the name of Christ. Amen.
Loving God, we are yours. We belong to you who creates all things, in whose image all people are made.
Christ, we are yours. You have loved us, healed us, called us and anointed us with your Spirit. We belong to your death and resurrection and ministry.
Holy Spirit, we are yours. By your grace we belong to the church, the Body of Christ. God gives us the gifts of forgiveness, resurrection and eternal life, and the gift of participating in the healing of the world. God, as your beloved, we devote ourselves to you and your will, wholly, joyfully and with the help of Christ. Amen.
Prayer of Dedication / Sending / after Communion
[Adapt as needed.]
Gracious God, we thank you for (the mystery that you give yourself to us / this mystery in which you have given yourself to us.) God of love, we are your precious coins, bearing your image, upheld by your worth. Spend us generously as you will for the purposes you desire, for the sake of the healing of the world, in the name of Christ, and the power of your Spirit. Amen.
Gracious God, we give you our gifts as symbols of our lives. Receive them with love, bless them with grace, and use them according to your will. In our giving may we empty ourselves and be your humble servants. Send us into the world: awake, attentive, and present, to embody your grace, and to do justice in your name, so that in our generosity, mercy and justice others may see your presence and rejoice. Amen
Living and true God, we return to you the things that are yours – our time, our skills, our possessions, ourselves. Bless us and these your gifts! Move us to works of faith and labors of love for the good of all people and the wholeness of all creations. Amen.
(Click on titles to view, and hear an audio clip, on the Music page)
All of the Gifts I Have (Tune: Fairest Lord Jesus)
All of the gifts I have, all that is within me,
you give to me, O God, with care;
all of my prayers and skills, passions and energies
you grant to me to freely share.
Here are my hopes and dreams, attitudes and deepest loves,
all of the treasure to which I cling.
I will not hold them in, stilling my ardent song,
but serving you I’ll freely sing.
In all I keep or give, may I do my very best
in everything I say and do,
in harmony with you, only to love and bless,
with joy, to serve and honor you.
I Belong to You (Tune: The Water Is Wide – Gift of Love)
Beloved, I belong to you.
You give me birth; you make me new,
your image formed, by Spirit stirred.
You are the Song; I am your Word.
Whatever pains I may endure,
I still belong. Your love is sure.
Since I am yours, your will I do.
I trust and give myself to you.
I am your coin to richly spend,
so spend me, God, as you intend.
You bless my end; you hold my worth;
send me to love throughout the earth.
Beloved, I belong to you.
Do with me what your love will do.
Bear me, and I, through ease or strife
will find in you eternal life.
The Giving Song (Tune: DOVE OF PEACE -— “I Come with Joy”)
God, send me out into the world to share all I possess.
My generosity shall be the faith that I confess,
the faith that I confess
For you have given me such gifts, grace infinite and deep,
that I can only share them all. There’s nothing I will keep,
there’s nothing I will keep..
And let my giving change me, Lord, to make me more like you:
to let your blessing flow through me, creating me anew,
creating me anew.
My life will not be known by what I have, but how I share,
courageously, with trust in you, with love and joy and care,
with love and joy and care.