Sermon by Rev Sydney Maitland for Sunday 22 October 2017.
Several years ago Eileen and I attended a Christian married couples weekend. We arrived at the venue and went into the room where the group was assembled, and we must have been among the last to arrive.
The room was full of people, chatting comfortably and confidently. They all seemed to know one another and were quite relaxed and comfortable in each-others’ company. This room-full of fantastic looking Christians made us feel very unprepared and frankly a little uncertain.
As the weekend proceeded we saw and understood more. The atmosphere relaxed, and we found that all the other couples had things to deal with and insecurities to handle. In fact we were among the more confident and better-founded of the whole group – but we certainly did not know or feel it at the beginning.
And I think that when looking at others we also are impressed at how calm and collected they look, happy in each-others’ company confident and relaxed in their manner. How could we possibly measure up to them?
And yet in Exodus, Moses who had stood up to Pharaoh and demanded in the Lord’s Name, ‘Let My people go’, who had commanded the plagues of Egypt and the parting of the Red Sea, Moses who had summoned water from the rocks and whose prayers for food were answered with manna and the flights of quails, this same Moses also suffered from a crisis of confidence.
He felt small in the sight of Israel and insignificant in the sight of God. With his inadequacies pressing upon him, Moses asked of God signs of reassurance and of comfort.
Was he doing the right thing? Was he leading the people according to God’s purposes? Was he going to fail at the last hurdle and challenge?
And so Moses desperately wanted a lasting assurance and an undeniable sign of God’s favour. Maybe he was losing his nerve or his faith or his sense of God’s favour but Moses was in serious need.
And so he pleaded with God – ‘Show me Your glory’ – ‘Let me see for myself again, as at the burning bush’. ‘Renew my confidence in You.’
And so God did – not a direct revelation which would burn Moses out completely, but a vision none the less and a reassurance of the Name and nature and purpose of God.
For all his misgivings, Moses was met and comforted anew.
Writing to the Thessalonians, Paul saw something different. This was a church which was confident and effective. They were committed to the tasks of the gospel and they were content to rely on the spiritual provision that God had made to them in the power and presence of the Holy Spirit.
And so Paul was glad to give thanks to God for them, for their works of faith and their labour of love. They were steadfast in hope as they looked in their lives and hearts to Jesus Christ. They continued in a full conviction in the truth and reliability of the gospel and they were willing to live according to its message.
Evidently they could tread that narrow line between faith and arrogance on one hand, and faith and unbelief on the other.
And their word and their works were spreading from Salonica in northern Greece to Macedonia and Achaia, further afield. The account of their effectiveness was reaching Paul as he languished in prison, either in Caesarea or in Rome.
And that bring me to the gospel in which an unholy alliance of Pharisees who detested Rome, and the Herodians who were their collaborators, tried to trap Jesus with a question about taxes.
Jesus had been set up with trick questions and situations on several occasions so this was nothing new.
What was new was His approach: using the very coinage in question to turn the argument.
Jesus was utterly confident in His situation before God and so had no fear about anything else.
His answer was about authority: He did not question Caesar’s right to issue coinage and to levy taxes on his subject peoples. He was far more interested in the way the Caesar – and all politicians since – used their powers and whether they were intruding into the things of God.
That question applies today: will our rulers support or will they obstruct our ability to meet and worship; will they support or obstruct our ability to relate to one another and to serve the body of Christ?
Above all, will they support or obstruct our tasks in fulfilling the great commandment to proclaim the gospel in all lands and to make disciples in all nations?
For no regime or government need be threatened by the church or by the gospel – only those that wish to be threatened and which wish to play God in the lives of their subjects.
No society is going to be undermined by Christians meeting together and praying and worshipping.
In that sense we also are commanded to render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, to God the things that are God’s, and to one another to abide in the power of the gospel message, in the grace of Jesus’ forgiveness, the love of God’s giving of Jesus, and the fullness of the Holy Spirit in so doing.