8am Low Mass, 10.30am High Mass
Sermon preached by Father Ian Elliott Davies, Rector
Exodus 33:12-33 Moses in the cleft of the rock & sees the back of the Lord God
1 Thessalonians 1:1-10 you became imitators of us
St Matthew 22:15-22 render to Caesar
“Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s; and unto God the things that are God’s.”
The story is told of the little, five year old William Temple, the future Archbishop of Canterbury, who was somewhat precocious and rather annoyingly intelligent, asking his father Frederick Temple who was himself at the time Archbishop of Canterbury, “Daddy, why don’t the philosophers rule the world?’ His father, obviously a wise old bird answered, “But of course they DO, silly, -two hundred years after they are dead!”
Dr Tom Wright, the Bishop of Durham, (in his Westminster Abbey lectures) has suggested various other time frames might work as well: Plato still wields a huge influence and is going strong after two thousand five hundred years; René Descartes, the French sceptic, still remains enormously and rather unhelpfully powerful after four hundred years. However, it is above all the philosophers of what called itself, rather too pretentiously I think, “the Enlightenment”, who have come into their own over the last two hundred years. Even though it was, in a particular sort of way Descartes who was their founding father, it is with Locke, Berkeley (after whom that delightful part of the Bay Area is named) and Hume that the Enlightenment movement has grown to its full stature- and on the European Continent Rousseau, Lessing, Herder and Kant have added their own special type of ‘miracle-grow’ to the fertile soil.
One of the key assumptions that these men, and they were, tellingly, all white men, have handed on to us is the assumption of a split-level world in which religion and faith belong upstairs while society and politics are carefully kept, down here, in their proper place downstairs. Our own American culture owes an immense amount to this very clear and distinct separation; not just in terms of Church and State but also in matters related to ethics, morals, rights, individualism, voice, responsibilities, choice, commerce and consumerism. One of the results of this split-level thinking was the understanding that religion and faith were to remain, essentially, private matters. What you believe, your own relationship with God, it is all up to you, but don’t let it impinge on public reality. The other obvious result of this, and this is the good bit of the Enlightenment, was that politics could now emancipate itself from having God or the Church tell it what to do.
It almost goes without saying that this split-level world is exactly what many of our contemporaries assume is the norm for all the world’s cultural, ethical and political conversations. We see endless problems in cultures where there are clashes between what we think should be private, religious matters and the rough edges of where they meet and conflict with politics or international diplomacy. In our own country the current issues surrounding same-sex relationships and the institution of marriage are just one more occasion for heated debate and fundamentalist hand-wringing.
Now many people will hear today’s Gospel reading, and many, many politicians will hear today’s Gospel reading as well- and assume that ‘render unto Caesar the things that belong to Caesar and render unto God the things that belong to God’ and assume that it is affirming such a great divide, such a split-level world. This, of course, is why many regard any link between Church and State as at best a strange anachronism in Britain and at worst a dangerous source of corruption and dictatorship. “Surely,” they would say, “a Church-State link belongs with witchcraft and superstition, with Crusades and prince-bishops? Surely,” and this is one of the favourite lines of standard Enlightenment rhetoric, “surely it’s mediaeval?”
Well, it is and it isn’t- as Dr Wright is quick t point out. It’s not possible in one sermon or in any series of sermons to describe the reactions against the Enlightenment in the Romantic Movement or the huge cultural changes that have taken place in literature, architecture, music and industry, let alone touch on the current, thoroughly modern Millie of postmodernism. Suffice it to say that today we seem to yearn, to long for the ancient, the veritable and the numinous- which may go a little way to explaining why Dr Tolkien’s “The Lord of the Rings” or Ms Rowling’s “Harry Potter” novels have gained an astonishing popularity among all kinds of people, not least among young school children.
So turning to the more thorny issue of what this text might mean for us today, most Christian commentators will agree that the import of Christ’s saying that we should “render to God the things that belong to God” indicates the universal nature of truly responsible stewardship; that everything, actually, is in the realm of God’s creation, which is God’s gift to us and that our giving to God should reflect maturity and reach every part of our lives. So what should we give to God? Well, that which is stamped, made in the image of God and conveys God’s image- us! We are made in God’s image and we are called to give our whole selves, not just some part. As it says in the Rite One Mass “…and here we offer and present unto thee, ourselves, our souls and bodies to be a living reasonable, holy and living sacrifice unto thee.”
But, you know, most of us, and I include myself in this, take a rather lax and lazy view of this. “Well, if everything belongs to God anyway, then we don’t really have to make much of an effort, we don’t have to give much thought in taking responsibility or stewardship seriously, because it all belongs to God anyway.” Hmmm. And then we simply go on treating pledging as we would treat the tip to the rather polite and delightful waiter in the restaurant, or view our pledge as an amount somewhere between what we spend on our leisure activities, the cinema or- and this is really the worst end of my lazy thinking- a sort of Church tax. Ooops. Properly managing our money, properly managing our time, properly managing our gifts and abilities means that, as mature, adult members of the Body of Christ we share responsibly, make the effort responsibly, exercise discipline, restraint and devote ourselves to our family, these relationships and this education in the school of faith. Giving is an indication of value- so for those of us with lazy hearts or minds that means we will be somewhat challenged by proportional giving- because we will be confronted with the rather dim, the rather ungrateful nature of our hedonistic selves. But facing up to the cost of discipleship, now that will be a challenge whose gifts, graces, blessings, arduous tasks and hard work will invigorate each of us in this place.
[Account of St Laurence, Deacon and Martyr, interrogation by the Emperor and bringing the Church’s vast wealth and riches]
Posted by: The Parish