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What person in your life,
or even historical figure,
comes to mind when I say, “Marked by God.”
We’re in a bit of a quandary
in the 21st century
because we know too much.
Anyone who is elevated to a pedestal
soon gets knocked down.
Which, if we thought about it for two seconds,
is what it means to be human.
No one is perfect, no one is God.
But surely there is someone in your life –
a grandparent, aunt or uncle,
sister or brother or guardian,
teacher, mentor, or friend…
who you would say was marked by God.
Not perfect, but in some way,
in some way that really matters,
he or she reflected the light.
Though we now know their darker sides –
and all of them had squirrely, troubling,
and flawed humanity –
there is an easy historical list.
Surely the Quaker abolitionist Susan B. Anthony had the mark.
Frederick Douglas must have had the mark.
Dorthy Day and Mother Teresa
were certainly marked.
The Great Soul Gandhi was marked.
Martin Luther King, Jr. carried the mark.
Nelson Mandela lived and died with the mark.
Some had it and lost it
while others lived much of their lives
very far off the mark
only to end up reflecting the light
of God’s presence.
It is easy to listen to the Gospel argument
about paying taxes and focus on the wrong thing.
And in fairness, taxes seem like the issue.
It was an issue alright, but it is not the punchline.
Jesus, who we claim
was uniquely marked by God,
is thrown into a first century Palestinian
hornet’s nest about taxes.
To understand the bind he was in
we have to know the characters in question.
In the gospel story,
”Herodians” represent religious figures
who served at the whim of civil authority
and who financially and socially benefited
from the Roman occupation.
The Pharisees represent a popular movement within the religion
which was at tension with civil authority.
That was because the Pharisees believed
that the Roman requirement to pay taxes
amounted to coerced blasphemy.
Unmentioned in this story,
but fully present between the lines,
are the Zealots, some of whom
were religious terrorists and insurrectionists.
They believed that payment of taxes
amounted to willful participation in evil.
So when Jesus is asked the question
of whether it is right to pay taxes or not,
it is a cruel trick –
a malicious strategy aimed at endangering
and discrediting him.
Here is what I mean.
For him to say, “yes, it is okay to pay taxes,”
would discredit him with a majority of his peers –
all of whom were over-burdened by taxes.
A “yes” answer would also be met with
the wrath of the Zealots.
But to say “no, don’t pay taxes to Rome,”
was to be arrested for fostering treason
and promoting insurrection.
Standing between yes and no
there seemed no good answer –
no room to move.
But Jesus very cleverly gives a response
rather than an answer.
(I so need to remember that strategy).
You see, Jesus’ response
could be heard differently
by different people
depending upon their perspective.
”Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s
and God what is God’s”
could be heard by both Romans and Zealots
as the right answer.
To the Roman’s Caesar was God
and to the Zealots everything belonged to God.
But Jesus penetrates
the whole issue
with one little word.
Jesus wants to know
whose icon (eikon) is on that coin?
Undoubtedly Jesus intentionally uses
the same word as in the Creation Story
from the Book of Genesis –
where it says we are created
in the icon of God,
or the image of God
as it is usually translated.
Essentially what Jesus is saying,
is that whatever image may appear on the coin
you and I are made with the icon of God upon us.
That may not seem
like a radical thing to say today,
but imagine that idea in a world where
slavery – the ownership of people –
and military occupation –
the ownership of lands and nations of people –
To say instead, that we belong to God
would be downright subversive.
Money that is printed by the U.S. Mint
belongs to the United States of America.
You and I belong to God.
You and I have been imprinted
with the image of God upon us.
You and I, through our Baptismal Covenant,
have committed ourselves
to reflect the image of God
as best we know how.
Our spiritual practice
is all about knowing and showing who we are,
and whose we are.
Let’s think about what icon is upon us –
what others see when they look at us
or when they encounter us in their lives.
For example, with some of my fellow clergy,
I see the icon of office and liturgy upon them
which I do not equate
with the icon of God.
A clerical collar and vestments
are no substitute for the light of God’s presence.
But neither to I believe
that social work and social service
is in and of itself the reflection of that light.
It is not as much about what we do
as it is how we do it.
When we think about those people
upon whom we have seen the icon of God
reflecting from them to us
and to others around them,
what is it about them?
What is it that makes them different
even though we all have the mark?
I think whatever it is
it is carried on love –
a light that emanates from authentic caring.
It doesn’t have to be gushy and sweet either
because we have all known people
who care fiercely
and whose concern for us
was more muscular
I am thinking that the icon of God
glows most intensely
from active caring and
Again, it may be in a household
or feeding program,
a classroom or laboratory,
but it is a unique presence
that we feel
when we are in the presence of it.
And I don’t think it can be faked either.
We know it when we feel it
and we recognize it when it isn’t authentic.
But here is the thing.
We have all been marked.
Every single one of us
has the icon of God upon us.
So the spiritual practice
at the core of the baptismal covenant
must be to work toward reflecting that mark.
By being clear about who we are
and whose we are,
we look for ways to release our care
and liberate our compassion
so they show – so they are felt.
So we are felt.
When I say it directly like that,
it seems like too big a thing.
But when I think about it –
about the people in my life
who carried that mark
and in whose presence I felt it most acutely –
I know it is possible.
Honestly, I think it begins
with just taking seriously that we are
an icon of God.
When we own that,
something in us
starts to stir and move and wiggle up
from inside us.
Well that is all I got today – I hope it is enough
to stir a little something for you.
Again, we are pleased you joined
this community in worship today
and hope any growth, healing, or wellness
begun in you
will be carried and shared with others.
Peace be with you.