Then he said to them, ‘Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.’

Matthew 22:21a

The question that the Pharisees ask Jesus is a question that has been asked time and time again anytime people of faith find themselves living within as system that does not reflect their values. Their question “is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor” was really not about the emperor or Rome, but about how Jesus interpreted Jewish law.

You see, the Ten Commandments instructed the Jewish people that they should abstain from idolatry. “You shall not make for yourself an idol,” says the LORD God.[1]  The Biblical instruction against idolatry wasn’t merely a warning against bowing down and worshiping other Gods. It was also, and perhaps more fundamentally, about adopting values that were contrary to God. Although surrounded by people who worshipped other gods and who therefore had different values, the Jewish people were to refrain from worshiping those gods and adopting their values. “I am the LORD your God,” God says. “You shall have no other gods before me.”

For Rome, Caesar was a god. When Rome would conquer a new territory, they allowed them to retain the worship of their cultural gods, so long as prayers were offered to the Emperor. One of the problems that some traditional Jews had with Judaism under Roman occupation is that they believe that the Temple – the very address of God on earth – had been desecrated by sacrifices to the Roman Emperor.

The Pharisees (the sect of Judaism who regularly engages Jesus through the Gospels) were among those who shunned the temple system and refused to participate in what they believed was polluted worship. And being that Caesar’s (the God-Emperor’s) head was on the coins, engaging in commerce using Roman currency might have been seen by some as practicing idolatry. By asking Jesus “is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor,” they were hoping to trip Jesus up by catching him saying something that would either be blasphemous to their faith (“Yes! Pay the tax!) or treasonous to the empire (“No! Resist taxation!”).

Jesus, ever the cleaver one, catches them in their trap and not only answers their question, but proves an amazing depth of knowledge of the Hebrew scriptures. He flips it into a lesson on identity. “Give to Caesar what has Caesar’s image,” he says, “and give to God what bears God’s image.”

In the first creation myth found in the Book of Genesis, the writer says that after God had created light out of the darkness; suspended the dome of the sky from the scaffold of eternity and hung the sun, moon, and stars; dug out the oceans and hand-molded the continents; ordered a wide variety of blooming flowers; and hand-crafted the birds of the air, fish of the sea, and animals of the land; God sat down to make the crown of creation – human beings.

“’Let us make humankind in our image,’ God said, ‘according to our likeness…’
…So God created humankind in his image,
in the image of God he created them,
male and female he created them.”[2]

Beloved in Christ, you and I are created in the image of God. You and I bear the imprint of the very creator of the universe. When Jesus says, “give to God the things that are God’s,” it might be that he is saying “give God the things that bear God’s image. Give God your whole and entire self.”

Idolatry occurs when we give what belongs to God to anything that is not God: when our words suggest that we love God, but our priorities suggest otherwise; when we find ourselves too busy to pray or even to take time to rest and enjoy creation as God desires; when we fail to recognize who we are and whose we are. When that happens, we assume the values of the world around us: anxiety, fear, division, hatred and skepticism, greed and pride. Peace, love, mercy, compassion, justice, and grace only come when we align our priorities with the vision of God.

Listen, I know it is hard to consider giving our whole selves to God when there are so many other demands on our time and resources. We have children to raise, families to support, jobs to do, classes to pass, and projects to complete. God knows this. That might be why Jesus says to the Pharisees “give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar.” In order to live in the world, there are some things that need to be done. But being in the world does not mean that we are of the world. We are called to be different in a way that bears witness to the reality of another kingdom, of another King, of another, higher way of being.

Do our priorities reflect what we say matters the most in your life? More importantly, do they match what God says is important? Do our schedules? Our bank accounts? Our relationships?

Do they match the image of a God so filled with love that that love overflowed and became the universe?

Do they match a God so compassionate that God stepped through the curtain of eternity onto the stage of time in order to rewrite our tragedy into a victory?

Do they match a God so filled with generosity, that God gave God’s only Son into the hands of the world so that the whole world might be brought back to God?

Do they match what we say each week: “All things come from you, O Lord. And of your own have we given you?”

“Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor or not” is the wrong question. It was intended to trap and confine. But Jesus, rather than try to trap them in return, responds with a Gospel that frees them from earthly anxiety if they cared to listen.

“You are created in God’s image,” he says. “Beloved, you are mine.”


[1] Exodus 20:4a

[2] Genesis 1:26-27

Parish-wide Meeting Sunday 13 October (click to view)

A parish-wide meeting will be held after the liturgy where the Wardens will share information on the process to call a new rector and our status in that process. Most importantly, the Wardens and Vestry want input from parishioners on what attributes and skills we should be seeking in a new rector and what we want prospective rectors to understand about who we are. If you are unable to attend but wish to share your thoughts, please feel free to email Senior Warden Meredith Johnson.


August 29, 2019
Dear Saint Paul’s Parish Family,

We are sorry to share so early in our journey with Father Marcus that he has submitted his resignation and will be leaving us October 6, 2019. He has accepted a position at the Diocese of Connecticut. In his new position, he will be the Dean of Formation and will also be working as a Missional Priest-in-Charge of a faith community. This is a wonderful opportunity for him allowing him to continue to strengthen his gifts. The Diocese of Connecticut will benefit as we have from Father Marcus’s passion. Although it is hard to see him go, we have learned and done wonderful things as a parish with his leadership and guidance over the past 2-1/2 years. It will be exciting to watch his continued growth from afar knowing we were blessed to have been part of his early career. Father Marcus’s letter to the parish is included in this email.

So now we begin to look forward. Beth and I will be in contact with ECMN and Bishop Prior to plan for an interim priest and to look at putting together a search committee. We will gather together and consider what we have learned about ourselves during our time with Father Marcus. This is a chance for us to evaluate where we are and to make plans for moving forward: what we want to be sure to carry forward, what things we might want back that have changed, and yes, what might not have been tackled yet that we want to explore? We ask that each of you give prayerful consideration to these questions. They will be foundational to our Rector search.

We know the amazing strength of this parish and are confident we will become even stronger from the challenge that has been put in front of us. Please feel free to contact us with any questions or concerns.

Blessings,
Meredith Johnson, Senior Warden (meredithvj@gmail.com) Beth Carlson, Junior Warden (pbcarlson@comcast.net)


Dear Saint Paul’s,

It is with a mix of sadness and joy that I inform you that I offered my resignation to the Vestry on Monday, August 19. My last day as your priest will be Sunday, October 6, 2019. I have accepted a call to serve as the Dean of Formation for the Episcopal Church in Connecticut, a position that will also include serving as a Missional Priest-in- Charge of a faith community there.

Throughout my time as your Rector, I’ve tried to preach, teach, and exemplify a consistent message: each of us is called to grow in Christian maturity to meet the challenges and opportunities of being the Church in this new missional age. Our patron, Saint Paul the Apostle, calls this the “full stature of Christ” (Eph. 4:13). This means taking seriously our individual and collective calls to be leaders, not only within the walls of our parish but also in the wider community. Leading, especially in times of great change, means taking risks, being open to failure that leads to learning, collaborating with others, and standing firmly in our identity and purpose.

People across Saint Paul’s Church have heard this message, stepped up, and stepped forward. Together, we have faced down a major challenge head-on –tackling our budget deficit– and as a result are experiencing a renewal of energy and spirit. We have new ministries popping up all around, a greater capacity for innovation, and deeper commitment to Christ and the mission of God he invites us into. There are others who are still afraid to step forward or unsure where they fit, and that’s okay. Saint Paul’s moves forward together.

My new role will give me the opportunity to help form other ordained leaders in what we’ve done together: translating an age-old faith to a contemporary context. I am excited and honored to be asked by Bishop Ian Douglas to serve the Church in this role.

None of this takes away the anxiety, sadness, or grief that many will feel at this time. Transitions are always hard, especially when it comes when things are going well. I have not served as your Rector for long, but we’ve done a lot together. I will pray for you as you discern what leadership model God might be inviting you to try and who might best step into that role to walk alongside you as you continue engaging God’s mission. Your wardens are two of the most capable people I’ve ever met and together with your vestry and the entire community, as it has for the last 139 years, your journey continues.

There will be time to say goodbye, and I will continue to serve faithfully until my final day. In the meantime, the mission of God calls us onward. There are individuals and communities in need of the Gospel – and it is our job as followers of Jesus Christ to proclaim it, in word and example.

Faithfully, Marcus+

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