Image Given Back

The Rev. Anne Grizzle


I never met my grandfather, Forest Fletcher.  He was a track star at Notre Dame, so good he went on to run in the 1912 Stockholm Olympics.   He became a coach at Washington and Lee University, beloved of students.  But he died when my father was seventeen, after a long debilitating illness.  He was a sort of legendary personality that changed people who knew him, and it was sad not to have known him as a granddaughter. 

I remember a visit from my Aunt Pat, something that did not happen often because her family lived in New York while I grew up in Staunton.  I was grown with three sons, living in Houston.  I just remember two scenes from the visit but they are vivid.  I recall her helping me in the garden that morning with some weeding and planting, and she was down on her knees with hands in the dirt.  And I recall our afterwards sitting at the kitchen table talking – she was telling a story and it had a sort of impish adventure with a dose of creative humor.  At that instant, I had a strange, strong sense –ahhaaa, I see my grandfather!  For the way in which she spoke had exactly the same quality I knew from my father –which was not from my more prim and proper and wonderful grandmother.  I saw my grandfather because I experienced his image expressed in his two children.

In our gospel for today, Jesus calls us to remember in whose image we are made and to whom we owe our all.  In the scene from our gospel of Matthew, Jesus is accosted by the Pharisees (religious leaders) joined this time also by the Herodians (those with allegiance to Herod the deputy of the Roman emperor).  They are trying to trick him by asking whether to pay taxes to Caesar or not. If he says do not pay to Caesar, he would be declared a rebel by the Romans.  If he says they should pay, they could accuse him of betraying his own Jewish people.   Perhaps we would have wished for him to say no and free us all of that load of government taxes but Jesus does not ban government taxes. What he does is  put it in its place and turn the focus to God with his oft quoted words “render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s and unto God that which is God’s.”  Render – or in other translations give, another give back.  He of course leaves a question open, as Jesus usually does, for us to answer.  What is God’s for us to render unto him?

Tertullian, an early Christian writer and apologist, was the first to observe that just as the coin had Caesar’s image stamped on it, every one of us has the image of God stamped on us.  Our creativity, our intelligence, our power, our love – all of these are expressions of the very nature of God. Just as my father and aunt were made in the image of their father, each of us are so endowed with the essential qualities, the very image of our creator God. 

So Jesus then and today calls us to render not just, or even primarily, our money but own selves to God.  Indeed often before the offertory we make the declaration found in I Chronicles, “all things come of Thee and of thine own have we given thee.”    Paul in his letter to the Romans chapter 6 beseeches us, “Offer every part of yourself to him as an instrument of righteousness” and later in chapter 12, “by the mercies of God … present yourselves as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. “

Ourselves a living sacrifice is something more than deciding if we should up our pledge from 3 to 4 percent, or to giving a tithe, the Biblical ten percent usually cited as a standard of giving.  Jesus is asking for so much more.  But it must begin with the ahhaaa that might come to us, like that day in my kitchen with my Aunt Pat, that we are made in the very likeness of God, that we are beloved children or grandchildren of our heavenly Father, that the blood of our Jesus that we swallow at communion runs in our veins.  Perhaps that ahhaaa might come to you when you are singing and are amazed at the beauty of the voice you hear that is beyond practice, or when you sit on the floor with children and have a patience beyond duty, or when you see a person on the street who does not look or smell inviting and yet your heart is drawn to shake their hand and look in their eyes with a compassion out of somewhere beyond.  And in one of these instances you realize, this is gift, I am gift of God which must be returned with gratitude. 

Today after this service we have an opportunity for some image giving back.  In McCracken Hall, there will be a ministry fair.   You will have a chance to see the many varied ministries that go on at Trinity.   I invite you to go with an eye to the image of God stamped not on a Roman coin but into the fabric of your very being.  Pay attention to the particular gifts God has given to you and ways in which you might render them joyfully back to your Creator.  You might try a sort of Frederick Buechner matching –  finding the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.  Does your image resonate with the call for hospitality on picnic crew and noon lunch or need for vibrant choir members?  For nurturing care of children and youth or mission with the poor in Haiti and Honduras?  Perhaps you have a brain for novel theology or a heart for Bible study  – out of 22 tables surely one will stir your God imaged self in a new way.

I would advise against looking for what is needed most to take it on like an extra piece of luggage you haul around martyr like – although if you have the gift of service and get pleasure out of doing the work no one else likes to do, go for it. Don’t go with a drudgery, for our Creator loves a cheerful giver.  But go to look and learn and hopefully discover something that stirs your heart or engages your mind or takes your strength.   You will have opportunity to imagine how your unique person can give back to your Creator out of your own gifts that were after all given by God to you.   This season of stewardship is a time for reimagining how we might render back to our Creator generously and cheerfully of the resources given us as children – treasure yes but also time and talent.

When Trinity’s rector, Paul Nancarrow, said he was going on sabbatical, I along with you, was invited to pitch in in some new ways.  Since then, a picture of his return has come to me.    My vision is not that of a parent returning from having left the children with a dutiful babysitter where the children jump into their parents’ arms and say never leave me again.  It is not like a tender of the pot who when the chef returns is glad for the chef to be back about his business.  No it something more akin to the picture in Ephesians, where we read each of us is given grace and gifts to equip the saints for the work of ministry.  God’s people are called to “grow up in every way…. into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by every ligament …as each part is working properly, promotes the body’s growth in building itself in love.”  I think Muffie may be a ligament but I imagine all  of the saints – that’s you -having stepped up to  invitation to spiritual maturity and found new matches for your giftedness so when Paul returns he finds things going better than ever because each of you have stepped up – with treasure, time, and talent.  Then I imagine him gladly – with renewed energy and cheer himself – rejoining the party of our gladness given for the parish’s and the world’s great hunger.


  1. Juliette Swenson says:

    You were so kind to have as part of your sermon the part about volunteering! I was disappointed that we didn’t get more people to come over to McCracken after the service or to volunteer.