The Reverend Robin Sims-Williams
Singing was first used in services, by monks, to carry the sound through large abbeys. Over the years these chants became more complicated, in an attempt to glorify God with the very sound of the words being read. Until church authorities, disapproving of this human influence, had the music simplified or removed all together. The authorities trying to limit the creativity of the people. And this cycle repeats throughout history.
This week in the office there was lots of discussion about the decision of the courts that Article 50 could only be triggered after approval of parliament. I am pleased with the judge’s conclusions, not because I have any hope of it stopping Brexit from happening, but because I think it ensures there is a mandate for the negotiation of Brexit. But it was the debate of authority and independent judiciary that has followed which has been much more important.
Authority in our democracy comes from representation. From service to a constituency and to the crown. But it is never above the law. Albeit laws which they are responsible for writing, but it is important that they are held to account, and their independence in doing so is paramount. Being able to conduct their tasks without threat or ridicule. (Criticism, appeal, of course, but that is a very different thing) An independent judiciary is one of those exports which even the most opposed to the British history of colonialism will probably accept was a good thing.
Perhaps not unlike the improvisation as the singing monks of old elaborated on their simple chants. Jazz is improvised, it is a challenge to the traditional musical rules and certainly any traditional authority that might limit what the music might include or how it might sound. The performer has the freedom and the power to create. But even then, there are rules of conduct, even though they too can be broken or even bent, the musician needs to understand them and known them well before they can successfully flaunt them. Because, in the end, much like our democracy, the authority still belongs to the masses. Go too far and the sound looses it’s appeal
In this evening’s Gospel the Pharisees again plot to entrap Jesus. They send others to go and ask him a question, to trick him into giving a blasphemous answer. Not unlike the Jazz musician who understands the rules of engagement, Jesus doesn’t give them what they are looking for. They want him to say that taxes shouldn’t be paid to the emperor - but only the tithe is due to be paid. Then he might be scrutinised under the authority of Rome, imprisoned and punished. But Jesus looks at the coin and asks whose face it has on it? and whose title? Then give it to the emperor if it is his. But also give to God what is rightfully God’s.
Lets not forget that if the coin has the image of the Emperor, we all have, as God's creation, the image of God imprinted upon us. We often read the Old Testament as being about God’s chosen people, a people chosen to have a special relationship with God for the purpose of their salvation, of their prosperity. But much like the wisdom which Solomon asks for in our Old Testament reading, not for himself, but in service to God’s people. Likewise, the people of God are chosen not for their own prosperity, but to be a conduit by which God can be known to all people.
Unlike the authority of leaders and governments, which needs to be kept in check lest it becomes corrupt, and which has limits both geographical and temporal. Which comes and goes in various guises. Jesus’ message is that God has authority over all things and all people. Jewish or not, Christian or not, religious or not. Because God made the Roman Emperor, in the end, Ceasar is not outside of God’s authority either.
But within that reign of the most wise and loving God, we are all given a freedom, a will to create and be creative, for good or ill. And it is by God’s grace that in the end… None of us are outside that loving rule of God. So we should all go out from here free, by the grace of God's love, to improvise within our daily lives.