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Sermon for 16 October

First Reading:               Isaiah 45:1–7

1 Thus says the LORD to his anointed, to Cyrus, whose right hand I have grasped to subdue nations before him and strip kings of their robes, to open doors before him —
and the gates shall not be closed:  2 I will go before you and level the mountains,  I
will break in pieces the doors of bronze and cut through the bars of iron, 3 I will give you the treasures of darkness and riches hidden in secret places, so that you may know that it is I, the LORD, the God of Israel, who call you by your name.  4 For the sake of my servant Jacob, and Israel my chosen, I call you by your name, I surname you, though you do not
know me.  5 I am the LORD, and there is no other; besides me there is no god.  I arm you, though you do not know me, 6 so that they may know, from the rising of the sun and from the west, that there is no one besides me; I am the LORD, and there is no other.  7 I form light and create darkness, I make weal and create woe; I the LORD do all these things.

Psalm:                   Psalm 96:1–13

1 Sing to the LORD a new song; sing to the LORD, all the earth.  2 Sing to the LORD, bless the name | of the LORD; proclaim God’s salvation from | day to day.  3 Declare God’s glory
among the nations and God’s wonders among all peoples.  4 For great is the LORD and greatly to be praised, more to be feared than all gods.   5 As for all the gods of the nations, they are but idols; but you, O LORD, have made the heavens.  6 Majesty and magnificence are in your presence; power and splendor are in your sanctuary.  7 Ascribe to the LORD, you families of the peoples, ascribe to the LORD honor and power.  8 Ascribe to the LORD
the honor due the holy name; bring offerings and enter the courts of the LORD.  9 Worship the LORD in the beauty of holiness; tremble before the LORD, all the earth.  10 Tell it out among the nations:  “The LORD is king!  The one who made the world so firm that it
cannot be moved will judge the peoples with equity.”  1 1Let the heavens rejoice, and let the earth be glad; let the sea thunder and all that is in it; let the field be joyful and all that is therein.  12 Then shall all the trees of the wood shout for joy at your coming, O LORD, for you come to judge the earth.  13 You will judge the world with righteousness and the peoples with your truth.

Second Reading:                                                             1 Thessalonians 1:1–10

1 Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy, To the church of the Thessalonians in God the Father and
the Lord Jesus Christ:  Grace to you and peace.  2We always give thanks to God for all of you and mention you in our prayers, constantly  3remembering before our God and Father your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.
4For we know, brothers and sisters beloved by God, that he has chosen you,  5because
our message of the gospel came to you not in word only, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction; just as you know what kind of persons we proved to be among you for your sake.  6And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, for in spite
of persecution you received the word with joy inspired by the Holy Spirit,  7so that you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia.  8For the word of the Lord has sounded forth from you not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but in every place your faith in God has become known, so that we have no need to speak about it.  9For the
people of those regions report about us what kind of welcome we had among you, and how you turned to God from idols, to serve a living and true God,  10and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead — Jesus, who rescues us from the wrath that is coming.

Gospel:                                     Matthew 22:15–22

15Then the Pharisees went and plotted to entrap him in what he said.  16So they sent their disciples to him, along with the Herodians, saying, “Teacher, we know that you are sincere, and teach the way of God in accordance with truth, and show deference to no one; for you do not regard people with partiality.  17Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, or not?”  18But Jesus, aware of their malice, said, “Why are you putting me to the test, you hypocrites?  19Show me the coin used for the tax.” And they brought him a denarius.  20Then he said to them, “Whose head is this, and whose title?”  21They answered, “The emperor’s.” 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.”  22When they
heard this, they were amazed; and they left him and went away.


What do we owe?

A young lady was soaking up the sun’s rays on a Florida beach when a little boy in his swimming trunks, carrying a towel, came up to her and asked her, “Do you believe in God?”  She was surprised by the question but she replied, “Why, yes, I do.”  Then he asked her:  “Do you go to church every Sunday?”  Again, her answer was “Yes!”  He then asked:  “Do you read your Bible and pray every day?”   Again she said, “Yes!”  By now her curiosity was very much aroused.  The little lad sighed with relief and said, “Good, will you hold my quarter while I go in swimming?”

The little boy was straightforward and honest in his questions because he wanted to entrust to the lady something valuable.  The Pharisees in our gospel reading for this morning aren’t however.  They have no intent in entrusting Jesus with anything.  They’re not looking for the answer to a question.  They don’t want someone to hold their quarter.  They’re looking for a way to get rid of this trouble making Nazarene named Jesus.  The Pharisees were so angry, it blinded them.

Consider for a moment the ironies here:  We know, because we live on this side of the
resurrection, that Jesus was God.  They however, thought he was demonic, an agent of Satan.  As far as they were concerned, He was a blasphemer, a troublemaker, someone who constantly threatened their way of life.  We know that Jesus is the King of kings.  They thought He wanted to usurp their authority and become the King of Israel.  We know that He is the Son of God.  They thought He was simply Joseph and Mary’s son.  We know that Jesus has influenced the world for more than 2000 years.  They thought His influence would end at the cross.  Of course we know there’s more to this story than simply the responsibility to pay our taxes and giving our title with a cheerful heart, in reality, this story truly is a fascinating story.

Our reaction, anytime we read this account, is to look at the Pharisees and shake our heads.  How could they have been so wrong when the truth was standing right in front of them?  The reality is that they were upset because Jesus constantly held them accountable and exposed their hypocrisy.  “Teacher, we know that You are sincere,” and teach the way of God.”  Not for a moment did they mean a word of the complement they were giving.  This was their way of setting Him up.  It was their way of putting Him at ease before they stabbed Him in the back.  Tell us then, they continue, what do You think?  Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor?

To be fair, I suppose we ought to be grateful to the Pharisees.  In their question, which Jesus says was motivated by malice, they prompt one of the greatest teaching moments of Jesus’ ministry.  It’s a subject that many of us dislike.  It may not seem like much on the face of it, but the implications here have echoed through the centuries and has shaped
western societies.

The quote we find in the latter part of verse 21 is one that may be as familiar, even to non-believers, as the 23rd Psalm.  This is particularly true when quoting this passage from the King James translation:  Jesus answers the Pharisees’ deceitful question by saying, “Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s; and unto God the things
that are God’s.”   From this passage comes the old expression, there are only two things which are inevitable, death and taxes.  But at least death doesn’t increase, someone has opinioned, every time Congress meets.

And with this response of Jesus in mind, let’s consider two questions in order to find out why this little teaching has had such a great influence.  The first question is:  What is Caesar’s?  However, before I answer this question I’d like to back up a moment and take a look at the actual question that is being asked of Jesus.   It’s important to understand that the Pharisees aren’t asking Jesus a secular question:  What do you think about paying Taxes?  They’re really asking Him a religious question.  We can see this by the way they
phrase the query.  They’re asking, “Is it permitted…”  The question could also be paraphrased by asking:  Is it in agreement with the Torah to pay taxes to Caesar?  What they’re getting at is, if the Mosaic Law would support taxes paid to a pagan ruler?

Matthew tells us that the Pharisees went out of the temple and laid plans to trap Jesus with His words.  This is interesting in itself.  Even in their hypocrisy, they felt that they had
to go out of the temple to conspire; they dare not do it in a holy place.  There’s no absence of malice here; they’ve gone out and deliberately fashioned this tricky question.  When they return, Jesus is presented with a dilemma.  If Jesus says don’t pay the tax,
they’d be able to accuse him before Pilate of anti-Roman activity.  If, on the other hand He says, pay the tax, there’s a good chance He’ll lose favor with the people.   The Hebrew people saw the Roman tax as evil; as a symbol of their lost freedom.  It was, in the religious
leaders minds, a fool proof trap that was sure to discredit this itinerate preacher.  So, what could Jesus do?  He calls for a coin.

If you were to look a Roman denarius, or what sometimes called the Tribute Penny, you’d quickly understand the use Jesus makes of it.   I have a replica here if anyone is curious.  The head displays the reigning emperor, and on the obtuse side there’s an inscription, reading, in the time of Jesus, “Tiberius Caesar, Son of the Divine Augustus, Pontifex Maximus.”  The emperor was seen as the high priest of Rome’s pagan religion.  In some ways you can see the humor of this meeting.

Standing on the Holiest ground in all of Israel, within the Temple walls, Jesus’ adversaries have quickly produced a coin that bears a graven image, an idol. Everyone who has completed Confirmation knows that the second Commandment expressly warns against the use of idols.  In the very act of producing the coin, their hypocrisy is exposed.  And Jesus further exposes their failed attempt to trap Him by telling them to render to the
government the things that are the governments and to God the things that are God’s.

George Weigel, president of the Ethics and Public Policy Center of Washington, D.C, has called this a revolutionary text, whose public implications have been working themselves out for almost two millennia.”  As a Christian, who is also a citizen of the United States, this is a straightforward statement.  We need to pay our taxes.

Despite our opinion about our current economic situation and how the government is attempting to deal with it, we know that taxes are used to pave the roads we drive, provide police and fire protection and provide services that we take for granted every day.  The answer to the question what is Cesar’s, should seem obvious to us today.  If we want to
continue to enjoy the freedoms we have in this country, we need to give to the Caesar what is his and give to God what is His.  It’s an idea, that’s been worked out over the centuries.

The Apostle Paul recognized the role of government when he said that the government is “God’s servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer” (Romans 13:4).  I know that everyone at some point will begrudge some part of the government’s priority system about spending and we need to hold government accountable.  However, we also need to remember that there are important functions performed by the government that need to be supported, like the judicial system and the judges.  For society to function
and our rights to be preserved, there is no way around it.  We need certain governmental protections and it’s our duty as a Christian to support that system.

It also goes without saying but we, as servants of God, have another duty toward our elected officials, we’re to pray for our leaders.  It also should go without saying that when it’s time to vote, it’s our duty to do that as well.  It’s a duty that’s extremely important.  Elections or decisions have been made by a single vote.

Consider these examples from history:  One vote caused Charles I to be executed in 1649.  One vote kept Aaron Burr – later charged with treason – from becoming President in 1800.
A single vote made the difference and Texas became part of the United States in 1845.  In 1868, it was a single vote that saved President Andrew Johnson from impeachment.  It was by one vote that California, Oregon, Washington, and Idaho were admitted into the Union.  One vote elected Rutherford B. Hayes in 1876 to the Presidency, and the man in the Electoral College who cast that vote was an Indiana Representative also elected by one vote.  Tragically, one vote made Adolf Hitler head of the Nazi Party and it was by a single favorable vote, that we maintained the Selective Service System only 12 weeks before Pearl Harbor.  I think you get the point.

As Christians we need to not only support our government with our taxes, but also exercise our rights as American citizens in determining who our elected officials are.  This part of Jesus’ response, while aggravating at times, is straight forward.  But what about the second part; give to God that which is God’s?  Picture if you will the religious leaders as
they go out of the temple to scheme and return with their trick question.  You can almost see the satisfaction on their faces as they wait thinking they’ve placed Jesus in an impossible position.  Then Jesus does the unexpected, He asks for a coin.

Whose image is on it?  They answer, “Caesar.”  And then comes the moment.  Don’t you sometimes wish you had the right word for the right moment?  Your boss has ask you to solve some problem or your children have posed one of those question that only children can ask.  Don’t you wish you could reply in those moments with the clarity of Jesus?

It’s like the window cleaner who was working on a scaffold outside the 20th floor of a skyscraper one crisp fall morning.   He was surprised to see a secretary pressing a large sheet of paper up to the window.  On it, in big letters, she had written:  “It’s 72 degrees in here.”  Undaunted, the half-frozen window cleaner reached into his pocket, pulled out a pen and notebook, and scribbled a message of his own.  With a big smile he held it
close to the window.  It said, “It’s $25 an hour out here!”

Give to Caesar’s what’s Caesars and to God that which is God’s!  No matter how hard you try, I doubt you could come up with a better answer.  If Caesar wants his tax, give it to him.  It’s as simple as that.  It’s his face is on the coin anyway, so it must be his.  But what about our obligation to God; what is His?  For many this seems like as straight forward an answer as the previous, but it’s not.  This isn’t a fifty-fifty proposition.  God is due more than the government. Caesar’s role in your life is vastly inferior to God’s role in your life.  Yes we’re to give our money in the form of taxes, yes we’re to give our time by way of voting.  But our obligation to God goes much further; it involves our tithe, our time and our talent.  If the coin bears the image of George Washington then it must be his, give it to him.  But this morning I want you to think about this.  We bear the image of God.  We were created in His image; so give it to Him.

Luciano Pavarotti says that when he was a boy, his father, a baker, introduced him to the wonders of song.  He urged him to work hard to develop his voice.  Arrigo Pola, a professional tenor in his hometown of Modena, Italy, took him as a pupil.  Pavarotti also enrolled in a teachers college.  On graduating, he asked his father, “Shall I be a teacher or a singer?”  “Luciano,” his father replied, “if you try to sit on two chairs, you’ll fall between them.  For life, you must choose one chair.”  Pavarotti, later in life wrote:  “I chose one.  It took seven years of study and frustration before I made my first professional appearance.  It took another seven to reach the Metropolitan Opera.  And now I think whether it’s laying bricks, writing a book–whatever we choose–we should give ourselves to it.  Commitment, that’s the key.  Choose one chair.” We know what belongs to Caesar, don’t we?  We get constant reminders on our paycheck stubs, grocery receipts and
from the IRS each year, reminding us what we owe to Caesar.  But what about God?  What do we owe to God?

We of course we owe God our money.  This church would not be here if we didn’t believe in giving God your money.  Whether we give God a tithe, 10 percent, or a fraction of that, we understand that giving is part of our responsibility as followers of Christ.  It’s how we pay the power bill and our benevolence.  It’s how we purchase Sunday school materials and how the environmental system gets fixed.  And yes, it’s how Nita and I are paid for serving here.  The reality is all churches need money to operate and it’s how we fulfill the Great
Commission.  But it isn’t all about the money; the second thing we owe God is our
joyful service.

I say joyful service because as people who serve God, we shouldn’t think of it as a duty, it’s a privilege.  For a Christian who understands and appreciates everything God does for us, our service is a natural response to God’s goodness.  Very few churches have a big enough budget to pay for everything that needs accomplished around a church.  We need the joyful service of volunteers willing to give of their time and talent to do everything from keeping up the library, to keeping the shrubbery trimmed, to changing light bulbs.   Joyful
service is giving of your time and talent so that our Sunday school classes have teachers each Sunday.  The various committees have the people they need to accomplish the various ministries of this congregation and people willing to provide the leadership necessary to form budgets, plan and carry out expansion projects and help those less
fortunate in our community pay power bills.  Joyful service is about understanding that in reality, the most important thing we owe God is, ourselves.  More important than our material possessions, more important than our acts of neighborliness, is that we have dedicated ourselves whole-heartedly to God.  I remain convinced that the thing we prize
most in our lives is not our money, but our time.  We must be willing to joyfully give of
ourselves, not just our monetary resources.   Both are important.

Whose image was engraved on the Roman coins?  That’s easy to answer, Caesar’s.  In whose image were we created?  In God’s.  Render unto Caesar that which is Caesars and
unto God that which is God’s.  I’m convinced that Jesus understood the importance of government in the life of His followers.  And in the United States we live in the greatest country the world has ever known.  I’m a citizen of this land and I have an obligation to support its needs.  But I am first and foremost a citizen of heaven.  I’m a child of the King and I’m wonderfully made in His image.  To Cesar we might begrudgingly give our financial resources and time, but to God, we joyfully give our all.   Amen.

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