Sunday, November 11, 2012

Trinity 23

Trinity 23 – November 11th, 2012 – Matthew 22:15-22


In the Name of Christ Jesus +

          Once again, another trap for Jesus.  That is what we see in our Gospel lesson, another trap set for Jesus in order to make Him look bad, to make people dislike Him.  And the would-be trap setters lay it on thick – “Teacher, we know that You are true and teach the way of God truthfully, and you do not care about anyone’s opinion, for You are not swayed by appearances.”  That’s probably the nicest thing they’ve said about Jesus – but they are setting Him up.  You don’t care what people think, do You – then let us make You answer an question with an unpopular answer.  Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?”  That doesn’t seem like that hard of a question, does it?  But remember where Jesus is.  He is a Jew is Jerusalem, and Israel is a conquered nation.  The people in Jerusalem would look on the Romans roughly the way you would have looked upon the Russians 30 years ago if they had somehow conquered the US – hatred might be too strong of a word but only just slightly.  Besides, the children of Abraham were God’s own chosen people – they shouldn’t be a victim of conquest – God surely wouldn’t want that.  So what are you going to do, Jesus – incite rebellion and tell people not to pay taxes – or are you going to say, yes, we must pay taxes to these cruel occupiers and alienate all the people?

          Jesus’ answer is familiar.  “Show me the coin for the tax.”  And they brought Him a denarius.  And Jesus said to them, “Whose likeness and inscription is this?”  They said, “Caesar’s.”  Then He said to them, “Therefore render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to God the things that are God’s.”   Jesus answers the question justly – you pay tax.  Sorry, that is the duty of a person living in a country – to pay the taxes that country has established, whether you like it or not.  But Jesus also defuses any complaints He might hear about this – look at the coin – it has an image of Caesar on it!  It’s his money – you’re living with his coinage and his laws – that means you live with his taxes.  You don’t want to pay taxes, give up the cash.

          But Jesus adds another part to this – He doesn’t make it just about paying taxes.  Render unto God the things that are God’s.  The things that are God’s.  So, what in your life, is God’s?  What in your life belongs to God?  An hour on Sunday morning if you aren’t too busy, maybe a few prayers before meals and before bedtime?  2, 3 hours out of the 168 in a week?  Is that what you should rightly give God?  Or maybe Jesus is talking about giving money to God – talking about what you put in the plate.  How much do you give to God, how much goes to the support and maintenance of this congregation?  Is Jesus here cracking the whip, smacking it down upon your heads – you people need to do more!  Shall this be a fire and brimstone sermon where we sit here and squirm for 15 minutes while we list all the ways in which we fall short?

          No.  It’s easy to look at this phrase – render unto God the things that are God’s with such a harsh, law focused lens.  What do I have to give to God?  What kickback does the big guy in the sky demand before blessings stop coming my way – what’s the tax on Christians that we have pony up?  That’s a common way of thinking – that’s why even though it is nowhere commanded in the New Testament, we like the concept of tithing – 10%, nice and simple, concrete, easy to use.  It’s like a Divine Flat Tax. . . what do I have to give, just spell it out in black and white so I can do it and forget about it.  That’s not the most amazing thing in the passage, though.  It’s not about “you give.”  Render unto God the things that are. . . whose?  It doesn’t say render unto God the things that are yours. . . it says render unto God the things that are God’s.

          Caesar minted those coins – let him have his tax that pays for the roads you like.  Those coins are Caesar’s ballpark, let him play there.  Now, what is God’s.  What is it that God has provided for you?  How about we sum it up in a simple phrase – daily bread.  Pastor, what do you mean precisely by daily bread?  Let us let Luther answer us from the catechism – Daily Bread includes everything that has to do with the support and needs of the body, such as food, drink, clothing, shoes, house, home, land, animals, money, goods, a devout husband or wife, devout children, devout workers, devout and faithful rulers, good government, good weather, peace, health, self-control, good reputation, good friends, faithful neighbors, and the like.  My favorite part of that list is the last part – “and the like.”  And the like?  What did he leave out of the list?  I think he pretty much nailed everything there – everything that there is.  He listed off my stuff, my family, my health, the world around me.  What has God provided for you – everything.
          And I bring up daily bread because we all know where that phrase comes from.  What do we pray in the Lord’s Prayer?  Do we pray, “I thank you God that I have earned my daily bread today”?  Do we vow, “Lord, I’ll give you a slice of my daily bread that I worked for”?  No, it is much simpler, much more accurate.  Give, give us this day our daily bread. You realize what this means? Render unto God what is God’s – everything that you have, all that you are, that is what is God’s.  When you pray the Lord’s Prayer you aren’t simply asking God for blessings, but you are declaring, you are saying that all that you have indeed comes from God, that all the blessings you have – and indeed, not just the blessings, but your life, your life itself belongs to God.

          This is the truth that should shape your entire life.  This is what Paul means in Romans when he says, “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.”  What is God’s?  A few hours a week?  What you happen to put in the plate or donate to the Church?  No – as you are entirely God’s you are entirely His.  Too often we get this view Christianity that is limited – that is confined to what do in these four walls and what we give to see that they stand and Word is preached within them.  That’s part, but that’s not it.  You are living sacrifices – and everything that you do, everywhere you go is to be a sacrifice, is to be rendered unto God.  But dear friends, realize the truth – that this is not a burden, oh, I have to do everything for God – but rather a description of who you are.  This is not demanding more service to God but reminding you that everything that you do in faith is in fact a service to God.  Do you work?  Did not God give you the talents that you use to work, and did He not provide you an employer, or fields to work?  Then render your service to God and do your work.  Do you show love to your neighbor?  Did not God put that neighbor into your life?  Then render your service to God and show love to that neighbor.  Do you care for your family?  Did not God give you that family – then render your service to God and care for your family. 

          This really drives at a doctrine that we call “vocation” – the idea that we as individuals have all been called – vocated – to various jobs or callings, that God has put us into the place we are in life – and as we live our lives, trusting in God and His mercy, we live lives of service.  Everything in your life, everything that you do in faith is an act of service to God.  That is what “Christian living” really is – that you with your life do that which He has given you to do.  That’s different for each and every one of us – what God has given us to do, whom we are called to care for and love and in what way.  The blessings He has given each of us are different – and so we live out our lives recognizing this truth and rendering our lives in His service – by living them in faith and showing love.  You are a forgiven child of God, redeemed by Christ Jesus – everything that you are is from God – and God puts you to use in showing mercy and forgiveness to others.
          Render unto God what is God’s.  That dear friends should not be viewed as a burden – that should not fill you with thoughts of all the extra hard things you have to do.  No – that is a reminder of who you are, and to whom you belong.  And indeed, this is not just a matter of stuff, things for this world – but again, in the Catechism what do we say of Christ Jesus – that he has “redeemed me, a lost and condemned person, purchased and won me from all sins, from death, and from the power of the devil; not with gold or silver, but with His holy, precious blood and with His innocent suffering and death, that I may be His own and live under Him in His kingdom and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness.”  You are God’s – for He has created you and given you all blessings and Christ Jesus has redeemed you from all of your sins.  This is the truth that we see everything in our lives through – that life is more than simply what we have to do but rather it is nothing but delighting in and using rightly God’s own blessings which He has given us.  God grant that we be faithful stewards of His blessings.  In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit + Amen.   

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