Sunday, November 15, 2009

Trinity 23 - and Stewardship Sunday

Trinity 23 – November 15th, 2009 – Matthew 22:15-22

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost +
So often when it comes to discussions and debates, we do things the easy, sloppy way – instead of trying to convince people that we are right, we just try to point out that the other side is foolish. Instead of saying why we should or shouldn’t do something, we’ll just trash the other side. This is the way of politics and fights and all sorts of things today. Name calling and trap questions seem to be what we expect. In today’s Gospel lesson, the Pharisees approach Jesus with a trap question of their own. “Is it lawful to pay taxes to Ceasar, or not?” This is nothing more than an attempt to make Jesus look bad. Remember that the Jews of this time are a conquered people – the Romans are viewed as vile oppressors, a tax collector is the lowest of the low. And the question is asked, “Is it lawful to pay taxes.” This is a trap question. If Jesus says no, why, then He is teaching rebellion! If Jesus says yes, why, then He is just a tool of those mean Romans. The Pharisees think any answer Jesus gives will make Him look bad.

But Jesus doesn’t just say yes or no. He asks the hypocrites for a coin. They hand him a denarius – and Jesus asks, “Whose likeness and inscription is this?” It is the image of Caesar – and so we get the famous saying, “Therefore render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” Jesus’ answer is clear. Yes, you give to Caesar, to the earthly government the things that you ought to give, but you also give to God the things that belong to God. So then, this day, we will have to ponder two things – what belongs to Caesar and what belongs to God?

First, let us consider the government, for this is the far easier one. As a Christian, we are to be good citizens. We are to pay our taxes – and with this passage there is no way you can get around this. We are to obey the laws of the nation in which we live – we are to do our civic duty – we are to be informed voters, serve if called upon to serve, and all the things we learned in Civics class in High School. And all these things aren’t just matters of indifference – they are part and parcel of living your life as a Christian. This is because we remember that government is a gift from God – this is why every Sunday we pray for our government, pray that God would guide and protect our leaders and lead them into the way of peace. If you wish to read more on this, Romans 13 is the place to go on this. But the point is this – as long as we are still in this world, as long as we still live here on earth – we are to be good citizens. We aren’t to use our faith as an excuse to avoid or shirk our duties. We are to obey the laws of this land and serve our neighbor by performing the duties we have as citizens.

That is a simple idea. Distasteful when it comes times to pay taxes, distasteful on occasion when we see the griminess and name calling of what passes for political debate these days – but it’s clear – render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s. But the next part, ah, the next part tends to be much harder for us. Render unto God the things that are God’s. What are these things that belong to God? Well, the simple fact is that everything that we are and that we have belongs to God – but this doesn’t tell us much about what we ought to do, how we ought to behave. What are your duties as a Christian – what are your duties as a member of this congregation? And really, this should be straight forward, because if you are a confirmed member of this congregation, you not only have heard what your duties are, but you have answered publicly that you will do them. So, let’s review what we vowed at our Confirmation.

After we are asked about our beliefs – do we confess the creed, do we believe that the Bible is the Word of God – at our confirmation we are asked if we will do certain things. Here is the very first question about what we will do – Do you intend to hear the Word of God and receive the Lord’s Supper faithfully? The answer – I do, by the grace of God. Did you note that – the very first thing, the highest duty that a Christian has is to hear God’s Word and to come to the Supper and receive our Lord’s Body and Blood faithfully. Very first. This is the most important thing – to be in the Word, to seek to receive Christ’s Body and Blood for the forgiveness of sins. And this makes perfect sense – when we think about the things that are God’s things – what is more of a God thing than His Word? What is more Godly than the Supper, for the Supper is the very Body and Blood of Christ Jesus our Lord Himself! We are to tend to the Word and the Sacraments, we are to attend the Worship where these gifts of God are given to us. This is what Christians do – we are the people who gather together in Church and receive from God His love and mercy, who gather and praise Him for His goodness – this is something that we ought render unto God. In Divine Service two in the hymnal, the Offertory for that service, which is nothing but verses of Psalm 116, points this out clearly. What shall I render to the Lord for all His benefits to me? I will offer the sacrifice of thanksgiving and will call upon the Name of the Lord. I will take the cup of salvation and will call on the Name of the Lord. I will pay my vows to the Lord now in the presence of all His people, in the courts of the Lord’s house, in the midst of you, O Jerusalem.” What are we to render – the thanksgiving and prayers that are proper of God – but this isn’t just meant to be something private – rather we gather together in the Lord’s House for this, we receive here the very cup of Salvation. Your highest duty as a Christian is to be part of the worship life of the Church in so far as you are able. Period. This is third commandment stuff – we are not to despise preaching and God’s Word, but hold it sacred and gladly hear and learn it. First duty – attend Church.

Then, when we were confirmed, we were asked another question. “Do you intend to live according to the Word of God, and in faith, word, and deed to remain true to God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, even to death?” Again, the answer, “I do, by the grace of God.” Your responsibilities as a Christian do not end the moment you walk out those doors. You are to take what you have learned here and put it into practice out there. You are to recognize that everything in your life revolves around God. Are you a parent – remember that children are God’s gift to you – and serve them as parents as such. Are you a child – remember that your parents are a gift to you from God, and serve them as such. Your friends – a gift from God – treat them as such. Your neighbor – love them, for they are a gift from God. Your government – part of your service to God is rendering to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s. You are not to be merely a Sunday morning Christian – but rather throughout the entire week, you are to show and demonstrate Christian love. If you wish more on this – I would suggest looking at the table of duties in the Catechism.

Then we were asked another question – “Do you intend to continue steadfast in this confession and Church and to suffer all, even death, rather than fall away from it?” I do, by the grace of God. This is a question of value, of priority. Your confession, your belief in God – your membership in God’s Church – is to be the highest thing in your life – to where you would suffer all – where as we sing they could come and take your goods, your family, even your life, and yet you would remain faithful. As Christians, we have a duty to not be swayed by the glitter and baubles of life, but to keep our eyes upon Jesus, the author and perfector of our faith – to see to it that we keep coming to Church rather than falling away.

And there is one final question – we don’t ask if of kids at confirmation, but we do of adults who transfer in – and it is most appropriate – “Will you support the work our gracious Lord has given this congregation with your prayers and the gifts that God has given you?” “I will, with the help of God.” When you are bound to a congregation, you have particular responsibilities to that congregation. I am bound here as your pastor – I have duties that were given me at my installation. I have no choice – I must preach, I must administer the sacraments, I must teach – I am bound, I am ordered so to do. That was the vow of my ordination. However, as members of this congregation, you also are given responsibilities – you are to support the work of this Congregation with your prayers and with your gifts. First, just briefly on prayer. I would ask that you hold not only myself, but this congregation, its members, in your prayers. Prayer is part of the Christian life – and your prayers should include this Church and your brothers and sisters in the faith here. But also, you are to support this congregation with your gifts – with the gifts that God has given to you. It is your job as a member of this congregation to see that this place has the funds to keep the building maintained, to provide for the people who work here. That is part of how you support this place. You are also, as your own talents give you opportunity, to help out with the activities of this congregation. If you can cook – cook so that we may eat. Sing when we sing. When we do something here – give the aid that your talents afford. This is your duty, this is the stewardship you are to exercise.

I would ask you now to pause and consider all these things we have discussed. Have you made attending church your priority? Have you sought throughout the week to live as a Christian, and done so. Have you been proud of your faith, or have you been ashamed of your confession, sad that you don’t fit in with the rest of the world, with your friends? And have you supported this place with your time, talents, and treasure as you ought to have? When we get these all laid out before us – it is a heavy load. The truth is, we have not been as faithful as we ought. There are times our attendance has been lax, our living lousy, the Church far from our thoughts, and quite often our time, talent, and our treasure remain at home. In our duties, we often fail.

Christ Jesus, though, does not fail. He has a duty towards you – and that duty is to win you salvation – and this duty He performs, He bought you, not with the gold or silver of Caesar, but with His own life blood – He did not shirk His responsibility but strode boldly to the Cross, winning us forgiveness. When you were baptized, Christ Jesus bound Himself unto you – He said, “You are now part of My Body, and I will care for you and forgive every sin and give you heaven.” Christ takes his duty seriously, and everything you need is given by Him. We have hope not because we do our duty – but we have hope because Christ has done His. And our God is not a cruel taskmaster – but rather this – He calls you here to His House, not to give you a random burden, but to give you rest from the burdens of this world, and to see that you always dwell in Christ, that you do not fall away – that in hearing His Word and receiving His Body and Blood you might be kept in the One true faith forever. Jesus does not turn away from you, but calls you here once again, so that you might receive and rejoice in His good gifts. God grant this unto us all on account of Your Son, Christ Jesus. In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost +

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