Stewardship “Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”
Pentecost 20 Proper 24 October 22, 2017
Exodus 33:12-23; Psalm 99; 1 Thessalonians 1:1-10; Matthew 22:15-22
“Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”
Question to a Youth: Do your parents pay taxes? How do you know? When do they pay them? Have you ever asked them why they pay taxes? Why do you think that they pay taxes?
Question to a Parent: Do you pay taxes? What is the atmosphere like in your home at tax season? Why do you pay taxes?
When I was a child I remember tax season. My parents were self-employed and would scurry to get the books and receipts ready for the arrival of the accountant. Dad complained about paying taxes. One day I asked him why he just didn’t pay then. Oh boy, that sure got a response! We pay our taxes, no if, whats or maybes. I am sure complaining continued, but what I remember is that like it or not taxes are an obligation and not an option.
With taxes we expect public services that would be difficult for us to obtain on our own. It is kind of like insurance. Taxes allow the government to maintain our armed forces and national security. We hope to never have to use them, but it is good to know they are trained and prepared in a time of need. Can you imagine what our roads would be like if we each were responsible for the maintenance of the road in front of our property!
In the same way if we belong to the Rotary Club or the American Legion, we pay dues to help the organization provide the services we want and expect. The same is true with the church. If we want a church building then we have to be willing to pay for it to be built and then to be maintained; new roofs when required, heating, lighting, worship supplies, a worship leader and priest. So how is our pledge of time, talent and treasure to the church different then our dues to the Albion Philanthropic Women or even our taxes to the various levels of government? To answer this, let’s go back to this morning’s gospel.
You will recall that the Pharisees are trying to trick Jesus into saying or doing something that they can use against him. In this morning’s gospel the Pharisees have gotten together with the Herodians. We don’t know much about the Herodians, but presumably they support Herod and his government. Normally they would not work together with the Pharisees, but their mutual desire to trap Jesus allows them to work together despite their differences. First they kiss up to Jesus, flattering him saying that they know that he is sincere and truthfully teaches the way of God and that he treats all people equally not preferring the rich or the poor. Ironically even though they are mocking Jesus they are in fact speaking the truth about Jesus.
The Pharisees and Herodians believe they have found the perfect scenario to trap Jesus by asking if they should pay taxes to the Romans. If Jesus says “yes”, then the Jewish people are not going to be happy and the Pharisees can use it to their advantage. If Jesus says “no” then the Herodians will be able to accuse Jesus of sedition and encouraging the Jews to rebel against the Roman occupiers and to refuse to pay their taxes. Either way the Pharisees and Herodians get what they want.
They should have known that Jesus would not give a simple “yes” or “no” answer. True to form, Jesus asks them for a denarius, a coin that is used to pay taxes. The coin had an image of the Roman politician and an inscription inferring his divinity. As an aside, this would break the first two commands to have no god except God and to have no images.
Jesus’ response surprises the questioners; it is not what they expected. “Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” The coin has the image of the emperor and belongs to the emperor and this world. We have obligations to our government and leaders. This is confirmed another time when Peter tells the temple tax collectors that yes Jesus pays the temple tax and Jesus sends Peter to find a coin in a fish’s mouth to cover both their taxes. Our money continues to carry the image of our political leaders President Abraham Lincoln ($5 & penny), President Thomas Jefferson (nickel), President George Washington (25 & $1), President Andrew Jackson ($20) and Benjamin Franklin ($100) and so we pay our taxes to the government and our pledge to the church.
Jesus didn’t just say “Yes” pay your taxes, he also said “Give God what is God’s”. So what do we owe to God? What carries the image of God? <pause>
We, human beings, are created in the image and likeness of God. We owe God our very lives from the time God breathed life into our very nostrils and through the lifesaving action of our savior Jesus Christ. All that we have and all that we see in the material world and spiritual world was created by God and given to us to care for as good stewards. If we give our money to whose image it bears, then what does it mean to give our very selves to God? Our lives are not our own, they belong to God. God gave us life to live and not just to live, but to live abundantly. We are to live our lives in such a way as to bring glory to God. We are to live our lives in such a way that another will say, “I want what she has.” We are to live our lives so that we can never be ashamed to say that we are the sons and daughters of our God; that we are never ashamed to come before God. Will we make mistakes and sin? Absolutely! We are not perfect, we are not God, we are created in the image of God, but we strive to be Holy as God is Holy.
I asked at the beginning of this sermon whether you pay taxes which of course we all do; it is our obligation. Then I asked how our pledge to the church is different from the dues paid to a service club. They are different because the coins we pay to the government or the social club bear the image of our political leaders. The pledge we pay to the church is paid with the currency of our very lives bearing the image of God. I now ask you, “Have you given your life to Jesus?” Have you given your very life to God? In some churches this is where I would make an altar call for you to come forward and make a commitment to God. In this place we now say the Apostles’ Creed to publicly state what we believe and then the altar call is when I extend the invitation to the Table of the Lord at the Eucharist.
And so in the words of the Nicene Creed as found on page 358 of the Book of Common Prayer we pray, “We believe …”