Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Whose image do YOU wear?

Sermon preached for Pentecost 19, Proper 20A, on Sunday, October 19, 2014.

    Undoubtedly you have heard the Gospel reading before and undoubtedly you have heard stewardship and citizenship sermons and some of them undoubtedly came from me.  And there is nothing wrong with that.  But today I think we need to  explore another aspect of Jesus’ words about what belongs to Caesar or government and what belongs to the Lord.
    What began as a typical conversation complaining about taxes – one that might very well take place here and now – turned into something much different.  It was nothing less than an attempt to trap Jesus between God and Caesar.  We always talk about taxes and how to relieve ourselves of this burden so that we can do what we please with OUR money.  But Jesus offers us no out.   He asked for a coin and pointed to Caesar’s image.  Pay what you owe.  In other words, Jesus refused to justify avoiding paying what is rightfully owed to Uncle Sam. 
    It is sinful to refuse to pay what you owe because it proceeds from a selfish heart.  None of us is trying to keep from paying more to the government in order to give more to the Church or have more money for the poor.  Jesus knows this.  He is blunt. Yet, as hard as this is, this is the easy part of Jesus’ words.  Taxes to pay for the common good, such as defense, are sanctioned by God, just law, and just responsibility.
    Living as a citizen means sharing obligations for the common good and for the common need.  In other words, we have a duty to our neighbor and even to the stranger with whom we share both privileges and responsibilities of citizenship.  We may glory at cheating the government of their due but Jesus offers us no cover and refuses to countenance such behavior.
    But the conversation is not over.  Then comes the part that is much more difficult.  Uncle Sam wants only a part of you, a small percentage.  God is not content with a little bit of you, with a part of you, or with sharing you.  He has invested the blood of His Son to redeem you and you belong to Him.  You were bought with a price.  You belong to Him.  To run from this is to cheapen Jesus’ suffering and death and to act like the tenants we heard about last week who refused to give what was the right and duty owed to the owner.
    Let us approach this a different way.  Instead of thinking about a coin, think of YOU.  Whose image do YOU wear?  For that is what tells us what is due and to whom it is due.  Whose image do YOU wear?  Do you belong to the world?  Or, do you belong to the Lord who became Your Savior? 
    God’s claim would be easy if it were merely a claim on the time or money we call our own.  But that is not His claim.  His claim is on US – all that we are.  Our very selves belong to Him.  This is where it gets hard.  God claims all of us or none of us.
    We were created by God and marked with His image, made in His likeness.  His claim on us is the breath that gave us life and the life that we live out before Him.  But God claimed even more.  He also claimed our sins.  He sent forth His own Son to pay the sacrificial cost of that sin and to enter into the horror of death and tame it for us. We are therefore twice His.  Once in creation and once in our baptism when He marked us again as His own, setting us free from our captivity to sin and death and allowing us to live under Him in His kingdom as was His creative intention.  What the world owned died in your baptism and what arose belongs to God.
    St. Paul says the same thing.  You are not your own.  You were bought with a price.  Therefore glorify God in your body.  It is easy to give Caesar what is his due – it is but a percentage of our money.  But to give God what is His, to acknowledge His ownership over the whole of us, that demands nothing less than absolute faith. For just as God has claimed us, cleansed us from our sin, and set us free from death, so does He continue to provide for us, for this body and this life, and His mercies are new every morning.
    We are tempted to cheapen God’s claim on those who wear His image – 10% of our money, one day a week for worship and only a couple of hours then.  God is not satisfied with token ownership of those whom He has purchased and won with the very blood of His Son.  He demands all of you.  Nothing less.  How is that for stewardship!  Yet our jealous God is not selfish about us in the sense that we are over our things.  He is jealous for us out of love, desiring to save us and providing for us to keep us in this blessed faith and hope until no distraction or distortion of life can afflict us again and we are His in everlasting life.
    We are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works... present yourselves as living sacrifices to the God whose image you wear.  Well, what do we sing every Sunday? What shall I render to the Lord for all His benefits to me? It is not a rhetorical question.  It expects an answer.  You belong to the Lord.  You wear His image.  So do not sing it on Sunday unless you are prepared to live it Monday through Saturday.  Do not try to live as if you had two masters.  One is Lord, even Jesus Christ, and it is His domain in which we live this mortal life of ordinary responsibilities and duties to nation and neighbor even as it is His domain in which we live the new life that marks us for eternity.  God help us to wear His blessed image born in us by baptism now and to endure in this faith and hope to everlasting life.

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