Thursday, October 26, 2017

Caesar & God, Coins & You

Sermon for Pentecost 20, Proper 24A preached on Sunday, October 22, 2017, by the Rev. Daniel M. Ulrich.

          We like to live our lives by mottos.  “I’m my own man.”  “My body belongs to me & I can do with it whatever I want.”  These mottos are popular today & they proclaim the ultimate individualism.  They imply a self-autonomy that requires nothing from others & zero responsibility to anyone else...& they’re false.  No matter how many times we repeat them, they’ll never be true.  You’re not self-sufficient; you do have responsibilities to others; you’re not your own man; & your body doesn’t belong to you.  You belong to God, just as taxes belong to the government.   
            Jesus’ speaks these truths in response to the Pharisees’ trap question.   The Pharisees wanted to catch Jesus in His words, so they came up with a question that no matter how Jesus answered it, it would enrage somebody; & we all know no topic is more enraging than taxes. 
The Pharisees sent their disciples to Jesus, along with some Herodians.  The Herodians were supporters of King Herod & His family who ruled the region of Israel for Rome & because of this they were basically considered traitors.  But even though they were disliked, the Pharisees saw a use for them in trapping Jesus.  So, these two groups came together & asked Jesus: “Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?” (Matt 22:17).  No matter how Jesus answered this, He’d anger one group & be in the wrong.  If He said, “No, it’s not lawful to pay taxes to Caesar because he claims to be a god,” then the Herodians would be angered & Jesus could be charged with inciting an uprising.  But if He said, “Yes, it is lawful to pay taxes,” then the Israelites would be upset & the Pharisees could say Jesus endorsed idolatry & the Romans.  Jesus enemies must have thought they had Jesus in between a rock & hard place.
But Jesus knew what they were up to.  He could see into their hearts & He knew their hypocrisy.  But instead of copping out & answering with an “I don’t know,” like the Pharisees had done, He answered: “Show me the coin for the tax.”... “Whose likeness & inscription is [on it]?” (Matt 22:19-20).
The coin bore Caesar’s face, so Jesus answered: “Therefore render to Caesar the things of Caesar, & to God the things that are God’s” (Matt 22:21).  The image on the coin pointed to its owner. 
Money is issued by the government, whether it’s the empire of Rome or the United States of America & government is instituted by God.  Since government mints money, it has a right to govern financial concerns.  As citizens we have the responsibility to pay taxes because through these funds the government does the work it’s supposed to do.  Our money bears the image of our government: past presidents & monuments, & therefor we render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s.  The image points to the owner. This is true for our money, & it’s true for you, because you bear not the image of yourself, but the image of Christ. 
In the beginning God created us in His image (Gn 1:26-27).  Our first parents, Adam & Eve, they bore God’s image.  But this was lost when they sinned, when they ate of the fruit trying to be like God.  They already bore His image, but they wanted to be gods themselves, & so do we.  
We continue in this sin.  We’d rather be our own man.  We don’t want to bear the image of God, we want to be god.  Just like Caesar, we declare ourselves divine.  We’re our own little gods; doing what we want when we want; deciding good and evil for ourselves, even if it goes against God’s Word.  But this sinful usurpation of God’s place doesn’t give us the freedom we think it does.  Instead it enslaves us to sin & death.  We lost God’s image & now we bear the image of sin & death. 
But God wouldn’t let this be for you.  He sent His Son, God in the flesh, to pay the tax your sin owes.  Jesus died on the cross, paying the price for your sin, redeeming you, buying you back from sin & death, and because of this, you belong to God. 
            What does Luther say in explanation to the 2nd Article of the Apostles’ Creed: [Christ] has redeemed me, a lost & condemned person, purchased & won me from all sins, from death, & from the power of the devil; not with gold or silver, but with His holy, precious blood & with His innocent suffering & death, that I may be His own & live under Him in His kingdom & serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, & blessedness, just as He is risen from the dead, lives & reigns to all eternity.  This is most certainly true.
            You’ve been redeemed by Christ’s blood.  Baptized into His death & resurrection, you wear the robe of His righteousness & bear His image, the mark of the cross on your forehead & on your heart, marking you as one redeemed by Him.  When God looks at you, He sees His Son, & because He bought you with His sacrificial death, you render to God the things that are God’s; you render yourself to Him. 
            If money belongs to Caesar because it bears his image, you belong to God because you bear Christ’s.  So with faith in your Savior, you render your life to God who gave you life & who redeemed you from sin. 
            This means you live the life God calls you to.  This is a life of faith: a life of repentance & confession; a life of listening to His Word & receiving His forgiveness; a life of worship & praise.  Instead of loving yourself, setting yourself up as your own god, you love God, & others.
            In our catechetical moments these past few weeks, we’ve been reviewing the Table of Duties, reciting Scripture that encourages us in our vocation as citizens, as husbands & wives, parents & children.  We don’t live alone, isolated from others.  God has given us families, neighbors, & fellow citizens.  He’s given us His Church, brothers & sisters in Christ, & we have responsibilities to all of them.  With faith, bearing the image of our Lord, we’re little Christ’s to them, loving them & serving them: by taking care of spouse & children; by lending a helpful hand to our neighbors in need; by paying taxes to support the work of government for the welfare of our fellow citizens; & by encouraging one another in the faith through prayers & our confession as we worship together. 
            Redeemed by Christ’s blood, you’re not your own man.  Your body doesn’t belong to you.  You belong to Christ; He’s your Lord.  Baptized, you’re freed from selfish desires & isolation, you’re given the image of Christ.  You live in the community of believers & you have responsibilities to them, & to God.  With faith you live the life of love you’re called to...rendering to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s & to God the things that are God’s.  In Jesus name...Amen. 

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