What is God’s

October 22, 2017

Church of the Servant, Wilmington, NC
Proper 24, Year A
Isaiah 45:1-7; 1 Thessalonians 1:1-10; Matthew 22:15-22

Listen here, or read below:

 

Oh great, the scripture passage that tells us we should pay our taxes. Always a favorite! Of course, it might be more helpful if we hear it in April instead of October. And while this story is sometimes used in that way, it isn’t really about paying taxes.

The passage starts out by telling us what the Pharisees are up to. Remember, Jesus has been telling parables about the Kingdom of Heaven, and through these stories, illustrating how the Pharisees aren’t exactly living into the spirit of God’s law. So, now the Pharisees are trying to entrap Jesus by asking him a controversial question. They took the Herodians with them to witness Jesus’ answer. These are those in authority under King Herod, who governed the Hebrew people, and had a certain amount of independence even though the Roman Emperor had ultimate authority.

To keep this independence, Herod was expected to pay a tribute tax to Rome, which was collected from the Jews. So, with Herodians and Pharisees on the offensive, they began by trying to butter Jesus up a bit, saying:

“Teacher, we know that you are sincere, and teach the way of God in accordance with truth, and show deference to no one; for you do not regard people with partiality. Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, or not?”

So these same Pharisees who were recently questioning by whose authority Jesus was teaching in the temple, are now addressing Jesus as “Teacher.” They’re saying he’s honest and teaches the truth of God. They go on to invite him to speak freely, reminding Jesus that he isn’t influenced by someone’s stature in society. He treats all people the same.

Don’t we see these same types of characters in every Disney movie ever made? We want to call out, “Don’t fall for it Jesus! They’re up to no good!”

But Jesus knows that all too well. So, instead of giving a direct response, he first asks them to show him the coin used to pay this tax, and asks:

“Whose head is this, and whose title?” They answered, “The emperor’s.” Then he said to them, “Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s…”

And that’s where the tax-question for our Western-minded culture ends. But, that ISN’T where Jesus’ response ends. The last words are the ones that pack the punch:

and [give] to God the things that are God’s.

Now, while this is perfectly timed for a Stewardship sermon, I don’t think that’s what’s being said here. The Hebrew people were always laser focused on the obligation to give to God the first fruits of their labor. That message begins in the first chapters of Genesis and continues throughout the Hebrew scriptures. So no one asks Jesus about that, because it isn’t even up for discussion. So, similarly, I’ll just set the Stewardship message aside – for now.

But let’s go back to what Jesus asked about the coin. When looking at it, he asked, “Whose head is this, and whose title?” So, not unlike our coins, this one was marked with a person’s image and an inscription – it was Caesar, the Emperor of Rome. So, based on that, paying the tribute tax was merely giving the emperor what already belongs to him.

So, with that in mind, how do we interpret the last phrase – “give to God the things that are God’s”?

Well, I pull a little Jesus out and ask you… What is made in GOD’s image?

WE ARE!

So if we are each made in God’s image, then Jesus is saying that we are to give to God our-self. All of our self. Not just our Sunday-morning-self. All of our self.

In any relationship, a measure of its significance is the amount of our self we give to it. We have all kinds of relationships – with parents, children, extended family, colleagues, running buddies, even Facebook friends. The significance of each can be measured by how much of our full, authentic self, we bring to them. I’m not talking about the amount of time we spend with the other person, though that can be part of it. I’m talking about the depth of the connection. This is revealed in one’s willingness to be vulnerable, especially admitting that we need help or that we’re confused. It’s in our capacity to say the hard stuff to someone out of love. It also requires a generosity of forgiveness, because we all miss the mark sometimes.

And while these are characteristics of our earthly relationships, it’s a little one-sided when we think about our relationship with God. What does giving all of our self to God mean?

What does that look like in our everyday life?

What does that look like as we face challenges?

There isn’t one answer. It looks different for you than it looks for me. What it looks like can also change over the courses of our life. So instead of trying to get that one nailed down perfectly, I ask you, instead of considering how it looks, consider how it feels. How does it feel to know that you are stamped with the image of God?

That can be tricky because the image of God can be confusing. We see contrasting images of God in scripture, some portrayals much more pleasing than others. We love the compassionate, forgiving God. We fear the God who is credited with destroying whole cities for their disobedience.

The other thing that makes it complicated is that since the beginning, humankind has made God in our image – assigning God a gender, giving God human traits, even defining our relationship with God using roles of the human family. And our Western culture, through its artistic offerings, has gone so far as to make God an old white guy.

And while there’s nothing wrong with an old white guy, aren’t we also able to see God in the young black girl; or the beauty of a sunset; or the grace of a pelican gliding just above the breaking waves?

We have other images of God. Light. Energy. Vibration. Inescapable Love.

The mystery is hard for many of us, so these images emerge. Consequently, getting our head around Jesus’ instruction to “Give to God what is Gods” is less clear than we might like.

So, today, let’s simply embrace the notion of God as inescapable Love. Holding that image, I pose the question again:

How does it feel to know you are stamped with the image of God?

Each one of us, made in God’s image. Inscribed with God’s love, forever.

I invite you to sit with that silently for a minute. How does it feel?

Now based on that feeling, we are called to explore what our response might be…

… as we wake each morning?

… as we face difficult situations?

… as we encounter those who experience life differently than we do?

… as we live into our relationship with others?

Unlike Jesus, I don’t have the answer, but YOU do.

 

Gospel Text:

The Pharisees went and plotted to entrap Jesus in what he said. So they sent their disciples to him, along with the Herodians, saying, “Teacher, we know that you are sincere, and teach the way of God in accordance with truth, and show deference to no one; for you do not regard people with partiality. Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, or not?” But Jesus, aware of their malice, said, “Why are you putting me to the test, you hypocrites? Show me the coin used for the tax.” And they brought him a denarius. Then he said to them, “Whose head is this, and whose title?” They answered, “The emperor’s.” Then he said to them, “Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” When they heard this, they were amazed; and they left him and went away. (Mt 22:15-22)

 

2 Responses to “What is God’s”

  1. jg3potomac said

    Tough question. Elusive answers. Whereas April 15 is “Caesar’s” day, every day is when we are to “render” to God. And I (or part of me…different parts day by day) am the currency. Not easy. Thanks for the reminder. Love, Dad

    Sent from my iPad

    >

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