Reading: Matthew 22:15-22
Sermon for October 22, 2017: “ReGive”
When I was studying our Gospel text for this week, I kept coming back to a certain image.
You guessed it.
Wile E Coyote.
I’m the only one who thought of that?
When I was young every Saturday morning I would watch the Bugs and Daffy Show on CBS.
I loved those cartoons.
And every weekend they would show the never-ending battle between the Road Runner and Wile E. Coyote.
In every battle, Wile E. Coyote would try his best to capture the Road Runner and…well…it never worked.
And just about every time, somehow, someway, Wile E. found himself in the trap he had set while the Road Runner “beep-beeped” to freedom.
The reason I thought of Wile E Coyote while looking at our Gospel is
we have a trap that has been set for Jesus.
Prior to today’s Gospel
Jesus has told three parables
that publicly challenge and accuse
the Jewish church leaders
of failing God.
Those are some very big and powerful words.
One group that Jesus targets is the Pharisees.
And now it’s their turn to get back at Jesus.
So they set a trap.
Now, they do not set this trap alone.
That is what makes this story very odd.
Because the ones who team up with the Pharisees are a group called The Herodians.
The Herodians were the party of King Herod, the king of Galilee,
who was placed there by the Roman government,
thus he was the extension of the
Roman Emperor: Tiberius Caesar.
What makes this an odd pairing is that
under normal circumstances these two parties
would be in bitter opposition with one another.
The Pharisees were God worshippers.
The Herodians were worshippers of their Emperor, who claimed to be divine.
The Pharisees hated Roman rule and could not stand the taxes the Jewish people had to pay.
But look at WHO brings these two factions together.
Strange bedfellows indeed.
Both are looking to trap Jesus.
And the trap is to ask Jesus a question that they hope will put him between a rock and a hard place:
“Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, or not?”
It’s actually a pretty smart trap.
Here is why:
Back in the time of Jesus (we are talking first century Palestine),
the Jewish people were subject to the Roman Empire.
There were three regular taxes the Roman government exacted:
and the poll tax.
The poll tax was paid by
every male from the age of 14 to 65,
and every woman from 12 to 65.
This tax amounted to one denarius which was the equivalent of the usual day’s wage for the working man.
The tax in question in our lesson is the Poll Tax.
If Jesus answers that the taxes are lawful,
he will look bad in the eyes of not only the Pharisees but also his disciples and many in the crowd who happen to be Jewish
On the other hand,
if Jesus speaks out against the tax,
the Herodians would practically invent email just to get the word back to Herod and Tiberius ASAP that Jesus is preaching an anti-government message.
But just like the Road Runner is always one step ahead of Wile E Coyote, Jesus is a lot smarter than his enemies believe.
First, he sees through their question by calling the ones asking the question “hypocrites.”
The Greek term for “hypocrite” was
someone who played a role,
someone who wore a mask.
People who were good at acting but not so much at telling the truth.
Jesus proves his enemies,
especially the Pharisees,
by asking for a certain object.
And then he asks whose image is on that coin.
The image was of Tiberius.
And on that coin there was the claim that Tiberius was divine.
So a good practicing God-loving Jew
would not have such a possession in his hands, especially within the Temple grounds.
But these Pharisees do!
That is why Jesus calls them “actors.”
BUT WHAT IS REALLY COOL
is that Jesus STILL answers their question!
Just not in the way his enemies were hoping.
You see, Jesus goes beyond the question of “payment.”
Jesus goes to ownership.
In the times of Jesus, coinage was the sign of kingship.
As soon as a king came to the throne,
he struck his own coinage and that coinage was held to be the property of the king whose image it bore.
So the coin that Jesus holds has Tiberius’ head on it.
So Jesus says,
“Well…this has Tiberius’ image on it.
It’s his coin.
So give to him what is his.”
And give to God what is God’s.
So while Tiberius can lay claim to a coin.
God lays a bigger claim.
He claims us.
So the question for you today is:
To whom do you give yourself?
To whom will you render youself?
Earlier in Matthew, chapter 6 verse 24,
“No one can serve two masters;
for a slave will either hate the one and love the other,
or be devoted to the one and despise the other.
You cannot serve God and wealth” (6:24).
Jesus is saying our loyalties cannot be divided.
Each and every one of us has to make a choice as to whom we are going to follow.
In the small catechism the very first commandment is You Shall Have No Other Gods.
And there are times in our lives when the answer is not so simple.
Someone or something can come into our lives and make claim of ownership.
The latest toys.
The newest cars.
The latest political candidate.
Get rich quick schemes
In some cases, those things HAVE claimed us.
But what we cannot forget is
that WE HAVE ALREADY BEEN CLAIMED.
We were claimed at the cross,
where God’s only son paid the ultimate price.
We were claimed before we were born when God said “I knew you.”
We were claimed at our baptism,
when we are sealed by the Cross,
and the words of Promise are said BY God to us.
We are claimed at communion, where the body and blood are given to us as a sign of his gracious love.
As a sign of a victory that has been won.
As a sign of a life that is worth living.
While the coin bore the image of a human king,
We bear the image of God.
THIS week, Jesus is getting the people to hear what it really means to be a follower of God.
To be a good steward.
And to define steward is to think of SWAG.
servant, worker, agent of God.
We are God’s prized possession.
God’s gift has been given.
To all of us.
So are we ready to give ourselves to God?
The “re” word for today is…
Give of your time
Give of yourself
Give of your money.
“pastor we don’t talk about money we’re Lutheran”
we cannot be a legitimate, missional church unless
we put our money where our mouth is.
Today we do talk about money because our money represents one part of ourselves that we give back to God.
So, at the time of the offering,
we place our cash or checks on the altar.
In ancient Israel,
worshipers brought whatever represented their livelihood to the altar
and live animals in cages
and anything else
and then set they would set everything on fire.
They brought whatever they valued
giving away their possession was the act of worship.
We can almost imagine, can’t we, that over time somebody said, “that’s very wasteful, this food could be used to feed the poor. Or pay the preacher!”
After a while, they started focusing on
what was brought and
what they could do with it ,
and they forgot about sacrifice as worship.
When we ReGive today, we can rethink the offering as an act of worship.
But not just an act for a Sunday morning..
When you get a chance,
count the number of ministries that are listed in your handout.
Count the number of ways our congregation makes an impact not only in our church walls,
But in this community.
Last week was Quilt Sunday.
And the sanctuary looked beautiful!
But a lot of that work, a lot of that SWAGger, was done behind the scenes.
Away from our sight.
And a lot of our stewardship falls under that.
Sometimes we need the visual to see the impact.
When you have a moment:
Come by on Monday nights, see what the Community Dinner does every week.
Drive by Tuesday night and see a full parking lot where people who are struggling with addiction come together for support and strength.
Come by on Wednesday where not only can you come and be a part of our meal and worship,
But you can see First Fruits feed the hungry.
Come by on a Thursday and see in the annex a wonderful Women’s Bible study that has women from other churches participating.
Or look at our wonderful landscape, you know who did that?
Diane and Michael.
And last week a group of a dozen members came out and worked on that yard.
Come by on November 5th Sunday afternoon and see young children come together to sing and play and learn about God,
Or our Middle and High Schoolers learning how God is real and making an impact in their lived.
When you give, you help support over 50 ministries…
We have been claimed by God.
And God is not going to give us away.
So are we ready to ReGive?
What we do with our lives will show whether we are REAL…or if we are just acting.