Sermon for 10/19/08
"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.'"
I speak to you today in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen +
In this instance I do prefer the King James: Render unto Cesar [sic].
Unless you've been living under a rock or, say, on top of a mountain, then you know there has been alot of talk this week about rendering unto caesar. The presidential debates are essentially a ping pong match of how we should best render unto caesar and in some cases how caesar should render unto us!
Today's Gospel, as usual, is eerily apropos to what is going on in our lives. Let's look at what we have:
"Then the Pharisees went and plotted to entrap him 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."
Aren't they nice? Buttering him up for the kill. The Pharisees were the religious establishment of the day, the score keepers, they were the theological and religious law experts. The Herodians on the other hand, were sell outs to the empire. The Herodians were Jews who supported Herod's rule, and were rewarded handsomely for their loyalty and political influence. So in this scene we have Jesus in the middle a nationalistic group who were ardent in their desire for religious and legal independence on one side, and on the other the much hated Herodians: collaborators who made money and power off the backs and blood of their kin. This is the dynamic.
Matthew goes on: 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?"
Jesus sees what's going on, they are trying to get him into a catch-22. If he says, "Yes, we should pay taxes." Then the pharisees will skewer him as being in collaboration with the empire and also with idolatry, because Roman coins bore the emperor's graven image and words to the effect of "all hail the emperor, high priest and god."
Now, if Jesus had said, "No, we shouldn't pay taxes." Then the Herodians, the representatives of the empire, could have booked him for sedition.
How does Jesus respond to this damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don't scenario? He says, "Show me the coin used for the tax." And they bring him a denarius. I can't help but notice how readily, how speedily, they produce the offensive item, I want Jesus to say, "You have this on hand? Oh, I see it's o.k. for business, just don't bring that idolatrous thing into my spiritual life." Maybe that's why he calls them hypocrites, they compartmentalize their lives. What's acceptable over in this sphere is not acceptable in that sphere and vice versa. How I conduct myself in my spiritual life has no bearing on how I conduct myself in society. I love God, but I have to consider what's mine! Jesus is my homeboy, but if you cross me, you're going down!
After some Socratic questioning Jesus concludes with "Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor's, and to God the things that are God's." Jesus says to give to the emperor what is his because the coin bears his likeness and title. The emperor put his picture and name on the coin to say,"This is mine."
Then Jesus says give to "God the things that are God's." There it is. But what is God's? What are the things that are to be rendered to God? It's terrible in it's simplicity: we are. We are the things that are God's. Were we not "sealed as Christ's own forever" at our baptisms? Even more, we were Christ's at creation, because "through him all things were made" as the creed affirms. Indeed all creation will eventually join with Christ at the end of all time at the great banquet (in seminary we call it the eschatological banquet, it's the second coming, when Christ will marry himself to us in a new,complete, and utter way).
At baptism we are sealed as Christ's own forever. In fact, the chrism with which we are sealed, in the old usage, meant to seal, like a noble would seal, with wax, a document, to insure that it would not be tampered with. We are God's because we carry his seal, not unlike the coin, which bore the emperor's likeness, we bear Christ's image. We belong to God, we are the things that belong to God, that we should render unto him. We are. In our totality. We can give God everything, our faith, our doubt, our resentments, our joy, our anxiety, our bad psychology, give him everything, it's o.k. We were God's; before there was a "we" or an "I," or even a world. "Through him all things were made."
It's like the deeply theological hymn says: Oh, how I love Jesus, oh, how I love Jesus, oh, how I love Jesus, because he first loved me. Jesus Christ, God, loved us, loved everything first. This is not a transaction, we didn't cause God to love us. His love is simply a fact of life: the creator of the universe loves you, and you have access to that love, free! Isn't that exciting?
It kind of makes rendering to Caesar, sort of a joke.
Let us pray: BCP p. 252
O God, who wonderfully created, and yet more wonderfully restored, the dignity of human nature: Grant that we may share the divine life of him who humbled himself to share our humanity, your Son Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen