Sermon – October 19, 2014
19th Sunday after Pentecost (Year A)
By Roland Legge
1 Thessalonians 1:1-10
The conflict between Jesus and his critics had been getting worse over time, since the beginning of Matthew’s Gospel. The Herodian’s being a political movement who totally supported the rule of Rome wanted to expose Jesus’ anti Rome/anti tax beliefs because they saw him as a threat to the status quo. The Pharisees, who while not believing in the tax, had come to accept it as a reasonable cost to having the freedom and security to function in the Roman world. They saw Jesus as a threat to the status quo which gave them power and privilege. So some Pharisees and Herodians ask Jesus a difficult question with the intention to get him in trouble which in essence goes like this: “To whom should they give their loyalty—to God or to Caesar?”
Now Jesus was very wise in how he answered the question. First he asks for a coin because he does not have one. Only his critics have a coin. They have in their pockets coins with the idolatrous image of Caesar stamped upon it. Then he says the famous words which is “give unto Caesar what is Caesar’s and to give unto God what is God’s”. So what does Jesus really mean?
Sadly Jesus words have been misinterpreted many times with people claiming that Jesus wants us to pay our taxes to government unquestionably. This couldn’t be further from the truth. I think it is important to note that Jesus does not specify just what belongs to Caesar and what belongs to God. He doesn’t have to. He is talking with people who know scripture by heart and know this psalm: “The earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it, the world and those who live in it.” (Ps 24:1)
What Jesus was saying in his time was that if you have chosen to worship Rome then it only seems right then for you to pay taxes to Rome. However if you choose to follow God then you have no responsibility to pay money to Caesar. Note that Jesus did not have any coins with the image of Caesar on them. He is showing clearly where he puts his trust.
Who do we worship today? Where do we put our trust? Do we worship God? Or do we worship money, power, armies, bombs, alcohol, drugs etc. This is a hard question because I think we all want to say that we worship God more than anything else. But do we?
Our actions often speak louder than our words. In recent federal elections I suspect that many people put the god of financial security as more important than following our Creator God. Many have seemed to forgotten Psalm 24:1. Remember it: The earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it, the world, and those who live in it” The environment seems to become less important when ever we realize there is a financial cost to cleaning it up. Christians often forget to ask the question as to what does God call upon Canadians and their government to do in the short term and long term. We look at our economy in every possible way other than what God’s economy might look like.
The challenge for Christians today is to become politically active like Jesus was. Yes Jesus was politically active. He stood up for God’s economy. This included hanging out with people that were looked down upon by the religious of his day. It included speaking the truth when most did not want the truth to be spoken. It included practicing civil disobedience when he became so angry by the abuse of those who benefited from money that came into the Temple. Remember that time when Jesus turns over the tables in the Temple?
Jesus was part of a larger movement that was exposing the evil of the Roman Empire. He was always challenging people to follow God and not Caesar. The poor and oppressed were empowered by his message because he was giving them permission to challenge Caesar when Caesar was going against God. This was more than enough to get him killed on a cross.
In Canada today we talk about the rule of law. I don’t think Jesus would disagree with countries having rules of law. However Jesus would be very angry at any government saying we have to follow all laws without question. There are many laws we should follow because they help to bring about God’s economy; that being a world where people have access to basic human rights such as food, shelter, education and community. However Governments have too often let power become their god. When this happens they will bring in laws that are unjust, immoral, violent and destructive. Jesus says we are to refuse to follow such laws as long as we are willing to face the consequences.
For example, my father strongly believed this. He for many years up to his death was part of the Canadian Peace Tax Fund. Every year this organization figured out what percentage of our taxes go to war. Then my father would deduct that amount from what he sent to the government and remit the rest to the peace tax fund. He strongly believed that we need to put money into peacemaking rather than war making. He was following in the path of Jesus.
Would I every break the law for God? I hope if the opportunity comes along I will have the guts to do it. But I know there are so many ways for Christians to stand in solidarity with the oppressed. This is why I am not afraid to raise controversial topics because I know that is what Jesus would have done if he was here today. This is why I am not afraid to meet people who society have looked down upon. What do you do when you are confronted with injustice?
The world is a complex place. It is not easy to make these tough decisions. Sometimes it is hard to know what God wants. But with prayer, worship and community we can together make choices each day that are more congruent with our creator. These would be decisions that will show others that it is the Creator God who we truly worship.
I believe with God there is always hope. A hope that says we can make a difference in the world; a promise that we will not be left alone. I believe that God will show us the way if we would only listen.
All quotes except for when it is stated otherwise come from Pulpit Resource Vol. 36, No. 4 Year A & B A October, November, December 2008 by William Willimon Logos Productions Inver Grove Heights MN pages 1316