Gospel Reading: Matthew 22:15-22
The Holy Gospel according to Matthew, the 22nd chapter.
Glory to you, O Lord.
15 Then the Pharisees went and plotted to entrap him in what he said. 16 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. 17 Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, or not?" 18 But Jesus, aware of their malice, said, "Why are you putting me to the test, you hypocrites? 19 Show me the coin used for the tax." And they brought him a denarius. 20 Then he said to them, "Whose head is this, and whose title?" 21 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." 22 When they heard this, they were amazed; and they left him and went away.
The gospel of the Lord. Praise to you, O Christ.
Carolyn - Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Creator and our Lord, Jesus Christ. Amen.
This morning, we are going to do something a little different. Jason and I are going to do this sermon as a dialog. In our gospel reading Jesus has an encounter with the Pharisees and the Herodians. Listen as Jason plays a Herodian and I play a Pharisee.
Jason - Religion, politics, and money are three topics that we can all agree to stay away from if we want to avoid arguing. The problem is that you Pharisees are on the wrong side of the aisle on all three topics. But, listen, I have an idea.
Carolyn - Why should I even talk to you? You guys work for Herod, the occupying ruler. That guy is evil. He supports Caesar, the emperor who thinks he is a son of god. And if you cared about our religion at all, you wouldn’t be supporting him. You would find another way to earn a living.
Jason - Yes, you Pharisees care about religion all right..to the point that you want everybody to follow every little law you have. But it doesn’t seem that you care at all about keeping the peace. If you don’t want a war, just make Herod think that you support him. A “You scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours” kind of thing. Thing is, I’m not sensing an openness here - you haven’t even heard my idea yet!.
Carolyn - Okay, but I know I am not going to like it…
Jason - Between us, we have a problem in common. Jesus of Nazareth is stirring up the people. People get excited and enthusiastic when they hear and talk about him - but we need things calm! If they get too stirred up, there could be an insurrection. Do either of us really want that? People could die.
Carolyn - It’s true, Jesus certainly is a problem. Just the other day he caused a disruption at the temple. People were there minding their own business, buying lambs and doves for the sacrifices. He came in and started throwing chairs around and flipped the tables where the money changers were sitting.
And he has been going around talking to everyone who will listen, telling them stories. These stories, these parables, are making us Pharisees look bad. We know they are meant to be a slam against us, but he is so indirect that we haven’t been able to do anything about it. The crowds are behind him right now. We need to discredit him somehow.
Jason - So, what do you think about this….We both go up to him, make him think we’re on his side, and then ask him a trick question.
Carolyn - We have tried that. Didn’t work. The man is clever, I have to give him that.
Jason - Clever, sure…but it seems like it’s only on religious questions. Let’s knock him off-balance and ask about politics, religion, and money. We’ll ask him if it’s lawful to pay taxes to Caesar. If he says yes, then your side won’t be happy. If he says no, our side will reject him….and my folks just want things to remain the way they are. For Jesus, it’s a complete lose-lose scenario.
Carolyn - Hey, that just might work. Nothing divides people more than politics, religion, and money. Jesus loses, the people abandon him, our problem is solved. We will both have our disciples to ask the question, though. We need to distance ourselves from this a bit.
Jason - Well, I didn’t expect that….he just called both of us hypocrites!
Carolyn - That was certainly embarrassing. He says, “Show me the money,” and without even thinking I pull a coin out of my pocket. I am not supposed to have Roman money in my pocket. That coin says, “Caesar Augustus, Son of the Most High God” imprinted right on the side. I am way too religious to pretend I don’t know better, that I don’t know that having that coin in my pocket breaks the commandment to have no other gods. I could try to blame him for disrupting the money changers, but I am still not supposed to touch that coin.
Jason - So, let’s come back to the present day….a conversation here between Pastor Carolyn and Jason.
We still have the combination of three topics (politics, religion, and money) that are considered inappropriate to talk about, even if you know the people you are talking to well.
For instance, with politics - it’s hard to find anyone who isn’t afraid to talk about it, even with those they love.
Religious differences are always good for an argument. The Reformation happened, after all, because of religious differences.
And then there’s money. Its rare that we’ll discuss openly how much we make or how we spend our money, unless it’s with our accountant.
But then, we turn back to today’s Gospel reading, and here’s Jesus saying "Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor's, and to God the things that are God’s.” Here, he’s talking about taxes…maybe that should have been the fourth thing to add to the list of things we don’t usually talk about openly!
Carolyn - So, we are having a pie social the Tuesday before Thanksgiving. It’s an annual fund raiser for the youth and everybody likes pie. I am going to help the kids roll out pie crusts again.
Jason - So, uhhh…what do pies have to do with politics, money, or religion? Ohhh..I get it….you’re trying to keep people distracted, not realizing this is a stewardship sermon? Right?
Carolyn - Pie is distracting, but I do have a point.
When you think about pies, maybe your first thought isn’t baked goods, maybe it’s mathematics. Pies are usually sliced and shared. That’s why they make good graphics. We all remember learning to read pie charts in elementary school. They are a very easy way to show fractions of a whole.
The slices are different sizes to indicate how large or small a portion is. Pie charts show how church budgets are divided.
Jason - We can even look at our daily lives as a pie chart. We can see slices that represent sleeping and eating, working and playing. We know that there are many ways to slice the pie, but when one slice is bigger, another must be smaller. If we spend more time at work, there is less time for family or for sleep.
It can be a challenge when one part of our life becomes an emperor that tries to rule over everything else. It is a challenge for all of us to keep our lives in balance. So, do you think Jesus was trying to teach us to have a better balance in our lives? Is he saying we should tithe all our time, talents, and treasures?
Carolyn - Tithing is certainly a good biblical practice, and I commend it to everyone, but I don’t think that is the point of this story. I don’t really think the main point is about paying taxes either.
Jason - Jesus asks who’s image is on the coin. The coin is stamped with a likeness of the emperor, by human hands, for human purposes. Jesus’s answer is well known: “Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to God the things that are God’s.”
Can’t you just picture Jesus flipping the coin in his hand a few times before he tosses it back to them? Confronting them with the unspoken question, “Whose image do you bear?”
Carolyn - We can’t help remembering the words from Genesis, when God stamped out human beings: “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness.”
All those apple pies we will make next month will be marked with the letter “A.” They will be divided and many people will claim a slice. The question for us today is not whether God claims a slice of the pie. The question is not how big of a slice belongs to God.
Jason - So what you are saying is, like those pies, we are marked by our maker. We bear the image of God and we are created to be like our Creator. In our baptism we are sealed with the Holy Spirit and marked with the cross of Christ forever.
This is what our faith is about. God doesn’t just want a slice of the pie, a portion of your money, a bit of your time. God created all of us, baked the whole pie, as it were. God claims our whole life, the life marked with the cross at our baptism.
Carolyn - That is indeed good news, and the best news is this, because we are claimed and named by God, we are first, foremost, and forever, God’s own beloved children.