Sunday, November 15, 2009

23rd Sunday after Trinity, Matthew 22:15-22

Then, having gone the Pharisees took counsel how to trap Him in a statement. And they sent on a mission to Him their disciples with the Herodians saying, "Teacher, we know that you are truthful, and the way of God in truth, you teach, and you aren't concerned about (the wants of) anyone; for you don't look into mens' faces. Speak then to us, what it seems to you: Is it lawful to give tribute to Caesar, or not?" And Jesus, knowing their wickedness, said, "Why are you tempting me, hypocrites? Show to me the coin of the tribute." And these brought to Him a denarius. And He says to them, "Whose is this portrait and the writing upon it?" They say to Him, "Caesar's." Then He says to them, "Give over, then the things of Caesar to Caesar, and the things of God to God."

Politics makes strange bed-fellows. Two days before Jesus' arrest and trial, the Herodians supporters of the Romans puppet King-Herod conspire with the fundamentalist Jewish Pharisees in attempt to trap Jesus. They think they've backed Him into a corner forcing Him to choose between serving God or a heathen ruler. Which will Jesus choose to serve, God or Government? Jesus chooses *Yes!*

Take out a quarter: You render unto Washington... and unto God... Seems simple enough–pay all your taxes to the government, and put at least 10% of your income in the offering plate, and you'll be fine, right? Not exactly. Jesus is talking here about much more than simple finances. For rendering means giving back what never really belonged to you in the first place. It's about giving what you owe as you would have to pay back all your debts. Rendering to Caesar or to God isn't so simple.

What shall I render to the Lord, for all His benefits to me? The truth, and you might not be able to handle the truth, is this: You owe God everything! You had nothing before God created you and brought you into this world, and you can't take a single thing out of it. There will be no U-Hall hitched to your hearse. Everything you have, including your life, is a gift from God, including your very life itself! Yet we want to gripe and complain about giving back to God such a small percentage in our offerings.

Truly we are worse at rendering to God than we are rendering to our government. But that is not all the truth there is. Jesus is your Truth. His word is truthful, and it is the truth that sets you free from your sins of greed and ingratitude and all the rest. His word of Gospel love declares you forgiven for your failure to render as you ought, as Jesus Himself prays for you, "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do." In God's name (not Caesar's) all your sin is gone as your pastor absolves you!

Sometimes we become as hypocritical as the Pharisees and Herodians, normally sworn enemies. They try to give Jesus a trick question in order to trap Him–either He chooses to support the Roman occupiers, or the occupied Jews. You too find yourself asking all the wrong questions. You may be tempted here to be asking, "Just tell us what we are supposed to be rendering to God, and we'll do it" as though this story is all about you and the things God needs from you. But your God needs nothing!

Since you can't give God anything He needs, it is He Who gives you the *things of God* that you need! "What shall I render to the LORD for all His benefits to me? I will offer the sacrifice of thanksgiving...I will take the cup of salvation..."

You render to the Lord at the best thanksgiving meal this month–the Holy Eucharist! There you eat that thanksgiving feast, and drink from the cup of salvation, Jesus' body given for you, and His blood shed for your forgiveness, life and salvation!
In false flattery, Jesus' enemies claim He can't be distracted by the man's desires, nor influenced by public opinion. Jesus sticks to the plan, but the same can't be said of people like us. God's ways are not always our ways. You find yourself thinking that you know best, and then you scramble to find a good rationale for why God ought to agree with you. There is a way which seems right to a man...but it leads to ruin, to destruction. Instead of wanting God on our side, we should try things His Way!

He Jesus is your Way, the only Way, really. God's Way is worship, but that may not be what you think. Worship for us Lutherans is all about faith, a gift of God given in Baptism by the Holy Spirit. By faith you trust Jesus to wash your sins to Himself on the cross, and by God-given faith you receive rescue and salvation from your Lord. For believing is receiving. The image you receive isn't from a coin, but the restored image of God, lost in the Garden, but restored to you in Christ Jesus, the image of God!

Render unto God what He has given you: Your ears to listen to His saving Truth, your mouths to feast on His gifts of life, and your hearts to believe and trust in His salvation! For God first gives all He requires.

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