October 16, 2011: Death and Taxes

teaching your kids to read

/steveteague1-150×150.jpg” alt=”” width=”150″ height=”150″ />Sermon
The Rev. Dr. C. Steven Teague, Rector
Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost

In this world we can be assured of two things – death and taxes. And when death comes, let’s pray taxes won’t follow us into eternity. If when you arrive in the next world, and get handed a tax bill – you may not have arrived where you hope you’d be. In today’s gospel two groups come to ask Jesus a tax question. For Herodians and Pharisees to stand side-by-side is like President Obama and the tea party agreeing on anything. But that day it happened. And the issue wasn’t taxes. The issue is finding a way to get rid of Jesus.

We probably know more about Pharisees than Herodians. Pharisees strictly keep the law and prophets and expect others to do the same. They detest Roman occupation, especially having to pay taxes to the emperor. Herodians are a priestly branch of Jews who toady up to Rome. They get tax breaks and good appointments in exchange for supporting Caesar. Today these two enemies play on the same team.

“Jesus you are so sincere, so truthful, so right about God – impartial (yadda, yadda, yadda). So tell us, is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor or not?” If Jesus says, “Yes,” showing any hint of supporting Caesar’s tax code, his loyal followers go off to find a more suitable Messiah. If Jesus says, “No” – the Herodians will turn him in to the authorities for treason. Clever child of God that he is, he asks for a tax coin. Someone hands him one. Trap – to carry a Roman coin in your pocket, let alone bring it into the Temple is blasphemy. The reason – the tax coin bears Caesar’s image, inscribed, “Son of god.” Jesus has competition – the emperor. “Let’s see – whose image is this?” “It’s the emperor,” they answer. “Well, then give him what is his, and give God what’s God’s,” Amazed and done in, they walk off. But Jesus hasn’t really answered their question – he won’t.

What do you think Jesus means – give Caesar what’s his, and God his? What is Caesar’s and what is God’s? Can we separate the sacred from the secular? What do you think? Maybe Jesus is dividing up Caesar’s realm, or not. We do need governments for certain things, but Caesars don’t just sit on thrones in Rome long ago. Caesar still wants our taxes. So do we support Caesar’s realm by paying taxes, and support God with our tithe, time and talent? Jesus doesn’t answer. He leaves that to us to decide. Personally, I recommend we keep paying our taxes – regardless.

By refusing to answer their question, Jesus raises a larger issue. To whom do we belong? Caesar can demand our coins. Yet Caesar doesn’t own us. Caesar can demand our allegiance, but won’t own our hearts. God marks what He owns with his image. And guess what bears God’s image? Everything – we are made in God’s image, along with Caesars, and presidents, kings and rulers, and all the powers and principalities of our day, wealthy CEO’s, maids and janitors, those with jobs and those looking for them. We are God’s. No one – nothing else defines who we are – unless we let it – not our fears, our failures, our addictions to success and winning. Even our economy, political potentates, liberals, conservatives, Wall Street-ers and Tea Partiers finally are judged by a cross and empty tomb.

Knowing we belong to God shapes decisions we make in all areas of our lives. For instance, how as Christians do we spend our money? What do we keep for ourselves and give to God? We face these questions not just in the season where we ask people to give and make pledges, but every day. Caesar will get his due, just as in Jesus’ day. It’s this second realm where we make decisions – God’s reign. Yet, even in the church we are reluctant to talk about where and how we spend most of our time, talent and treasure.

We belong to God – not Caesar. As bearers of God’s image, we love all others as God loves us. God comes to us in Jesus to serve, heal, redeem, forgive, and win our hearts, minds and souls with love, kindness, and mercy. That’s how we aspire to live. God renders all to us – never forsaking us. And even when we do forsake him, God still keeps a light on for us.

In these days when we are inundated with fear of scarcity, life imploding, remember the God who marks us beloved, secure in abundant love. Caesar, life’s circumstances have an important impact in this world. Yet in the midst of it all, remember God is our eternal security. We are marked as Christ’s own forever. Always remember whose you are – and where you home is. The question I ask myself out of this text, “What image do others see in me? I hope that occasionally, at least, they catch a glimpse of God in me.


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