Sermon for October 18, 2020

Matthew 22:15-22

“Rendering Unto God”

 

Just suppose that every one of you out there knows, secretly, that God has rescued you. You haven’t told anyone, perhaps, but you know —rescued you not once but many times. And just suppose that with this knowledge, you are living in Palestine way back then, and you have decided to tag along with the Pharisees and the friends of Herod when they approached Jesus.

 

The Pharisees, were known for their fanatical observance of the law. They often approached Jesus to contend with him about his teachings, but this time they have consulted with and invited the Herodians to join them. Politics does breed strange bedfellows. The Herodians were supporters of King Herod; who was ruling with the permission of Rome. He was basically a vassal king, and all the Herodians gained wealth through taxation. On the other hand, The Patriotic Pharisees decidedly were against paying taxes to Rome. Therefore, this was a very political event that was about to happen. So, what party would you have belonged to? More taxes or no taxes? It doesn’t seem like a 2000 year old question.

 

Now what was reason for this strange gathering of different viewpoints? The Pharisees were worried about Jesus growing popularity. They were seeking a way to expose him as a charlatan and a fraud, or to paint him as a revolutionary who was a threat to the government, and so they sent their disciples to try and trap him, and remember you are there. In the crowd you hear them beginning with some high-sounding flattery. As someone has said, “The person patting you on the back may only be determining where to stick the knife.

 

“Teacher”, they say, “We know you are true, and teach the way of God truthfully, and care for no man; for you do not regard the position of men. Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar or not?”

 

This must have seemed like the perfect ploy. Jesus could side with the patriotic view point and declare it is wrong to be force to pay taxes to Rome. That would have played well with the crowd and probably secretly with the pharisees, but it would have put him at odds with the Herodians, and Rome. He would have painted himself as a reactionary, and no friend to Rome. People like that usually are either imprisoned or crucified.

 

On the other hand, Jesus could have agreed that paying Roman Taxes was a necessity. This would have pleased the Herodians and kept him in the good graces of Rome, but the crowds who wanted freedom from Rome would been alienated by such a viewpoint. The Pharisees could have joked what kind of a messiah pays taxes to Roman? –A false Messiah. They would have been able to paint Jesus as a liar and a fool.

 

No. there is no good will in this group. This is as political as it gets. Power gathering, underhanded and insincere compliments, one upmanship, trying to outmaneuver one’s opponent, the desire to decimate the other’s perspective, and destroy their position in life. Life hasn’t changed.

 

The Bible says Jesus knows their malice though, and he asks them, “Why do you put me to the test, you hypocrites? Show me the money for the tax.” They brought him a coin, and with Jesus holding that all too familiar piece of metal in his hand, you hear the words, (KJV) “Render therefore unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and unto God the things that are God’s.

 

The crowd stands there in silence for a moment, and then being unable to reply to Jesus answer they turn and leave, and you being part of the crowd also walk away.

 

Amazing, you’d think, how did he get out of that very tight spot by saying the one thing that would send them on their way. But then you, and perhaps several the others begin to consider what Jesus had said, “Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and unto God the things that are God’s.

 

What does it mean? Well rendering unto Caesar, in a literal sense is easy to understand. That basically means that Caesar gets his taxes. It is like what someone once said concerning the IRS, “You may not agree with every department of the government, but you really have to hand it to the IRS.

 

Or another statement that I liked, “Death and taxes may always be with us, but at least death does not get any worse.

 

Generally, the people in Jesus day, and we today have very little choice in giving to Caesar. What Caesar wants, Caesar generally gets. What the IRS wants the IRS gets. We learn that not every dollar we hold in our hand belongs to us. This would seem to be an easy enough teaching to understand if Jesus had merely said render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, but Jesus also added that we are to render unto God the things that are God’s. Now it is not just taxes that he is talking about, but God as well.

 

That is not quite as easy to understand is it? On a Roman coin was the image of Caesar. On our money are the images and symbols of our Government, but what has the image of God stamped on it? What is there that belongs to God, and should therefore be rendered unto God?

 

Well, in the book of Genesis, it is written that God created the world and then he said, “Let us make man (that is human beings; both male, and female) in our own image, after our likeness.

 

What in this entire world contains the image of God? More than anything is it not you and I? That is what contains the image of God, and that is why at the beginning of this sermon I asked you to imagine hearing these words as if you were one who had been saved by God, and knew you had been saved –many times. In truth, if you know Jesus as your savior, then God really has saved you. And if you heard those words of Jesus to “render unto God the things that are God’s” as one who was saved, then it would be hard for you not to realize that you should be rendering not only your tithe unto God but yourself as well. When your life is spared, you cannot just be the same person. When God acts within your spirit to give you life, you know you do not belong to yourself.

 

1 Corinthians 6:20 “For you were bought with a price; therefore, glorify God in your body.”

 

Render unto God what is God’s. Jesus is not just teaching us what we are to do with our money, or just getting out of what we think is a tight spot for him, but he is teaching us about what we should do with our lives. If we give God our lives then the other priorities of time, presence, and finances will fall into place.

 

Just as we are told in Romans 12:1-2 “I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God–what is good and acceptable and perfect.”

 

While the writer in Romans speaks of rendering your body as a living sacrifice, what he is really speaking of is engaging your whole being, thought, and life as a service to God.

 

The scriptures remind us in more than one place that as Christians we are called to live according to a higher purpose. We are called to belong to God, and thus obligated to render unto God what is God’s.

 

Now I think that that concept can sound pretty heavy. How does one render oneself unto God? How does one become a living sacrifice, or live up to being owned by God? But the idea is really as old as the Jewish faith itself. For it is in Dueteronomy 6:4-5, “Hear, O Israel: The LORD is our God, the LORD alone. You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might.”

 

Rendering to God the things that are God’s on a personal level has to do with loving God enough to be obedient to God in this life. Rendering your life unto God is not about law, or even duty, but it is about love and grace. It is about allowing God’s kingdom to be formed in you, even today.

 

Now that does not always make the pathway of life clear, but it does perhaps help to establish some light post in the darkness along the way. What priorities shall we give in the midst of our finances? Well what do you believe is important to God? Where are those areas of charitable giving that you feel drawn to and that God may have placed upon your heart? Then you make a decision as one whom God has claimed.

 

How are we to interpret the events of our world –there is so much rancor in the political field and threats of violence. There is too much name calling that does not advance the national conversation of what we need as a nation. We do not need to be fueling the fires of extremist hatred or creating a catalyst for groups of people to think kidnapping a state governor is a good idea. We don’t need to be an alarmist telling people that the election process that has served our country for over 200 years is no good. We do not need to generate fear or lies and live in it. No one should avail themselves to violence and destruction, as a way of making a point. Death doesn’t bring forth life.

 

Most certainly as a people saved and loved by God, these surely are good times to render unto God the things that are God’s –Vengeance that belongs to God. Fear, and hatred. In 1 John we are told that perfect love drives out fear. God reminds us that he has given us a love that assures us of our salvation, and I believe replaces a lot of our fear and hatred. We become fearful because we perceive a threat to ourselves and become angry and hate others because we believe that we need to defend ourselves. Sometimes our fears are well founded but let us also remember that every person is an eternal being ultimately created in God’s image, therefore we all are to strive for peace. We must see others as belonging to God and saved by God as well, because they are. Render unto God the things that are God’s and receive from God the gifts that he has given to us.

 

It is all about how we live our lives differently because we know that we have been saved, and we know that the image of God has been renewed upon our souls when we asked Christ to be a part of our lives. It is the loving obedience in this life that we give to God, because of the God’s Spirit of life that has been poured out upon us. We will indeed have future because it is God who creates the day.

 

Jesus understood the importance of this idea. That is why he was able to reply as he did. It was not that Jesus was craftier than those who came to him, but his response was a result of the life he lived. The grace and love which was his life came naturally pouring forth from all he did, and so in this world in which we are separated by national boundaries with taxes to be paid to Caesar, and in which there are many conflicting loyalties, with idols calling for our worship. Jesus concern was not with money, or power or position or even his own survival, but his concern was in how we live out our love for God with one another.

 

What a difference God can make, if we consider what God has already given to us. Render unto God the things that are God’s. Amen & Amen.

 


 

Published by Rev. Russell

Pastor at the Lake City United Methodist Church in Lake City, Michigan.

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