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Synopsis of What Is Caesar’s and What Is God’s?
Good and joyful morning this morning to all Christian brothers and sisters on this the day the Lord has made. Pull up a chair, pour yourself a cup of coffee, or tea, or milk, or whatever is your favorite; we’re about to slice a piece of the bread of life, the Word of God. And today’s slice is from: Matthew 22:15 Then the Pharisees met together to think of a way to trap Jesus into saying something for which they could accuse him. 16 They decided to send some of their disciples, along with the supporters of Herod, to ask him this question: “Teacher, we know how honest you are. You teach about the way of God regardless of the consequences. You are impartial and don’t play favorites. 17 Now tell us what you think about this: Is it right to pay taxes to the Roman government or not?” 18 But Jesus knew their evil motives. “You hypocrites!” he said. “Whom are you trying to fool with your trick questions? 19 Here, show me the Roman coin used for the tax.” When they handed him the coin, 20 he asked, “Whose picture and title are stamped on it?” 21 “Caesar’s,” they replied. “Well, then,” he said, “give to Caesar what belongs to him. But everything that belongs to God must be given to God.” 22 His reply amazed them, and they went away.
With all the news about the candidates arguing with and calling out each others faults these days, led me to this message. Add to that news is the reports of those protesting for money of the riches to be distributed to the less rich. They do this with McDonald lunch bags in their hands, wearing a Coca Cola tee shirt, a smart phone made by Motorola, which uses AT&T servers; organizations which place millions of people in jobs. I noticed some parading on Sundays. I wonder if they went to church first.
They reminds me of a story: A young lady was soaking up the sun’s rays on a Florida beach when a little boy in his swimming trunks, carrying a towel, came up to her and asked her, “Do you believe in God?” She was surprised by the question but she replied, “Why, yes, I do.” Then he asked her: “Do you go to church every Sunday?” Again, her answer was “Yes!” He then asked: “Do you read your Bible and pray everyday?” Again she said, “Yes!” By now her curiosity was very much aroused. The little lad sighed with relief and said, “Will you hold my quarter while I go in swimming?”
The little boy was straightforward and honest in his questions because he wanted to entrust to the lady something valuable. The Pharisees in our slice of the bread of life today are not being honest. They have no intent in entrusting Jesus with anything. They are not looking for the answer to a question. They don’t want someone to hold their quarter. They are looking for a way to get rid of this trouble making Nazarene named Jesus. The Pharisees were so angry it blinded them. I believe they were upset because Jesus held them accountable and exposed their hypocrisy.
Let us ask three questions this morning and find out why this little teaching has such a great influence.(1) What Is Caesar’s? Or, better yet, do you pay your fair share of taxes according to the law of the land, or do you cheat ? (2) Do you appreciate the Interstate System when you travel. Do you know that the painted white and yellow lines and bright reflectors, alone cost $5,000.00 per mile. Oh, how blessed we are. What Is God’s? Or, better yet, do you tithe, it is also a law, that is, God’s law. (3) Do you appreciate, expect God’s blessings that you pray for? Do you “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to God the things that are God’s.”
Those in the protest makes me realize that they have a Monkey on their back. They sound like little spoiled children at play saying, “He has the toys I want, make him give them to me.” And, oh, the vicious things that can come out of our mouth’s when we have the Monkey on our back. “What a senseless murder.” Well, is there such a thing as a sensible murder? Or “She didn’t deserve this! She didn’t deserve to die.” Well, does anyone ever? Does anyone deserve to die? Or someone was “at the wrong place at the wrong time.” Well, no, they were at the right place at the right time. It’s not the victim who is in the wrong. It’s the shooter or the criminal who is in the wrong — doing the wrong thing at the wrong place at the wrong time. Those rich corporations who gambled the opening of their money to hire us, “don’t deserve to make so much profit.”
The clumsy prose and cliché phrases that pour from our mouths in the wake of tragedy or disaster are also evident when we hear about some horrible massacre, some vicious crime, some raging genocide. What do we say? “How inhuman!” And what do we call those who murder and maim? We call them “animals.”
Talk about hard-hearted clichés. Glance anywhere in human history. The vicious, vindictive vendetta is an all-too human trait, by all peoples, all cultures, all religions. What this cliché of “inhuman” does reveal, however, is our very human conviction that we are called to be something more.
Another cliché comes to mind, “Christians should not be involved in politics.” In an invocation prayer at the United States Senate, Peter Marshall said, “Lord Jesus, Thou who art the way, the truth, and the life, hear us as we pray for the truth that shall make men free. Teach us that liberty is not only to be loved but also to be lived. Liberty is too precious a thing to be buried in books. It costs too much to be hoarded. Make us to see that our liberty is not the right to do as we please, but the opportunity to please to do what is right.”
It is unthinkable that a Christian would not vote! It is unthinkable that Christians would not run for public office! It is unthinkable that Christians would withdraw from the responsibility of taking part in public life. The Christian has a responsibility to Caesar for all the privileges which the rule of Caesar brings. We are citizens of this world and must be good ones, if we are Christ’s disciples.
I have also heard it argued that Christ’s answer, “Give to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s” implies a strict separation of church and state, that Jesus is dividing life into two separate and distinct parts – a spiritual part and a secular, or worldly, part.
Unfortunately dedicated and committed Christians have been arguing for this separation for centuries, and we probably won’t settle the issue once and for all today. Their argument has been that with these words Jesus is telling us to obey God in the spiritual realm and to obey the government in everything else. Now, that’s a nice, neat little division, and it solves many difficult problems. Politics is politics and religion is religion and never the twain shall meet. Let the church take care of its own business and keep their noses out of social and political issues. That would be fine if it worked. You and I both know that it doesn’t. Yes, there are obligations we have to the governing authorities, such as paying taxes, exercising our right to vote, and obeying civil laws. But as followers of Jesus Christ, our ultimate obligation is to “seek first the kingdom of God,” and all other obligations have to have a lower priority. There can only be one top priority.
We are too often torn apart by legions of loyalties. No one seriously denies that we all have legions of loyalties. Sometimes there are too many for our own good. I remember watching a film a few years ago in which a scene opened to show two puppeteers arguing over who would control the strings tied to a puppets on the stage below them. As they argued, one tried to wrestle the strings from the other. The result was predictable. The puppet was pulled and thrown this way and that across the stage, as first one puppeteer and then the other pulled the string to an arm or leg, hand or foot. Our many loyalties and commitments can do the same to us.
President James Garfield’s words from 1877 still ring true. “Now more than ever before, the people are responsible for the character of their Congress. If that body be ignorant, reckless, and corrupt, it is because the people tolerate ignorance, recklessness, and corruption. If it be intelligent, brave, and pure, it is because the people demand these high qualities to represent them in the national legislature … if the next centennial does not find us a great nation … it will be because those who represent the enterprise, the culture, and the morality of the nation do not aid in controlling the political forces.”
Brothers and sisters, even we Christians have a responsibility to policing politics. We can only do that by being involved and by voting, yet, staying committed to Christ. We do have a commitment to attend to. We must first and foremost be committed to tending to the Kingdom of God here on earth.
What a country is America! As Erma Bombeck says, “You have to love a nation that celebrates its independence every July 4th, not with a parade of guns, tanks, and soldiers in front of the White House, but by family picnics where kids throw frizbees, the potato salad gets soggy, and the flies die from happiness.”
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