Adventures in Taxes! (Sermon, Oct. 19, 2014)

Hello Friends!

This week Jesus talks about money, politics, and religion, all the things we are told not to discuss in polite society.  Its way more than just taxes though, we are talking about allegiance, hope, false Gods, and so much more!

Now, I had a technical glitch and could not record this week’s sermon, so you’ll have to read it (below).  The good part about reading it is, that you get to see my footnotes, the bad thing is that you don’t get any of my off hand jokes and my general personality.  I hope to have the recording function up and running again soon, so for now, read on McDuff!:

Text: Matthew 22:15-22, Proper 24, October 19, 2014

This story has all the things we are never supposed to talk about in polite society right? Politics, money, and religion. Matthew writes that this exchange is a plot to entrap Jesus, and it certainly is. You see, this isn’t just about taxes, no it is much bigger than that, because as we know, taxes are forever. It is about religion, loyalty, nationalism, as well as money.

The Pharisees and the Herodians join forces in this story, but they didn’t like each other. The Pharisees were the religious leaders, and were against the occupation of Israel by Rome and the Herodians were loyal to Herod and supported the Romans, but both groups didn’t like Jesus. So they join forces to ask about taxes. This is about a specific tax, called the “Imperial Tax.” This was a tax that the Israelites had to pay that went to Rome to pay for Rome’s occupation of Israel. So the people had to pay for their own oppression. And to add insult to injury this tax had to be paid with the imperial coin and the imperial coin had Caesar Tiberius’ head on it and it said “Son of God.” Yes, the Emperor was considered the Son of God. So the religious Jews had to break 2 commandments to pay this tax, having a graven image of a god, and having a god other than the true God. So if Jesus says, pay the tax, they can call him a heretic. If Jesus says not to pay the tax, the Herodians can arrest him for being against Rome. So he is stuck in a no win situation.

This exchange is much bigger than, should I pay taxes or not? Jesus’ answer isn’t very clear either. Give to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s and give to God the things that are God’s. That is a confusing statement. I guess it worked because they left Jesus alone for a while. But what are we going to learn from this exchange?

In the reading from Thessalonians today, Paul talks about faith, love, and hope. Hope is something we all need in life. A life without hope is a miserable one. Hope must be grounded in something real. For example, Paul’s hope for the resurrection is based in Christ, it is based on his experience of Christ. The theme of hope can also be applied to Matthew’s Gospel today. According to Karoline Lewis, Jesus “suggests that loyalty tends to be accompanied by hope.” We are loyal to a political party, for example, because we hope they will make our lives better. We are loyal to professors because we hope to learn, we are loyal to our friends because we hope for friendship in return. Lewis writes, “We are able to have hope not because of a blind naïveté, but because we have experienced something that makes hope possible.” [1]

In the story, the Pharisees have their hopes on God through the Law, waiting for God to free them from their oppressors, because that is how they experience God. The Herodians have their hope in Rome, thinking that if they go with them, their lives will be better, they have learned that from experience too. So where do we place our hopes? That is the question that you can think about on your own. Do we put all of our hopes and dreams onto our material wealth, our coins? Those dead presidents some of whom were slave owners and adulterers and liars, not always great role models. Do we put all our hopes into Jesus? What experiences of God and Jesus have shaped your hopes?

We were made in the image of God, God is a constant in our lives that is the number one priority in a Christian’s life. We are God’s beloved children, period. This is before politics, before money. David Lose writes; we say that how we spend our money is our own business, and that is true, “but if we forget in whose image we have been made, we may succumb to the temptation to believe that we are no more than the sum total of our possessions and that our bank accounts tell the true story of our worth and value.”[2] We are more than what we own. We are so much more than our cars, our iPhones, our plasma TVs or what have you.

No matter what happens in our lives, no matter how many taxes we have to pay, we have to remember our true worth and our true hope. God in Christ is that hope, and we are God’s children. This is the identity we are called to have, whether we have a million coins, or only one. Our identity comes from God alone, and as long as we remember that and remember how we have known God in our own lives, we will always have hope, faith, and love.

AMEN

[1] Karoline Lewis, “Having Hope,” Dear Working Preacher, October 12, 2014, accessed October 17, 2014, http://www.workingpreacher.org/craft.aspx?post=3361

[2] David Lose, “Pentecost 19A: Money, Politics, & Religion (Oh My!),” …in the Meantime, October 13, 2014, accessed October 17, 2014, http://www.davidlose.net/2014/10/pentecost-19a-money-politics-and-religion/

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