Render Unto Caesar- Sermon.

Grace be unto you from God our Father, and our Lord and savior Jesus Christ, Amen.
To say there is very little the Pharisees have in Common with the Herodians, is an understatement. It would be like if Sarah Palin didn’t like what Jesus was saying, so she went and got together with her good chum Hillary Clinton and approached him. Their main platforms are exactly opposite one another. The Pharisees on one side, don’t like Rome and its constant meddling in their affairs. Meanwhile, the Herodians are committed to keeping Rome in power through the puppet King Herod. About the only thing they have in common is that they don’t like Jesus.  So I hope you can feel the tension in the room when they ask their question: “Tell us, is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, or not?”
The trap is this: If Jesus answers “yes” then he is in trouble with the Pharisees and the crowds who do not like Rome and think the tax is unfair. If Jesus answers “no” then he is in trouble with the Herodians and the Roman government itself. He can be charged with treason. But Jesus does not take the bait. He answers them, “Show me the coin used for the tax.” And then they bring him a denarius, which is a telling feat, because they have the money to spare for the question, and Jesus does not. Jesus looks down at the coin and says to them, “Whose head is this, and whose title?” 21 They answered, “The emperor’s.” Then he said to them, “Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” 22 When they heard this, they were amazed; and they left him and went away.
Are WE amazed though? I think we have heard the words “Render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s and render unto God what is God’s” too many times. It is used to support so many different things, that there is an audible eye roll every time someone says it again. It is hard to hear these words in a fresh way. So, let’s talk about the heart of the matter. And maybe we will find out why we should be amazed at these words.
Now, I’ve laid my eyes on an American Dollar once or twice, and I’ve seen it enough to know that it doesn’t have a picture of a live, active ruler on it. In Jesus time there was a convenient picture of Caesar there to make his point. Pictures of dead presidents aside, we can still ask Jesus’ question: whose seal and inscription are on our dollar? Who does it say it belongs to? Well, I suppose it is the United States Government and her Treasury. Which is pretty much our version of Caesar. According to the bill, the US Federal Reserve owns the dollar. Yet I’m still tempted to say that when I have a dollar, it’s mine. I earned it after all. What Jesus points out, is that the dollar does not have MY name on it. It has the name of my government. My Caesar still owns this dollar even if I am the one holding it.
Now there’s something particularly interesting about our money, which didn’t hold true in Jesus’ time: every US dollar and coin bears the phrase “In God We Trust.” Isn’t that a precious little chestnut: In God We Trust. What would this country look like if that were actually true? I mean, how many of you are thinking about trust in God when you spend your money? I know that’s not what I’m thinking. When I hand over my money: I’m thinking, now I can get me some tasty cheese sandwiches. Or I’m thinking, “Ouch, there goes yet another bill I could barely pay.” But trust in God? Our own Supreme Court has said that the words “In God We Trust” on our money has no real religious meaning. No real meaning! Can you believe it? This is their very argument for why we can keep the phrase on our bills and coins without violating a separation of church and state. And you know what? They are right, you can tell it has no real meaning, or we would not look at money as fearfully as we do. If we actually trusted in God, wouldn’t we approach money in a completely different way? Why are we so guarded about calling it our own when we have it?
We are now ready to be as amazed as the Pharisees and Herodians were when they hear these words: Render unto Caesar what belongs to Caesar, Render unto God what Belongs to God. This is no mere pithy phrase establishing a separation of church and state… it is much more than Jesus telling us to pay our taxes, and give God’s stuff to God. When Jesus says this, one commentator imagines he can see him casting the denarius aside in disgust! As it clatters on the ground, you can hear that this is like a gauntlet being thrown down along with that coin. The gauntlet implies that we should go and give ALL our money to the government, not just the tax. Jesus throws away one coin, and symbolically tosses all the rest back to Caesar as well.
His argument is that regardless of the tax, the money wasn’t ours to complain about to begin with. Our money says it belongs to Caesar right on the front. Furthermore, this money is idolatrous, we make it a God– right down to the graven image we put upon it. So, he says, give ALL of this repulsive money back to Caesar whose seal is upon it. He tells them: you are fixated on this money as if you own it. But more accurately, it owns you: money is a God that rules over you. So much so that you are worried about surrendering some portion of it for a tax! Remember again that Jesus did not have the money to answer the question. He is not ruled by money. But the Pharisees and Herodians readily had a denarius to give him. Can you see how ruled by money they are? How much are we ruled by money?
So he says, give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar, and forget this money. This is all idolatry, and you should have nothing to do with it. Finally, give to God what belongs to God: namely, give the same authority and power you are giving to this money to God. God should have sovereignty, God should have this power, not money. God should have our respect, and our fear, for in God we also find Grace and love. Money does not give us love nor grace. Only power and fear. So trust not in money, but trust in God!
And that’s the rub that makes these words so amazing: trusting in God is hard! It is not something that we can do on our own. Ack! I cannot even do it when it is printed on my money. I mean, there it is, the very first commandment: you shall have no other Gods. But by the time I get awake and rolling in the morning I have already made time, coffee, and doughnuts my Gods. I must say that I daily trust in God just about as much as I trust in the weather man. And I’m pretty sure the weather service lies to me more than anyone I know.
One thing is clear, we’re going to need a lot of help. As Luther says in his Small Catechism: “I believe that by my own understanding or strength I cannot trust in Jesus Christ.” he says I cannot do it! “I can’t trust in my Lord, or come to him, but instead the Holy Spirit has called me through the gospel, enlightened me with her gifts, made me holy and kept me in the true faith, just as she calls, gathers, enlightens and makes holy the whole Christian Church.” We cannot trust or believe in God by ourselves, but the good news is, God has sent God’s Holy Spirit, and God does the work of faith for us in Christ. Saint Paul says in First Thessalonians “For we know, brothers and sisters beloved by God, that God has chosen you, 5 because our message of the gospel came to you not in word only, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction”
It would be as if, in our Baptism, God says “Show me this person. Whose seal is upon them? And whose inscription is marked upon their hearts?” Why, this child is sealed with the cross of Christ! This child belongs to God, and has God’s name written in their every breath. Here, in the water of the font and through the hearing of God’s word, we are truly rendered unto God. GOD gives us faith where we have only fear and money. All that we are belongs to God, and through Christ and the Holy Spirit, we are made new. Here at the font we are made to trust. We are made a people of faith. So give to God what belong’s to God! (The secret is, God had you all along!)
God works faith in us here. We need a lot of help, for sure. But God has already abundantly supplied that help. God has already claimed each and every one of us, and made us God’s own. As we learned last week from Pastor Bill: [God Loves us!] And so through God’s love, money no longer rules us. With God as our ruler, we become free to use our money as a blessing to others. So maybe we should rewrite the slogan on our money to say: In God we gain Trust. Because in God, we gain one another. Because God’s Trust in us, gives us trust to share! And that brings new worth to every penny and every neighbor.

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