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Readings and Sermon for October 18, 2020

Prayer of the Day – Sovereign God, raise your throne in our hearts. Created by you, let us live in your image; created for you, let us act for our glory; redeemed by you, let us give you what is yours, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen.

First Reading – Isaiah 45:1-7

Psalm – Psalm 96:1-9 [10-13]

Second Reading – 1 Thessalonians 1:1-10

Gospel – Matthew 22:15-22

Sermon – In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, + and of the Holy Spirit, Amen. The text for this 29th Sunday in Ordinary Time is taken from Matthew 22:15-22. “Tell us then, what is your opinion? Is it right to pay taxes to Caesar or not?” (vs. 17) This is a trick question. We hear so many of them in politics and during debates. Questions are not always asked in a responsible manner. For example, it is fair to ask the president how he formulated his views and actions on the situation in Syria and Turkey. But it would be unfair to ask, “Mr. President, why did you desert an ally and support a dictatorial thug?” That’s a “gotcha question”: One that is posed in such a way that it is impossible to answer directly. Here’s another one for any husband. “Tell me, sir, have you stopped beating your wife? Please answer yes or no.” There is no way to answer such questions without getting yourself in trouble.

In this Gospel for today, the Pharisees try to lay a trap for Jesus, much like a person who asks you if you have stopped beating your spouse. They try to get him to make a declaration about paying taxes, a choice they think will bring him into conflict with either the Roman government or the parties rebelling against the empire. Jesus gets into trouble whether he says yes, or no. Jesus sees through their malice and flips the choice back to them. He gets a coin, brings out that the head of Caesar is one it, and eventually says “Give to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to God the things that are God’s.” In a political debate today, people love to see an opponent get trapped with a question. But this Gospel goes beyond revealing that Jesus was a tough person to manipulate. It also challenges us to discover what it means to give to God the things that belong to God.

There is no specific tax that we can pay to God, unless you live in Germany. If you declare yourself a member of a Lutheran or a Catholic Church there, you automatically have a percentage of your salary taken out and given to that Church. In the U.S., we give freely to our church. So what are the things that are God’s?

First of all we should give to the Church out of faith and love for God. God sent His only Son to suffer and die on the cross. He then rose from the dead for our forgiveness. I believe that having faith in this is why we give for the support of the Church. The Church continues to spread the Good News of the love and mercy of God in Jesus Christ thanks to those who have supported it in the past.

Ultimately, the wealth of the Church can never be found in money. The denarius coin has the image of the emperor on it, so it should naturally be given to the emperor. But the wealth of the Church is found in every person who bears the image of God, every single child of God. We are to give ourselves completely to God, in all that we say and do. Whenever we feed the hungry, welcome the stranger, care for the sick and visit those who are in prison, we are really helping him.

The Pharisees wanted to hear from Jesus a specific ruling on taxes, a ruling that would cause Jesus to stumble. Jesus said for them to give the emperor his pathetic little emperor coins. And then, more importantly, give “to God the things that are God’s.” Give God the gift of your whole self.

Everything we own is a gift from God. Even our husband or wife, children, and grandchildren are God’s blessings to us. If you really believe this, then giving to the church will come easy. Being thankful to God for our blessing will make us WANT to give to the Church.

When the Pharisees heard Jesus’ answer “they were amazed; and they left him and went away.” I think they also may have been a little ticked off at Jesus, as they usually are. But we do not have to slip away quietly when giving to the church is mentioned. As people who see the image of God in ourselves and others, we can make an effort to give more of ourselves every day. When we give to God the things that are God’s, we return to God everything that belongs to God, all our time, effort, and love. In the Name of the Father, Son + and Holy Spirit. Amen.

Bible verses to help combat fear and give us peace:

Psalm 56:3-4

Isaiah 35:3-4

Isaiah 41:10

Isaiah 60:1-2

Matthew 6:25-34

Matthew 14:25-33

Mark 4:35-41

Luke 8:22-25

John 14:27

Philippians 4:6-7

2 Timothy 1:7