Sermons That Work

The Bad Boys Were Trying…, Proper 24 (A) – 1999

October 17, 1999

The bad boys were trying to trap Jesus. Actually, in the eyes of the society, they were supposed to be the good guys. They were the brightest and best. The Pharisees were people who observed all of the traditional standards and rituals of Judaism. They tithed. They were compassionate. They were moral. They were at the heart of virtue in the culture. The Herodians were politically powerful. Had there been an institution such as the “Presidential Prayer Breakfast” in those days, the Pharisees and the Herodians would have been present. They were the brightest and the best. They were trying to trap Jesus.

The trap was simple but brilliant. If Jesus answers the questions, “Is it right to pay taxes, to render tribute to Caesar?” with ayes, then the Pharisees had him for committing blasphemy. The ritual priority or holiness laws of the Pharisees forbade a Jew from touching Roman money. Roman coins had the image of Caesar on them. The Romans regarded Caesar as a god. So if Jesus paid tribute or taxes to Caesar, then he would be guilty of both idolatry and blasphemy.

If, on the other hand, Jesus said, “No, don’t render tribute, pay taxes, to Caesar,” then the Herodians could turn him in to the Romans authorities as a revolutionary. In short, they thought they had him.

Jesus answered by asking for a coin and turning the question around and asking them, “whose image is on the coin?” They answered, “Caesar’s.” He said, “Render that which is Caesar’s to Caesar and to God that which is God’s.”

Christians have been trying to figure out how to do that ever since.

A conservative man said,” I believe it is my duty to God to help protect this nation from the Democrats.”

A liberal Christian man said, “I just can’t see how a Christian can be a Republican. Oh, I know that it is possible. I even have a Republican friend who is a Christian, but I just don’t understand how it can be that way.”

A Christian woman said, “I don’t vote. I think about it and can’t see how voting can honor God. So I just don’t vote.”

Another Christian said,” I believe it is my Christian responsibility to vote. I try to vote as intelligently as I can. Frequently it means choosing between the lesser of two evils. One humorist described voting as choosing ‘the evil of two lessers.’ I think that is funny, but it still hurts. I believe God wants us to do the best we can in an imperfect reality.”

Most of us are somewhere in the middle, trying to honor God and trying to be good citizens of our country.

But Jesus is saying something deeper. He ends his response with “…render to God what is God’s.” This suggests to us that there are some ultimate citizenship issues. In the scriptures Jesus makes many references to the “Kingdom of God.” We all say that we believe it. In the Creeds we use the phrase “whose kingdom will have no end.” We have never seen this kingdom. Many contemporary theologians don’t even like the image of kingdom. They feel that it doesn’t speak to us since most of us don’t live in monarchies. Some of them like the phrase, “Commonwealth of God;” others like the phrase “Realm of God.” But whatever term we prefer, there is a sense in us that somehow our ultimate citizenship is not in this world.

One man, old enough to remember the Nixon Presidency, said, “I supported the President with my vote, influence, and money. Then when the Watergate mess became public and he resigned, I felt betrayed. Then suddenly, I realized that while I get to vote, pay taxes, and enjoy the benefits of being a citizen of this nation, my real citizenship is in heaven. And God will not betray me.”

Jesus is calling us to our true, ultimate, and permanent citizenship. He makes that possible for us through his life, teaching, death, resurrection, and continuing presence with us. Our true citizenship will be at the heavenly banquet. The seating arrangements at the heavenly banquet are going to be interesting. It is quite possible that a French Huguenot Christian murdered in the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre will be seated next to a Roman Catholic Christian who may have been the murderer. It is quite possible that a Roman Catholic who was burned to death in England may be seated across the table from one of our Anglican Christian forebears responsible for the burning. Stalin, who was baptized and even went to theological seminary, may be at that banquet. Most of the soldiers who slaughtered each other in our Civil War were Christians. Most of the Russians, Germans, Austrian, Serbs, Italians, French, English, and North Americans who slaughtered each other in World War I were Christian and undoubtedly will be gathered at the heavenly banquet.

The ticket into the heavenly banquet is salvation, by grace, through faith. It is not connected to our works, either good or bad. It is a free gift from God. The passport to heaven is not something of this world. We receive it when we surrender to the love of God and claim Jesus as Savior.

When it comes to voting, you are on your own. Do the best you can for the best reasons you can summon up from the political debates, speeches, and televised sound bites.

But when it comes to heaven — be with God! We know that this is true; we know that this is where we really belong.

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Christopher Sikkema


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