My Text today is from: Matthew 22:15-21. Join me as I read it.
The tax inspector brought Mr Gudgeon in for his tax assessment interview: "I’m going to say to you what I say to every taxpayer who sits in that chair: you should realize that it’s a privilege to live in this country and you should pay your taxes with a smile." "Thank goodness," said a visibly relieved Bob, "I thought you were going to ask me for money." This particular passage from Matthew is unusual in that we are told immediately that the encounter is a plot to trick Our Lord. The Romans, contrary I think to popular belief these days were not an invading army in Judea. They had been invited into the country to make peace. They decided to stay and it is now a province. Certain parts of the Jewish leadership believed they needed the Romans and should pay taxes and go about their business. Others thought that the Romans could not be tolerated. They were idolaters, and brought their images with them, and they were gentiles and were polluting the holy land by even being there. So the Pharisees went to Jesus to trap him. They asked him a yes or no question: Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar or not? If he says yes, they think then that the people will desert him. If he says no, they think they can get him in trouble with the Romans. That’s why the Roman followers of Herod are there also: it is an unholy alliance between two extremes of Jesus’ opposition. But the response is more than a simple yes or no answer. The response is far more complex and more theological: "Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to God the things that are God’s."
This is a difficult answer because it leaves open the question what is Caesar’s and what is God’s? You can’t trust Caesar to tell you what’s Caesar’s. Because Caesar’s answer is always the same: more. Jesus has been portrayed in recent times as a political subversive and a counter-cultural icon: the first century Che Guevara. In fact, a couple of years ago an advertising campaign to get people across the threshold of a church for Easter showed a picture of Christ modeled upon that of Che, as seen on a thousand Student’s T-Shirts in the sixties. Christ was indeed subversive, radical and counter cultural. But he was not rebellious. The law was authoritative for Christ, and he came not to wipe away a letter of it, but he taught that the letter of the law and its spirit can be quite different: that was indeed subversive, radical and counter-cultural and remains a challenge to us today. We are challenged by this reading to reject the letter of the law and to go with the Spirit. But which things are Caesar’s and which things are God’s? We can’t let Caesar decide. So how do you determine what things are God’s?
The film Jerry Maguire brought us an immortal phrase which can be applied to greed and avarice the world over: “Show me the money”. In fact “Show me the money” is what Christ says also, but to make an entirely different point. How do you determine what is God’s? There are some very clear differences:
• Caesar makes it very easy for you to know what you owe.
• Caesar says pay but God says give.
• Caesar says pay or be sorry. God says give and you’ll be glad.
• The call to pay says "you owe."
- The call to give says "you have an opportunity."
There are not many of us send off our payment to the IRS and say, Whooo "Yes, I feel good about that." We usually say a lot of other things that aren’t repeatable from the pulpit. The call to give is a call to grow, not only in terms of commitment, but in the goodness of your own soul that you are able to do it. It is partly gratitude to God for all he gives us and it is also partly a sense of wanting to be the kind of people who are so free from selfishness and greed that we can give more than most people think is reasonable; so free from addiction to wealth that we can give beyond what most people think is appropriate.
This building isn’t going to just fall away, although I note that despite the very hard work of many in the congregation, raising the money for our essential work proves difficult. The mission of this Church is not going to die, and its investment in youth projects and other forms of outreach are not just ‘nice-to-haves’ but are essential not only for the future, but for the now. The challenging future of this church, its design and its purpose within this community is not something that we can simply put our heads the sand about and leave to a later generation, for if we fail to act decisively now, there will be no more future generations and the glory of worship will be lost in this area for ever.
"God loves a cheerful giver.” Says the Scripture. He also accepts from a miserable one as well. When Caesar says pay, it doesn’t matter what kind of people we want to be... we pay. But when God says give, we have to make a decision. It’s hard. It requires thought and feeling. But that offering is one made willingly and a willing offering is one which will reap much reward, not just in this earthly life as we build the Kingdom on Earth, but hereafter, where the gift will be much more bounteous. Jesus taught them by saying "Show me the money for the tax." And then he held that coin up to them and said "Whose picture is this?" Caesar’s. "Render therefore unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to God, the things that are God’s." What has God’s picture on it? What carries God’s likeness? You. You are that offering. Make it work.