Saturday, October 15, 2011

18th Sunday after Pentecost: Putting on Faith

Readings for this Sunday:  Isaiah 45:1-7; Psalm 96; 1 Thessalonians 1:1-10; Matthew 22:15-22

So, today, Jesus is in the temple courtyard, teaching.  The day before, Jesus entered Jerusalem riding on a donkey with psalms waving and shouts of Hosanna.  He went to the temple and drove out the money changers, saying, “My house shall be called a house of prayer, but you are making it a den of robbers!”  Then he left Jerusalem to spend the night in Bethany. 

This morning Jesus returns to Jerusalem, to the temple to teach.  The Pharisees are there too, waiting for an explanation on just who Jesus thinks he is and where he gets off upsetting the temple commerce.

The debate ensues.

Jesus asks them first to tell him if John the Baptizer was acting on God’s authority.  They decline to answer and Jesus tells them the parable of two sons, one who told his father he would work and didn’t and the other who said no to the father, but then went out to work.  Then Jesus told the parable of the wicked tenants who would not give the produce to the landowner and killed his son.  Finally, Jesus tells the parable of the wedding banquet, where the ones who were invited refused to attend and the banquet was opened up to everyone.

We’ve heard those three parables read in worship over the last three weeks.  They are uncomfortable reading taken one at a time, but Jesus unloads them rapid fire on the Pharisees, all at once – it’s no wonder they regroup and try to hatch a plan to trap Jesus.

And they come up with a ‘gotcha’ question.  First, they flatter Jesus and then they drop the bombshell – “We know you are honest and impartial – really, we value your opinion, so tell us:  is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?”

This is a no-win for Jesus.  If he says, “Why, yes, it is lawful to pay taxes to Caesar,” he can be labeled a Roman collaborator and the crowds will hate him.  If he says, “No, you shouldn’t pay taxes to Caesar,” then he can be accused of treason and hauled off to Pilate. 

Either way, the Pharisees win.

Jesus refuses to play their game.  He makes a simple request – “Show me the money.”

And with that request, he changes the game.

Remember, just the day before, Jesus threw all the money changers out of the temple?  The whole reason that the money changers were there in the first place was to exchange the blasphemous Roman coin, with its graven image of Caesar and the inscription naming Caesar divine son of the gods, into holy temple coin.

What are pious Pharisees doing with that Roman coin – IN THE TEMPLE, where it doesn’t belong?  There’s something not right here, when the teachers of the law are not following their own rules.  Jesus shows them up for what they are and for what they are trying to do.

Having shown their hypocrisy, Jesus then makes his game winning play:

Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and give to God what is God’s.”

Game over.

Jesus just changed the rules.  This is not about taxes or politics.  It’s about who you worship. It’s about where you put your trust.  It’s about who you name as God. 

If Jesus is saying that the coin bearing the image of the emperor belongs to the emperor, then what does he mean when he says, “Give to God what belongs to God?” 

The emperor’s image is on the coin. So what bears the image of God?

 We do. 

Jesus means us – we bear the image of God, we belong to God.

Give to God what belongs to God.  Jesus points out the simple fact that the Pharisees are holding back, not giving themselves truly to God.  They’re holding back.  God is not the Lord of their lives.  They follow many masters – power, envy, status, wealth.  They may think they are following God, but in reality God is way down the list. 

The Thessalonians could teach those Pharisees a thing or two.

The Thessalonians are living in a way that is giving to God that which is God’s – they are living their faith out loud.

There was no doubt that the Thessalonians had a new Lord – idols are forsaken.  In a culture where it was customary to just add a new god to the ones you worship, the Thessalonians dropped the idols cold and turned all their loyalties to the Living God.  Not only did they joyfully receive the good news of Jesus Christ – preached by Paul and Silas and Timothy and planted in their hearts by the Holy Spirit, they began to live their faith.  

Out loud. 

In public. 

This was not lip service to what they believed.  People noticed.  People talked about the choices the Thessalonians made, the way they treated others with the love and compassion of Jesus, how they endured persecution and stood firm in their faith, how confident they were in their trust in God, their humility and respect for others, how they were full of joy regardless of their circumstances.

The Thessalonians made a big impression alright.  So much so, that people all over Macedonia and Achaia – that is most of Greece and some of Bulgaria and Albania, were talking about the example the Thessalonians.  That would be like saying that all over the East River and in parts of North Dakota, the example of Peace Lutheran and Pollock Lutheran are known and talked about.

That faith the Thessalonians had – that faith was a gift from God.  As Lutherans, we believe that our faith comes from God – it’s a gift.  I have to believe that God still gives the same kind of faith today that the Thessalonians had.  

And I believe that Jesus still calls us to give to God the things that are God’s.

In baptism we are claimed and named by God.  We are marked with the cross of Christ and sealed with the Holy Spirit.  We bear God’s image.  We belong to Jesus.

How does that affect how we think about those things that God has given us?

How does putting on the faith God gives us impact our lives – the choices we make, how we spend our time, how we treat others, how we spend our money, (how we earn our money), how we vote…every aspect of our lives, nothing held back?

Are we so filled with joy at the good news of God’s love for all humanity that we can’t help but live in such a way that it’s clear whose image we bear and to whom we belong?

What would it look like if we lived our faith out loud?

St Francis of Assisi once said, “Preach the gospel, use words if necessary.”

Live your faith out loud!


  1. Seems like many people are afraid to live their faith out loud...if more people would then the full depth and breadth of Chrisitanity would be expressed and not just one little slice of it.

    Another good sermon, Ramona

  2. I love that Jesus changes the rules! I'm still thinking about all that you opened up with that, especially about how we live our lives on the God side of the question. Thanks, Ramona!