||1 Thessalonians 1:1-10||Matthew 22:15-22|
I’d like to start by asking you all for a moment of self-reflection. Try to answer this question: “To whom do you belong?” I’ve have been a bit surprised by my own answer.
To whom do I belong? Well, although I’m married to Kevin, I sure don’t think feel that I ‘belong’ to him. I’m a citizen of the United States of America but I don’t think of belonging to this country. I am surprised to find that my primary sense of ‘belonging’ is to St. Mark’s Episcopal Church in Montesano. And through that belonging, I belong to God. I am made, we all are made in the image of God. I think that is the crux of our gospel today.
Let’s set the scene. Most importantly, we must understand that time is running short for Jesus. Very soon, he will be hung from the cross. The Pharisees approach him in the temple, feeling smug because they have devised such a clever trap for him.
First, they praise him for his sincerity and truthfulness. Then they ask if it’s lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, or not. Think of this – if he says it’s good to pay taxes to a Roman emperor, he is telling the Jewish people to pay their oppressors to oppress them! If he says it’s bad to pay taxes, then the Roman authorities could take immediate action against him.
Soon after this lesson, Jesus will upend the tables of moneychangers because you shouldn’t have money in the temple. So, standing in the temple, Jesus asks them to provide a coin used for the tax. A priest quickly pulls out a denarius from his robes. On the coin is an image of the Roman emperor and the words “Son of God”. With this coin, the priest holding it is violating these commandments: I am the Lord thy God. Put no other gods before me. Make no graven images or likenesses.
Drop the mike Jesus! You caught them in their own trap! He asks: “Whose head is this and whose title?” They answer, “The emperor’s.” Jesus says: “Give to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that belong to God.” With that, those other folks just creep away, ashamed and more determined than ever to get rid of this guy.
Most of us pay our taxes to the government and well we should. We pay for roads and schools and hospitals and libraries and services that benefit everyone in our communities. With our donations to the church, we also give to God that which belongs to God. But since God made us, we must give ourselves to God because it is to him that we belong.
David Lose has an interesting idea: “Jesus isn't advocating a full-scale retreat from the economic and political dimensions of our lives but instead is helping us to recognize that all of these things are part of God's divine economy. That is, I think Jesus invites us -- actually, demands of us -- that we be thinking regularly and relentlessly about how all of our decisions -- what we buy, who we vote for, how we spend our time -- should be shaped by the confession that, indeed, the whole world is God's and everything in it -- including us!”
As Psalm 24:1 puts it: “The earth is the LORD’s and all that is in it, the world, and those who live in it.” Everything belongs to God. We belong to God. The consequences of belonging to God are remarkable. First, it means that God will never forsake us.
Second, it means that because we belong to God, we belong to the people of God, the body of Christ. We are baptized into this fellowship. If there is any alienation, it is our own doing. And, if we return, God is there, as always.
Third, it means that we give to God that which belongs to God: that is, we give ourselves. We take this sacred trust and we try to live lives of worship. These days that worship occurs privately. And the rest of the time, it occurs in our daily work and service. All of this is worship. Ultimately, giving ourselves to God means that we give ourselves to the world.
I believe that today Jesus asks us: “To whom do you belong?” and in that question asks us to declare our allegiance to God. If we believe that our primary allegiance is to God, not country, or political party, or football team, then we declare that we are indeed beloved children of God.