An act of worship at home
Reading Matthew 22: 15-22
Then the Pharisees went and plotted to entrap him in what he said. So they sent their disciples to him, along with the Herodians, saying, ‘Teacher, we know that you are sincere, and teach the way of God in accordance with truth, and show deference to no one; for you do not regard people with partiality. Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, or not?’ But Jesus, aware of their malice, said, ‘Why are you putting me to the test, you hypocrites? Show me the coin used for the tax.’ And they brought him a denarius. Then he said to them, ‘Whose head is this, and whose title?’ They answered, ‘The emperor’s.’ Then he said to them, ‘Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.’ When they heard this, they were amazed; and they left him and went away.
Some religious leaders were trying to trap Jesus.
They began by flattering him – “Teacher, we know that you tell the truth. You teach the truth about God’s will without worrying about what people think.”
In other words, as you are such a great teacher unafraid of speaking the truth, you will answer our question – and however you answer it you will be condemned – either by the Romans or by your own people.
Jesus asks them to produce a coin and tell him whose face is on it. When they tell him it’s the Emperor’s face on the coin Jesus simply replies with some of the best known but perhaps least understood words in the Bible. ‘Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.’ Or, in the words of the King James Bible, “Render therefore unto Caeser the things which are Caesar’s; and unto God the things that are God’s”.
The reason why this famous phrase is so misunderstood is because the answer is much more subtle than it appears at face value – and it is face value that is key.
They are words that have been used as a justification for the separation of “life” and “faith” –
as though on Sunday people give time to God and the rest of the week they live in the world.
As if there are two worlds – the world of faith and worship, and the real world of real life.
But that is absolutely not the case and not at all what is meant here.
The coin bore the image of Caeser, of the Emperor – so if he demands it back in taxes then give it to him. But, it is the second part of the answer that really matters. Give to God what belongs to God.
So what belongs to God? If a coin bears the rulers image what bears the image of God?
I don’t know for how many the penny dropped when Jesus gave that answer but when it drops for us we begin to really understand the magnitude of these words. Because what bears the image of God is you, and me, and everyone. And in fact, if we are to give ourselves to God we are to give all we are and all we have too.
When we could meet for worship and could make our offering to God I would often use words along the lines “Loving, generous God, all we have comes from you, and we offer these tokens of our love to you and ask you to use them to the glory of your name and the building of your kingdom of love.”
May we have faith in the God whose image we bear and who call us to reveal a new way –
a way which turns the world on its head – no longer believing in the security of things,
of the mighty dollar or the not so mighty pound, but in the God who travels with us
through the darkness and brings unimagined treasures to light – and to life. Amen.
Lord God, in our corner of the world it isn’t easy to really feel the pain of persecution for our faith, but we know that it happens.
We pray for those who are persecuted and punished, violated and scarred because of their faith. We pray for those who despite these things speak out and speak up, and witness to you, the living God.
We pray for the families of these people that they may be given strength and support in their own faith and discipleship.
We pray for those who teach us of you, who unpack your truths, who explain what living a Christian life is and how to follow you.
We pray for those who guide us in times of struggles with our faith, those who stand by us in times of denial and bewilderment.
We pray for those who are dying in the faith, and those who are struggling to find their faith before they die.
For these and all your witnesses, Lord, we pray.
Great is thy faithfulness, O God my Father,
there is no shadow of turning with thee;
thou changest not, thy compassions, they fail not;
as thou hast been thou forever wilt be.
Morning by morning new mercies I see;
all I have needed thy hand hath provided,
great is thy faithfulness, Lord, unto me!
Summer and winter, and springtime and harvest,
sun, moon and stars in their courses above,
join with all nature in manifold witness
to Thy great faithfulness, mercy and love.
Pardon for sin and a peace that endureth,
thine own dear presence to cheer and to guide;
strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow,
blessings all mine, with ten thousand beside!
Great is thy faithfulness! Great is thy faithfulness!…
Into a world of confusion and disbelief, into a world of welcome and rejection,
we take the grace of God that fill us, and the peace of God that is on our hearts.
And so may we and those whose lives we touch know the blessings of God this day and always.