Sunday Sermon for October 18, 2020
Gospel Text: Matthew 22:15 – 22
People of God, grace to you and peace from God, and from our Lord and savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
This gospel text brought to mind two ideas or concepts for me. The first being “our marks” and the second, “God’s reminders.” That first idea, our marks, comes from this discourse that Jesus has with the Pharisees who planned to entrap him.
“They sent him their disciples along with the Herodians.” Right off the bat we’ve got ourselves a whole lot at play in this situation. It’s significant that the Pharisees – the elite of the church – send their disciples along with the Herodians – the more government and politically oriented – to entrap Jesus. In this discourse that comes from their attempts, Jesus will allude to the marks on the coins they carry.
The mark on the coin defines to whom it truly belongs. It was soon that I wondered what marks it is that we carry, and quickly realized we’ve each go our own marks. What does it mean for us, this story of Jesus addressing the marks? I started to look at the different marks I can find on myself.
One of the marks that I’ve got is from stitches on my right thumb. I was doing dishes years ago and had my hand inside of a glass when it broke, and sliced my thumb in the process. That is perhaps the most severe injury I’ve ever experienced. I’ve never broken a bone. I’ve only had stitches once. But I can still see that mark.
Another Mark I have is on the back of my left calf. When I was younger, my friend Johnny was pedaling a bike and I was standing on the pegs on the back. Now, when we were younger Johnny was much bigger than my really small self was. As Johnny started to pedal faster and faster, I soon found my really small self trying to reach the shoulders of really tall Johnny as he is now pedaling the bike standing up. And I couldn’t. The next thing I know my left calf is tearing some tread off of that back bike tire. It is a mark that has become a little more difficult to find, but it is a mark that is definitely there.
The marks that we have each carry a story. We’ve each got our own marks and we’ve all got our own stories to go with them. And for some of us, we think those marks maybe define us. For some of us those stories that accompany those marks may be difficult stories to think about. For some, maybe those marks are a thing we have conquered. Perhaps they’re a thing we’ve gotten away from. Maybe it’s a thing that we are going through. But each and every one of us has those marks.
See, Jesus confronts those who have confronted him with this question. They come to him and want to ask him, in an attempt to trap him, if is okay to pay taxes. Is it okay for them to give to the emperor? Jesus flips it back on them and has them look at the mark that is on the coins that they carry. Whose mark is it? He knows that it is the mark of the Emperor.
Now we so quickly want to define ourselves, and our worth, by our money. And so they try to trap Jesus in this idea that paying taxes is this wrong thing to do. But also saying that it is the right thing to do is going to get Jesus to say the wrong thing.
But, in asking him if it is okay to pay these taxes, he turns it back on them asking them the questions that they have the easy answers to. “Whose Mark is on the coins that you carry?” They are ready to produce that coin and it is clearly the emperors.
But Jesus doesn’t stop there. He doesn’t just say “it’s the Mark of the emperor, therefore, you should pay taxes to the emperor.” You see, Jesus goes beyond saying, “give to the emperor what is the emperors.”
And here is where that second idea comes that popped into my mind, mentioned earlier, comes into play. That being God’s reminders.
See, because Jesus knows that they’re up to something. Remember when it said, “but Jesus, aware of their malice…” Jesus is aware that they are scheming Jesus is aware that they are trying to catch him. Jesus is aware that they are up to no good. So instead of stopping at “give to the emperor what is the emperors,” instead of stopping at that first idea of “whose Mark is on the coin,” he goes a step further – for them and for us.
We hear now this God reminder, “give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperors, and to God the things that are Gods.” In doing this, Jesus reminds them – and it’s very Lutheran of him – that it can be both/and. Like Martin Luther saying that we are both simultaneously sinner and saint. This is a very Lutheran moment for Jesus. He doesn’t say that it is going to be one way or the other. He says, very clearly, “give to the emperor the things that are at the emperors, but remember, don’t just stop at the Mark on the coin in determining and defining your worth. But rather,” and he’s saying this to us as many of us, not all of them, baptized people of faith, “ remember that Mark that you share.” That being the Mark of baptism.
Later in worship, we will gather and we will see the video from the baptism of Aspen Emilie Langman. And in that portion of our service we will be reminded again, and again, and again, of the promise of those waters as we invite Aspen’s big brother Colin to splash in the Waters of Baptism as we prayed over the waters before before baptizing her. And sure enough, as we always do, we invite the children that are there to splash in the water to bring it to life. And we were given this reminder.
While we want to define ourselves, and define our worth, and declare our place, by the marks that we find in the coins in our pockets, Jesus says we are truly defined by the grace of God that we find in and the mark of the waters of baptism.
We never know where those God reminders are going to come from, and it always catches me off guard a little bit when I hear them. Earlier this week on one of my mornings to be up early with the early risers in our home I had one of these God reminder moments.
While I cherish that cuddle time of being the first one up, I would rather be sleeping in my bed. And there are days when my level of joy in those moments, isn’t very high. It sometimes gets to a point even where it bubbles over a little bit. On this particular day one of our children was testing his dad a little bit and in his testing asked if he could go play downstairs.
Now, the child in question here knows how to get himself downstairs, AND he knows that it is always kind of a challenge to do this without the baby noticing because the baby will undoubtedly want to join him. After getting himself through our newly installed safety gate, instead of proceeding to the basement, he stood there on the other side of the gate tauting his baby brother. I kindly reinforced the idea that it was okay for him to go play downstairs, “but please don’t stand there and be a little jerk to your brother.”
Disgruntled, he turned and started down the stairs. And I heard the steps stop halfway down, and I could hear the person to whom these footsteps belonged, turn around and offer up this little God reminder, when our almost 4 year old shouted up the stairs, “I think YOU are being a jerk, but I want you to know that I love you.”
He’ll be four next month. And, it was the reminder that I needed. Yes, the child had bothered me just a scoash, but also that that’s the love that God has for us. Not only that, but it is the love that God in Christ Jesus has for those who came to test him. “Whose mark is on those coins. I know you’re here to trap me. Just tell me who’s Mark is on those coins. The emperors? Well, guess what? God loves you.”
We so often think that “give to the emperor what is the emperors and to God what is God’s means that we can’t do both things. Yes, we would love to tear down these structures that oppress rather than participate in them. But some of these things need to be done from within.
Jesus wanted to, in that moment, tear down the oppressive structure that was the high church and the political scene. Rather, he says “sure, participate in it, but remember whose you are. Remember that you are God’s and all that you do is God’s. And all who see what it is that you do see a reflection of what it means to be God’s.”
I saw a tweet earlier this week that said, “the reason so many young people are unchurched is because they are the ones working the Sunday brunch when church folks come in after church.” I’ve served in a restaurant settings. My least favorite group to serve was church people, particularly clergy.
It would do us well to remember this reminder that Jesus gives to those who are challenging him in this gospel text. It would do as well to remember the marks that we carry and the marks that we have in common with one another. It would do us well to remember the reminders that God gives us in this life, whether it’s a four year old saying, “I don’t want you to be a jerk, but I love you anyways” or the challenge of someone who doesn’t go to church saying it’s because they’ve seen you church people out public
“Give to the emperor what is the emperor’s, but give to God what is God’s.”
People of God, we are God’s.
This is a call and a mandate and a challenge and a reminder – we are to give ourselves to God.
That’s what this is about.
That’s what church is about.
That’s what listening in our living rooms to worship on Sunday mornings is about.
It’s about how this good news shapes us to go into God’s world to see God’s people as who they are – their marks and everything – and who God made them to be. And to remind them, and carry with us, that grace that God has given us to remind each and every single person that we encounter, that God loves them. Their marks, whatever they may be, do not determine their worthiness to hear that reminder that God loves them. And so do we.
Thanks be to God. Amen.