Saturday, October 18, 2014

God's Image and Inscription

Sermon on Matthew 22:15-22
For Holy Cross Lutheran Church, Elmwood Park, WI
October 19, 2014 (19th Sunday after Pentecost)

The Pharisees and the Herodians were not honestly seeking to learn from Jesus by asking the question they asked.  They were trying to trap Him.  These, in fact, were people who almost never spent time with one another.  The Pharisees wanted to bring back the glory days when Jerusalem, under king Solomon, ruled the known world.  The Herodians were those loyal to the Roman puppet king Herod, allied with the hated tax collectors, of all people.  The fact that they even showed up together was a huge, flashing red light that something wasn’t right here.  They make it even worse by prefacing their question with all sorts of compliments which already make Him sound dangerous to both sides.  And then they purposely asked a question for which both answers were problematic.  The question is a trap.  Either answer is bad for him.  It’s like the question, “Have you stopped beating your wife yet?”  Either a yes or a no answer is bad for the person, because the assumption behind the question is wrong.  He either upsets the people, who think He’s the one that will bring back the greatness of the kingdom, or He openly advocates rebellion and gets Himself put to death as a traitor.  Of course, that’s the accusation that got Him put to death only a few days later anyway, but if He’d fallen into the trap here the accusation would actually have been true.

But Jesus gets out of the trap by pointing out that it was Caesar who issued the money in the first place.  His face and his inscription are on it, and so it really belongs to him anyway.  Since Caesar issued the money, he has a right to demand it back.  But, by the same token, we are also to render to God the things that belong to Him.  And that means that there are certain boundary lines Caesar should not cross.  If Caesar demands that his subjects do things that are against God, those subjects have the duty to disobey him, even though they still obey him when his commands are within the sphere of authority God has given him.  Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.

Now, that’s not to say that any one particular form or government enjoys God’s special favor.  We happen to live in a constitutional republic (sometimes mistakenly referred to as a democracy).  All our human rulers swear to uphold a higher ruler than themselves, known as the Constitution.  And, since the highest law of our land guarantees us the freedom of religion, we do give thanks that God has graciously allowed us to be relatively free of religious persecution here.  This is a good thing.  But obviously Jesus wasn’t talking about the United States here; it would be some 1800 years before our Constitution would be written.  He was talking about the hated oppressor Caesar.  Every government, even ones that we would regard as oppressive and horrible, are also used by God to keep peace and order in society.  Saddam Hussein’s dictatorship was terrible, but He was an equal-opportunity oppressor.  He was a Muslim, but his second in command was a Roman Catholic.  As a secular ruler, he was very effective from keeping the Islamic majority in Iraq from killing or driving out the Christians in that country.  The sort of thing ISIS is doing right now is what results when you remove that stabilizing force.  Even Communist regimes keep the roads paved and the electricity flowing, which are blessings even for those who have to worship in secret.    And so governments are to be respected, precisely because it is God who is keeping peace and order in society for our benefit through them.  But they belong to this world, as do money and the things that it can by.  They and their money also belong to God, and so they are to be respected, but only when they keep to their own sphere, that is, the things that belong to this old world.  And, by the way, this includes not just rulers of nations, but everyone who has authority in one way or another, beginning with parents, and including bosses and whoever else has a claim on our time and resources in this world.

But there’s more here than just a clever way out of an attempted trap set for our Lord.  The coin they brought to Him had the image of Caesar and the inscription of Caesar stamped upon it.  And so, because it bore Caesar’s image and His inscription, it was Caesar’s.  It belonged to this world, just as Caesar does.  But how do we know what is God’s?  The same way.  By God’s image and God’s inscription.  And where do we find that image of God?  What things bear the image of God?  We learn from Genesis that mankind was created in the image of God.  This means that everything we are and everything we have is God’s, because we bear His image within ourselves.  This isn’t just a matter of giving to Church or to charity, although one way we confess the fact that we are His is by giving generously to the Church and to those who need our help in our midst.  This is a matter of confessing that everything we are and everything we have is His.  There is no part of our life, no aspect of our being, that He does not claim.  His image is upon all of it.  We are created in His image.
Of course, mankind lost that image when he fell into sin.  We have all inherited that sin from Adam and so are separated from our Creator.  This is why He sent His Son Jesus Christ to die and rise again so that our old sinful nature could be drowned and die in Holy Baptism, and a new man come forth and arise to live before God in righteousness and purity forever.  In Holy Baptism a new name was inscribed on your hearts, the name of Jesus Christ.  Christ claimed you again as His own, so that you could live under Him in His kingdom, and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence and blessedness.  You were recreated, reborn, in that font, so that now you have once again the image of God in you, not only in your heart but in your whole being and in the living out of your life.  Where do we find that which is God’s?  Where His image and inscription are.  Where are that image and inscription?  On our hearts and in our lives.

We belong to God.  Yes, that is a great responsibility, but it is also a great comfort.  Part of the duty of the government is to watch over and protect us from those who would hurt us.  But the police and the sheriff’s deputies can’t be everywhere at once, and even though in our nation we also have the right to keep and bear arms to defend ourselves, we also can’t be everywhere at once.  Sometimes our fellow sinners are still able to take advantage of us, to rob us or even rape or murder us.  But God’s vigilance over us never fails.  Nothing happens that He does not know about and use for our benefit.  Even the ultimate evil that could happen to us, namely death, is now the gate of life for us.  And how do we know we have eternal life?  We have God’s image and His inscription.  We belong to Him.  And He will defend and keep what is His own.  Amen.

+ Soli Deo Gloria +

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