Twenty-second Sunday after Pentecost
October 16, 2005
The Gospel: Matthew 22:15-22
Sermon: "To Honor God's Creation"
The Rev. William D. Oldland
The Pharisees went and plotted to entrap Jesus 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 the, "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.
To Honor God's Creation
Twenty-second Sunday after Pentecost - October 16, 2005
In his book, "The Parables of Joshua", Joseph Girzone puts the biblical stories and parables in today's context. One of my favorites is about a scientist who decides to test Joshua about God's creative ability. The scientist basically attempts to place humanity on the same level as God from a creation standpoint. Joshua asks can humanity produce life. The scientist says yes but with some restrictions. However, these restrictions will soon be overcome. Joshua asks if the scientist can produce hearing and the pathways to work between hearing and speaking. The scientist once again claims that humanity can produce aids to hearing and the ability to speak to those who have lost it. In time science will be able to recreate the ear and the ability to speak and tie the two together. Finally, Joshua told the scientist a story. God was being questioned by an inventor, someone like this scientist. The inventor was claiming that humanity could basically take care of themselves now. God wasn't needed. We could create color. We could build buildings. We made electricity. We made our own food. We had outgrown our need for God. God replied if that is how you feel then I will take all of my creation back to me and leave you on your own. The inventor basically replied go ahead because we can handle it all by ourselves. God said he would take the trees, the colors, the mountains, and the water. Humanity could now function without any part of God's creation. When God left with all that had been made, God challenged him to make one thing, a grain of sand. The challenge was to create it as God had done from nothing. The scientist realized what Joshua had done in telling the parable. He had no answer and he turned and walked silently away.
The Pharisees in Matthew's Gospel are constantly testing Jesus. They are testing Jesus in order to discredit him. They know he is popular with the people. If they can get him to make a mistake and lose favor with the people, then they can carry out their ultimate plan more easily. Of course, the ultimate plan is to kill him. He is too much of a threat to them. He threatens their belief about God. He threatens their way of life. He threatens their position. For if Jesus is right, then they have to admit they have been teaching wrongly about the love of God. If Jesus is right, then they will lose their power and authority. If Jesus is right, then they would have to admit that he is indeed the Messiah. Their own pride and their own love of their position will not allow that to happen. So today, we see them coming to Jesus with another question, another trap.
This time, the trap is designed to place him between two very deadly possible answers. The question is about paying taxes. The tax they are referring to was unpopular with the people. It was a head tax. The Hebrew people were to pay a tax for every person in their household. The Hebrew people felt the tax was unfair. After all, they felt they were not getting anything from it. It wasn't a tax on goods. It wasn't a tax on use of water or services supplied by the Empire. The tax was simply on being alive within the Empire. Needless to say the people despised the tax. Of course, Rome loved the tax. They got funds for the government coffers just because someone was alive. So, if Jesus claimed it was alright to pay the tax, then the Pharisees would use this response to turn the people against him. If he said not to pay the tax, then they could go to the Romans and claim he was inciting sedition. This time they thought they had him.
However, Jesus is on the trap. He realizes immediately what the trap will mean. He asks them for the coin. Now, it is important to realize what happens here. The Pharisees supposedly find a coin. The coin has an image of Caesar on one side. This discussion is occurring in the Temple. No coin with an image is supposed to be in the Temple. How is it that they have a coin with an image inside the Temple? They are caught by their own trap.
However, instead of bringing this point into the open, Jesus lets it lie. Instead, when he asks for the coin he responds by asking whose head is on the coin. The response is that figure on the coin is Caesar's. Jesus states then render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar's and unto God the things that are God's. The result is Jesus escapes the trap. We all think about how smart Jesus is.
Today, I ask us to look at this story through a different lens. Some people have said that this story teaches about how the Christian is supposed to live in the world with governments. We are part of a community and as a community we need to pay taxes to support the needs of the community. This teaching is possible. Yet, the teaching goes much deeper.
We believe and we understand that God is the force behind all of creation. The beautiful trees with their fall colors are part of God's painting. The land and the water, the stars and the sky are the environment God created for our home. The animals are here for our pleasure. We have each other for companionship, help and love. Even the air around us was given in order for us to live. It all belongs to God. Indeed we belong to God. Nothing around us, including ourselves belongs solely to us. All of creation belongs to the Creator. Yet, we are given the opportunity to live, breathe, play, work and enjoy all that has been given. All that is asked in return is to care for the creation around us. In other words, to love the creation as we love the creator. Sometimes I believe we love well. Sometimes I believe we lose sight of God's wonder and beauty.
When we remember who created us, we tend to humble ourselves. We think of the other before we think of our own needs. We remember to thank God and offer back to God with joy the love we have received. We give back to the glory of God out of joy, awe and wonder.
However, when we lose sight of God's wonder and beauty, we think we did this on our own. We created the patterns. We created the colors. We created the life around us. We owe nothing to God and therefore we give back to God begrudgingly or half-heartedly. We are like the Pharisees and we believe God is ours. We know everything there is to know about God and we are in charge of our own life and our own demise. We are like the scientist in that we feel we don't need God anymore. We have now reached a point in our own evolution and our own mental and physical abilities where belief in a creator is not necessary. Or we believe that while God created, we are now sustaining and creating without God's assistance or presence.
This story, for us, brings into sharp focus the pride of humanity in our own abilities. It reminds us that we are not the masters of our destiny as we believe. We are not the ultimate creators. We work only with things already in existence and even our breath is not our own. This story also reminds us that we have been created as a part of God's creation and we are stewards of it. Finally, we are reminded that our highest calling is to worship the One who created us and to care for one another as God cares for us. To put it simply we love God and give back to God by sharing the love we have received with one another and all of God's creation around us. And all of God's people say, AMEN.