Prayer of the Day
Sovereign God, raise your throne in our hearts. Created by you, let us live in your image; created for you, let us act for your glory; redeemed by you, let us give you what is yours, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen.
1The Lord is king; let the people tremble. The Lord is enthroned upon the cherubim; let the earth shake.
2The Lord, great in Zion, is high above all peoples.3Let them confess God’s name, which is great and awesome; God is the Holy One.
4O mighty king, lover of justice, you have established equity; you have executed justice and righteousness in Jacob. 5Proclaim the greatness of the Lord and fall down before God’s footstool;
God is the Holy One.
6Moses and Aaron among your priests, and Samuel among those who call upon your name, O Lord, they called upon you, and you answered them,
7you spoke to them out of the pillar of cloud; they kept your testimonies and the decree that you gave them.
8O Lord our God, you answered them indeed; you were a God who forgave them, yet punished them for their evil deeds.
9Proclaim the greatness of the Lord and worship upon God’s holy hill; for the Lord our God is the Holy One.
1 Thessalonians 1: 1-10
1Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy, To the church of the Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ: Grace to you and peace. 2We always give thanks to God for all of you and mention you in our prayers, constantly 3remembering before our God and Father your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ. 4For we know, brothers and sisters beloved by God, that he has chosen you, 5because our message of the gospel came to you not in word only, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction; just as you know what kind of persons we proved to be among you for your sake. 6And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, for in spite of persecution you received the word with joy inspired by the Holy Spirit, 7so that you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia. 8For the word of the Lord has sounded forth from you not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but in every place your faith in God has become known, so that we have no need to speak about it. 9For the people of those regions report about us what kind of welcome we had among you, and how you turned to God from idols, to serve a living and true God, 10and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead—Jesus, who rescues us from the wrath that is coming.
15 Then the Pharisees went and plotted to entrap him in what he said. 16 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. 17 Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, or not?” 18 But Jesus, aware of their malice, said, “Why are you putting me to the test, you hypocrites? 19 Show me the coin used for the tax.” And they brought him a denarius. 20 Then he said to them, “Whose head is this, and whose title?” 21 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.” 22 When they heard this, they were amazed; and they left him and went away.
Sermon – Pastor Meggan Manlove
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
Is it possible for us to compartmentalize our lives in a way that gives God a compartment? This question is at the heart of today’s gospel text. The reading tells the story of the first of three attempts by the religious leaders to entrap Jesus and discredit him with others. The question of paying taxes to Rome was a thorny one in Jesus’ day.
The opponents this time are the Pharisees and Herodians. The Herodians were comprised of supporters of the Herodian rulers (Herod, the Great, Herod Antipas). The Pharisees were lay Jews who had taken upon themselves to obey the whole of the biblical law, including even those parts required only of the priests. They were devout Jews who tried to be as faithful to the law as they possibly could be.
When they asked Jesus whether it was “lawful to pay taxes to the emperor or not,” they thought they might trap him into saying something offensive, either about the Romans or about his Jewish faith. A group of Jews were toying with the idea of withholding taxes from Rome and believed that it was fundamentally wrong to support the empire which was oppressing their people. If Jesus said no, it is not lawful to pay the Roman tax, he would be aligned with the rebellious minority and offend the Romans. If he were to say yes, it is lawful, his loyalty to the Jews would be questioned.
Jesus asks to see a coin and then asks whose inscription was on it. A denarius of that time would have had the image of the Roman emperor’s head, along with the inscription, “Tiberius Caesar, son of the Divine Augustus.” Jesus’ opponents replied that the inscription was of the emperor. Then came the response that settled the matter: “Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s and to God the things that are God’s.”
We know that Jesus had outfoxed the religious leaders again. However, his words have been the source of much controversy. They have been taken entirely out of the context of taxes to become the basis for the absolute separation of religion and politics. By equating the emperor’s and God’s due, people argue that we must never mention matters of politics or social issues in the church, much less from the pulpit. This use of Jesus’ words is not legitimate.
Another interpretation is that this saying of Jesus urges us to make at least a clear distinction between our religious loyalties and those involving the state. We pay taxes. We support our nation. We involve ourselves even in political and social matters. But another loyalty is due to God. But what does that mean? After our political, national, and social debts are paid, what’s left for God?
What is there that is not God’s? Is there a loyalty to elected local, state, and national leaders that has nothing to do with our loyalty to God? If all there is, is ultimately a result of God’s work of creation or redemption, then everything is due to God.
Jesus solves an insolvable challenge by reminding us that some things matter more than others. Dietrich Bonhoeffer distinguished between ultimate and penultimate issues. The emperor’s claims, as weighty as they may be, are penultimate, not ultimate. Caesar’s authority goes no further than his face on a coin. The things that are God’s, know no limits. The coin, the emperor, the empire–all are God’s
Jesus’ answer to the Pharisees and Herodians is a freeing one. Some things matter more than others. Taxes, money, human power look small next to the grace of God, which knows no bounds. That grace always frees us.
God’s grace through Jesus Christ frees us from something and for something. I saw a meme on social media encouraging pastors to share it and, in so doing, ask members of their congregations what we say most often from the pulpit. I assume if I did that, or did a word search through past sermons, one phrase that would pop would be, “We are freed from something but also freed for something.” This brings us to the opening verses in the Apostle Paul’s very first letter: First Thessalonians. He gives these early followers of Jesus a lot of praise for receiving the Word—Jesus. How does Paul know they truly received the word?
The ‘receiving of the word’ by the Thessalonians is made evident by their ‘work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope’. Just as the Holy Spirit confirms the ‘receiving of the word’ in us, so we demonstrate to others that we have ‘received the word’ through our work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope (1:7). Paul will use this trifold formula throughout his letters: faith, love, and hope. Here it is for the first time.
Furthermore, he writes the Thessalonians, “you became imitators of us and of the Lord, for in spite of persecution you received the word with joy inspired by the Holy Spirit.” I love that phrase, hard as it is to follow through on—”imitators of us and of the Lord.” And yes, being a follower and imitator of Jesus will include some hardships. What that looks like will vary by geography and generation. This is what it looks like to not compartmentalize our lives, but for God to have the ultimate say always, for God to permeate everything.
God permeates every corner of our being. Thomas R. Kelly was a Quaker missionary and writer. In A Testament of Devotion he explains this permeation. He says that we are trying to be several selves at once. We try to do this without all our selves being organized by a single, mastering Life within us.
Each one of us tends to be, not a single self, but a whole committee of selves and so each of our selves is in turn a rank individualist. Each of the selves is not cooperative but shouting out his vote loudly for himself when the voting time comes. It is as if we have a chairman of our committee of many selves with us who does not integrate the many into one but merely counts the votes at each decision and leaves disgruntled minorities. We are not integrated. Instead we are distraught. We feel honestly the pull of many obligations and we try to fulfill them all. But that does not work. Life is meant to be lived from a Center, a divine Center.
This will manifest itself differently in each of our lives–who do we vote for, what issues do we care about. And surrendering all to God will certainly permeate two of the most precious commodities in our culture–our money and our time. How and where will we spend money? How will we spend our time? Who will we spend time with? The answers to these questions will most likely transform throughout our lives and there are and will be times when we do not surrender all to God.
What will never change is God’s grace–that gift that knows no bounds and that frees us whenever we are trapped. We believe that we relive our baptisms daily, drowning in the waters and rising with Jesus each day. God’s grace washes over us each new day. The key is in the remembering—yes, remembering God’s grace and remembering to let God permeate every moment of our day.
Prayers of Intercession
With confidence in God’s grace and mercy, let us pray for the church, the world, and all those in need.
A brief silence.
Gracious God, you call us by name and invite us to share your good news. Send your Holy Spirit among preachers, missionaries, and evangelists. We give thanks for the witness of your servant Luke, the evangelist, whom the church commemorates today. Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.
God of praise, the heavens and all creation declare your salvation. From the rising of the sun to its setting, may the whole universe show forth your goodness. Raise up devoted stewards of all that you have made. Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.
God of all, may your word of justice sound forth in every place. Restore divided nations and communities with reconciling truth. Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.
God of light, we pray for those living with pain, illness, isolation, grief, anger, or doubt. Join their voices in a new song, assuring them that you call them each by name. Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.
God of truth, you show no partiality. May your spirit guide the work of justices, magistrates, court officials, and all vocations of the law, that your promise of restoration may be known. Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.
Living God, as you raised Jesus from the dead, so raise up those who have died in you. We give thanks for their witness, confident of your rescuing welcome for all. Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.
Listen as we call on you, O God, and enfold in your loving arms all for whom we pray, in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.