St. Luke’s Day
October 18, 2020
The Rev’d Charles Everson
St. Mary’s Church
“Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”
On the surface, this well-known verse, given to us in a timely fashion by the lectionary gods, will quickly and easily solve some of the immediate problems we face. We are two-and-a-half weeks from Election Day. Pay your taxes, and go vote! And like many churches, we are beginning our 2021 Stewardship Campaign. Fill out a pledge card and give money to support the church! Here endeth the sermon.
Some passages are that simple, but not this one. Jesus is dealing with the Pharisees and the Herodians, who, very strangely, have come together to agree on something. The Pharisees opposed the Roman Empire, and the Herodians actively worked with it. It was their hatred of Jesus that brought these politically opposed groups together to try to trap him on the issue of taxation.
In order to butter him up, they do a bit of shameless brown nosing: “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.” Then comes the loaded question: “Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor or not?” If he answers “no”, he could be arrested for enticing folks to break the law, but if he says “yes”, he would be selling out to the evil Roman overlords.
Instead of falling for their trickery, Jesus responds by widening the issue at hand and says, “Show me the coin used for the tax.” Any coin they would have produced in response would have had the image of the emperor’s head on the front along with the inscription “Tiberius Caesar, August Son of the Divine Augustus”, while the back said, “Pontifex Maximus” – high priest. When they show him the coin, he asks them, “Whose head is this, and whose title?” The translation we use, the New Revised Standard Version, comes up short here in that the Greek word “eikon” has a broader meaning than the English word head. “Image” is how it’s typically translated. “Whose image is this, and whose title?”
Jesus is getting at something much more important than taxation: this coin may bear the image of the Emperor along with his divine title, but human beings bear the image of God. Remember that line from the creation story: “Then God said, ‘Let us make humankind in our image.'” Yes, that coin has Caesar’s image, but we ourselves bear God’s image. In other words, Jesus responds: “Caesar made this; give it back to Caesar. But God made you; give yourself back to God.”
And that, my friends, is stewardship. According to the canon law of The Episcopal Church, as your rector, I’m required to ensure that you receive instruction in Christian stewardship, among other things, and that includes the biblical standard of the tithe for financial stewardship. So consider yourselves instructed! Yes, as Christians, we are called to give back 10% of our income to God, specifically to the local church. If you’re anything like me, you give financially, but not quite at 10%. I’ve been working on that by increasing my pledge 10% every year for the past couple of years, and if my math is right, should be there in the next couple of years.
But even if you give 10% faithfully and regularly, that’s not enough. God calls us to give back to God what is God’s – ourselves, our souls and bodies. Beyond giving back our money, we are to give generously and consistently of our time, and our talents and skills. Jesus isn’t making a ruling about taxation, he’s reminding us who we are: we are made in the image and likeness of God, and we are to give ourselves back to the One who created us.
As much of you may dislike hearing the clergy exhort you to give your money to the church, I hope you’re even more scandalized by this invitation to offer your whole selves back to God, a task which sounds ridiculously daunting and even oppressive. On the surface, it seems to be the exact opposite of the freedom that God gave the first man and woman in the garden of Eden. How easy it is for us to forget that they had absolute freedom….except for the tree. That was the only limit on their freedom! But like the Pharisees and Herodians in Jesus’s day, the serpent was crafty and was able to convince Adam and Eve that such a limit on their freedom was unacceptable. We, too, are forced to reckon with this question in our own lives: which is more freeing? God’s way, or the way of the world? To whom will we render ourselves? To God, or to Caesar?
It’s much easier to give ourselves over to the ways of the world. The craftiness of the Evil One has not diminished over the centuries, and it is easy to be tricked into giving up ourselves to the ways of this world. We will only recognize the trickery if we are faithful in prayer, and when we fall into sin, we choose to repent and return to the Lord. We will only know the freedom of Christ’s resurrection if we sacrifice ourselves as he did on the cross, but in our case, it’s not a one-time execution. When we were baptized, we began the daily process of being buried with him into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead, so we too might walk in newness of life. And we are called to repeat this daily pattern of putting on our baptism again, and again, and again.
You’ll be hearing more from our Vestry and others about financial stewardship in the coming weeks, but in the meantime, I invite you to recommit yourselves to giving back your whole selves to God. I invite you to pray at home every day – if want to talk through some different prayer options that might work for you, please call me or shoot me an email. For it is only in regular, consistent prayer that you will have the courage and strength to say no to the ways of this world and yes to God. And I invite you to join me at the altar today in offering and presenting yourself – your soul and body – to be a reasonable, holy, and living sacrifice to God. Amen
 Verse 16.
The sermons preached at High Mass at St. Mary's Episcopal Church, Kansas City, are posted here!