Sunday, November 11, 2007

Sermon: Trinity 23

11 November 2007 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA
Text: Matt 22:15-22 (Prov 8:11-22, Phil 3:17-21)

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

The enemies of Jesus – both human and supernatural – have become desperate. As the time draws near for Him to go to the cross, the forces of evil – who hate each other – are now cooperating. The Pharisees and the Herodians form an alliance. They plot. They seek to entangle. And they approach our blessed Lord with flattery designed to make Him lower His defenses and fall into their snare.

And notice that even in their deceit there is truth: “We know that You are true, and teach the way of God in truth.” Jesus is truthful, He is the Truth, and He is the very way. He is God in the flesh, and they claim to believe this – though even with this beautiful confession, they are seeking to destroy Him. Perhaps they honestly don’t believe Him. But then again, maybe they do, but have been so co-opted by evil as to believe that they can snuff out God in the flesh with a political trick.

They know Jesus will not waffle. He will not stay on the safe side of political correctness. They also know that the Romans are ruthless, and that they will crucify any non-citizen of the Empire who dares to question Caesar – especially in matters of taxation.

The Pharisees and the Herodians are clever, but they have no wisdom. They seek the rubies of this world through their guile, but they do not seek wisdom that dwells with prudence. They do not hate evil, but see evil as an ally to their own goals. They seek the destruction of the Way, the Truth, and the Life by their pride and arrogance.

Sadly, the Lord offers them “enduring riches and righteousness,” that which is “better than gold” and “choice silver” – but they instead try to use fleeting earthly weath as a snare to entrap the One who not only made, but freely distributes all the wealth in heaven and on earth to those who love Him, who seek Him diligently and find Him.

They are truly “enemies of the cross… whose end is destruction, whose god is their belly, and whose glory is in their shame” – for they “set their minds on earthly things.” They do not seek the citizenship that is “in heaven.”

And so, Jesus teaches them about what it means to be a dual citizen, subjects of imperfect, and even at times evil worldly rulers, as well as being citizens in the Kingdom of heaven.

In response to their stirring the pot about taxes, the intended Victim of the snare becomes the trapper. For they ask the controversial question: “Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar or not?” This is no innocent question, for as the Evangelist narrates “Jesus perceived their wickedness.” Our blessed Lord calls their bluff, openly assails their hypocrisy with a rhetorical question of His own, and then says: “Show Me the money.” Unlike the pop-culture catch phrase, this is no expression of greed, but rather an honest request for a coin to use as an object lesson about the Kingdom of God.

Our Lord makes His wicked interrogators answer a few questions of His choosing, for as they themselves have confessed, Jesus “does not regard the person of men.” Our Lord does not attempt to curry favor with the powerful Pharisees nor the well-connected Herodians. “Whose image and inscription is this?” “Caesar’s” And then our Lord delivers a line that has been quoted in every imaginable context ever since: “Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”

Jesus leaves them with mouths agape. For they had no answer. They could not extract themselves from the snare by using clever words. Jesus has no need to be politically correct nor politically incorrect. Our Lord Jesus Christ has not come to call the overtaxed into protest, but rather sinners to repentance. His Kingdom is not just another rinky-dink empire or human state convinced of its own immortality. For as we all know, Caesars come and go, empires rise and fall, and yet the Lord’s Kingdom, the Church, the citizens of the living Word of God, continue to serve their King unto eternity.

The governments of this world certainly do God’s work in protecting the innocent and prosecuting the guilty, in maintaining order over and against chaos and in securing a peaceful forum in which the Gospel may be preached. But we also know that governments, all governments, are filled with corruption, greed, Pharisees, Herodians, and all other sorts of scoundrels who have no regard for our Lord Jesus Christ and His holy Church.

And yet, the Lord God says: “By me kings reign, and rulers decree justice. By me princes rule, and nobles, all the judges of the earth.” Worldly rulers often forget this fact, being so used to being fawned over, enjoying privileges and wealth – not to mention easy access to riches that do not belong to them. In the same way, our Lord told Pontius Pilate that any authority Pilate had came from the Father of Jesus, from the mighty and merciful God who governs the world, and yet whose Kingdom is not of this world.

In seeking to make Jesus the Victim of their snare, they made the enemy of Jesus the victim. Ultimately, the Pharisees and Herodians, the priests and the scribes, conspired together to cast our Lord dishonestly as a rebel against Caesar. They brought Him before Pilate, thinking that Pilate had authority over Him by virtue of Caesar instead of by virtue of God. When they succeeded in crucifying our Lord, in bringing about His passion and death, they thought that they had finally snared Him whom they called “true.” In fact, they ended up in their own web, for it was Satan who was ensnared on the cross of our Lord.

In dying, our Lord caused “those who love [Him] to inherit wealth.” And in rising from the dead, He has extended the promise to “transform our lowly body that it may be conformed to His glorious body, according to the working by which He is able even to subdue all things to Himself.”

And so, my dear brothers and sisters in Christ, we may have presidents and governors – but the principle remains. We live under governments that are filled with the corrupt and the greedy – and yet the Lord Himself ordains these governments to the ultimate working out of His plan and His glory. We are to give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, but we must also remember that even what Caesar owns is still God’s.

And what God has, He lavishes upon us. His riches are better than a few shiny trinkets or some electronic gadgetry that will be obsolete in a few weeks. He gives us a new creation, a body freed from disease and mortality, a New Jerusalem and a restored Paradise. He forgives our sins, gives us His very body and blood, and promises us absolutely everything in His glorious Kingdom. He nurtures us with His Word and with the wealth of His divine and eternal love and mercy. No gold coin – even one with the picture of a mighty Caesar – is able to buy any such thing. So render to Caesar, even as God renders unto us.

We must keep in mind the Word of the Lord that the Pharisees and the Herodians had long since forgotten:

“For wisdom is better than rubies, and all the things one may desire cannot be compared with her…. Riches and honor are with me, enduring riches and righteousness…. I traverse the way of righteousness, in the midst of the paths of justice, that I may cause those who love me to inherit wealth, that I may fill their treasuries.”

In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.” Amen.

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