Sermon: Who, What and How Much?

“Who, What, and How Much?”
Matthew 22:15-22
RUMC 29 October 2017
Pastor Paul R. O’Neil

Once there was a little boy who needed $100 to upgrade and buy accessories for his phone, so he prayed to God for a whole week, but nothing happened. Then he decided to write to God and request the $100 in a more formal way. When the Post Office received the letter addressed to God, they forwarded it to the White House. The President of the United States was told of the letter; he was amused and instructed his aide to send the boy $5.00. The President figured that would make the boy happy. When the boy got the letter, he sat down and wrote a thank you note. “Dear God, Thank you very much for sending the money. However, I noticed that for some reason, you had to send it through Washington where they kept most of it.”

Let me just say, people who lived in Biblical times didn’t like the government taking their money any more than we do today. Today’s scripture is a story of how the Pharisees and Herodians tried to trap Jesus. His message is to give government what is theirs and to God what is His.

My text is Matthew 22:15-22.

5 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.
This is the Word of God.

Today’s gospel text begins with how the Jewish leaders had looked for a way to finally rid themselves of Jesus; they had come up with a question that appeared to be foolproof. Had Jesus said it was “wrong” to pay taxes that would prove that he was against Rome, and he would have been arrested for treason. If he had said it was “okay” to pay taxes with this particular coin, the Jewish people would reject him for blasphemy.

The issue at hand was the Roman Denarius. On one side of the coin was a picture of the emperor. On the reverse side was the inscription, Tiberius Caesar, son of the divine Augustus, high priest which meant the emperor was the son of a divine being or God. To the Jews that was idolatry and the coin was not to be used in the temple.

Now I suppose in this day and age, if we had a coin that had a picture of any of our recent presidents with an inscription that read, “President of the United States of America, the most powerful person on the planet” or the “greatest American,” such a coin would cause an uproar and people would refuse to use it.

But Jesus left us with this challenge that rings down through the centuries: “Give to government the things that is due to government and to God the things that are God’s.”

1 Corinthians 4:1 tells us that we are the “Stewards of the things of God.” Now all of us own things. The proof of who we are or what we own would be a birth certificate, social security card, a driver’s license, passport, a purchase agreement, a deed or any other legal document. However, things of God do not have his obvious stamp of ownership or mark on it. For example, the forest, the mountains, the rivers, the lakes, the oceans or the desert does not have a sign that says, “This belongs to God.” It is kind of understood that all belongs to Him.

Now consider this illustration. On a ship or an airplane there is a position that is called steward. This individual does not own the ship or aircraft or any of its cargo, but the steward is entrusted with everything that is on board.  It is the same thing in God’s kingdom when we are given responsibility over the things God has entrusted to us. In a sense God has made us His partner or steward.

Stewardship is similar to the Stradivari Society of Chicago. This society entrusts its expensive violins to world class violin players who could never afford them on their own. These musicians are encouraged to play and care for these million dollar instruments. There is one other stipulation that each musician give the patron at least two musical performances per year. And just like the Stradivari Society, God entrusts us with many things, but he wants to hear back from us for a “progress report.”

God’s stewardship reminds me of the Sea of Galilee and the Dead Sea, two major bodies of water in Israel, both fed by the same stream of water. But they are as different as day and night. The Sea of Galilee in the north is alive and fresh with an abundance of fish and green vegetation. The Dead Sea, which lies in a sunken valley, has water so salty that there is no fish life in it; it is a lifeless, watery waste. These two bodies of water illustrate the difference between those who receive and give back, and those who receive and do not give back.

Evangelist Billy Graham said, “God has given us two hands-one to receive and the other to give.” We are not cisterns made for hoarding; but channels for sharing. Here at Rockville UMC, many give of their prayers, presence, and service for the Kingdom of God.

If there is an area that is problematic for many Methodist, it is what to put in the offering plate. Recently I was at a stewardship conference and we were given some statistics on giving. (Using a bell curve, 0-10%, the biblical standard) The average Methodist gives 1.6%. Roman Catholics, Episcopalians, Lutherans, Presbyterians, United Church of Christ, Congregationist 2-3%. Again, all these churches struggle with finances and must hold a lot of fund raisers. Now Evangelicals, Latter Day Saints, Apostolic Christian Churches give 10%, and they have more than enough to meet their needs. So in this area, I would encourage you to examine your giving in terms of percentage.

Let me close with Jesus’ message to all: Give to government what is theirs and to God what is His.