Grace to you and peace, from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
“Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”
We hear these words from our Lord’s mouth today, one day after a religiously-divided Iraq held a national referendum on a permanent constitution that embraces the Islamic religion as a core element of Iraqi identity, possibly creating a religious government where one hadn’t existed before.
We hear these words from our Lord’s mouth today, after a week in which a Supreme Court Justice nominee’s religious credentials were publicized, even as her judicial credentials remained vague to both
Republicans and Democrats.
Yes, the intersection of religion and government – both at home and abroad – is in the news and on our collective mind.
But, we hear these words from our Lord’s mouth today, words about giving to Cesar what is Cesar’s and to God what is God’s, we hear these words as Americans who live under the world’s oldest Constitution and its First Amendment prohibition of any establishment of religion.
As such, we may be tempted to hear these words within our Church & State divide, and we may be tempted to conclude that Jesus calls us to make a clear distinction between God’s stuff and Cesar’s stuff.
I know I am tempted to do that.
You see, I’m one of those separation-of-church-and-state guys, I like to keep things clean and separate. Keep my government here, my religion there. I really don’t want government meddling in religion – national
slogans and anthems that call on God, government sponsored prayer, etc. – these things make me nervous.
But I also get nervous when religious leaders throw their political weight around, especially when one vocal branch of the Christian family gets too closely aligned with one political party. And so, I’m inclined to look at today’s text and say, “Aha! Here it is – Jesus here makes a distinction between church and state, and any attempt to blur the two is wrong. Church goes here. State goes there. Let’s keep them separate.”
But, I must confess the error of my own approach to this issue. Do I really believe that I live in two worlds – one a world of Cesar, of government, of so-called secular society, and the other the world of religion, of faith, of the Church? Do I actually believe that when I leave this building, or when the calendar turns to Monday, that I enter a different world? Do I actually believe that I live a bi-polar existence, with God
and faith and the Bible on one side, and with secular society and my responsibilities as a citizen on the other?
No. I am a Christian on Sundays, yes, but also from Monday through Saturday God’s love, God’s grace, God’s presence in my life it’s not just a Sunday thing. It’s an everyday thing.
When we come to this place on Sundays, we have a special and unique experience, to be sure. We come and we greet each other in the name of Christ, we read the Scriptures that tell us of God’s great deeds, we sing hymns of faith and love, we experience God’s true and real presence in our fellowship, in the Word, and in the sacraments.
Yes, Sunday is also traditionally a time of rest, of Sabbath (though that ideal runs up against the reality that at least 30%-40% of Americans now work on Sundays, keeping our economy running on the
Sunday is a day to enjoy God’s blessings – spending time with family, friends and neighbors, resting in
preparation for the beginning of the work week, enjoying a sporting event, a nature walk or a good book.
Yes, Sunday is a unique day, set apart from the rest.
Even our television broadcasters recognize this – there isn’t much good on TV on Sundays, at least not until the evening. Why? Because most Americans are not watching TV on Sunday mornings. They’re
doing other things. Restful things. Rejuvenating things.
Sunday is unique. And for us Christians, it is the day of the resurrection, when we gather in community to remember the empty tomb, to recall the blessings that God gives us, and to celebrate these blessings in song, prayer and fellowship
But what about Monday? Monday has a wholly different character than Sunday. Monday is a day of work, not rest. And it’s not terribly unique – Monday is just like Tuesday, Wednesday, etc. But, does God cease and desist on Monday? Does God hibernate until the following Sunday or a midweek committee meeting?
On Monday we go back to work or school, and the many blessings of Sunday seem to have already worn off. The Sunday Sabbath, the Sunday blessing, the Sunday rest is over. And now we’re into Monday, and Monday is different. Monday has a different set of rules. On Monday, most of us don’t greet our co-workers with the Peace of Christ. On Monday, most of us don’t sing hymns of faith and God’s
promises. On Monday, most of us don’t read the Bible. On Monday, most of us don’t experience the sacramental blessing of God’s presence.
And it’s not just Monday, and it’s not just because of work or school. I don’t want to vilify the office. Many of us probably feel this way about most of our lives. This God-thing, this faith-thing – it just kind of gets lumped into Sunday – and into Sunday mornings, at that. And whether we like it or not, we’ve created for ourselves – or we’ve inherited –a system in which church, religion, God is in a box, is bunched into one day, into one morning of one day, nice and tidy, where it doesn’t interfere with the rest of our lives. I guess it kind of works for us and for our world – to start the week with God, but otherwise pay little attention to God, faith, church.
But God doesn’t work that way – God doesn’t abide by our calendar. God doesn’t take a six-day rest between Sundays. God’s blessings don’t slow down to a trickle Monday through Saturday. God’s presence isn’t any less real or true at work, in the grocery store, at school . . .
Yes, God is at work in our world beyond these church doors, in the
other places of our lives, on the
other days of the week. But we don’t see it as clearly.
The sacraments, the Scripture, the hymns, the symbols and
rituals of our Sunday gathering,
things help us see God and experience God’s grace on Sundays.
But on Monday, how can we see God in a cubicle, in a
Or while we’re doing the dishes, taking out the trash, or
attending the Cub Scout meeting?
If our faith depends on church and this fellowship and the
symbols and signs that go with it,
If we depend on these things to experience God,
can we see God away from this place and these symbols?
Some people choose to bring their religious signs and
symbols into their daily life
To serve as
a reminder of their faith and the promises of God.
And sure, many of us can do this – perhaps many of us
already do this.
My wife’s car has a cross hanging from the rear-view mirror,
regularly wear a cross around my neck.
But, but I’m not sure that the answer to this
to populate our daily lives with religious symbols.
For one, many of us may not be able to do that for one
reason or another.
But rather than import religious symbols and signs into our
I wonder if
we can’t instead radically embrace the whole world –
the Monday through Friday part of our lives –
embrace the whole world, our whole lives, as created and blessed by God.
Work, taxes, chores, changing baby diapers, running errands,
going to and fro –
things that God is a part of,
these are things that God blesses.
these are things that God created.
You see, God created the world and all that is in it.
In today’s first lesson from the prophet Isaiah, God says
through the prophet:
light and create darkness . . . I the Lord do all these things.”
God created the world, our lives, and all that is in it.
And yes, because of sin,
is full of pain and angst,
so is the church, lest we forget.
our taxes will be spent on what is good,
our taxes will be used poorly.
our work or our daily lives will be full of meaning and purpose,
at other times we’ll search for God, for meaning, for purpose.
sometimes the world will act and look as if it is a blessed place of God,
at other times the world will wreak with sin and corruption
seem as far from God as anything could possibly be.
But this doesn’t mean that God isn’t in the world.
Since the 16th Century Lutherans have confessed
that God is hidden under the form of the opposite.
In other words, we believe, God is found where we least expect
God to be.
God is in
and amongst the work of the government and our taxes…
God is in
the cubicle, stuck in traffic, at the grocery store, to and from piano lessons,
And God is there, blessing us and renewing our lives through
the everyday stuff.
We can freely pay our taxes, gratefully,
know that we will find grace-filled moments
within the work of governments and in our daily lives.
We can go to work in our cubicle, or care for our children
Or shuttle kids to rehearsals and practices, or help an
elderly neighbor with chores,
Or participate in a political campaign, or whatever it is we
do in our daily lives –
We can do
these things because we know that God is at work in these things.
And so Jesus’ response to the Pharisees’ question in our
Gospel today is bold.
Give to the
emperor the things that are the emperor’s,
to God the things that are God’s.
Don’t worry about it – Because you know, dear friends,
wherever we give, whatever we do,
the world of secular society or the world of faith,
the world of the state or the world of the church,
These worlds are created and held and beloved by God.
And that is the good news, my friend.
When we move outside those doors and live our lives apart
from this building,
We are not
apart from God.
God is there. God is
here. God is with you. Always.
Open your eyes to God’s presence.
Give thanks to God for the gifts of society and government
and work and school.
And live and work and play with the assurance that you and
our world live
and under God’s blessing. Amen.