Yes Caesar, And God
"Yes... And..." A four-week Stewardship sermon series from the book of Matthew
Week 2 of 4, preached October 11, 2020 for the 9:30am Worship
“Yes… And…” In Improv, improvisational comedy, that’s the first rule as the actors and comedians step on stage with one another. No matter what the other person offers, say yes to it, meaning accept it. Now, say AND, meaning add something to it that takes it forward.
This October, for our Stewardship season, we are looking at four lessons of Jesus from Matthew where we are invited to say YES to God, then to say AND, to say more and to add extra.
Last week, Caitlan preached from the beginning of Matthew 22 where Jesus tells the story of a wedding banquet. Lots of guests were invited and said, “YES, sure, we’ll come, when its time.” Then, the day of the feast arrived, and they were too busy to show up. The host dismissed them angrily and went into the streets to find new guests. The feast went on with people who said yes AND showed up.
Caitlan wondered with us about our saying YES, AND showing up to share the feast together. She showed us saying yes to God with our intentions, our beliefs, our spirituality is nice, but it needs the AND. We need to participate as a community.
That was our first lesson of stewardship this year. YES to individually believing in God, AND participating in worship, study, and service in a community of faith.
Today, we keep going into Matthew 22 and hear another Yes, And lesson. Let’s pray and listen for the word of the Lord…
Scripture Matthew 22:15-22
15 Then the Pharisees went and plotted to entrap Jesus in what he was saying. 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, “Therefore, yes… give to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and give 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 the Lord… Thanks be to God!)
A preacher and lawyer walk into a bar together to have a drink and discuss the topics of the week.
The preacher had lots of opinions about how politics was getting everything wrong. She went on and on about taxes being too high on the poor and too low on the wealthy. She called out the excessive military presence in the streets. She criticized the way the government was not involved enough where it should be. “God wants us to ensure the health and welfare of the whole community,” she said.
The lawyer pushed back, demanding taxes were fairest when they were equal. He insisted the people’s safety depended on the constant presence of security forces. He defended the government’s right to be involved in some things, but their obligation to stay out of other things, for the sake of individual freedom.
They continued arguing church versus state issues as they stood from their stools and walked back into the night.
The bartender, who couldn’t help but hear their raised voices all evening, turned to another customer and said, “Those two sure have lots of opinions about church and state. Too bad neither of them bothered to pay their tab.” Sometimes, church and state get so busy fighting one another, we forget to do the important thing.
The Pharisees had sent some of their disciples along with some Herodians to question Jesus. In other words, they sent representatives from both parties. Their disciples were from (let’s call it) the Church party. They represented the Temple, the religious. The Herodians were from (let’s call it) the State party. They represented the Roman government, the politics of that time.
The issue they would use to trap Jesus was the Census tax. The government took a census of every person in the realm, and imposed a tax on every person, one Roman coin. The coin was emblazoned with the image of Caesar and named him as divine, the Son of God.
There were divisions between the two parties. Many of the people who supported the Church party considered it idolatrous to pay the tax, blasphemy, because it meant they had to handle a coin that named Caesar as divine, as the Son of God. They also considered it offensive to have to pay a tax to the people who invaded and occupied their land.
The State party felt it was being quite fair in taxing every person equally. For that fair tax, they were given soldiers in the street to keep their economy rolling and their borders safe. They had even brought the aqueducts and the coliseum to the people. Surely one coin per person was a fair price to pay at census time for these luxuries of running water and sport, never mind that the wealthiest and poorest all had to pay the same tax, one coin. To the State party, the fairest tax was an equal tax.
This Census tax issue seemed to be a real trap for Jesus. They would bring representatives of both parties to ask Jesus a Yes or No question. “Jesus, is it lawful to pay the Emperor the Census tax?” Even that word lawful had two meanings. For the Church party, it meant Scriptural. Is it obedient to the Torah to pay the tax? To the Herodians, it meant something totally different. Is it in compliance with Roman law? The two parties didn’t even hear the same question the same way.
The Pharisees assumed if Jesus answered “Yes, its right to pay the tax,” the Church party would gasp, call him a traitor, and abandon following him. If he answered “No, its not right to pay the tax,” the State party would report his rebellion to the authorities, he would be arrested and perhaps even killed by the government’s security forces within the week. Either way, Jesus would no longer be a problem. The Pharisees felt sure they had him trapped.
Their confidence was based on an assumption. In their world and in ours, there’s often an assumption of natural, normal separation of church and state. It was an assumption then, and continues to be one now, that things are better when Church and State are separated.
At temple, God is in charge. In the city, the Emperor is in charge. Therefore, at temple, at Church, lift up God things and stay out of State business. Stay in the spiritual and religious realms. Go along to get along, and don’t rock the political boat. Meanwhile, State, do what you need to do, just don’t get in the way of how, when, or why we church, or whom we worship. It’s a partnership of separate but equal powers that are supposed to respect and honor one another. That’s the assumption.
The Pharisees trap assumed and depended on the separation of Church and State being natural and normal. But it isn’t. They ask him the question, “Is it lawful to pay the emperor’s tax?” with a twinkle in their eye, and a smirk on their face.
Jesus asks them to toss him a coin. It’s interesting. They are able to do so. Was it one of the disciples of the Pharisees who tossed him one? If so, it means they really are hypocrites, saying what their people want to hear, “Its not right or fair we have to pay the tax!” Meanwhile, they have the coins in their pockets.
Jesus held up the Census tax coin. “Whose image is on this coin?,” Jesus asks them. “Caesar’s,” they respond. “Then, YES, give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, AND, give to God what is God’s.”
Their assumption crumbled. Jesus was destroying the separation of church and state. He was recognizing State has some power and authority. But the State is not separate from God. Church and State are not two equal coexistent realms. God, and God’s kingdom are the highest authority, the highest realm, and all other authorities and realms, including emperor, Caesar, the State are under God. God is over all states, over all leaders, over all budgets. So Yes, give to State their one little line item, AND make sure the total budget supports God and God’s kingdom.
I’ve been asked before around Stewardship season if a Tithe means before or after taxes. I usually quote this text to whoever asks. As we consider how we will financially support God’s mission through this congregation in 2021, I hope and trust everyone here will be able to pay their taxes. I also hope and trust, everyone here, every family, every household, everyone who loves and supports this congregation, this staff, this ministry, will find some percentage of it you will pledge to give back to God in the new year.
Yes, sure, give a percentage of your monies to your taxes, your housing, food, cell phone, AND give a percentage back to God through this congregation.
To God be all glory and honor, now and forever. Amen.
Now, Blessing, laughter, and loving be yours, and may the love of a great God, who names you and holds you as the earth turns and the flowers grow be with you, this day, this night, this moment and forevermore.
Rev. Joel L. Tolbert
Pastor, Presbyterian Church of Chestertown