“Loyalty: Civic and Spiritual”
Psalm 96: 1-13; Matthew 22:15-22
Pearl: Worshipping God (avoiding hypocrisy)
Function: To set up our stewardship season with this fundamental truth that everything belongs to the Lord—all authority and power belongs to the Lord.
“Tiberius Caesar, Son of the Divine Augustus, Pontifex (Latin: “bridge builder”—member of the principal college of priests in ancient Rome) Maximus.” Now that is a mouthful! That might be what was actually inscribed on the coin which was given to Jesus when he was asked the question about taxes.
- The Pharisees and Herodians tried to bait Jesus into saying something which would warrant his arrest. They were not sincere in their question to Jesus, they were merely trying to put him in an impossible situation. Our spiritual ancestors were incensed at the pride that the Caesar had and the way in which he believed himself to be a divine figure. They saw this as blasphemy. So if Jesus said that they should pay the tax he was in trouble because it was as if he was approving of Caesar’s claim.
- If he said that the tax should not be paid then he was breaking the law and obviously, this would be a reason for his arrest. They thought that they had him; but they did not. “Tiberius Caesar, Son of the Divine Augustus, Pontifex Maximus!
- Who did the Caesars think that they were?
- How do people get such elevated opinions of themselves?
- In 2008 when Senator Obama was running against Senator McCain as they approached the November election they participated in a roast of each other at the traditional Al Smith Charity Dinner to support charitable causes of the Archdiocese of New York. At one point Mr. McCain referred to “Your Eminence” and I thought he was using that title to refer to Mr. Obama in a tongue in cheek way. But then I realized that he was referring to a member of the clergy who was dressed in clerical regalia. “Your Eminence?!” It is astonishing that we use such titles for those who follow the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave us an example of servant leadership. He said that he “came to serve, not to be served.”
Can anyone quote Psalm 24:1? “The earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it, the world, and those who live in it.”
- It is an excellent verse to memorize. It says a lot, doesn’t it? It puts things in perspective. Let there be no mistake, the Lord is the divine one, the maximum one, the most exalted one, the “eminent” one.
- When Jesus brilliantly slipped through the trap of his questioners by saying, “Give to Caesar what is his, and give to God what is his,”do you think he thought anything really belonged to Caesar?
- With this response Jesus avoided taking the bait and also gave a lesson for those there that day and for all posterity. It is this: Don’t try to usurp God’s authority but rather live in constant worship of him; in other words, “Give God his due.”
- What is God’s due?
- His due is our worship of him.
- His due is our being more and more impressed with him each and every day.
- This is worship, to be highly and profoundly impressed with something or someone.
- We are very often impressed with the wrong things. This is inherent in all of us and it goes all the way back to the building of the tower of Babel.
- When the Lord saw his people constructing this large, high tower with which they were so impressed, his estimation of it was that they were thinking too highly of themselves. So God established great variety and diversity among humankind.
- Perhaps God created diversity in order to keep balance and to keep people from “lording it over” others. It is a check against human pride and arrogance.
- Jesus’ fundamental lesson that day on church-state relations was a lesson on worship.
- What is it that really impresses us such that it captures our thoughts and imaginations and draws out our passions? The answer to that question just might be what we worship. Our loyalties to certain sports franchises can be pretty enthusiastic. What about enthusiasm for the Lord and for God’s kingdom?
Do we trust in God or do we trust in something else? Are we more concerned with our needs than God’s needs? Are we more concerned with our priorities or God’s priorities? Are we more impressed by our thoughts than God’s thoughts? Are we more concerned with our appearance than we are with our true being? Are we more concerned with our status than God’s status? Those are some important questions.
- We should be put out when God does not receive his due. We should be upset when God is made light of. We should be out of sorts when we are worshipping anything and anyone other than the Lord.
- If people are overly impressed with themselves or with other human beings, then they are not satisfactorily impressed with God. A true estimation of God will put everything in proper perspective.
- Recall Psalm 96?
- “…great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised…
- …all the gods of the peoples are idols, but the Lord made the heavens…
- …ascribe to the Lord the glory due his name…
- …worship the Lord in holy splendor; tremble before him, all the earth…
- …Say among the nations, ‘The Lord is king!’…
- …all the trees of the forest sing for joy before the Lord, for he is coming, for he is coming to judge the earth.” (Selected verses from Ps. 96).
- Reflect upon God’s greatness as I read those verses again. (Repeat)
In the time of a Presidential election we feel the push and pull of loyalties between civic and spiritual and how they interact and impact each other. Susan Pendleton Jones wrote: “From whom do we receive the blessings of life and to whom, then, do we owe thanksgiving and allegiance? Is it God, or is it America, our present-day Caesar? What do we owe to each? Are service to God and to Caesar compatible? Caesar is rarely content with limits.”
- Perhaps a few quotes from the Barmen Declaration in our Book of Confessions is fitting. This confession was written by the “Confessing Church” in Germany which spoke out against the “German Christians” who saw no conflict between Christianity and the ideals of Hitler’s National Socialism.
- “As Jesus Christ is God’s assurance of the forgiveness of all our sins, so in the same way and with the same seriousness is he also God’s mighty claim upon our whole life–8.14.
- We reject the false doctrine, as though there were areas of our life in which we would not belong to Jesus Christ, but to other lords…–8.15.
- ‘You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great men exercise authority over them. It shall not be so among you; but whoever would be great among you must be your servant’ (Matthew 20: 25, 26)”—8.19.
A true estimation of God…gets our priorities in order. It startles us back into a proper perspective jolting us to us to our senses.
A true estimation of God…is the beginning of wisdom…it is the key to life.
A true estimation of God is the Holy Grail…it informs all of our life.
A true estimation of God informs all decisions…and it is the starting point in considering our stewardship of all of life.
“In all times and in all seasons give to God the things that are God’s” (Matthew 22: 21b) and everything falls into place.