Sunday, October 19, 2014

Let’s Get Real (Matthew 22:15-22)

We are entering into the thick of the political storm as election day nears in a couple of weeks.  Campaign signs are sprouting up in yards faster than summer dandelions creating their own sort of eye pollution.  The airwaves are filled with voices prodding each of us to vote this way or that way . . . our television screens are full of talking heads expounding on the virtues of this or that candidate . . . our newspaper looks like one big flier for those seeking office . . . and, people are knocking on our doors, calling our phones, and accosting us any time we wander out of our houses.  They all want our support . . . they want our votes.  The political storm is beginning to reach a tsunami force that will sweep us out into political oblivion.

I don’t know about the rest of you, but I was tired of it all a couple of months ago.  As a follower of Jesus I find the political season difficult . . . difficult because I truly do want to do as Jesus would do . . . I truly want to do God’s will; but, all the noise of politics seems to drown out the voice of God making it hard to hear what it is that God wants done.  I really do want to follow the words of Jesus when he says, “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.”  The problem I am having is that everyone who is running is claiming that their way is God’s way . . . and, I am beginning to wonder if any of their ways are God’s way at all.

Give to God what is God’s . . . that is what Jesus said.

Some Pharisees were attempting to trap Jesus with his own words . . . so they played a word game with Jesus in hopes that his own words would bite him in the end.  They baited him with a question that would surely turn the people against him, or it would get him in trouble with the Romans.  They wanted to know: “Is it right to pay taxes to Caesar or not?”  Paying taxes to the Romans was not real popular with the Israelites . . . and, in particular with those who were practicing their Jewish faith as the coins bared a graven image on them of Caesar.  If Jesus came out in support of paying the taxes it would not make him real popular with the people.

On the other hand, if he endorsed not paying the taxes, the Romans would see him as a troublemaker . . . a troublemaker who would need to be eliminated in some manner.  Whatever the case, the Pharisees thought they had finally backed Jesus into a corner and would be rid of him.

But Jesus told them to give to Caesar what belonged to Caesar, and what belonged to God to God.  Jesus wasn’t going to play their game and instead used common sense.  No one could argue against what he said . . . it made sense . . . they were amazed.

And so, what belongs to God?

Hmmmm . . . I know that God made the heavens and earth and all the stars in the sky . . . I know that God created all the creatures of the sky, land, and sea . . . I know that God made man and woman . . . even made them in God’s image.  I know that God made the air that we breathe, the water that we drink, and the food that we eat.  From what I know I would assume that God made it all and that because God made it, it belongs to God . . . all of it.  I think that that is the reality of it all . . . it all belongs to God, including us.

I soured on politics many, many years ago when the major theme of the campaigns was “family values”.  Every candidate was running on the platform of restoring “family values” in America.  Seemed like a logical campaign promise to make . . . restoring “family values” . . . everyone likes “family values” . . . we all value family; but, no one was asking the right question . . . whose “family values” were we going to restore?  The Republican party’s “family values”?  The Democrat’s “family values”?  Some racist’s “family values”?  Whose “family values” were we going to restore?  I know that from those who were espousing restoring “family values” as a plank in their platform that there were not a whole lot of “family values” I would endorse. 

So, what about God’s “family values”?  To love God completely and to love each other . . . were those not the “family values” that we should be embracing and living as the children of God?  There was not a whole bunch of agreement back then or today as the primary goal seems to be having it our way.

But, here is Jesus telling the Pharisees . . . and, us . . . to give to God what is God . . . give to others what belongs to others.  And it begins with us.

We start where we are as individuals to give to God what is God’s.  First, we give to God ourselves . . . we give ourselves completely to God by loving God with our whole being.  To do that we have to let go of the idea that we are the ones who are in control of the world around us and the lives that we live . . . it all belongs to God and God’s will.  So, we begin with ourselves and giving ourselves over to God . . . after all, God created us and we belong to God.

In giving ourselves to God we give to God our hearts and our minds and our souls . . . we give to God all that we are so that we can come into relationship with the one who created us and loves us.  It is here that we discover peace and God’s will . . . it is God’s peace as Jesus spoke about it in John 14: “But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”

We are to love God completely.

From there we are to love one another as God has loved us.  This is why we have to start with ourselves.  By starting with ourselves we come to know what it means to be loved and to love in return.  That is what we want for everyone.  And it is this experience and understanding of God’s love and loving presence that guides how we are to live within the world that was created by God . . . how we are to do God’s will.

Give to God what belongs to God . . . it all belongs to God.  The problem seems to be us and whose will it is that guides our lives . . . is it our will or is it God’s will?  Looking around the world today, whose will would you say it is?  Now, let us not think that it is easy following the will of God because it is not.  Even Jesus struggled with this in his own life.

It was in the Garden of Gethsemane that Jesus had to choose between the will of the world and God’s will.  It was a struggle that brought Jesus to his knees in prayer.  Do you remember his prayer?  Do you remember what he asked God?  It was a simple prayer . . . the simplest prayer that any of us could ever utter: “Thy will be done.”  Jesus asked that his will not be done, but that God’s will be done.  Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and God what is God’s.

Let’s get real . . . it is all God’s.  It does not matter what word games we play, it is still all God’s.  Let us pray: Lord, may we live our lives in acts of giving it all back to you.  Amen.

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