I always laugh when I hear someone say the church is so political, although I think I understand what they mean. I laugh because it really isn’t. The lessons from this Sunday’s lectionary are the only ones that I think call for explicit political preaching. And to be honest, in my entire time pew sitting, I probably heard less than one handful of explicit politics from the pulpit. Most ministers would avoid it completely. But what I think they are expressing is not so much “vote for x” from the pulpit as the complete subordination of “things temporal” to “things eternal”. (Don’t miss the collective prayer I left in the recording.)
Jesus’ “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s” saying is not an invitation to some type of church state separation. One can have a purely secular politics. Just stop at the first part. And that makes sense. That is the way of the principalities and the powers. But if you want to follow Jesus the call is to give to God what is God’s, which includes the things of Caesar.
Neither Jesus nor I get explicit about the answers to this. Honestly in Jesus’ day it might have been easier, or at least the average person would bear no responsibility for the actions of the gov’t because they were subjects, not citizens. But when you vote, when you are a citizen, you bear responsibility. This sermon attempts to lay out what discharging that duty in a Christian way looks like.
The text contains Jesus saying, “give to Caesar the things of Caesar, and to God the things of God”. It is possible simply take that answer as a simple dodge, but that is not what this sermon does. This sermon looks at Jesus’ saying in four ways. In the literal time frame it was a way to confront and avoid the politics of division. It encouraged the hearers to ponder both what was the state’s and what was God’s, and how they might or might not over lap. If we look through a lens of Christology one of the creedal confessions is that Christ sits as the right hand of God. He has defeated the powers and principalities and now does reign. What that rules out are the simple poles that the state’s things are always God’s things or that the state’s things are never God’s things. Caesar, like Cyrus and Pharaoh, is accountable to the God of Israel, the only God. In sorting out the things of Caesar, we can’t find ourselves at the extremes. If we look through a moral lens, Jesus encourages us to look at whose image or whose icon is on things. The coin bore the image of Caesar, but humans bear the image of God. Morally, when we see the least among us, we are to see the image of Christ, and act accordingly. Yes, that image is cracked due to sin, but it is that image that Christ repaired. It is that image that the indwelling of the Holy Spirit is renewing in us. Finally, we are encouraged to take an eschatological view (a completion or end view). In how we dispose of the things entrusted to us, do we use them for temporal ends, or do we use them for eternal ends? Jesus invites us to put God in our debt. He’s good for it. If we give the things of God to him we will not lose our reward.
Worship Note: I moved our Hymn of the Day after the Sermon in the recording. LSB 851, Lord of Glory You Have Bought Us. I did this because the sermon was a little longer today. So if you just listen to that you can get to it quicker. I also moved it after because the words of that hymn I believe capture the Christological and Moral force of the message exactly. The eschatological is there as well, but not quite as direct, or not put in the same vocabulary. I use treasure in heaven as the vocab sticking with the monetary theme of the text. The hymn switches to theological virtue language: faith, hope and love.
That title is a reference to the aphorism of Jesus, “give back to Caesar the things of Caesar, and to God the things of God”. That phrase is more than a slippery evasion of the question the Pharisees were asking him. It is a startlingly deep teaching on limits to the temporal state and the extent of the requests of the Gospel. There are of course book length treatises that examine this. This sermon attempts to focus on three things:
1) What the things of Caesar are by bringing in Romans 13
2) What Caesar should provide, and a simple description following Peter Leithart’s taxonomy: guardians, babels and beasts, of the limits of our giving back to Caesar.
3) What giving back to God means with a focus on three ideas: a) bearing the image of God through baptism, b) the summary of the law as our spiritual worship and b) the gospel tithe.
First, I love it when the Children’s Choir signs. You can hear them on the Podcast well directed and taught by Mrs. Kristin Bayer who is a wonderful sax player and teacher. (I hope she doesn’t mind the plug.) The simplicity of the songs they sing makes worship and sermon themes very easy to construct. Someone has already done the hard work of distilling a biblical message to a child’s level – I get to piggy back it. And this Sunday had the serendipity to have lectionary texts very easily meshed.
Second, the Lordship of Jesus is something that Reformed usually do better having a strong Sovereignty of God theology. But even they take it in a different direction normally than I think the New Testament does. When most theologians start talking Sovereignty of God it is usually about election or salvation. Everything gets bent to a salvation theology. Not wrong, just not the entire story. The old and new testaments teach that God is actively involved in the world for the benefit of his people. He is not some distant deity. He is not some pull in case of emergency God or a galactic vending machine. He (typically) operates through means – like Cyrus, King of Kings of the Persian empire, or Pilate, Prefect of Judea or you and me wherever we might be.
That gets to that radical nature of “give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and give to God what is God’s.” The authority is God’s duly appointed. She is there for a reason. The authority should also recognize they are not an authority grounded in themselves. There is a Sovereign, an active one. All authority is accountable in the Kingdom of Heaven. That is why when the Beatles sing “everything’s gonna be alright” we don’t just tune it out as Pollyanna drivel. Everything’s gonna be alright, because He’s go the whole world in his hands.