St. Matthew’s Sermon 10-22-2017

St. Matthew’s Sermon 10-22-2017

Go Figure

Exodus 33:12-23, Psalm 99, 1 Thessalonians 1:1-10, Matthew 22:15-22

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O God. Amen

When I was a child and would ask questions about life; particularly about the right and wrong of things I saw going on in the world around me; I would often hear the response, “everything you need to know is found in the bible”. This was usually followed by the quotation of a verse or two that was supposed to reveal the answer to my original question.

It didn’t take long for me to learn that a smart child would nod their head, say thank you, and walk away with a smile whether I understood the response or not; and especially if I disagreed with the connection being made between the question being asked and the Biblical reference used in response. You see, the few times, before I learned that lesson, that I further questioned or challenged the responder, I would inevitably be chastised harshly with words to the effect of, “you don’t disagree with the Bible; God will get mad at you for that”! Certainly, such a reprimand came with the unspoken, yet present, threat of being cast into hell.

The trouble was not that I didn’t believe the Bible, and not that I didn’t believe that the Bible was the Word of God; it was that I didn’t understand how complex questions could be answered with one or two lines from the Bible; especially when there were often one or two lines that could be used to give a completely different answer.

I remember one case when I brought this up using… um… ‘activities of human reproduction’ as an example, citing the text from Genesis that reads “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth…” held in contrast to what I read in 1 Corinthians 7:8 where Paul writes, “To the unmarried and the widows I say that it is well for them to remain unmarried as I am”. In that day I believe I came very close to being the only person to be thrown out of Sunday School at St. Peters. And, oh, the shame and embarrassment my poor mother endured that day.

Amazingly, we might think, we can see such contradiction in today’s Gospel reading; all in one place, not spread out over different books of the Bible but in the same book, even in the same story contained in only 8 verses.

From one perspective we might see this as a story about keeping God and politics separated; that paying taxes to a heathen emperor has nothing to do with, and in no way affects, ones commitments to God.

From another point of view we might see it as a command to support the ruling powers as they are; in earthly terms to pay our taxes to the government no matter if we like it or not and, in Kingdom terms, to honor God with equal obedience.

From still another angle, we might take this as Jesus’ call to keep our religion as a matter of the heart and to not be concerned with how our money is spent.

And, if we aren’t trying at all to apply the message of the story to ourselves but only looking at Jesus’ part in it; we may only see how clever Jesus is as he avoids being caught in the trap being set for him.

So which is it? Which view is correct? Are there other possibilities? What is the truth being revealed, and what question about proper Christian living does it answer?


There is, indeed, a lot of tension in the story and the stakes are high. The Pharisees are out to get Jesus; their disdain for him outweighs their contempt for the Herodians and they are now aligned with them in their effort to bring Jesus down. And, if they are successful in their effort to trap Jesus, any of the three can condemn him; the Pharisees through the power of the Temple, the Herodians through the power of the King, and the Romans through the power of the Emperor himself.

Imagine yourself in this situation. You’re surrounded by people demanding an answer to a trap question. What would you do? If you respond with some quotes from scripture, even if they really don’t answer the question, you might impress the Pharisees, but the Romans will not be swayed. If you quote some scripture that speaks of the King’s God-given authority you might please the Romans and Herod, but the Pharisees will have a case against you. And if you rely on a few verses about obedience to the powers that be, you’ll make the Romans happy but you’ll really tic off everybody else.

But Jesus, Jesus finds a way to defuse the situation; a way that left all his opponents “amazed”. He didn’t quote scripture, nor site the rules of the Temple, nor address the law of Rome. He wasn’t swayed by the wonderful accolades and he didn’t avoid the question and walk away.

What he did do was use his God-given wisdom to quell the tension without taking sides on the issue. And that was the form of the trap; an attempt to make him take a side, either the side of God’s Law or the side of Roman law; neither of which was the right side to take in this situation!


 We live in a tense situation every day in this world, and the stakes are very high! Two representations of such tension are before us right here, right now, in this sanctuary. To one side is the flag of our nation, the United States of America. To the other is the flag of our Faith. Both of these call for our loyalty, and the tension occurs when loyalty to one conflicts with loyalty to the other. The Bible doesn’t offer us a clear cut, undisputable way to deal with that tension. Yes, it does say God and Christ above all else, but it doesn’t say God and Christ with nothing else.

What the Bible does give us is the light; the enlightenment of the Word, with which we can view clearly the wisdom of God, and use that light to decide how to find the proper balance within the tension ourselves. It is up to us, then, to examine each situation in the light of Christ’s own life and teaching, determine what is God’s and what is the Emperor’s, and place our loyalties, not all to one side or to the other, but in such a way as to as to hold up both the order of our nation and the will of God. 

So, Yes, everything we need to know is found in the bible! But it’s not always (or not often I might say) in the form of ‘if the question is A, the answer is B’ rather, the Bible gives us the light under which we can examine our particular situation in the complexity of earthly life and, with that light, figure out what the answer should be according to the Word and the will of God as revealed through Jesus Christ.

Go Figure!



Exodus 33:12-23
33:12 Moses said to the LORD, “See, you have said to me, ‘Bring up this people’; but you have not let me know whom you will send with me. Yet you have said, ‘I know you by name, and you have also found favor in my sight.’
33:13 Now if I have found favor in your sight, show me your ways, so that I may know you and find favor in your sight. Consider too that this nation is your people.”
33:14 He said, “My presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.”
33:15 And he said to him, “If your presence will not go, do not carry us up from here.
33:16 For how shall it be known that I have found favor in your sight, I and your people, unless you go with us? In this way, we shall be distinct, I and your people, from every people on the face of the earth.”
33:17 The LORD said to Moses, “I will do the very thing that you have asked; for you have found favor in my sight, and I know you by name.”
33:18 Moses said, “Show me your glory, I pray.”
33:19 And he said, “I will make all my goodness pass before you, and will proclaim before you the name, ‘The LORD’; and I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy.
33:20 But,” he said, “you cannot see my face; for no one shall see me and live.”
33:21 And the LORD continued, “See, there is a place by me where you shall stand on the rock;
33:22 and while my glory passes by I will put you in a cleft of the rock, and I will cover you with my hand until I have passed by;
33:23 then I will take away my hand, and you shall see my back; but my face shall not be seen.”

Psalm 99
99:1 The LORD is king; let the peoples tremble! He sits enthroned upon the cherubim; let the earth quake!
99:2 The LORD is great in Zion; he is exalted over all the peoples.
99:3 Let them praise your great and awesome name. Holy is he!

1 Thessalonians 1:1-10
1:1 Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy, To the church of the Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ: Grace to you and peace.
1:2 We always give thanks to God for all of you and mention you in our prayers, constantly
1:3 remembering before our God and Father your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.
1:4 For we know, brothers and sisters beloved by God, that he has chosen you,
1:5 because our message of the gospel came to you not in word only, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction; just as you know what kind of persons we proved to be among you for your sake.
1:6 And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, for in spite of persecution you received the word with joy inspired by the Holy Spirit,
1:7 so that you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia.
1:8 For the word of the Lord has sounded forth from you not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but in every place your faith in God has become known, so that we have no need to speak about it.
1:9 For the people of those regions report about us what kind of welcome we had among you, and how you turned to God from idols, to serve a living and true God,
1:10 and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead–Jesus, who rescues us from the wrath that is coming.

Matthew 22:15-22
22:15 Then the Pharisees went and plotted to entrap him in what he said.
22:16 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.
22:17 Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, or not?”
22:18 But Jesus, aware of their malice, said, “Why are you putting me to the test, you hypocrites?
22:19 Show me the coin used for the tax.” And they brought him a denarius.
22:20 Then he said to them, “Whose head is this, and whose title?”
22:21 They answered, “The emperor’s.” Then he said to them, “Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”
22:22 When they heard this, they were amazed; and they left him and went away.