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BETHLEHEM LUTHERAN CHURCH: | Mason City, Iowa USA | Pastor Mark Lavrenz

Oct 22, 2017  SERMON ARCHIVE

Sunday Sermon - Pastor Lavrenz Stained Glass - Communion

Grace, mercy and peace to you from God our heavenly Father, and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, AMEN

The text for our meditation today is the Gospel Lesson for this 20th Sunday After Pentecost, Matthew 22:15-22. There we read these words:

We begin in the name of Jesus, AMEN

Dear friends in Christ. Did you put on shoes this morning, or did you come to church in a car? Do you eat cereal for breakfast, or don't you like football? Are you Lutheran, or do you live in America? Will you obey God, or will you pay taxes to Caesar?

Welcome to the world of false dichotomies-thing that are wrongly set against each other, "either/or"s that really aren't. Can you wear shoes and come to church in a car? Can you eat cereal and enjoy football? Can you be Lutheran and live in America?

Of course; in fact, you can be an American Lutheran who wears shoes and eats cereal while enjoying football after you've traveled to and from church in a car. None of these things are mutually exclusive. Beware of the one who asks such questions, because there may well be an agenda behind them. At the same time, rejoice! Such scheming is no match for the crucified and risen Lord.

In our Gospel lesson, the Pharisees were seeking to trap Jesus in some matter-it didn't matter what. They wanted to entangle Him in His words-a favorite strategy of political debaters in our present time. After some serious plotting, they sent their disciples-along with some Herodians, of all people-to ask Jesus a question.

The question was preceded by step one, the big buttering-up of the victim: "Teacher, we know that You are true, and teach the way of God in truth; nor do You care about anyone, for You do not regard the person of men." Personally, they didn't believe any of this, but it was part of the strategy: Put someone up on a pedestal so that they could fall farther and harder when you knocked them off.

Then came the question: "Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar or not?"

It was a terribly clever question. They really didn’t care about the answer: In fact, the Pharisees and the Herodians would probably disagree; but what they did agree on is that they wanted Jesus out of the way. In their view, the Savior of the world was a political problem that required a political solution; and their solution was to destroy his public support.

You see, few in Judea were real pleased about being in the Roman Empire, and nobody liked to pay taxes. Many regarded it as sinful. If Jesus said that they were to pay taxes, He'd turn the nation against Himself.

On the other hand, if Jesus said that it was wrong to pay taxes, He'd be arrested for treason when word got out. So, tell us Jesus: Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar or not?"

They must have been so happy, watching from afar: They had gotten Jesus into a political bind. However, they made a terrible mistake: Jesus wasn't a political figure. He was the Son of God and the Savior of the world. He was no respecter of persons, but a preacher of the truth. Let the chips fall, because He wasn't looking for votes.

Stained Glass Baptism Window

Jesus perceived their wickedness, and said, "Why do you test Me, you hypocrites? Show Me the tax money." So they gave Him a denarius. And He said to them, "Whose image and inscription is this?" They said to Him, "Caesar's." And He said to them, "Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's."

Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar or not?" The answer is yes, because the question is a false dichotomy. In other words, it's wrong to say that this is an "either/or" because it's a "both/and." One can follow God and pay taxes to Caesar, namely because it is God who puts rulers on their thrones and commands that they be obeyed.

In God's plan, He and Caesar aren't competing for the same spot: Caesar was there as God's instrument to keep order in the world. Of course, if Caesar commanded you to do something sinful, then you must obey God and disobey Caesar; but if that's not the case, serve both.

Those who pose the question were right about one thing: Jesus spoke the truth, and He was no respecter of persons. To their amazement, their clever question fell flat, so they beat a hasty retreat. They had completely failed to entrap the Son of God; oh, such sinful questions might look good to some people for a little while, but they were no match for the truth. They left, and Jesus continued on His way to the cross that was only three days away. Foolish questions and false dichotomies will not prevail against Him.

Neither will sin, death or the gates of hell. Like it or not, the Savior spoke the truth of God and Caesar: Each one of you lives in two different kingdoms under two different rulers. As a Christian, you are a citizen of heaven and Jesus is your King.

But until you are delivered, you also live in this world, and you are part of humanity and live under a government. You interact both in church and in society. You are a citizen of two very separate, distinct kingdoms. This is most certainly true, and this is how God set things to be until Christ Jesus returns in glory.

However, there are some people who will approach it this way: "You live in two kingdoms right now, it is true: The kingdom of God and the kingdom of the world. It can't be helped. Therefore, Christian, it is up to you to avoid the kingdom of the world as much as possible in favor of the kingdom of God. Your faith will be measured by how much you stay out of the one and in the other."

Sometimes this is obvious: It is taught among some that one who follows God should not vote, pay taxes, serve in the armed forces or even drive cars or use electricity. Such teachings are easy to spot, but they are not found in the Scriptures. Neither are the more subtle forms that can put your faith in danger. Consider the following questions, and look for the false dichotomies-the false "either/or"s:

"Are you a born-again Christian, or do you dance?" "Do you dress differently than the world, or don't you believe in Jesus?" "Are you committed to the Lord, or do you listen to secular music?"

Some might dismiss these questions as merely being "strict" or "conservative," but there is more to it than that. Such statements imply that, to be a Christian, you must not dance, you must wear certain clothes, and you must avoid all secular music. In other words, you are in the Kingdom of God because of how much you stay out of the kingdom of man.

Therefore, you are a Christian because of your clothes, your music and your not-dancing. And if you are a Christian because of these things, then your salvation is dependent upon your clothes, your music and your not-dancing. Your salvation becomes dependent upon your work, and not solely dependent upon the forgiveness of sins.

Stained Glass Confirmation Window

In such matters, there is a key question: "Where do you draw the line?" How much of a secular activity should a Christian participate in? The answer is not always easy, and the answer may well be different among Christians when the Scriptures provide some leeway. (This, by the way, is what makes parenting so difficult.)

There is right and there is wrong; but with each specific practice, where will you draw the line? These discussions become murky and troublesome fast, because the solution isn't always clear.

And that is my point: Let the murkiness be a warning when you are told that you must act in certain ways in this world to be a Christian. Do you really want to base your faith on something so confusing and unclear? Do you really want to base your salvation on how you handle the things of man? Do you really want your salvation to depend on you and your daily decisions? Absolutely not!

Do not base your salvation on what is unclear and uncertain, but on what is clear and sure: The things of God-the death of His Son on the cross for your sins. You can be certain that He has redeemed you there. You can be certain that you are forgiven for all of your sins-even the ones you're not sure are sin as you struggle with life in the kingdom of this world.

You are not in the kingdom of God because of how well you stay out of the kingdom of man. You are in the kingdom of God because God has brought you in. You are in the kingdom of man because God has put you there, as a Christian, to do His will. Take heart: As you grow in faith and the things of God by the forgiveness of sins, your dealings with the kingdom of the world will grow much, much clearer.

When our Lord commands us to "Render to God the things that are God's," there is great cause for joy: The Lord never requires things that He does not first give. The Lord requires obedience, though you can never perfectly obey Him as long as you live in this sinful world.

Therefore, He has sent His Son who lived a perfectly obedient life, to credit you with His obedience; because you are forgiven, God sees you as His obedient child-and now gives you freedom to obey His Word. He requires holiness, something you cannot attain for yourself; so He has sent His Son as the sacrifice to atone for your sins.

Because your sins are removed by the death of Christ, you are holy before God. He requires repentance-a penitent heart that confesses sin and trusts in Jesus; therefore, He sends His Holy Spirit to work repentance in you, that you might believe in Him.

So render the things of God to God-obedience, holiness, penitence, faith; and do so because He gave you all of these things first. And He continues to gives them to you in His Word and Sacraments. About this, there is no doubt; therefore, there is great joy.

This is your two-kingdom life for now, dear Christians, because God has placed you into two kingdoms. In the kingdom of this world, you live and work because God has put you here to live and work. You do so according to the Lord's Word, following His commands.

When you sin, confess the sin. When things are muddy, muddle along, confess your sins and trust in the Lord's salvation. His salvation for you is certain, because He brought you into another kingdom-His kingdom. He did so by the death of His only-begotten Son on the cross; and with such a price paid, He will not forsake you.

Therefore, in His kingdom, there is no doubt: You are forgiven for all of your sins in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost.

Christ Is Risen.

Luther Rose

 

Christ Is Risen
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