"Taxes"-Storyteller, Desperate Preacher
the "tax question" in Jesus' times is different in some way from the "tax question" of our time.
The Jesus people are living in a colonized context. Those who make decisions on how much tax and what the tax is for are the empire. Much of what the tax was for did not benefit Joe the plumber and his neighbor Joe Six Pack. Jesus' times were unlike our situations where taxes are something of a "community fund raiser" where we pay for roads and schools and hospitals, where we all benefit either directly or indirectly. Imagine being taxed so the money can build a temple for some pagan god! Imagine being taxed so the money can pay the soldiers who will kill Jesus! Imagine! And so, living between a rock and a hard place, should we pay the tax and be collaborators with the Roman Empire or should we "refuse to wear the garment" and get our heads chopped off? d---- if you do, d--- if you don’t!and of course this all happens in the temple where folks pay "good taxes" taxes they agree with taxes they can make theological sense out of, call it "temple tax," call it "tithe," call it "apportionment." So Jesus takes the emperor's coin. It belongs to the man. Give it back to him. One day this coin will be a museum piece. Give it back to him, don’t invest yourself in this coin; don’t hold too tightly to this coin. tTis coin does not own you, God owns you. You belong to God.
What Are You Looking At?
Moses wanted to know who God was going to send with him. It may have been a rhetorical question because it’s possible he knew what the answer was. But he may have wanted some reassurance that God was going to actually be with them as they traveled toward the Promised Land. He may have had some doubts since the people he was leading had behaved so badly, worshipping a calf made from the gold they had brought with them from Egypt.
God answered his question by telling Moses that he knew him by name and that he had found favor in His sight. Even with that Moses wasn’t satisfied. If he had indeed found favor with God then he wanted to know what God’s plans were. Then, he figured, he would continue to find favor in God’s sight. After all, these people were really God’s responsibility.
But Moses wasn’t done yet! He certainly wasn’t afraid to push the envelope with God. He wanted to see him, to see his glory. I’m sure he knew that no one could look upon God’s face and still live, but he asked anyway.
I wonder what that must have been like to have such an intimate relationship with God that it felt safe to question God, trusting in his love and never fearing that he would get angry and smite you with his mighty hand.
And so God, after telling him that he couldn’t see his full glory and live, placed him in the cleft of the rock and shielded him with his hand until he had passed by. Moses got to see God’s back. That must have been enough for Moses because then he and God were able to get to the work at hand of making the stone tablets again.
Moses wanted something from God to give him the confidence that he was there for him. And God delivered.
These past weeks the news has been all about the economy. Our presidential candidates have been talking about how they would “fix” the economy. Our legislative folks in the Senate and the House have been working to rebuild the levees so the economy doesn’t get any worse. And the stock market is trying to figure out what all that means. It can’t decide whether to go up or down so it does both, up one day and down the next or both on the same day. It’s enough to give you a headache trying to keep up.
And we wonder what we should do. How is it going to affect our finances? What impact is it going to have on the cost of living through the next few winter months? How is it going to affect our life styles? What changes are we going to have to make?
So what have you all been doing to cope with these crises? If we would open our Bibles to Isaiah 41 the prophet would say to us, “Don’t fear, for I am with you.” And the psalmist has these words for us, “I will strengthen and uphold you.” And our Lord has these words in Matthew’s gospel, “Don’t worry about your life…strive first for the kingdom of God…and all things will be given to you.” Paul wrote these words to the Philippians, “Don’t be anxious about anything…present your requests to God.” And finally Paul told Timothy, “Tell those rich in this world’s wealth to quit being so full of themselves and so obsessed with money…Tell them to go after God…to do good, to be rich in helping others, to be extravagantly generous.”
And that leads us to the gospel lesson for today from Matthew. It seems to be about tithing and what belongs to God and what belongs to the government. If we think about it and truly believe in God then we would know that it all belongs to God so therefore we should give everything to God.
So I guess that’s it then, believe in God and give everything to him, don’t believe in God then keep it and see where that gets you.
Whatever you have decided I believe I’ll put my trust in God. Now that doesn’t mean that I am not concerned about the current state of our economic system. But I don’t believe that God is causing the problems. I believe that the current crisis is in part caused by misplaced trust or faith between debtors and lenders. You might even say that gluttony, greed, sloth, envy, and pride are the underlying causes of the current crisis.
What do our lives consist of, that’s the question? Do an abundance of possessions make our lives fulfilled? Luke says, “Life is not defined by what we have, even when we have a lot.”
What are you looking at, your 401k, your savings account, your real estate holdings, what you have hidden under your mattress, or are you looking up and giving all of your worries to the One who controls everything?
It really takes a load off your shoulders and relieves a lot of the stress if you just give it all to God. After all there really isn’t much any of us can do about the current crisis.
Well, I guess we could complain and grouse about it like the Israelites Moses was leading through the wilderness. We could complain that God isn’t listening or if he’s listening he isn’t answering our prayers. We could demand an audience with God. We could text him or Skype him to let him know, since it’s all his, he’s sure lost a lot of money this week on the New York Stock Exchange.
Friends, everything belongs to God. If we believe that then that’s it. No worry, God’s will is going to be accomplished in his good time. We should quit worrying about our possessions and worry more about our friends who haven’t heard God’s story and learned that Jesus is the answer to all of their questions.
After all what does the Lord require of us but to do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with your God. God has given us work to do and that is to make disciples of all the nations baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. And in doing that we are to love God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all our mind. Along with that we are to love our neighbors as much as we love ourselves in the process.
So friends, I’m not going to worry about the economy. I’m going to focus on what God gives me to do each day and that is to teach and preach and share God’s love with everyone I meet in whatever way he directs me. I will be frugal in my spending and I will give God the first portion of everything he blesses my life with.
Lift up your eyes and look to the hills for that is where your help will come. Christ is coming again, of that you can be sure. What are you looking at? I pray that you are looking to the future when Christ will return and we will all see God’s glory shining forth.
Remember the words of Paul, “…he has put his hand on you for something special…lives echoing the Master’s word.” Believe it my friends. God loves you and so do I.