Caesar's Coin, Cyrus' Grip, and a Public Faith

Parables & Prophets  •  Sermon  •  Submitted   •  23:33
0 ratings

Sure, the coin has Caesar’s head on it. Pay your taxes. Vote. Be a good citizen. And…do it all not because it is the obligation Caesar has burdened you with. Do it with a worldview that entrusts every action, every gift, every movement of your life to be a part of a whole picture of how God calls you and I to live.

The New Revised Standard Version The Question about Paying Taxes

The Question about Paying Taxes

(Mk 12:13–17; Lk 20:20–26)

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

Good morning. I should warn you up front, today’s sermon is going to push us into what can be uncomfortable territory. I’m going to talk about money and politics. Why only talk about one taboo table topic in one week — let’s do two!
We do this today because today we are confronted with a parable of Jesus and a prophetic word from Isaiah that both turn us to the questions of to whom we belong, what demands our allegiance, and how do we use the blessings of our material possessions to participate in God’s work of justice, over and above the powers of the world.
We get to see today how the Way of God reorders everything under the authority of God alone — politics, religious practice, financial matters, family…our whole lives.

Questioning our Worldview

The question is not whether there is a right candidate or party for Christians to vote for. The question is, instead, how does our Christian practice compel us to vote?
The question is not whether our money belongs to the government or to us or to God. The question is, instead, how does our Christian practice direct the way we use our finances and material possessions?
I think it’s pretty common for many of us to hold a worldview something like this: I have X amount of time, X amount of attention, X amount of resources to share and live on — how do I divvy up those amounts into the appropriate categories. For instance, this is the worldview that shapes the concept of the 10% tithe to the Church. If I have 100% of my resources, God requires 10% of them. So we cut the check, we put in the time, and we sense that we have completed our obligation.
The same goes with other buckets of time, energy, resources. We might say that we have X amount of time to spend with our family, X amount of time to spend at our job, X amount of time we can volunteer. And when we are stretched, we say that we’re going to need to cut back in this area or that.
This is a very realistic, pragmatic way of looking at the world. It makes sense, there’s clarity to it. And, it is also built upon a perspective that there are finite resources — there’s only so much to go around. We need this pragmatism to build healthy boundaries, to not overdo it. We use this approach in budgeting, don’t we? We have a fixed amount of income, we have to devote a portion to our rent or mortgage, a portion for groceries and meals, a portion to leisure, a portion to give away…etc, etc. You get the picture. There is only a finite amount to go around.

Jesus and the Pharisees

It is this worldview that the Pharisees are trying to catch Jesus in when they ask about who the coin belongs to. They’re questioning Jesus about whether taxes should be paid. They butter Jesus up by saying how impartial he is, how he shows no deference to anyone. And then they question whether or not he will show deference to Caesar by paying the imperial tax.
Isn’t that what we do when we pay a tax or make a financial commitment? We are showing deference to the authority of the one requiring it of us, right? This line of thought even gets us when we think about giving to the church — it is the obligation of the faithful to show our deference to God and therefore we tithe.
Where is this going, you may ask? Isn’t that right to do? Isn’t that what Jesus is ultimately saying, even about taxes: pay Caesar what Caesar is owed?
“Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”
Here we go folks: Jesus says to give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar — the coin, right? With our “everything in its nice bucket” thinking, we also say we then give God what belongs to God. And there, is where the compartmentalized, bucket worldview breaks down!
A great follow up question Jesus could have asked is this: “What belongs to God?”
What is the answer? Everything!
How could a faithful religious scholar or anyone else with a sense of the story and way of God answer anything else? Of course everything belongs to God.
But wait, then, what about the coin? Does it belong to Caesar or to God?
Yes. Which one? Yes, both. And also, not Caesar, really.
Because if everything belongs to God — our family, our finances, our vote, our job, our priorities — if it all belongs to God, how can it really belong to Caesar?
Have a confused you enough? Jesus’ teachings are confounding to the Pharisees — because he’s trying to shift their whole worldview!

Another Emperor — Cyrus

This shifted worldview is perhaps easier to see when we look at the passage from Isaiah and the anointing of King Cyrus of Persia. The quick story of King Cyrus is that he is the Persian king who authorized and encouraged the people of Israel to begin returning from their captivity in Babylon, which had taken place under King Nebuchadnezzar. Cyrus makes a way for the Hebrew people to return home and begin rebuilding after their great dispersal and exile.
A key word for us in the Isaiah passage is in the first verse, where the Lord is speaking to the “anointed” one, Cyrus. The Hebrew word here for anointing is “meshia” or messiah. Cyrus, a Persian rule, is called Messiah! He’s the only non-Hebrew person to be called this!
As the passage goes on, we hear that Cyrus is gripping the hand of God, anointed to carry out God’s plan for restoration.
So, how is this connected with our worldview, our finances, our politics?
Cyrus’ purpose has become anointed by God’s purpose. You hear the list of things God is going to do out ahead of Cyrus? Level the mountains, give him the treasures of dark and secret places, become the first and only God before this great king.
How does this happen? Well, it’s through Cyrus’ authority becoming “under God’s authority.” Or his worldview, his way of facing everything, is directed by and unto the purposes of God.
I would say this kind of anointing and calling is exactly the kind of reorientation of our minds that Jesus is pushing the Pharisees to discover (which they don’t) and what I am hoping we find too. That all things are reordered under the authority of God, first and only.

Our New Worldview

So, what does our reordered worldview look like?
I’ll give the political example first, because it makes sense in this season to connect the dots on this. Our reordered worldview stops asking, who is the better candidate or which party should a faithful Christian support. Our reordered worldview, instead, says we will act politically, vote, protest, speak up, advocate, and live our public lives according to what we best discern to be the faithful way of Jesus. We will let our faith inform and influence our political decisions. Not to oversimplify things, but it’s sort of “what would Jesus do?” How would Jesus act, politically? Would he sit idly by or would he engage? If he engaged, how would he engage? Would he settle for the powerful rule of Caesar or would he subversively question whether anything truly belongs to Caesar? The way of Jesus compels us to act, vote, speak, and live in accordance with faithfulness to God, first and only. Caesar may have his face on the coin, but I give it to him because he ultimately does not control my life and my finances.
And this is where the second example comes in — God as Lord of our finances. It’s not just finances, it’s everything. No longer are there buckets to devote certain parts of our portfolio to, buckets for saving, spending, and sharing. Instead, all belongs to God. All I have, belongs to God. And with that frame of mind, I then ask the question: what is the faithful way for me to utilize those financial and other blessings to the good of God’s people, in all that I do? How does my mortgage payment become a gift to God? Well, it’s through offering my home in its fullness to the work of God — for Sabbath and rest, for hospitality and welcoming of those who we love and those in need, as a place of shelter and nurture for our family and others who have need of help. My mortgage payment is no longer a percentage of my finances — it is a part of a wholistic ordering of my wordly gifts unto God’s purposes.

Turning Practical

With this reordered worldview, with an anointing like Cyrus, with a call to whole life faithfulness, I now want to turn to the practical reality of stewarding our financial resources and contributing to the work of God in the church.
When we make our offering to the work of God in our church, we are orienting our priorities toward a place of God’s active work in our community. Through your financial gifts, we are able to reach out and care for our neighbors in need through our many church mission projects. This year, our mission and social action committee will distribute over $20,000 in funds to missions projects in our city and around the country and world. That is money from the gifts you contribute with your monthly pledge or gift in the offering each week.
Pledged and offered gifts to the church also fund the salaries of our staff. That means the way you order your life and share of the abundance of God helps me have a salary so I can lead, preach, serve, care, and support you all. It means we can compensate our Children and Family Director, Tracy, so she can focus on the nurture and growth of our children and our intergenerational community.
Your giving goes beyond even day-to-day expenses. We have investments in the Presbyterian Foundation which earn interest and because of generous giving to those endowment funds, above and beyond our pledges, we have the ability to make upgrades to our building like the sanctuary renovation. The practical reality is the entire sanctuary project was funded by those kinds of gifts, investments that have returned and interest that has been faithfully stewarded to enhance our worship in the church.
Today, I want to ask you to prayerfully consider how your view of the world is directed. I want you to consider that the call of God is not simply about prioritizing where your coin goes or who it belongs to. Rather, the blessed goodness of God is that all we possess can be utilized to the mission and work of God’s kingdom here and now. How we spend our money, how we vote, how we act in the world — it is all an act of worship and praise to God.
Or, it simply belongs to Caesar. Or it is simply Cyrus without the anointing.
Our faith, lived out in public, is wholistic. It demands our whole self.
That demand may seem like too much to ask. That is certainly the challenge — it can be overwhelming to offer all that we are to God.
But, and this is the great encouragement we hear today: All of it already belongs to God. And God is the God of abundance. God is the God who says there is always enough to go around. Remember the wedding feast from last week? God’s abundant feast makes sure that all people have what they need and have a place at the table to participate. God’s abundance says that even the smallest part of us can be used to the glory of God’s reign on earth, to the mission of God’s justice rolling down like a mighty river.
So, how will we return our gifts to God? I hope with open hands, trusting that God will use what we offer in ways that multiply and send out God’s good work.
Sure, the coin has Caesar’s head on it. Pay your taxes. Vote. Be a good citizen. And…do it all not because it is the obligation Caesar has burdened you with. Do it with a worldview that entrusts every action, every gift, every movement of your life to be a part of a whole picture of how God calls you and I to live.
This reoriented worldview takes time. It’s hard to break out of other kinds of thinking. But, this is our life together — to be formed more and more into faithful disciples of Jesus, more and more completely reordered to see the world with the eyes of God, to see all that we have as pieces of our part to play in God’s mighty work.
It is good to do this work together. Let us turn our lives back to God in prayer and song.
Related Media
See more
Related Sermons
See more