Welcome to the Church
Call to worship and Welcome
The home of God is with us.
God will dwell with us, and we shall be his people.
- Revelation 21:3
Welcome to worship.
We gather as one people, God’s people, whether face-to-face or online. And as we join together in worship, we come to praise God, to hear the scriptures read and seek God’s Word in them, to respond to God’s word, and to pray for ourselves and the world.
Prayers of adoration and confession
Today’s prayer of adoration comes from Psalm 33 (1-8, 18-)
All you that are righteous,
shout for joy for what the Lord has done;
praise him, all you that obey him.
Give thanks to the Lord with harps,
sing to him with stringed instruments.
Sing a new song to him,
play the harp with skill, and shout for joy!
The words of the Lord are true,
and all his works are dependable.
The Lord loves what is righteous and just;
his constant love fills the earth.
The Lord created the heavens by his command, the sun, moon, and stars by his spoken word.
He gathered all the seas into one place;
he shut up the ocean depths in storerooms.
Worship the Lord, all the earth!
Honour him, all peoples of the world!
The Lord watches over those who obey him,
those who trust in his constant love.
He saves them from death;
he keeps them alive in times of famine.
We put our hope in the Lord;
he is our protector and our help.
We are glad because of him;
we trust in his holy name.
May your constant love be with us, Lord,
as we put our hope in you.
And we continue in prayer…
We have fallen short of your glory.
We try, but we fail.
We are sorry, Lord, for the things we have done.
We are sorry, Lord, for the good things that we have failed to do.
We are sorry, Lord, sorry for our weakness in the face of temptation.
We are sorry, Lord, sorry for our ignorance.
We are sorry, Lord, sorry for our pride and arrogance.
We are sorry, Lord, sorry for our neglect of other people and the world.
We are sorry, Lord
There is nothing we can do to make up for the wrongs we have done, and the good things that we have failed to do.
We are sorry Lord
But we ask for your forgiveness.
Even when we were far from you, you sent your Son to find us, and to bring us home.
You sent your Son to die for us, and give us life.
You sent your Son to rise for us, and give us hope.
You sent your Son for each one of us, and for all of us.
And we ask for your forgiveness, in his name.
God has forgiven us all our trespasses,
erasing the record that stood against us
with its legal demands;
this God set aside, nailing it to the cross. (Colossians 2:13-14)
Hear then Christ’s word of grace to us:
‘Your sins are forgiven.’ (Mark 2:5)
Thanks be to God.
Hymn: Father, Lord of all creation
45 “This is what the Lord says to his anointed,
to Cyrus, whose right hand I take hold of
to subdue nations before him
and to strip kings of their armor,
to open doors before him
so that gates will not be shut:
2 I will go before you
and will level the mountains;
I will break down gates of bronze
and cut through bars of iron.
3 I will give you hidden treasures,
riches stored in secret places,
so that you may know that I am the Lord,
the God of Israel, who summons you by name.
4 For the sake of Jacob my servant,
of Israel my chosen,
I summon you by name
and bestow on you a title of honor,
though you do not acknowledge me.
5 I am the Lord, and there is no other;
apart from me there is no God.
I will strengthen you,
though you have not acknowledged me,
6 so that from the rising of the sun
to the place of its setting
people may know there is none besides me.
I am the Lord, and there is no other.
7 I form the light and create darkness,
I bring prosperity and create disaster;
I, the Lord, do all these things.
15 Then the Pharisees went out and laid plans to trap him in his words. 16 They sent their disciples to him along with the Herodians. “Teacher,” they said, “we know that you are a man of integrity and that you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. You aren’t swayed by others, because you pay no attention to who they are. 17 Tell us then, what is your opinion? Is it right to pay the imperial tax to Caesar or not?”
18 But Jesus, knowing their evil intent, said, “You hypocrites, why are you trying to trap me? 19 Show me the coin used for paying the tax.” They brought him a denarius, 20 and he asked them, “Whose image is this? And whose inscription?”
21 “Caesar’s,” they replied.
Then he said to them, “So give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.”
22 When they heard this, they were amazed. So they left him and went away.
Sermon: Give to God what is God’s
Al Capone was a gangster, who engaged in smuggling, bootlegging, bribery, who ran prostitutes and was suspected of murder. But in the end he was not jailed for any of that: they got him for tax evasion.
Kevin Rudd’s first prime ministership was ended mostly by the mining tax.
Paul Keating won the unwinnable 1993 election because John Hewson planned to introduce a consumption tax.
Malcolm Fraser is thought to have won the unwinnable 1980 election on the basis of rumours that Bill Hayden’s Labor party was planning to introduce a wealth tax.
Tax is a serious business. And it was a serious business in the first century, too. In today’s reading, the Pharisees form an unlikely alliance the Herodians, and challenge Jesus not about his authority, not regarding his apparent violation of the Jewish law, but about tax. And a Roman tax at that.
The Pharisees – the dominant Jewish group at the time hated Roman rule, of course, and worked to overthrow it. The Herodians on the other hand, were those Jews who were doing quite well under Roman rule, supporting ‘king’ Herod. Collaborators, in modern terms, perhaps.
The Pharisees and Herodians, two groups with opposite ideas on the future of the nation of Israel, got together to send some people to trap Jesus with a loaded question. And I think it’s interesting that the leaders didn’t go themselves, the modern phrase ‘plausible deniability’ springs to mind. If things went terribly wrong, then the leaders could claim not to have been involved.
They put the question to Jesus “Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor or not?” Now, the tax payable to the emperor, the Imperial tax, was a tax levied on those who weren’t Roman citizens. The Pharisees opposed it, and the Herodians supported it (or at least they supported it as much as anyone is likely to support a tax).
And they don’t just ask that question straight out, they attempt to flatter Jesus – possibly, to try and put him off guard – “Teacher, we know 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. Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor or not?”
The expected answers are either yes or no. It seems likely that neither side is particularly wanting Jesus to support their viewpoint, rather they are looking to incriminate Jesus in some way. If Jesus says ‘yes’ then the Pharisees can denounce him, if he says ‘no’ then the Herodians can run to the Romans and tell them that Jesus opposes Roman rule.
But Jesus doesn’t oblige them with a yes/no answer, and he is aware of their motives. Now, some credit this as great or even supernatural insight from Jesus, but I suspect that just the fact of two bitter enemies turning up together to put a carefully phrased question to him might have made him at least a tad suspicious. And Jesus confronts them with the truth “Why are you putting me to the test, you hypocrites?” he asks.
He asks them to produce a coin, and asks “whose portrait is this? And whose inscription?”, and having established that it is Emperor, says “Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s and to God the things that are God’s”.
Rather than getting an incriminating answer from Jesus, they got one that amazed them - and confounded their plans.
Rather than a simple answer about paying taxes, Jesus gives us an answer about the interaction of Caesar and God – worldly authority and God’s authority.
The answer that Jesus gives isn’t “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s but give to God what is God’s” from which we could determine which things were Caesar’s and which were God’s, and act accordingly. Rather, the answer that Jesus gives is “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and give to God what is God’s” – it’s not an either/or separation; it’s not really about us determining who something belongs to.
It’s about our submission to authorities, and our submission to God, and by implication, the relationship between those authorities and God.
In the context this question is answered, what is it that is Caesar’s? On the face of it, it’s the coin, but more deeply, it’s what is Roman – what Caesar represents.
There’s a great scene in the movie The Life of Brian, where the People’s Front of Judea gather in a house in Jerusalem, plotting the overthrow of the Romans.
Their leader, Reg (played by John Cleese), speaks: “They seize our homes! They rape our daughters! They eat our food! They steal our freedom! They take our pride!” He then asks: “What have the Romans ever done for us?”
There’s a moment of silence. Someone tentatively ventures “The aqueduct?”
“Oh, yeah, of course,” says Reg, “The aqueduct. But, apart from that, what have the Romans ever done for us?”
“Oh, yeah,” another agrees, “remember how dirty Jerusalem was before the Romans came?”
“Alright, alright,” says Reg, “I’ll give you the aqueduct and sanitation. But, other than that, what have the Romans ever done for us?”
There’s a babble of voices: “The roads.” “Law and order.” “A stable currency.” “New markets for our products.”
“Ok, ok, ok! Other than the aqueduct, sanitation, the roads, law and order, a stable currency, and new markets for our products, what have the Romans ever done for us?”
I wonder how paying the Imperial tax compared to the benefits of running water, sanitation, roads, reduced crime and a thriving economy?
Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s: Give to Caesar what is due to Caesar.
We are in the world and part of it; we don’t get to say “Well, we are God’s” and ignore what is due to Caesar – worldly authority – as a result.
We, as Christians, are challenged not to ignore the world. Jesus’ teaching about the Kingdom of God is based firmly on the things of this world. Jesus healed the sick of this world. Jesus reached out to the outcasts of this world. He didn’t simply promise them a better life in the world to come.
Christians shouldn’t be opposed to civil government; they should be supportive of it. Similarly, governments can be friends to God and God’s people. The Pharaoh who took Joseph in, for instance.
Giving to Caesar and to God is not and either/or arrangement. We need to give to Caesar and to God; to Caesar what is due to Caesar and to God what is due to God. But that still leaves us to answer the question “what is due to Caesar?” Can worldly authorities demand anything and expect that Christians, at least, will give it?
I don’t think so, because we also have the instruction – the obligation – to give to God what is due to God. When worldly authorities – be they rulers or governments or corporations or organisations start demanding what is due to God, then we need to realise that that is wrong: We should not be prepared to give to Caesar what is God’s.
And we have biblical examples of denying worldly authorities what is due to God. In Exodus, we read of Pharaoh ordering the Hebrew midwives (Ex 1:16) “When you help the Hebrew women in childbirth and observe them on the delivery stool, if it is a boy, kill him; but if it is a girl, let her live”. But the Hebrew women didn’t obey Pharaoh; they didn’t follow Pharaoh’s order, even though he was a legitimate worldly authority. In demanding that the midwives kill the boy children, Pharaoh was demanding what was God’s.
And we can see in Exodus 11 the graphic demonstration that the power of life and death is God’s, when in the 10th plague (ex 12:29) all the firstborn sons of Egypt are struck down.
When Shadrack, Meshach and Abednego were ordered by Nebuchadnezzar to bow down to the idol, they didn’t follow the order, because they understood that worship is not due to worldly authority (not even a king).
Similarly, when Daniel was ordered to pray to King Darius, he could have done so to avoid being thrown to the lions, but rather, he chose to disobey the order – and face the consequences – rather than give to the king something that was due, exclusively, to God.
When Peter and John were brought before the Sanhedrin (Acts 5:27-29), after being ordered not to teach in Jesus name, they declared “We must obey God rather than men!”
For us, in our lives today, we will seldom have such clear choices. Our governments don’t demand that we worship them, or order us to do murder, or direct us to pray to them. And we can be thankful for that - but throughout history authorities have arisen which have grown to demand what is God’s. Hitler, Stalin and Franco rose to power in predominantly Christian countries, gaining authority and demanding more and more power. Some Christians stood against them, choosing not to give to those Caesars what was God’s and they bore the consequences, but many didn’t.
Traditionally people often truncate Jesus answer to the question to “Render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s” and leave out the God part entirely. People use the saying to justify some things as ‘state’ and others as ‘church’. We hear people say “The Church shouldn’t be involved in politics”, and they use this reading to support that that non-involvement.
But we need to always remember Jesus’ full answer: to give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s. We don’t give to one or the other, we are called to give to both, but our priority is to give to God.
After all, the greatest commandment is clear: Love the LORD your God with all your heart, and with all your soul and with all your strength (Deut. 6:5) It is not love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul and strength except that part with which you love the authorities.
It’s important to remember too, that Jesus’ answer is directed not to Caesar, but to the people who are asking. He’s not telling Caesar what he’s allowed to ask for; it’s about the people giving. It’s not necessarily the authority – the government – that seeks what is God’s… if our patriotism becomes nationalism, if a flag or a political slogan, becomes revered to the extent that it is almost an object of worship, we are giving something which is God’s. It’s not always about what authorities want, but about what we are prepared to give to them.
I think sometimes we want to assign to our government things we know are our responsibility - maybe something like the plausible deniability of the Pharisees and Herodians sending others to ask their questions. Are we concerned for the way people in our prisons are treated? Or is that the responsibility of our government? Is the plight of Aborigines something we should be concerned about, or will the government look after them? Is caring for the poor something that we should worry about, or do we not need to worry about that because there is a social security system to support them?
Do we permit injustice because ‘it is the law of the land’? Do we fail to show mercy because it’s a failure of the system and, really, it’s the system that needs to be fixed – and that’s the government’s job? Do we turn away from people in need because it’s really the government’s responsibility to look after them?
Do we focus on giving to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, at the expense of giving to God what is God’s?
We must give to God what is God’s. Later in Matthew’s gospel (25:34), Jesus tells them that the king will say “…I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.” These are the things that God requires of us; these are the things which we are called to give to God.
Jesus’ answer was amazing to the Pharisees and the Herodians, and it should be amazing to us, too; not because it confounds our plans, and not because it can be used to support our own political ends, but because it is challenging. Jesus is calling us to be in the world, but also to belong to God.
We must give to Caesar what is Caesar’s. We must submit to worldly authority, but we cannot ever do so without giving to God what is God’s.
Hymn: Seek ye first the Kingdom of God
Prayers of Intercession
Let us come before our Lord God with our prayers for others. Let us pray.
Loving God, we come before you today with hearts full of praise and thanks to you for the way you look over every one of us. As our Creator, please remind us that we are citizens of your world. We are your people even though we sometimes like to think that we are the masters of our universe, and perhaps subconsciously, subsume you to second place in our existence. Guide us we pray to have the wisdom to use our education, our gifts and our skills for the benefit of all people, working towards the collective good of all people, thereby creating a better world for all people. In the Scriptures we have the example of Jesus standing firmly with the powerless and the vulnerable. May we do likewise.
Our world is in turmoil at the present time, largely because of the Coronavirus pandemic. Infection rates and deaths are skyrocketing in many countries despite the strenuous efforts of politicians and medical advisory staff to encourage adoption of best practice by the population. There is much “pushing back” because people feel their rights are being violated. This might be true, but the “common good” is the way of Christ and should be our guiding principle. Encourage those involved in self-centred protestations to take a step back and look beyond themselves to our societies and communities as a whole.
But there is also another major “elephant in the room”, being climate change. Our church is taking a stand on the need for the governments of all persuasions, both state and federal, here and overseas, to take this problem seriously and initiate substantial changes to the underpinning power generation processes employed at this time. Reliance on carbon to generate all our energy needs has been shown to be a short-sighted strategy. Open the minds of politicians, we pray, to the importance of leaving this world in a better state than the one they inherited. Give strength and perseverance to our own church leaders as they seek to encourage change that will improve the future lives of those most vulnerable to ocean levels rising, the increased experience of drought and floods and associated natural disasters.
We pray for the members of the medical professions and first responders who are at the forefront of treating coronavirus sufferers. Give them strength and stamina to keep going in these trying times. And this doesn’t mean we forget about all the other medical and ancillary professionals who continue to provide dedicated care at this time. Be with them, as we ask that you will also be with parents and children being confronted by unusual behaviours and the like.
Within the life of our congregation, we pray for our Joint Nominating Committee. Give them wisdom and guidance as they discern the best way forward for ministry in this congregation. And may we as individual members of this congregation continue to uphold them in prayer.
Be with those who are experiencing trying times with regard to their health. Give them patience, give them courage, as they face the days ahead. Be with those who are in care or shut-in. Comfort them with your surrounding arms of love and mercy.
As we reflect on the glory and majesty of God, may we give back to God those things of God which we have taken unto ourselves and in so doing help to recreate a loving, just, fair, egalitarian and equal society.
We offer this prayer in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, who taught us when we pray, to say:
Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come, your will be done,
on earth as in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread.
Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.
Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil.
For the kingdom, the power, and the glory are yours
now and for ever.
Hymn: The kingdom of God is justice and joy
You have given us all we have, and so we ask you to help us give to you what is yours.
Guide us in the wise and faithful use of our money, our time, and our effort, so that we may share the good news of your Son and love our neighbours in practical ways.
In Jesus name we pray,
As we finish our service today, let us all be ready to give to God what is God’s; to be faithful to God in the world, to be friends to good government, and as God’s people bring hope, bring light and bring good news to the world.
The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding,
keep your hearts and minds in the knowledge and love of God,
and of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord; (Based on Philippians 4:7)
and the blessing of God almighty,
the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit,
be upon you and remain with you always.
Next week (25 October 2020)
Psalm 90:1-6, 13-17 or Psalm 1 – the right way 209
Deuteronomy 34:1-12 or Leviticus 19:1-2, 15-18
1 Thessalonians 2:1-8
Theme: “The right way”