To Whom Do You Owe Your Allegiance?

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Reading from the Gospel          Matthew 22:15-22 (The Message)

15 That’s when the Pharisees plotted a way to trap him into saying something damaging.

16 They sent their disciples, with a few of Herod’s followers mixed in, to ask, “Teacher, we know you have integrity, teach the way of God accurately, are indifferent to popular opinion, and don’t pander to your students.

17 So tell us honestly: Is it right to pay taxes to Caesar or not?”

18 Jesus knew they were up to no good. He said, “Why are you playing these games with me? Why are you trying to trap me?

19 Do you have a coin? Let me see it.” They handed him a silver piece.

20 “This engraving – who does it look like? And whose name is on it?”

21 They said, “Caesar.” “Then give Caesar what is his, and give God what is his.”

22 The Pharisees were speechless. They went off shaking their heads.

 

 

Sermon    To Whom Do You Owe Your Allegiance?

 

Give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar . . .

and give to God what belongs to God.

Doesn’t that sound so simple . . .

what a great way to practice

separation of church and state . . .

just pay your taxes to Uncle Sam

and let him do what he wants . . .

and then go to church every Sunday and drop

a few coins in the plate and let the church do what

the church wants to do.

That way you take care of both sides of the coin . . .

neither side has anything to do with the other . . .

right?

Isn’t that what Jesus is telling us . . . give to Caesar . . .

give to the Empire . . . everything that belongs

to the Empire . . . everything they demand . . .

and if you have a little left over . . .

drop it in the offering plate so you take care of

all your Godly responsibilities.

But then, for some Christians,

you can take it even one step further . . .

make it real simple . . .

by simply combining church AND state.

Seriously, for many Christians in this country,

allegiance to God and Country IS the same thing.

You don’t separate them . . . as a matter of fact,

for some Christians . . . allegiance to the country . .

. actually defines their theological beliefs.

I’ve heard it from the mouths of so many pastors . . .

 

“God has decreed that Donald Trump

is this country’s savior” . . .

“America is God’s new promised land” . . .

and then there’s this one . . .

“This country’s dominant white culture

is God’s chosen people. . . and God has decreed . .

. (they say) . . . that no one will change that.

 

Give Caesar what belongs to Caesar . . .

and give to God what belongs to God.

But . . . if you really listened to Jesus’ rebuttal

to the Pharisees . . .

you might want to ask yourself . . .

what exactly does belong to Caesar . . .

and what belongs to God?

Or to put it another way . . .

who is your ultimate allegiance to . . . the state . . .

or to God?

If you take being a Christian seriously,

if you truly believe that Jesus is your Lord and Savior . .

. then that is one tough question

for you to wrestle with.

It is for me . . . particularly in these days in which God

is being wrapped up so tightly in our nation’s flag.

 

There is a powerful story in the 5th chapter

of the book of Acts that speaks directly

to that question . . .

“who do you give your allegiance to?”.

After the death and resurrection of Jesus . . .

Peter and some of the apostles were stirring up

all kinds of trouble in Jerusalem . . .

spreading the stories about Jesus Christ . . .

sharing with the people what he taught . . .

they even went around healing the sick.

That’s when the high priest had them hauled off to jail . .

. he had had enough of them . . .

so he even posted a guard at the doors of the prison.

That plan didn’t work out very well though . . .

because an angel of the Lord let those disciples

out of prison and they went right back into the streets

and kept right on ministering

in the name of Jesus Christ.

They even had the gall to go and preach

right in the synagogue.

So they were rearrested and brought before

the high priest once again . . .

“We gave you strict orders not to teach in this name,”

the high priest proclaimed.

“Yet you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching

and are determined to make us guilty

of this man’s blood.”

Now listen carefully to how Peter

and the other apostles replied . . .

“We must obey God . . . rather than human beings!”

 

Have you ever spoken those words?

“We must obey God rather than human beings.”

 

 

Give Caesar what belongs to Caesar . . .

and give to God what belongs to God.

 

But once again . . . what exactly does belong to Caesar

. . . and what belongs to God?

And if you’re struggling with this question like I am . . .

maybe your mind begins to take that question

one step further . . .

what do you do when the state tells you to do something that you know conflicts with the will of God?

What about when the state declares war?

What if your belief in God tells you to do something

that is against the laws of the state?

 

One time Fred Craddock was having

a chaplain’s retreat, a preaching workshop

or something for chaplains, at Fort Belvoir,

in Virginia.

Fred remembers that day this way . . .

“Oh, they treated me real nice.

I ate in the, what do you call it, officers’ mess

or something like that, where the officers ate.

The soldiers waiting on its wore that kind of sad green

fatigue-type clothing,

but there where every soldier had a name tag,

there was nothing.

That little thing had been ripped off.

The fellow waiting on me was very nice and all,

and I said,

“I see you don’t have on your name tag.

What’s your name?”

He didn’t answer me.

So I said to the officer beside me,

“Why doesn’t he answer? What’s his name?”

The officer said, “He doesn’t have one.’

“What do you mean? Give me a break here.

What’s his name?”

“He has no name.”

“He has a name.” No, no, no, no. I said,

“Who are these people waiting on us?’

The finally replied . . .

“Conscientious objectors in the Vietnam War.

Conscientious objectors, they don’t exist;

they have no names. Eat your lunch”

(Fred B. Craddock; Mike Graves; Richard F. Ward. Craddock Stories (Kindle Locations 1351-1356). Kindle Edition.)

 

Give Caesar what belongs to Caesar . . .

and give to God what belongs to God.

But beware . . . there will be consequences . . .

you can be abused . . . even persecuted . . .

for giving your allegiance to God.

So is it worth it . . . to stand in allegiance to God?

 

The 25th chapter of the Gospel of Matthew

actually brings all this into sharp focus . . .

describing the very day that Jesus Christ returns . . .

and all the nations of the world . . .

all the nations . . . all the empires . . .

the big and strong ones with wealth and mighty armies .

. . as well as all the little ones . . .

those who barely get by in the parade of nations . . .

all of them are gathered before the Lord.

This is that text that known as separating

the sheep from the goats . . .

But here’s the actual criteria

that Jesus himself describes . . .

you might say the minimum standard

for being accepted into God’s world . . .

God’s eternal kingdom . . .

which he will read it aloud to all the nations . . .

1)   I was hungry and gave me something to eat.

2)   I was thirsty and gave me something to drink.

3)   I was a stranger, and you invited me in.

4)   I needed clothes . . . and you clothed me.

5)   I was sick, and you looked after me.

6)   I was in prison and came to visit me.

 

Give Caesar what belongs to Caesar . . .

and give to God what belongs to God.

 

So I ask you . . . where does hunger . .. thirst . . .

being a stranger . . . being naked . . . being sick . . .

lying a prison . . . fit into Caesar’s world?

 

Where does it fit into our world?

Or, as Shane Claiborne once asked,

“Are you going to use your money the way Caesar

wants it to be used,

or do you want it to be used

the way God wants it to be used?”

Tough question.

Claiborne goes on to write about the time

one of the disciples pulls a coin out of a fish . . .

 

“I am particularly fond of the fish stunt.

It is as though Jesus is winking at Caesar, saying,

“Oh . . . Caesar can have his coins . . .

I made the fish.”

Caesar can have his silly metals;

after all he can keep making more of them

even if they aren’t worth a dime.

But coins have no life in them.

Human life is branded with the image of God,

and Caesar does not own that . . .

In a nation where such a high percentage of taxes

go to military and hence

ultimately to death-dealing pursuits,

this teaching should give every tax-paying Christian

long and troubled pause.

Once we’ve given to God what is God’s,

there isn’t a lot left over for Caesar.”

(Claiborne, Shane; Campolo, Tony. Red Letter Revolution: What If Jesus Really Meant What He Said? z(pp. 186-187). Thomas Nelson. Kindle Edition.)

 

Give Caesar what belongs to Caesar . . .

and give to God what belongs to God.

 

The Presbyterian Church USA adopted

the Belhar Confession last year . . .

we’ve often used portions of it in worship.

It is a confession . . . a confession that I take to heart . .

. a confession that I hope you do, too.

Listen . . . listen to these words once again . . .

 

We believe that the church, possessed by God,

must stand where the Lord stands—

against injustice and with the wronged.

In following Christ the church must witness

against all the powerful and privileged

who selfishly seek their own interests

and thus control and harm others.

 

Therefore, we reject any ideology

which would legitimate forms of injustice

and any doctrine which is unwilling to resist

such an ideology in the name of the gospel.

We believe that, in obedience to Jesus Christ,

its only head,

the church is called to confess

and to do all these things,

even though the authorities and human laws

might forbid them and punishment and suffering

be the consequence.

Jesus is Lord.

To the one and only God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,

be the honor and the glory forever and ever.

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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