Sermon lectionary 29
Grace to you and peace from the God who names us and claims us. Amen.
Several years ago I was asking my son for help on the computer. That is one advantage of having a son who is a programmer. I was trying to figure out if I had the software I needed to do some project. Dan said of course I had the program. I asked him how he knew that. He said, “you have the icon”. When you have the icon, you have the thing itself. You own the program.
When you have an icon, you don’t just have a connection to something, you own it. It belongs to you. Remember that.
Icon is an unusual word. It can be used in several ways. They weren’t always the tiny pictures you click to get to a program on your computer. In the Bible, icon is the word that means image such as the image embossed on a coin.
In the past we thought mostly of icons in connection to Orthodox Christians. They have the beautiful artwork, rich with symbols, that pictures so many of the biblical characters. They have icons throughout their churches and treat them with great reverence and respect. We have an icon, too. On our church website, the picture of St Mark is a beautiful icon.
In today’s gospel lesson, two different groups are out to trick Jesus. The Pharisees sent some of their disciples to work with the Herodians to see if they could trap Jesus in his own answers.
Pharisees were dedicated to teaching the scriptures and applying the law to every day living. They are the party of purity. It is understandable that they keep asking Jesus hard questions. This is their specialty.
The Herodians had accepted the reality that Herod ruled on behalf of the occupying Roman government. They were the ones who were cooperating with the occupiers for personal gain.
You couldn’t ask for a stranger partnership than those two. That would be like the Tea Party getting together with the Move on.org people and working to trick a politician neither of them liked. Or perhaps like a pro lifer and a pro choice person ganging up on someone to get them to take a stand.
Notice the Pharisees sent their disciples. The disciples were their students. The victory over Jesus would be even sweeter if the students could pull it off. And if they didn’t succeed then the Pharisees wouldn’t look as bad.
They start out with flattery. Jesus is on to them from the beginning and isn’t taken in by it. Then they ask their trick question. They ask him if it is lawful to pay the tax to the emperor. This tax was levied on everyone and cost a denarius.
Notice now that Jesus asks them to show him the coin. He doesn’t have one on him. This isn’t because Jesus doesn’t have any spare change or because there aren’t any pockets in his robe. His questioners do have a denarius though and they hand it over to him.
The coin has a likeness of Caesar on it, an icon of him, if you will. But it doesn’t say One Denarius and in God we trust. It says Tiberius Caesar, son of the divine Augustus. It says Augustus is god and Caesar is the son of God right on the coin. The jews had money changers outside the Temple for this very reason. Just having the coin in your possession was breaking the commandments against having other Gods and making wrongful use of God’s name. Jesus doesn’t have one of the coins. They do.
Jesus says to give the emperor what bears his icon or image.
The second part of what he says is much more important though.
Give to God what belongs to God. Give to God that which bears the image or icon of God.
The Pharisees and Herodians knew right away that Jesus had outsmarted them. They knew their scriptures and they knew everything belongs to the God who made the heavens and the earth and all that is in them.
They also knew what Genesis 1 has to say about the image or icon of God. All humans are made in the image of God. We bear the icon of God. God’s icon is on us.
Jesus says the coin belongs to the one whose icon is on it. And give to God what belongs to God. We belong to God. All that we have and all that we are belong to God.
It may not always feel like we belong to God. Sometimes it feels like we belong to the government, or to the people we pay bills to. Sometimes we feel like our job owns us. It seems to occupy all our time. Sometimes the responsibilities of our families feel more like burdens and we are overwhelmed. Sometimes we feel like our possessions drain all our time and money like they own us. We can feel like there is nothing left of ourselves to give.
God claims us anyway. We don’t belong to anything or anyone else. We don’t even belong to ourselves.
So what does it look like to give God our whole lives? The answer is different for each of us. We are called to different vocations, different ways to use our time, talents, and treasures. Some of us are called to daily jobs, some to school, and some to volunteer our time.
Luther once said that a Christian shoemaker isn’t called to make shoes with little crosses on them. He is called to make the best shoes he can. We are called to do the best we can in all our daily activities. We are called to make the best possible use of all of our time and all the talents and all the treasures we have.
There isn’t one formula that will work for everyone. We each have to decide on the best use of God’s gifts in our different circumstances.
We bear the image of God. God’s icon is on us. All that we have and all that we are belongs to God. In our baptism we are sealed by the Holy Spirit and marked with the cross of Christ forever. We bear the icon of our Creator, Redeemer and Sanctifier.
God has claimed us. God will always take care of us. God makes this perfectly clear on Good Friday when he even descends into Hell for us and overcomes death itself for our sake, rising to give us forgiveness of sins and new life.
Because we belong to God, we belong also to the baptized people of God, the body of Christ. God is always present when we are gathered here. When we care for each other and worship together in this place, we are giving ourselves to God.
When we give ourselves to God we live our lives in worship. That means we worship here in church with our brothers and sisters. It means we worship in our private devotions. It means our daily work and service. All of this is worship. All of it is for the sake of the whole world that belongs to God.
We are made in the image of God. We belong to God. Let us worship God together today and in our daily lives. Amen.