Thursday, October 16, 2014

Whose image do you bear?

Words for the song: take it and pray it this week – let it fill your soul, your heart, your mind and your life:

"I Give You My Heart"
(originally by Reuben Morgan, Hillsong, UBP, ARR CCLI#2588737)

This is my desire: to honor You
Lord, with all my heart, I worship You All I have within me, I give You praise All that I adore is in You
Lord, I give You my heart I give You my soul, I live for You alone Every breath that I take, every moment I’m awake Lord, have Your way in me

In this season of campaigning locally for municipal government and faux campaigns federally, it is interesting that the Gospel this week (Matthew 22.15-22) starts out as a lesson in politics for the Pharisees and the Herodians. And if politics makes for strange bed fellows then the theology one holds also needs to be corrected too. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

The Pharisees and the Herodians were complete opposites. The Pharisees were ardent nationalists, wanting to rid Israel of the Roman empirical rule and occupation. They wanted the good old days of the rule of David and Solomon when they had their own country. The Herodians wanted and worked to continual the Roman Empire and its rule of Palestine. The Herodians where seen as collaborators and traitors of the nation by the Pharisees. The Herodians regarded the Pharisees as idealistic and as zealots to a failed, shriveled dream of a theocracy (divinely led government).  It is a small wonder that they, worked together to try and trap Jesus in his teaching so that they could discredit him. But this they did... or at least tried to do. They sent their own disciples, not abasing themselves to do the deed by their own hand or tongue, to question Jesus with the question of whether or not it was lawful for a Jewish person to pay taxes. If he answered yes, the people should pay their taxes, he could be denounced as traitorous and people would be repelled by him. If Jesus answered no, then he could be reported as an insurrectionist and reported to the local government to be dealt with for treason and sedition to the Empire.

To try and make things more difficult, these other disciples laid down the flattery really thick – praising up Jesus and extolling him as a man of God and of the people... then when he least expects it, they pop the clever question: “Do we pay the taxes or no?” What the Pharisees and the Herodians don’t recognize is that Jesus is not vested in the life of this world. He is on his way to Jerusalem and to the cross to destroy it. He is not entangled and enmeshed in the politics of this world but rather is focused on the will of his Father and of the kingdom that is coming.

Understanding and recognizing that there is a trap, he asks for a coin... please note that he did not have one nor did he ask Judas for one because he was the treasurer. The Pharisees and the Herodians produce a coin quickly and willingly, having anticipated the request. Jesus examines the coin and asks “Whose image and inscription is this?” To this question comes the reply, “It is the Emperor’s image and inscription.” Jesus pauses for a moment and then says to them, “If it belongs to the Emperor, give it back and give to God what belongs to God.”

Paying taxes and giving to God does not mean that the matters are separate; in fact it is the opposite. We are not expected to separate Church and Crown (State) but rather recognise that all authority on earth as well as in heaven belongs to the Almighty Father and to our Lord Jesus. Matthew’s Gospel reminds us of this fact, 

Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. And when they saw him they worshiped him, but some doubted. And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age. (Matthew 28.16-20) 

We are also not to live as if we are individual humans trying to have individual hearts but rather to live with the heart of Christ in the community that he loves and provides for. Paying taxes and living in an earthly system does not mean that we blindly and glibly follow government leadership and never question authority. Rather, as Christian people, living in a democracy we ought to participate in it fully through taxes, voting, meetings and the like. We need one another. This means that I need you and God, in his foresight and wisdom has determined that you need me.

The one thing that is important above all else for the Church, is to recognize that without God, we cannot be Church. God is here and we are with him and gathered around him, to sing his praises, hear his word, and celebrate his presence through worship, encountering him through sacrament. Only in his presence and through his will, are we competent to be Church. We are living the life of Christ, his death and resurrection in the face of the personal and corporate evils of our day. We are called to confront principalities, powers, and strongholds both physical and spiritual in the name of the King and for the sake of the coming life in the kingdom that God wants to share with all who will come. We need to recognize that we are living in that moment between when the old order, the way of sin and death has been destroyed and the new life with the new order that is yet to begin. We live in a time that is tumultuous because of the death throws of the old world and the birth pangs of the new one.

What makes the difference? Whose image, and whose inscription do you bear? Is it not God’s own image? Cannot someone grab you by the foot, lift it up and see the label on your soul that says, “Made in Heaven. If lost, please return to the Manufacturer”?


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