Sunday, October 16, 2011

Sermon Sample Sunday: Jesus and the Common Denominator on Taxes

When we read the Bible together, sometimes we have to do some interpretation gymnastics. None of us probably own any oxen, nor do we have many wives, own a vineyard, or use mustard seeds (most of what I know about mustard is from Gulden's and French's).

But taxes? I pay taxes and you pay taxes. Despite the direction of public discourse, we all pay taxes in some form. Is it right to pay taxes? Is it fair to pay taxes? How is tax money collected? How is tax money distributed? In our lesson from Matthew today, I found myself excited studying this passage. Jesus addresses a question about taxes. Finally. An opportunity to talk about something near and dear to our hearts. Our wallets. It doesn't matter whether we have a lot or a little money in our wallets, we think about them. If Jesus is going to talk about taxes, then we'll have some answers about taxes. Right?

Answers are desired these days, because anger surrounded taxes is at a generational high. Since the Gallup organization started collecting data about satisfaction with Congress in 1974, that percentage of satisfaction has never been lower at 13%. Regardless of party affiliation or age, people don't like what's going on in Congress, and directly or indirectly, what Congress does is related to taxes.

Over the past year or so, different groups (Tea Party, #occupy groups) have taken to the streets to proclaim dissatisfaction with the tax structure. Some have ideas what to do with the tax structure, others only want to let the rest of the country know they're angry.

Jesus' story communicates something that should resonate with his followers regardless of with what strain of dissatisfaction the observer sympathizes in society today. Jesus meets people who are trying to set a trap for him on the prickly subject of taxes. In the bigger picture, Jesus is talking about relationship with the empire, and taxes are the contact point of that relationship.

Give to Caesar what is Caesar's give to God what is God's.

We could go on and on about division of possession.

The key thought upon this division of possessions came from Russell Rathbun, a pastor in St. Paul. The empire cannot love you.

We have a relationship with an empire each and every day. We benefit from roads, schools, fire departments, police forces, military, parks, clean water to drink, and many other things. These associations are generally voluntary. However, the rub with empire is that the authority acts on our behalf sometimes against our wishes, but seemingly only for the good of the ruling authority--which is the definition of empire. Regardless of whether the empire's actions give us benefits or leads to anger, and we're able to get the empire to do what we want (and how likely is that?), the empire cannot love us. Jesus' response doesn't seem to call into question the existence of the empire. Jesus is nonplussed by the entrapping question. How could something like the empire deserve so much of our energy when it can't give love? Our baptism reminds us where the source of our love is, and where our investment belongs.

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