Sunday Message for 10-18-2020
Gen 1:26-27
Matt. 22:15
-22
  Ownership: what belongs to us and what belongs to God, is the question for us to consider this morning.  There is
a story about a farmer who made it a rule to think before speaking.  One day he was approached by a stranger who
asked, "How much is that prize Jersey heifer of yours worth?"  The Farmer thought for a moment, then asked, "Are
you the tax assessor or has she been run over by a truck?"
                                                              
   Our scripture text this morning from the Gospel of Matthew is a familiar text.  The problem though, is that the text
is often misused and misunderstood.  There are those who read the text and seem to try and make God and Caesar
equals.  They come to the conclusion that some things belong to God while other things belong to Caesar.  So they
end up dividing life into two spheres.  One, there is our religious life and two; there is our life outside of the church.  
And never the two shall meet.
   There is the earthly life and there is the spiritual life.  And never the two shall meet.  Render unto God what
belongs to God and render unto Caesar what belongs to Caesar.  Two aspects of life that are separate but equal.  
This is not what Jesus meant.  To split up life is a wrong understanding for the scripture passage.
   Let us step back and look at what Jesus says within the context of the situation.  The context is simple.  Jesus is
teaching and has become very popular with the masses.  The religious leaders are upset that Jesus is threatening
their tradition.  So these good religious leaders are trying to find some way to discredit Jesus; to take the edge off of
Jesus' popularity.
   They get an idea.  They decide to use the very unpopular Roman tax to try and trap Jesus.  They will ask Jesus
about how he feels about paying taxes.  The trap was simple.  If Jesus' response was to pay the tax, the people
would get angry at Jesus for supporting Rome.  If Jesus' response was not to pay the tax, then the Roman
authorities would be upset with Jesus.   
      The Religious leaders thought they had the perfect trap because they could see no way for Jesus to come out
smelling like a rose.  Jesus had to either anger the people or the Roman authorities.  However, we know the story.  
Jesus does it time and time again.  He is able to turn the tables on the Religious leaders.  They are the ones who
remain angry and upset with Jesus.
   As we think about taxes in today's world, it seems a little ridiculous now that this country was originally founded as
a protest against taxation especially since all the income we earn in the first four or five months of each year goes to
pay taxes.  Twenty percent of our church telephone bill goes for taxes and surcharges.  
   Jesus responds to the question concerning payment of taxes by asking to see a coin.  Jesus asks to see a coin.  
The religious leaders quickly produce a coin.  Then Jesus asks, "Whose image is on the coin?"  The leaders know
for it is the Roman emperor, Caesar.  Jesus simply says: Give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar.
   Yes, we do have an obligation to the government for the services they provide.  Rome provided certain benefits
for the people from the minting of the coins to the vast highway system used for international trade.  The people
ought to pay for these benefits.  There was no advocacy on Jesus' part to start a taxpayer's revolt against Rome.  
Even in the midst of the political and religious reformation of the 16th century, John Calvin, father of our
Presbyterian theology and tradition, did not advocate rebellion against the established civil authorities even if they
were part of the corrupt Holy Roman (Catholic) Empire.  Give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar.
                                  
   The focus of this morning's message is not on giving to Caesar rather it is on giving to God.  Jesus concluded by
saying, "and give to God, the things that are God's."  Well then, what belongs to God?  I am sure that we are more
than willing to give to God what belongs to God.  Right? .....  The problem for us is that we are not really sure what
belongs to God!
   So our task is to identify what belongs to God so that we will be able to give to God what belongs to God.  Jesus
used a coin to identify what belonged to Caesar.  Whatever bore Caesar's image belonged to the Emperor.  
Therefore logic will conclude that whatever bears God's image belongs to God.  How do you like that logic?  
Whatever bears God's image belongs to God.
   Are you ready for this?  What bears God's image in our modern world?  Are you ready for the answer?  The
answer is real simple.  We do!  We bear God's image.  This fact is established in the very beginning.  We heard this
morning in the book of Genesis: "Then God said, 'let us make man in our image, after our likeness, and let them
have dominion over the fish, the birds and so on.' So God create man in his own image, in the image of God he
created him, male and female, he created them."   This is a powerful affirmation that we are made in the image of
God.  And if we are made in the image of God, then we must belong to God.    
   Jesus told the religious leaders that the coin which bore the emperor's image was to be given to the emperor and
we who bear God's image are to be given unto God.  We belong to God.  Not part of us but all of us because we are
the ones who are made in the image of God.  This may be a radical thought to some of you.  I mean to suddenly
face the reality that all of oneself truly belongs to God has a direct impact upon the way we live our lives.  We may
have to pause and rethink our lives and lifestyles if we really believe that we belong to God; that is if we are willing to
give ourselves to God.   
God created us in God's own image and because of this we belong to God. God is sovereign.  God created all.  God
rules over all and all belongs to God.  The throne is in heaven and the earth is God's footstool.  If we bear God's
image, we belong to the Lord.  And so we must consider, "what does this mean to us in the way we live our lives?"  
                               
If we belong to God, that means every minute of every day also belongs to God.  Every aspect of our being: our
personality, our talents, our abilities, all belongs to God.  Everything we own: our houses, our cars, our bank
accounts, our investments, all belong to God.  The good news is that God has entrusted them to us to manage.  
This is called stewardship.  We manage what God has given to us.  What we have is not ours; rather what we have
really belongs to God.    
      Remember the statement in Genesis, "We are to have dominion over creation?"  This means that we don't own
creation, we are given the task of managing creation for the glory of God.  We are God's stewards.
   There is a parable Jesus tells about three stewards who are entrusted by the master with some of the master's
belongings.  Two of the three stewards did well and were rewarded.  This is what God expects from us.  We are
entrusted with God's good creation, to manage it for God's glory.  The third steward did nothing and was punished.  
Will we be good stewards of what God has entrusted to us?
                          
   In our world today, it is difficult for us to move out of the mindset of me, my, and mine and into the reality that all of
life belongs to God and does not belong to us.  This is not MY church for it belongs to God.  This is not MY money
but God's.  This is not MY life; for it is the life God has given to me and which God can take from us at any time.  
God has given to us these things to manage for God's glory, God's benefit, God's eternal purpose.  This is called
stewardship.  We are stewards of God's belongings. We are created and given life to manage God's good creation.  
We return to God what already belongs to God.
   However for some strange reason (selfishness) we don't want to give it all to God.  We want to keep our time,
keep our talents, keep our treasures for ourselves even though that we now know that they rightfully belong to God.  
We must remember that God created us. God has given to us the gift of life.  Genetic studies are beginning to show
that over 70% of who we are - personality, intelligence, talents, health - is all predetermined at the moment of
conception. To think that nine months before we are even born, our basic abilities to be a musician, artist, athlete,
scholar, is already determined through our genetic makeup.  That is what science says.  
     At the same time we can argue that this unique combination of genes are either by chance or by divine will.  
Does God have a hand in creating each of us to be uniquely us?  I am inclined to say yes, God is the creator of
even us!  If God is creator, then we belong to God.
   The problem comes as we try to live in the world.  It seems that everyone is asking for our time, our talents, and
our treasures and God gets what ever is left.  We can return to the example of taxes.  We don't have a choice.  The
government gets their fair share on everything.  If we choose not to pay our taxes, the government seizes what we
own to cover the tax bill.
   In addition we live in a materialistic world.  We have to keep up with the Jones next door so we buy, buy, buy and
oftentimes it is buy now, pay later.  We pay our bills to the credit card companies, to the banks, to the stores, and at
the end of the week, if there is anything left over, maybe we will give it to God - that is if we agree with what God's
church is doing with our money.
   Or what about time?  We have jobs.  We have families.  We have volunteer work.  We have clubs.  We have
athletics.  We have recreation.  We have relatives.  Who has time left for God?  With this Pandemic, we've had some
time where all the extras in life, just weren't available.  If we believe that all life belongs to God -- should not the time
for God come first in a person's life?  We belong to God.
   God has created us and chosen us to be a part of God's family, and to live with God throughout eternity.  
However there are so many who desire to live with God forever and yet do not have time to be with God today.
Furthermore they do not desire to share one's time, talents, or treasures with God at least not today.
                             
   The fall of the year is stewardship season.  Actually, the whole year ought to be stewardship season, but it is in
the fall of the year that we make it a priority to talk about stewardship.  My definition of stewardship is: managing the
gifts God has given to us and returning to God what belongs to God.  My concept of stewardship is that each of us
have a need to give, to give to God, especially as we consider all that God has blessed us with.  It is like Christmas,
we enjoy giving to those whom we love; we enjoy see the joy in our children's or grandchildren's faces as they open
our gifts.  It should be the same in our relationship with God.  God loves a cheerful giver.    The question each of us
must answer is "What belongs to God?" and "Am I willing to give it to God?"
   We like many others tend to divide up the world.  This is mine, this is yours; this is the governments and if there is
anything left over, then, maybe, we will share it with God.  The reality is that all of it belongs to God.  God is the one
who created us.  God is the one who provides the civil government to help structure human life.  God is the one who
gives us life so that there can even be a "mine."
   God is first.  God is last; the alpha and the omega.  God owns and rules all.  What we have to decide in our lives
is simple: Is God our Lord?  Our decision will be reflected in the way we live our lives.  Is God our Lord and if so,
what belongs to God?   

Let us pray.