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Trinity 23 – Matthew 22:15-22

by pastorjuhl ~ November 3rd, 2010

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit

Rendering to Caesar what belongs to him and rendering to God what belongs to Him is no laughing matter. You joke about two-line tax forms. Line one: how much money did you make last year? Line two: send it all in. You shake your head at how our tax dollars are wasted or misspent. You grumble when paying money to any government agency, from the city and county all the way up to Washington, D.C. All these things are the butt of jokes and satire. No one doesn’t enjoy a good laugh at government’s expense.

How does all this joking square up with Saint Paul’s words in Romans chapter 13: Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God. Therefore whoever resists the authority resists the ordinance of God, and those who resist will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to evil. Do you want to be unafraid of the authority? Do what is good, and you will have praise from the same. For he is God’s minister to you for good. But if you do evil, be afraid; for he does not bear the sword in vain; for he is God’s minister, an avenger to execute wrath on him who practices evil. Therefore you must be subject, not only because of wrath but also for conscience’ sake. For because of this you also pay taxes, for they are God’s ministers attending continually to this very thing. Render therefore to all their due: taxes to whom taxes are due, customs to whom customs, fear to whom fear, honor to whom honor. Owe no one anything except to love one another, for he who loves another has fulfilled the law.

Government is no laughing matter. Though the person holding a particular public office may be corrupt, the office itself is put there by God to watch over you and protect you from evil. Let God deal with their soul and, hopefully, magistrates will take care of any earthly punishment.

What if you were equally as cynical and satirical with rendering to God? Many people are quite angry at visible church institutions. How many times have you heard someone say they are a Christian, but don’t want to go to church? You may be now or might have been at one time one of those people. Every now and then rumors swirl about government wanting to tax churches. Some believe churches are too rich for their own good. They must be hiding something or they wouldn’t have such a large war chest.

Ah, the old pocketbook argument. All the Church cares about is your money. Pay, pray, and obey: the three verbs of the Church. What if the Church had an empty bank account? Some might say only then would the Church be able to get things done. If a particular congregation went broke and stayed broke, there more than likely wouldn’t be a congregation. Offerings do more than support the pastor and his family. Offerings keep the lights and heat or air conditioning going. Offerings support those who cannot support themselves through works of mercy. Should a congregation be blessed with enough money, they can help support the district or synod with their offerings.

Taxing the Church back to the Stone Age won’t help fix all the problems sin brings into Christ’s Church, just as taxing you beyond your ability to render to Caesar will not help fix all the problems in our country and our state. The rhymed couplet at the end of the Table of Duties in Luther’s Small Catechism is a good start to understanding our place in this world and in the Church: Let each his lesson learn with care, and all the household well shall fare.

It is far better to have good order in society than anarchy. Without God’s gift of government, you might be dodging bullets and thieves to get to Divine Service. It’s hard to trust a system of government that seems bankrupt to work to keep all citizens safe. Nevertheless, God has provided a way to watch over you. He protects law-abiding citizens and punishes those who will not abide by the law. More often than not, all the right people will be protected as well as be punished. The wise words of Solomon ring true in today’s Old Testament reading: The fear of the LORD is to hate evil; pride and arrogance and the evil way and the perverse mouth I hate. Counsel is mine, and sound wisdom; I am understanding, I have strength. By me kings reign, and rulers decree justice. By me princes rule, and nobles, all the judges of the earth.

Just as Solomon’s words bring comfort concerning earthly rulers, his words also bring comfort concerning ecclesiastical authorities: I love those who love me, and those who seek me diligently will find me. Riches and honor are with me, enduring riches and righteousness. My fruit is better than gold, yes, than fine gold, and my revenue than choice silver. I traverse the way of righteousness, in the midst of the paths of justice. Jesus Christ is still in charge of His beloved bride, the Church. Pastors come and go, synods come and go, church buildings come and go, but the Word of the Lord endures forever.

Your trust is misplaced if you think earthly government can save you from ecclesiastical wrongdoing and vice versa. Thank God our country’s founding fathers saw fit not to establish a state religion as the United Kingdom has. In Great Britain and Northern Ireland, Her Majesty the Queen is not only the head of state, but also the head of the church. Imagine if the President of the United States or the Governor of Illinois were the head of not The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, but of a state established religion. The United Kingdom does have freedom of religion, and so does the United States, but you can only imagine what kind of mess could be made if a head of state ruled over a state church in this country.

Even worse, what if our synod President, Matthew Harrison, was in charge of protecting you from wrongdoers and assessing taxes for federal and state services? Could he be trusted to do a good job of governing a secular government as well as an ecclesiastical government? Better still, would you trust him or would he trust himself?

Rendering to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s is a comforting blessing. Princes in both Church and state will fade away. As the hymn “Praise the Almighty, My Soul Adore Him” says: “Trust not in princes, they are but mortal/Earthborn they are and soon decay”. The United States of America does not have most favored nation status with Almighty God. The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod is not the only Church body God recognizes. The bottom line is Saint Paul’s words to the Philippians: our citizenship is in heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body that it may be conformed to His glorious body, according to the working by which He is able even to subdue all things to Himself.

Christ’s Church is about the business of preaching Jesus Christ and Him crucified. All His Church says and does proclaim forgiveness of sins and eternal life in the one true God. The Church is not about lower taxes and honest politicians. This world will decay along with earthly princes. You are a temporary citizen of this world, looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, the home of righteousness. While waiting for Christ’s return, you do as good citizens do and participate to the best of your ability in God’s good gift of government. This past Tuesday’s elections are an example of participation. So are taxes, whether you like it or not. At least taxes are temporary, because forgiveness of sins and eternal life are a gift from the Savior of both Jews and Gentiles. Jesus blesses you in preaching and the Sacraments in a way that no government agency can. Washington cannot forgive sins. Springfield cannot put Christ in your ears and mouth. The Triune God can do all this and more. Believe it for Jesus’ sake.

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit

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