Message: Exodus 33:12-33; Psalm 99; 1 Thessalonians 1:1-10; Matthew 22:15-22
A while back The Washington Post invited some folks from a diverse span of backgrounds to revise or rewrite the Pledge of Allegiance. Some found the Pledge to be just “Yankee Doodle dandy.” Others wrote that we would be best to pledge an allegiance to care for the earth’s flora and fauna, or to pledge for no borders, and no separations. Others included a pledge to freedom, responsibility and equality. One historian rewrote the pledge to state fair allocation of personal and fiscal responsibilities.
In its final revision, with the threat of Communism hovering, in 1954 President Eisenhower charged Congress to add the words, “under God” to the pledge. Today, citizens, school kids, teachers, elected officials and countless others pledge allegiance in the thirty one words we say: I Pledge Allegiance to the flag of the United States of America and to the Republic for which it stands, one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.
The controversy of pledging our allegiance is not limited to our Pledge of Allegiance to the flag of the United States of America. In Jesus’ time, religious experts, and government officials found themselves conflicted in their allegiance. The Pharisees, zealous keepers of the Law of the Temple in Jerusalem, are threatened by an allegiance to Herod or any dominant power that does not honor the Judaic Law of ritual purity, tithing, strict observances of the Sabbath and God as king and Sovereign over all.
At the same time, the Pharisees are by no means ready to claim Jesus as king either. In that regard, they hold some common allegiance with the Herodians, party members of Herod’s regime and most certainly not pledging to Jesus Christ. In today’s story, together, these two typically warring factions are actually in allegiance against Jesus Christ. So, they put their heads together to trap Jesus and ask, “Is it right to pay taxes to Caesar or not?”
The tax in question is a “poll” tax or a “head” tax charged to all adults throughout the Roman territory, including Judea, the region containing of the city of Jerusalem, and the dwelling place for God almighty in the temple. Faithful Jews in Judea will argue they are exempt from paying taxes in Judea for religious reasons. Their king, God alone, resides in the temple in Jerusalem. The religious are not supportive of paying taxes to an authority whose army occupies their holy space.
Jesus is no fool. He knows if he tells his inquirers to pay the taxes to the imperial powers of Rome, it looks as though Jesus is in King Herod’s camp. How would the religiously faithful, the oppressed, the poor, the marginalized understand this Jesus preaching the kingdom of God if he agrees to taxation? At the same time, if he tells them not to pay the taxes the already anxious Roman officials will have his head on a platter. Jesus responds challenging his questioners to examine both their civil allegiance and their religious allegiance.
Where is our allegiance?
Our allegiance is to God and our country. As contributors to America’s economy, we’re obligated to pay taxes. Our taxes pave the roads, light the night skies, help educate our children, provide protection and defense, finance medical care, and make various social programs available, just to name a few of the things our taxes offer. We’re blessed to have a government who works with such purpose to care for its people. So, for most of us, we recognize that we have an allegiance to paying our taxes. We earn an income and we give to the government a portion of what we earn to manage the privilege of living as one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.
Now…more importantly, we have an allegiance to God.
Knowing the motives of those plotting to entrap him, Jesus asks to see the Roman coin with Herod’s image plainly engraved upon the coin. The coin is in violation of the second commandment: you shall not make any graven images nor shall you worship any other gods. Jesus, fully aware of the powers that be tells the citizens, “Render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s”. At the same time, may we always know that engraved upon our very selves and our very souls we bear the image of God in Christ in all that we are and all that we do. May we always, first and foremost, render unto God what is God’s.
The apostle Paul writes to the church, everyone should give whatever is decided in their heart because God, most of all, wants us to give out of gratitude, with thanksgiving for God in our lives. Sow bountifully and we will reap bountifully, the apostle Paul writes to the church. God loves a cheerful giver. And, in our giving God increases our crop and we are made rich so that we can be generous in every way. God gives us an inheritance. We return to God a portion of what God gives to us. What is our portion to be? Scripture instructs us to return to God a tithe, ten percent of whatever we produce. In striving to tithe, bringing before God a portion of what we have accomplished, we celebrate God’s blessing.
President John F. Kennedy during his Inaugural Address in 1961 spoke the words so familiar to us all, young and old: “…my fellow Americans, ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country…let us go forth…, asking God’s blessing and God’s help, but knowing that here on earth God’s work must truly be our own.” President Kennedy didn’t ask “what can my country do for me?” Rather, the President said, “What can I do for my country!” As faithful citizens of the kingdom of God, followers of Jesus Christ, blessed children of God, perhaps the question we to may need to ask is, “What can I do for God!”
We believe ALL are blessed by God as citizens of God’s kingdom and ALL are invited to share in the joy of contributing their resources for the building of God’s kingdom. Our goal this year in giving to God is a 100% pledge commitment. 100% pledge commitment means we’re asking ALL to make a promise to celebrate the joy of God’s kingdom as God calls us to serve as Epiphany.
On Monday night, your vestry received their pledge commitment cards during the monthly vestry meeting. Serving as an example of the endeavor of a 100% pledge commitment from ALL in an effort to GROW God’s church, your leadership will submit their promises today. During the offertory, vestry will come forward offering their pledge commitments to God. As the pledge commitments are placed in the basket, we’ll give thanks to God for blessing these commitments from these cheerful givers. Next week, you will have an opportunity to receive your pledge commitment cards. We’ll ask you to pray over your pledge commitment before offering your promise on November 12. God asks that each and every one of us make a commitment: that we are all in, 100%!
As God’s own, we give as an act of faith, that in coming before God in Christ, with our offerings, we believe God reigning over our world, God sitting as the center of our being, with Christ as our witness to God’s sacrificial love, that our gifts of time, talent and treasure build God’s kingdom and make the world a better place.
With a promise from you, Epiphany is able to form its annual budget supporting worship, outreach, education, and pastoral care, for all. And, because we believe wholly that God has the power to provide us with more than enough of every kind of grace, we’re asking for every household in the life of Epiphany, whether you’ve been here a long time or whether you’ve been here not so long, whether you’re here often, and whether you’d like to be here more, to make a pledge commitment. Each and every one of us deserves to hold an allegiance to God in Christ. Christ keeps his allegiance to us. May we do the same in keeping our allegiance. Where our treasure is, may our hearts be also.