The Sermon You Missed

What a beautiful time together on Sunday paying tribute to those lost at sea.  The Great Lakes Memorial is an almost 50 year tradition, and judging by last Sunday, still going strong.

Since I didn’t preach a sermon at the memorial service, and we had about 220 people, I’m publishing this important reflection on Matthew 22 and calling it “The sermon you missed”.

The title has a double meaning.  You may have missed the sermon because you came to the 11am instead of the 8:30 service.  However, most of us miss this message because we find it hard or maybe don’t grasp the depth of Jesus answer to a trick question. So, my hope is that you may read this with fresh eyes and find the beauty and power of this life-giving message of Jesus.

The sermon comes from the scripture starting in Matt 22:15

Then the Pharisees went and plotted how to entangle him in his words. And they sent their disciples to him, along with the Herodians, saying, “Teacher, we know that you are true and teach the way of God truthfully, and you do not care about anyone’s opinion, for you are not swayed by appearances. Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?” But Jesus, aware of their malice, said, “Why put me to the test, you hypocrites? Show me the coin for the tax.” And they brought him a denarius. And Jesus said to them, “Whose likeness and inscription is this?” They said, “Caesar’s.” Then he said to them, “Therefore render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” When they heard it, they marveled. And they left him and went away.

The Pharisees think they have Jesus trapped.  They form a sort of alliance between two factions that typically wouldn’t come together, the Herodians and the Pharisees. The  Jewish Herodians saw paying taxes as part of being a good citizen, but the Pharisees saw it as an infringement on Jewish law. They know that someone is going to be offended by his answer. Who would Jesus side with?

So after trying to butter Jesus up, which of course doesn’t work, Jesus doesn’t side with either, instead He says famously:

Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.

It’s quite profound and has a lot of political implications that we won’t touch on today.  It was so profound even then, that  they “marvelled, and left him, and went their way”.

Jesus tells them to look at the image on the coin.  Who do you see?  Like on our money there was an image of a person.  Some Jews took issue with that, seeing it as idolatry of a graven image. What made it worse was this image was Caesar’s, the head of an oppressive overtaxing government.  Despite all this, Jesus said to give the money to him.

Why would Jesus make concessions to such an oppressive regime?  Because He was concerned with something greater. Jesus came not to address the powers and politics of the day (something many christians should follow in these times). Jesus knew the systems were broken. So, He inserts his answer in a bigger context, and points them to the Kingdom of God.

He does that by asking about the image on the coin.  Who’s image is there?  Ceasar’s of course.  Then, he goes on to make a parallel they were not expecting. If Ceasar wants that which has his image, God wants us, all of us. As the ones created in His image, we are wise to give ourselves to Him.

Unlike Caesar and his selfish motives of taking what it’s not really his, God wants us to give ourselves to Him so He can give more of Himself to us. Jesus is One with the Father. He knows that we can experience fullness of life by becoming one with Him (see his prayer in John 17). Only by sharing in His glory and expressing Him in us, we can bring about the real transformation needed in our society.  Jesus definitely gave those trying to trap him something to think about, and we would be blessed to take note as well.

The importance of the theological concept of the Image of God cannot be overstated.

In Genesis, when God says, “Let us create mankind in our image”, our triune God – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – designs the crowning jewel of creation.  You and me.  Made in his [own triune] image.  Created to be loved and to love.  Created to be in fellowship with God himself.

This doctrine is the foundation for our alignment with God, as individuals and as a community. There are so many implications of this amazing truth in our everyday lives. For now, I want to focus on the Great Command and highlight 2 things. Before we do that, please keep in mind that it is precisely because we can be One with God that we can love Him and our neighbors well.

The image of God in us makes the Great Commandment, loving God and neighbor, possible.

First, the BEST way to truly love your neighbor is when we express His likeness and see our neighbor as someone also made in the image of God.  Jesus says in Luke 6 that “When you love those who love you, what good is that to you?  Even sinners (those who aren’t believers) do that.

So, what’s the difference between those of us who believe and those who don’t when it comes to loving others? It’s the ability to love with the kind of love God loves us. By receiving his transforming and freeing love, we are able to love others even when we are not loved in return. If we can think of the love we receive from God even before we were to love him back, we can be empowered by God to love others by seeing His image in them. All of us have value and were made in God’s image for His Kingdom.  There is no one, no matter how broken, vulnerable, marginalized, irritating, quirky, or different than you, that is of less value than you or anyone else.

That is why we love everyone, even those we find hard to love. I mean, especially those we find hard to love.  Usually when we find it hard to love a specific person or group of people, we tend to become indifferent towards them, sometimes ignoring them altogether.  Indifference is not love.  It’s actually the opposite of love.

Second, the ONLY way to love your ENEMY is to see them as someone who is made in the image of God.

Picture those who you consider an enemy.  Maybe its someone who you have been at odds with personally, financially, socially, or even litigated against.  As much as we want to vilify these people in our lives, we know they were made in God’s image too.

In all of us this image of God is distorted until we see its restoration through Jesus’ sacrifice and forgiveness.  Those who have pitted against you as your enemy are also made in the image of God, but the distortions of His image in both you and them make it hard for us to see them in a loving way.  So, we need to be reminded this is the way and the path that Christ calls us to walk on. When we fully give ourselves to Him, He can fully fill us with more of His likeness.

May God grant us the grace to follow Christ’s teaching!

Blessings and peace,

Rev. Todd