Updated: Nov 15
a message by Rev. Dr. Bruce Havens
Coral Isles Church, U.C.C.
October 22, 2023
15 Then the Pharisees went and plotted to entrap him in what he said. 16 So they sent their disciples to him, along with the Herodians, saying, “Teacher, we know that you are sincere, and teach the way of God in accordance with truth, and show deference to no one; for you do not regard people with partiality. 17 Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, or not?” 18 But Jesus, aware of their malice, said, “Why are you putting me to the test, you hypocrites? 19 Show me the coin used for the tax.” And they brought him a denarius. 20 Then he said to them, “Whose head is this, and whose title?” 21 They answered, “The emperor’s.” Then he said to them, “Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” 22 When they heard this, they were amazed; and they left him and went away.
23 The same day some Sadducees came to him, saying there is no resurrection; and they asked him a question, saying, 24 “Teacher, Moses said, ‘If a man dies childless, his brother shall marry the widow, and raise up children for his brother.’ 25 Now there were seven brothers among us; the first married, and died childless, leaving the widow to his brother. 26 The second did the same, so also the third, down to the seventh. 27 Last of all, the woman herself died. 28 In the resurrection, then, whose wife of the seven will she be? For all of them had married her.” 29 Jesus answered them, “You are wrong, because you know neither the scriptures nor the power of God. 30 For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven. 31 And as for the resurrection of the dead, have you not read what was said to you by God, 32 ‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? He is God not of the dead, but of the living.” 33 And when the crowd heard it, they were astounded at his teaching.
Peace, peace there is no peace, mourned the philosopher. We have Ukraine and Russia, now Hamas and Israel. If there is open warfare elsewhere I am ignorant of it. But peace isn’t just the absence of warfare and a lack of peace has no end of possible causes, right? We all have our own personal stresses: politics, the economy, family issues, our own mental, physical and spiritual health. I am pointing to “peace” as the third of four things we all need. Where in the world are we going to find peace?
Let me start by saying I am going to try to not to be your pulpit psychologist. I am going to try to stick to theology, but the fact is I believe theology – our understanding of who our God is and our relationship with that God - covers every area of our lives. But I am going to try not to be your therapist this morning. And I also am going to try to avoid easy cliches that we preachers often resort to. I promise I did not find any illustrations in Readers Digest.
So let me start with a confession: I know these verses of Scripture seem to have nothing to do with peace, either at a level of national conflict or internal personal conflict. But I hope to lead you to what I think they do have to say to us about peace. I believe that what Jesus teaches us here can help us find what we all really, really need: peace.
There are two separate issues addressed in these verses. The first is the question of identity, loyalty, and likeness. In college sports, particularly the multi-billion dollar sport of college football the raging conflict is over “NIL.” That is “Name, Image, and Likeness.” In court it has been decided that athletes have the right to control the use of their name, image and likeness, and that they have a right to be compensated for the use of those things. That has led to millions of dollars for stars -mostly quarterbacks. So what used to take place “under the table,” that is the payment of athletes for their performances, is now “over the counter.” All that leads me to invite you and I to reflect on the value of our “Name, Image, and Likeness.”
More particularly I am reminded that the Scriptures insist that you and I and all our siblings in the world are “made in the image” of God. This means our value is rooted in our identity as, if you’ll forgive the “Suthern- ism,” God’s “critters.” Made by God, for God. Why does that matter? How does that relate to our Scripture? Well, part of what we read this morning lifts up the problem of paying taxes to Caesar. In Jesus’ religion, it was a sin to make any images of God, or for anyone or anything to claim to be equal to God. The most important commandment or theology for Jesus’ fellow Jews was “God is One.” There is one God and there is no one equal to YHWH. Even handling the coins with Caesar’s image on it was idolatry and therefore a sin.
Caesar, as you probably know, was called by every title possible including Son of God and even God. Caesar’s image on the coin that the Jews had to handle put them in conflict with their faith. That leads us to those ever- clever little Pharisees, looking to trap Jesus with a trick question. They ask about paying taxes, knowing that if Jesus says “pay” the crowds will hate him as bad as Caesar. His popularity would die and it will solve their problem with him. If he says “no,” they can turn him over to the Romans as an insurrectionist. Jesus outsmarts them by pointing out that the image on the coin is Caesar, and then throws it back into their lap to decide: what is Caesar’s and what is God’s?
However much we may hate taxes, or respect that taxes help pay for stuff we all use and need, the question is still one we have to answer to find peace in our lives. Who do we belong to? Who makes it possible for us to have the coins with someone’s picture on it to pay for stuff. Or to put it another way, whose Name, Image, and Likeness do we believe is our God? There are some who claim a certain Presidential candidate is God, or at least Jesus returned. I have a one word answer to that: [ no not that one ], it is simply, “no.” No. Some of us are old enough to remember when people were proclaiming “Clapton is God,” or even, “God is dead.” None of that was or is true.
Here’s what I suggest we consider if we want the peace we all need. You belong to God. You were made in God’s image. Yes, you with all your flaws, your teenage acne, your old-age lumbago, your middle age fears and failures – YOU. ARE. MADE. IN. GOD’s. IMAGE. That’s what the Bible says. We forget that too often. And what does that mean? Well, in this “self-proclaimed” theologian’s mind it means your past rests with God. Your present stands with God. Your future is found in God. If we want to know real peace, we need to start there. If we want peace in our souls it starts by knowing and truly believing who our souls belong to, because if we belong to God it is up to God to bring peace to our souls.
What I mean is it isn’t totally up to you or me. It’s up to God. But here’s the theological kicker – you have to give that task to God, trust God, turn to God, and ultimately believe that the reality is - none of it is Caesar’s. Everything is God’s. I’ll talk more about that next month when we get to Thanksgiving. But let me challenge us all to try this: every time we start to panic, get anxious, or become fearful about personal or global issues, remember WHOSE you are, and turn to that WHO. I’ll expect you to work out those details on your own. Whether that means more yoga, more prayer, less internet, less news, whatever, I don’t have time to give you a personally designed plan for this. Get on it and report back to me!
Now in the little time I have left let me address the second challenge Jesus faced. This one was about eternity. Not satisfied that they had failed to out - quiz Jesus about taxes, the religious “snooty-toots” [ my word! ] decided to ask about eternity. More specifically in the religious laws and customs of Jesus’ time you may remember one of the highest priorities was that a man have a male offspring. So much so, that if a man died without a son, his next younger brother was expected to marry his widow and, well, have a boy child to carry on the family name. Now, whether this was truly from God or some other source, there it is.
The smarty-pants religious guys set up a conundrum for Jesus. If a guy and, oh, say, six of his younger brothers all die without having a son with the first brother’s widow, whose wife will she be in the resurrection? Matthew reminds us that those asking didn’t even believe in resurrection so I’m sure they were giggling about their latest “gotcha” for Jesus. Once again, Jesus points out that they haven’t got a clue how God works, or how eternity works.
Now I know everybody wants to know all about what heaven will be like. Most of our images of heaven actually come from medieval or early enlightenment literature and art rather than the Bible. Nevertheless, Jesus’ point is whatever heaven is, here’s the key thing: God is the God of the living, not the dead. So, while that leads to a lot of other questions – again I don’t have time for that today. I think the key to finding peace is, first to recognize we can’t change Putin, or Netanyahu, or the leaders of Hamas. There are a lot of local and regional issues we can work on and make a difference. And we should. The global issues may seem to be in the hands of people we may think have evil intent. My response is to remember the words of the song, “let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me.” That’s true, but there is a power beyond me or you who has an impact on all this, and that is God. And God is good. And it is God’s world, God’s creation, and I believe the Living God is ultimately working powerfully through every means to bring peace, because that is God’s purpose and God’s plan for God’s creation.
My point I want to offer you today is that if God is the God of the living, once again, we need to think about what that means for our peace. Here’s what I think is important: once again, peace comes from knowing who God really is, and who really is God. I’m not God, you are not God, the President or Caesar or Putin or Trump are not God. God is God. And maybe God is a bit inscrutable, to use a “nickel word.” Maybe we don’t really understand God despite thousands of years of folks like me trying to describe, define, and explain about God. But here is what I hold on to when there seems like there is nothing else to hold on to: let God be God. Give thanks that God is God. And trust that in God we can find peace. Again, I will leave how to get there to others, or lunch will be late. And I have found that having lunch on time is one key to peace. And ask for the peace of Christ from God.
I think that the peace of Christ comes to us as we open our hearts, our souls, our spirits to a sense of the presence of the Living Christ. So I suggest we all pray for Christ to draw us closer, to never let us go, and to find there, real peace. AMEN.