Scripture: Matthew 22:15-22
May I speak in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen
Just over a year since we got a new king and I wonder if any of you have seen a newly minted coin with the kings head on it. Anyone seen one in the wild? Well I hadn’t, but for my birthday, Claire very kindly got me a limited edition JRR Tolkien coin and on the back no less is our very own King Charles. Very strange having a coin with the new king on, but none the less it will soon become common place won’t it? I read in a recent article that 6 million new bank notes with his face on have already been printed, and from the middle of next year they will start to appear. Although cash is becoming rarer to use each day, I am sure that the amount of cash with Charles face on will soon be measured in the billions rather than the millions. People generally like the idea of money don’t they? When we think about money the temptation is to think that it will solve all our problems. If we could only get this much it would allow us to sort out this thing, if only we had money to do x, well then we would be happy, I just need this much to be able to relax. You will all know the thought process I am sure. The thing is this happens at all levels of society doesn’t it? If only the church had this much we could do that. Or if only the town had this much the council could do that, or if only the country had this much we could do that. But friends money isn’t what the world really needs. Wars may be won by buying the best weapons, but peace is only achieved through reconciliation. The NHS may be able to supply the best treatments with more money but you cannot buy the loving care of a good nurse. The church may get enough to replace daft windows, but with out the people of God, its just a building. The world thinks that money is the answer, that wish for more and more and more but money doesn’t really provide the true answer, it isn’t really the goal. So what does the world really need?
Jesus shows us this in this brilliant encounter with the pharisees and Herodians. They have come to trap Jesus, being so worldly and caught up in the need for conflict that is just so typical of humanity. They bring this joint question about taxes. The Herodians are the supporters of King Herod and would be quite happy with the status quo of roman rule and paying the tax. The pharisees generally resisted the tax as the law required it to be paid in roman coins which often had pagan images in, which they resisted. This was the conflict of the time, that dominated the headlines so to speak, and anyone reading the gospel back in the 1st century would have recognised it. Here the two opposing sides combine to attack Jesus, by asking Him if it was lawful to pay taxes. If He says yes they reason, well, the Jewish people who resented the taxes would resent Jesus and He would diminish. If He says no, then the Romans would have to arrest Him. Win win, from their perspective, right? Wrong. Of course Jesus knows what they are about, saying ‘Why are you putting me to the test, you hypocrites?’ Jesus gets a coin and asks ‘Whose head is this, and whose title?’ They answered, ‘The emperor’s.’ Then Jesus said to them, ‘Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.’
Salvation will not come from money. It really will not. Its certainly helpful, but you can’t buy anything of true value. Give to Caesar the things that are Caesars'. But we are to give to God what is Gods. The question then is what do we give to God. Well just like this coin has the image of Charles on it, and belongs to him in a sense and the Denarius that Jesus showed them had an image of the Emperor on it, the thing that God desires, isn’t coins or treasures or riches, no the thing with God’s image on it is you and me. Folks we are all made in the image of God and we are required to give what belongs to God to Him, to give ourselves. Give to Caesar what is Caesars' and give to God what is Gods. Give yourself to God. No wonder those hypocrites, the pharisees and Herodians walked away. They weren’t going to pay the tax God wants. We are to give of ourselves, for we bear the divine image, and so, by the way does every single person we meet.
To give ourselves to God is to be a Christian, truly. We give of ourselves and God gives of Himself to us. That really is what love is. Love, is to give of oneself, isn’t it? When we love, we look for the needs of the other rather than the needs for ourselves. The best relationships, marriages or friendships are build on people willing to sacrifice their own need for the other. Love is sacrifice and that love brings joy. Can you imagine any world crisis, any church crisis, any of our own conflicts that could not be solved if the different parties within a conflict simply looked to serve the other more than themselves, despite whatever grievance they suffered? I suggest to you, everything, from the most complex geopolitical disaster to the arguing of children could be solved this way. In the wise words of Burt Bacharach ‘What the world needs now is love sweet love. It’s the only thing that there is just too little of’. The fallen world can’t do it, it can’t love, or at least not for very long. But we are invited by Christ to do exactly that, to love God and love our neighbour, and that is what that means. Give to God what is Gods, and the marvellous thing is, when we love, whether it be this side of heaven or not, we receive back far more than we gave. Love is the only thing in all the world that the more you give the more you have.
Frankly, the king can keep all the coins. What the world needs now is love, particularly now when it is forgetting the cost of war. God will provide what we need, when we love right. Because if we know how to love well, to give to God what is Gods, to give ourselves to Him, to each other and to stranger, we bring a little piece of literal heaven to earth. I am convinced that when we see Christ come in glory and heaven and earth are reunited, the biggest change we will see is people loving each other perfectly. Our job as church is to bring a bit of heaven down to earth. So, in our lives together, encourage each other, love each other and keep each other, because our dark world needs love more than ever, and it will be love not war that wins out in the end, because history tells us, that is always the way in the end. Amen.