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Meditation on Pentecost

The readings for Sunday, May 20, 2018, Pentecost: First Reading: Acts 2:1-21 First Reading (Alt.): Ezekiel 37:1-14 Psalm: Psalm 104:25-35, 3...

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Matthew 22:15-22 October 16, 2011
Let me ask a question:
Should we ever talk about government and politics in church?
Think carefully before you answer.
Should we ever talk about government and politics in church?
OK, now, if we are willing to answer “no” , not “maybe,” but a resounding “NO”consider this: If we believe that church is no place for talking about the government and politics then the first thing that we need to do, the very first thing is to stop reading the Bible in church. We better lock them up and throw away the key. That’s right. No more Old Testament with its prophets calling for justice and calling governments to account. No more New Testament with is subversive Gospel in which the powers of the day are challenged time and time again. The first shall be last says Jesus and the last shall be first. The first are so often those with power and privilege, those in authority who exploit those who do not have power, who do not have a voice. Those outcast and marginalized people, Jesus says, those poor and powerless, God hears their cries and so should those in power with the ability to act on their behalf. If we do not want a discussion of government and politics in church then we must put a muzzle on God’s Word right now. Eviscerate its prophetic power. Extinguish its cry for justice for the poor and the outcast and the marginalized.
I remember nearly eight years ago when as the first shots of the war in Iraq were being fired, I read Bishop Hanson's letter on the subject of the war, as each church of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in American, was asked to do, and I received an anonymous note in the offering basket informing me that there is a separation of church and state in this country. Either they did not like what the Bishop had to say in his call for patience and continued dialogue or plain just did not know what separation of church and state meant and continues to mean.
 Pastor, it said, there is a separation of church and state in this country.
If the tone of the note was to be believed then we as Christians gathered for worship do not have the right to speak of things "political" in the house of God. We should mind our own business, whatever that is, but according to the tone of the note, it does not include any comment on politics and the decisions and actions of our politicians.
 Render unto Caesar what is Caesar's and to God what is God's, right?
Not quite.
Separation of church and state does not muzzle churches from talking about politics, rather it keeps the government from telling us what we can preach and teach in God’s church. It gives us permission to speak our minds, to be a public witness, to advocate for issues. We have the constitutional right to address public policy concerns and may support legislation pending in Congress or the state legislatures, or call for its defeat. We may endorse or oppose ballot referenda. There is only one thing that we and every other tax exempt institution in America cannot do: and that is to endorse or oppose a candidate for public office. That is something that we simply cannot do. The Red Cross can’t. The Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts can’t: no tax exempt institution can. And that is our only restriction. It has nothing to do with being a church per se. It has to do with being a tax-exempt institution.
 Render unto Caesar what is Caesar's and to God what is God's
Caesar and God are not equals in this equation, are they?
 Even if we ignore the great irony, the sarcasm that Jesus may have intended here (after all the Pharisees were trying to trap him so as to discredit him), if we even dare to take the passage on some sort of face value, what we learn, perhaps, is that we should pay our taxes.
Render unto to Caesar what is Caesar's.And to God what is God's.
Render unto to Caesar what is Caesar's. And to God what is God's.
And what might that be?
What exactly is God’s? If we are going to render unto God that which is God’s we might well want to be clear on that score, shouldn’t we? We want to render unto God our prayers, our praise, our worship certainly. But is that all? Does the rest of who we are, of our life here on earth belong to the Caesars of the world, or the IRS or even ourselves? 
Let’s turn to Scripture: Genesis might be a good place to start, Chapter One.
“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.”
That rather covers everything, doesn’t it? God created everything. 
Or we could turn to the 24th Psalm:
1The earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it,
the world, and those who live in it;
2for he has founded it on the seas,
and established it on the rivers.

And when scripture says all, it means all.
Everything is the Lord’s. All that we have is God’s gracious and merciful gift. Who makes everything? Calls everything into being? Breathes into living things the divine breath? Shapes humankind as a potter would clay? Caesar?
Just kidding.
GOD does.
 Everything is the Lord’s. And what we have is God’s gracious and merciful gift entrusted to us for us to steward. No asterisks. No exceptions. No cooperation. It is all gift.
Gifts to people as individuals and to nations. Gifts entrusted to them.
And when nations and their governments fail to heed God’s call for justice, to care for those most vulnerable, most marginalized, most at risk; when governments fail to steward the abundance that God has gifted to them, entrusted to them, then we must heed God’s call to speak. Separation of church and state keeps the state from muzzling churches or dictating what they teach and preach. Amen for that!
Render unto Caesar what is Caesar's and to God what is God's reminds us that in the society in which we live God has called authorities and governments into being to provide order; there are obligations, such as taxes, for the greater good of that society. However, when we render unto God what is God's we are staking the claim that God is the giver and creator of all. We are staking the claim that our God reigns. That our God is sovereign. That our God is God of all that was, is and will be. For us, there is no separation, no wall, and no barrier, there is no place where God does not rule and call to account and there is no place where God's justice should not reign.
When we see with our own eyes or hear with our own ears the desperate cries of injustice through intention or neglect by those entrusted with authority such as governments, then we are called to speak and to act. To speak God’s word of expectation and warning and to act as our faith calls us, and the Holy Spirit empowers us.
 Render unto to Caesar what is Caesar's. And to God what is God's.
And everything is God’s. So may we live accordingly and faithfully in these days and every day. Amen!

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