Sunday, October 22, 2017

The Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost (LSB-A)

Matthew 22:15-22; 1 Thessalonians 1:1-10; Isaiah 45:1-7

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
“So God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.” You were created in the image of God. You were created to be an icon of God, a symbol, a window, through which God can be seen and known, a mirror reflecting His image to His glory. God’s image is not a form or an appearance, but it is a habitus, that is, a way of being. To be God’s image is to reveal, to reflect, and to share certain of His qualities and attributes: Rational thought, the capacity to give and to bring forth life, the capacity to love selflessly and sacrificially. Truly, the very act of God’s creating was an act of love, selflessness, and sacrifice. For, in creation, God gave of Himself, not because of who you are, but because of who He is. Therefore, you are an extension of His love, and your purpose, your meaning is to love and glorify Him by loving and serving others to the glory of His Name.
Of course, your First Parent’s sin and rebellion plunged creation and themselves, and you their descendants, into sin, corruption, and death. Humanity lost the image of God in which it was created – the image of life and love and selflessness and sacrifice – and it assumed the image of death – the image of selfishness and greed and pride, of being turned in upon oneself. However, Jesus Christ, who is the express image of God and the fullness of the Godhead as a man, has restored you to the image of God from which you fell – His image. Through baptism and faith you have been recreated in the image of God once again, for you have been grafted into the True Vine Jesus Christ, and the life you live is His life lived in and through you, and the fruit you bear is His fruit borne in you for the life of the world.
So, whose image is on the coin? Whose image is on the dollar? Not the image of God, but the image of a man created by God in the image of God. The Pharisees were trying to trap Jesus in His own words. That was always their tactic, and that was the tactic of their father, the devil: “Did God really say?” “You will not surely die.” “Cast yourself down, for it is written, ‘He will command His angels concerning You, […] lest you dash your foot against a stone’.” O, the devil is a willy one, quite clever, He knows the Scriptures exceedingly well. So did the Pharisees, but they did not call upon God’s Word in faith, pray, praise and give thanks, but they, like the devil, lied and deceived, twisted, and distorted God’s Word in order to deceive you, to trick you, and to trap you. Great sophists indeed are the enemies of our God and His Word. “Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar or not?”
Your LORD commands you in the Fourth Commandment, “Honor your father and your mother,” which means, honor all in authority over you as you honor the LORD Himself. The Pharisees gave no honor to Caesar, and neither did they give any honor to God. They treated His Word and His Commandments with contempt, as a tool to gain power for themselves, power taken from the people they were called to serve and to care for. If it was Caesar’s image that was on the coin they were commanded to pay as tax, how much more than a denarius must they give, even their whole lives, bodies, and souls made in the image of God, to the LORD? In order to restore your fallen image, your LORD God gave His express image, His only-begotten Son Jesus Christ, into death, paying your “tax” in full, setting you free from the penalty of your sinful rebellion: temporal and eternal death and punishment in hell. Your LORD is not concerned with coins or dollars bearing the image of a man, but He is very much concerned with how you manage and steward the gifts He has given you charge over and where you place your fear, your love, and your trust.
By all means, pay your taxes, pay your mortgage, buy your bread, pay your student loans, put your kids through school, but render these things, not to Caesar, but to God in whose image both you and Caesar are made. Even more so, render yourself unto God by reflecting His image in your lives, words, and deeds in service to others, to your neighbor, to the glory of His holy Name. You see, the tax issue, the stewardship issue, is really an image issue. The question is not whether you should pay or not pay, give or not give, but the question is, “Who are you?” and “What does that mean?” What is your identity? I say to you, look to the cross, look to the crucifix. Whose image is on the cross? That is the image of your God made man Jesus Christ, in whose image you have been made and re-made. Therefore, render unto Jesus what belongs to Jesus. What belongs to Jesus? Who belongs to Jesus? Everything and everyone that has been made, everything and everyone that exists belongs to Jesus, for He has redeemed the world and everyone in it in His holy, innocent shed blood. That is a fact. That is the Truth. Therefore, you may think of stewardship not so much as giving of what you have but as realizing, confessing, and living who you are. You are Jesus; that is, you are a member of His body, a branch grafted into His vine. Once you were no one and nothing, a lifeless branch, but the Holy Spirit has called you by the Gospel, enlightened you with His gifts, sanctified and keeps you in the true faith; He has grafted you into the True Vine Jesus so that the life you live is His life lived in and through you, and the fruit you bear is His fruit borne in you. You are the image of Jesus in this world of sin, and darkness, and death, and Jesus is the image of God, in whose image you were created, re-created, and now live. This is your identity. Jesus is your identity. You are one with Jesus and a coheir with Him in His kingdom reigning over heaven and earth. Do not forget who you are in Jesus. Do not debase yourself by conforming to the image of a mere creature, but humble yourself that your true, renewed, and restored image, the image of Jesus, might shine forth in and from you as a brilliant and beckoning light.
Worldly kings and kingdoms are good and are necessary. In obedience to the Fourth Commandment, and in fear, love, and trust in God our LORD and Creator, we must honor and obey our leaders though they be sinful, even pagan, cruel, and evil men and women, for the LORD has given them authority to reward the good and to punish the evil and to provide for you and your worldly and fleshly needs. So the LORD used the Persian King Cyrus to deliver His people. One hundred fifty years before his birth, the LORD named Cyrus through His Prophet Isaiah, promising that through him He would deliver His people out of captivity in Babylon. Though Cyrus was a pagan, the LORD anointed and equipped him that all people might know “from the rising of the sun and from the west, that there is none besides [Him],” saying, “I am the LORD, and there is no other. I form light and create darkness, I make well-being and create calamity, I am the LORD, who does all these things.”
However, Jesus is the true Caesar over all nations “from the rising of the sun and from the west.” And, King Jesus rules all things for your eternal good. As the Psalmist sings, “The LORD is your keeper; the LORD is your shade on your right hand,” and “The LORD will keep you from all evil; he will keep your life. The LORD will keep your going out and your coming in from this time forth and forevermore,” which is to say, God has your back. He who formed the light and created darkness, sustains and keeps all things for you that you might glorify Him by bearing and reflecting His image. He commands “His angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways” that you “may so pass through things temporal that [you] lose not the things eternal.”
Caesar is temporal. Wealth and possessions, family and friends, health and life, these things are temporal. And yet, they are the LORD’s good gifts to you. Use them; use them for yourself and for your family – they are given for that purpose, but use them also in service to others to the glory of the LORD’s holy Name. But, do not fear, love, or trust in them, for they are but temporal and fleeting, they are but creatures of the Creator. Do not make them into idols, for there is one LORD and no other, and He has made and given all things, but look to the image of Christ, and Him crucified, for He is the express image of the invisible God, in whose image you were made, and to which image you have been restored in Him. The image of God in Christ Jesus, the image in which you were created and to which you have been restored, is the image of love, and humility, and selflessness, and sacrifice. Render unto Jesus what belongs to Jesus. You belong to Jesus, for He has purchased and redeemed you from sin, death, and the devil with His holy, innocent shed blood. Honor Him and reflect and bear His image by loving and serving others with His fruits and gifts to the glory of His holy Name. This is what it means to be His disciple. And, this is what it looks like to bear His image.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

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