Monday, October 16, 2017

"Give to God What is God's" - Sermon, October 15, 2017

Community UMC, Quincy
“Give to God What is God’s”
Pastor Andrew Davis
October 15, 2017
Matthew 22: 15-22

             Back when I was in Sunday school at Rio Linda UMC, all of us children and adults would gather in the sanctuary for a time of “morning sing” before we headed off to our respective classes.  Besides some of the usual Sunday School songs like “Arky, Arky (aka “Rise & Shine”), “I am the Light of the World,” “Morning Has Broken,” or “The Community Song,” one song that would come up here and there was called “The Magic Penny:” If you know it, feel free to sing along:
Love is something if you give it away, give it away, give it away.
Love is something if you give it away, you end up having more for,
It’s just like a magic penny; hold it tight and you won’t have any.
Lend it, spend it, and you’ll have so many, they roll all over the floor for
Love is something if you give it away, give it away, give it away.
Love is something if you give it away, you end up having more.[i]

            So, what is it that we give to God?  What are ways that we give back to God?
            While we have been focusing on some of the readings from Exodus and Israel’s encounters with the ways God provides during their journey through the wilderness, we return to the Gospel of Matthew this morning, as Jesus has made his triumphant entry into Jerusalem, flipped over the tables and chased the money changers out of the temple, and is now being challenged by the Pharisees about taxes and whether or not the Jewish people during that time should pay taxes to the Roman government or not.  I think my favorite part about this week’s passage is that Jesus can see right through the Pharisees and isn’t going to fall for their attempts to trap him.  See, back in first century Palestine, there were taxes for many things, including the temple tax and when Jesus is being challenged by the Pharisees, it’s time for Jesus to stir things up a bit by presenting something different and unheard of, which often happened when Jesus encountered the Pharisees.[ii]
            While there is a question of whether it is lawful in God’s eyes for the Jews to pay taxes to the state, Jesus says to give to the state what is the state’s and give to God what is God’s, leaving the Pharisees amazed that he would say that.  Even today, we have our duty as citizens of the state and country, while at the same time, we have our duty as Christians.  We pay our taxes to the State of California and to the federal government, while we also give to God what is God’s, whether it is through our gifts to the church by giving our financial gifts, tithes, and offerings, or our gifts of service.  In our Gospel lesson, Jesus is more or less saying “that paying taxes to support secular and pagan governments [such as Rome] is not against the will of God” as “loyalty to God is a different and higher category than loyalty to Caesar [in this case].”[iii] Even though many of us don’t like doing so today, paying our taxes is not necessarily against God’s will because we are ‘giving to the state what is the state’s.’ As followers of Christ, our responsibility is to give to God what is God’s, as God is where our ultimate loyalty should be at.[iv]
Giving to God what is God’s can be joyful, whether it is financially or using other means of giving.  In his book, Generous People, Eugene Grimm writes that
giving is the reason for living.  In survey after survey, people say that their primary reason for giving is gratitude to God for the blessings they have received.  Christian people, from new-born believers to mature disciples, seem to realize that giving is intrinsic to being a Christian.[v]

            By giving of ourselves like Jesus gave of himself and by giving our gifts to God, we are giving our thanks to God for giving us life here on this earth, the opportunity to share with others, the gift of community, and so on.  Although I was not able to be here yesterday due to a church finances finance workshop that I attended with Greg, Cheryl, Linda in Sacramento, our church hosted a memorial service for Melissa Lancaster, a person who did not attend this church.  When our local funeral director, John Fehrman called me to inquire about the service a couple weeks ago, the family said that although they did have a church home, it would be our church if they did.  The many gifts our congregation shares with the greater community as a people of faith is indeed noticed and even that is a gift in and of itself.  A number of you gave your time in getting Melissa’s service together, one of the ways we give to God what is God’s.  Plus, clergy colleagues in the area are a gift, as Pastor Karen Watson was able to preside at yesterday’s service in my place, giving of her time and compassion as she ministered with the family.  In thinking of people giving their gift of love, I think of community member Steve Tolen, who passed away last week.  Although I personally did not know Steve, I could tell from the Facebook posts at Moon’s and in his obituary in The Feather River Bulletin that he was a person who gave his gifts to the greater community and was given many gifts of love from people in the community during his long illness.  I also think of my clergy colleague, Rev. Blake Busick at Santa Rosa First UMC, who still gave his gift of love, opening his church as an evacuation center, and ministering with those affected by the fires in Santa Rosa, all amidst losing his own home in the fires.  As I’ve said before, ‘all good gifts around us are sent from heaven above.’
            --- Another way of thinking about giving to God what is God’s is when we become a member of this church and The United Methodist Church; when we become professing members of the church, we are asked to take a vow to give our gifts, time, prayers, witness, and service, which is what we give to God and to each other here in the church.  Our financial gifts help sustain our ministry in a number of ways, as our church is an important place in our community, whether we gather for worship each Sunday, whether people drop by the office in need of help or pastoral care during the week, for our Community supper on Wednesdays, Bible study on Thursdays, and our music ministries.  On the other hand, the reality in today’s world is that we too need to ‘give to the emperor what is the emperor’s’ because we do have bills that need to be paid here in the church in order to keep our lights on, our water running, keep our grounds clean, safe, and well-kept, and to sustain our ministries in the long-run.  Yet we have more ways to give to God what is God’s, hence why no gift to God is too small, whether it is through a biblical tithe (10% of income) or other financial gift, or non-financially through the time you give to the church, such as helping set up/clean up at and after big events, mowing the lawns or shoveling snow in the winter, and through your simple presence.  All of these gifts are ways of giving to God what is God’s.  How will you use your gifts to give to God what is God’s? 
            As we go into this new week and think about the ways that we give to God, I want to invite you to try a little exercise when you’re out and about at the store, the bank, the gas station, or wherever you might spend money.  Mark a credit card or dollar bill with the cross and reflect on whether or not any of the purchases you make align with your own sense of values and God-given identity, then ask yourself is it a burden, or not?[vi] Ask yourself, can the way we spend our money root us in faith and actively reflect on how our faith shapes our daily life and our economic life?[vii] And finally, what might God’s Good News look like in the world through our giving to God?  We have so many things to thank God for and God wants us for abundant life too, even as we give to the ‘emperor what is the emperor’s’ while we ‘give to God what is God’s.’ 
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, let the church say, AMEN! 

[i] "Google Play Music". 2017. Play.Google.Com. Accessed October 12 2017.

[ii] " Pentecost 19A: Money, Politics, & Religion (Oh My!) | ...In The Meantime". 2017. Davidlose.Net. Accessed October 12 2017.

[iii] The New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary, Vol. VIII (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1995), 420. 
[iv] Ibid., 420-421
[v] Eugene Grimm, Generous People (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1992), 76. 

[vi] " Pentecost 19A: Money, Politics, & Religion (Oh My!) | ...In The Meantime". 2017. Davidlose.Net. Accessed October 12 2017.

[vii] Ibid.  

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