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Apodote

A sermon by Randy Hyde, Pastor, Pulaski Heights Baptist Church, Little Rock, Ar.

July 6, 2014

Exodus 33:12-23; Matthew 22:15-22

I’ve got the routine down pretty well, since I’ve been doing it this way for a number of years. Each week, I set aside a certain amount of money and put it into a savings account. Actually, it really isn’t a savings account as much as it is a holding account. You see, I don’t get to keep the money very long because it really isn’t my money.

On January 15, April 15, June 15, and September 15, I transfer the funds from the savings account into our checking account and I write two checks. One is to the United States Treasury, and the other is to the state of Arkansas’ Department of Finance and Administration. If those dates, and this routine, sound familiar, it is because you do the same as I. You make quarterly estimated tax payments.

It’s a bit of a guessing game as to whether the money I send in to the federal and state governments is the appropriate amount. I find out each spring if I’ve done it correctly when I file my annual tax return. If I do it right, the government owes me no money and I owe the government none. If, on April 15 I break even, I consider that I have fulfilled my civic duty and have done so accurately.

Just the other day, on the Classics Radio station, I heard an old Red Skelton comedy routine. I see those of you whose hair is the same color as mine. You remember Red Skelton, don’t you? For all you others, he was a famous and very popular radio – and then televison – comic and actor. In this routine, when his accountant asked him why he refused to sign his estimated tax form, Red said that if he had to guess how much money he owed the government then the government could just guess who it was making the payment. I didn’t say he was the brightest comedian to come down the pike. This process of estimated taxes evidently goes back a long way.

To some people, the word taxes is a four-letter word, not five. They resent paying taxes because they are skeptical of the way our government uses the financial resources provided through tax payments. They look upon the government with great bitterness, and do everything they can to keep from paying their fair share. I admit there have been times when I haven’t been too happy with the way our government operates. But then I realize that despite our limitations, in terms of always doing what is right, our system of governance is still better than any other country on earth. At least that’s what we’d like to think, isn’t it?

Others consider paying taxes the duty and privilege of living in a country that affords us the freedoms not enjoyed by many other people who live on this globe. Every time I prepare my taxes, I think of Payton Kolb. When Dr. Kolb died just a few months after we came here in 1996, I visited with his widow Margaret at their home over on Colonial Court. She told me she never got to entertain guests at her dining room table because that is where, year-round, Dr. Kolb kept his tax papers. He loved working on his taxes, she told me, because he considered it such a privilege to live in this free country. And, just as she said, when I looked in their dining room area off the living room, the table was covered with his stuff. It probably still was the day Margaret died twelve years later.

If you are one of those who resents paying taxes, the purpose of this sermon is not to try and convert you to a different way of thinking. But it is to try and convince you to consider it from a biblical perspective, which brings us to one of the most famous and well-known statements in all of scripture… “Render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s, and to God that which is God’s.”

Long before we read that a few moments ago, I’m sure you would have recognized those words as coming from Jesus. Need I remind you that Jesus lived in a place and time where taxes were paid, not to a democratically-elected government, but to one that occupied the land by sheer force and violence? One day, Jesus was confronted by a group of people who were still having a hard time being reconciled as to just exactly how they ought to be getting along with that oppressive regime.

You may not have thought a thing about it, but the make-up of this group of inquisitors is really quite interesting. There are some Pharisees, we are told. We’ve all heard of the Pharisees. They seem to be nipping at Jesus’ heels at just about every turn, trying to trip him up and make him look bad in front of the people who have chosen to follow after him. But did you notice who came along with them on this little encounter? The Herodians. Hmm. Is the picture starting to come into sharper focus for you? If not, let’s do a little explaining…

The Pharisees would have been counted in that group of folk who resent the government, and whenever they are forced to pay taxes do so with gritted teeth. They are reminded, every time they send in their quarterly check accompanied by the appropriate form 1040-ES with their Social Security numbers attached, that they are doing nothing short of supporting a pagan cult of emperor worship, not to mention the lavish and lascivious lifestyles of the Roman rulers who lord it over their people and increasingly make life difficult for them.

The Herodians, on the other hand, were in cahoots with King Herod (hence the name Herodians) who was in cahoots with the Romans. Herod had gotten quite rich and powerful by means of his association with the prevailing government, and his empire had grown exponentially because he had turned out to be one of their more effective toadies. So, on one hand you’ve got people who hate the occupying government, and on the other hand you have those who have learned to take financial advantage of the government. On this particular day, they have come together to form an unlikely alliance, an alliance whose intent is to trick the Nazarene into making a politically-wrong and damning statement. Matthew puts it bluntly. They’ve plotted to entrap Jesus in what he said.

They are strange bedfellows indeed. It shows how desperate they have become in seeking Jesus’ demise.

“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.” Oh please… do you really think he can’t see right through you?  What’s with all this fake falderal? You don’t really believe he’s going to be taken in by your false flattery, do you? Just because he dresses simply and doesn’t carry an air of sophistication doesn’t mean he’s simple or stupid.

“Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, or not?” Now watch them as they step back a bit, fold their arms in satisfaction at having come up with such a clever, clever question, and stand there with a smirk on their collective faces. Can’t you just see how satisfied they are with themselves? Why, it must have taken a long time for them to come up with this idea, and now all they have to do is wait for Jesus to incriminate himself by the way he responds to their question. Gotcha!

This is going to be good. This is going to be really, really good. If Jesus says they should pay the tax, the people who resent the Roman government, such as the Pharisees, will not be happy. If he says they should not pay the tax, the Herodians can have him charged with treason and convince the government that his purpose is to lead a rebellion against those who are in authority.

Understand, if you will, that the people of Jesus’ day paid many taxes. Every time they turned around, not just quarterly, some government official was standing there with his hand out. The tax that the Pharisees and Herodians mention to Jesus is a very specific tax, however. In fact, of all the taxes paid by the Jews to the Romans, this is the one they hated most to pay. This is the imperial tax paid as tribute to Rome to support the Roman occupation of Israel. That meant they had to pay a tax to their oppressors to support their own oppression.1 Every time a Jew paid this tax, it was a reminder that Rome was telling them the land belonged to Caesar. The Jews believed fervently that it belonged instead to God, who in turn gave it to them so they could be good stewards of it.

Everyone who was present that day to hear this little interchange between Jesus and this group of questioners would have been quite aware of how the Romans were working with Herod to take the land away from the common people. That is just one reason why they hated to pay this imperial tax.

“Show me a coin,” Jesus says to them. One of them gives him a denarius. I wonder if it was a Pharisee who offered it to him. If so, he would have been in violation of his own convictions, for they were not supposed to have anything, ever, on their person that bore what to them was a graven image. “Whose image is on it? What does the inscription say?”

“Caesar’s.”

“Then render to Caesar what belongs to Caesar, and to God what belongs to God.”

What a great answer! And because they have no comeback for it, this combined and oddly-aligned group of Pharisees and Herodians slink away like shamed dogs with their tails between their legs. End of story, right? Well, maybe not. It still leaves us with a question: what belongs to Caesar and what belongs to God? And is there any middle ground?

After two thousand years we still struggle with this question. Just the other day someone was complaining to me about how we’ve taken God out of government, that this country was given birth by means of Judaeo-Christian principles, and by taking “In God We Trust” off our coinage we are simply showing again how God is being removed from the marketplace. We deal with this issue every day, don’t we? What belongs to God and what belongs to country?

No one can take God from anything that God himself does not want to abandon. Still, the very best act of stewardship and patriotism that we can exercise is our willingness to give back to our country what belongs to it, and to God what belongs to God. In fact, that is the very meaning of the word that is translated “render.” It means to give back again.

I try very hard not to flood you with Greek terminology, Greek being, of course, the language in which the New Testament was written. I do that for at least a couple of reasons. One is that I am hardly a Greek scholar, and to try and act like one would not be completely honest. The other is that to do so would be boring. But for today’s consideration, I think it is appropriate.

Did you notice the title of the sermon? Yes, it is Greek… apodote. Apo is a preposition that means “to give” and dote is a form of the word didomi, which means “back again.” Jesus says we are to give back again what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God.

A vital part of stewardship is determining, as well as acting upon, that which is appropriate. You might think that Jesus, since he had come to proclaim the in-breaking of the kingdom of God, would have told his questioners not to give anything to the hated Caesar… that it all belongs to God. Jesus didn’t hold a quarter for the kingdom of Caesar, recognizing that it was man-made and not eternal. He also had no respect for the way the religious leaders among his own people were administering their practice of faith. Some time later, when Simon Peter was told by the leaders in Jerusalem to stop proclaiming the risen Christ, he responded, “We must obey God rather than any human authority!” (Acts 5:29). He had learned his lesson well.

But Jesus recognized the necessary balance between the two. That doesn’t mean that one side isn’t weighted a bit more heavily than the other. What his response to his questioners reveals is that we get into trouble when we start blending the two together and don’t recognize how they need to be kept separate. When that happens, we are tempted to think that our country is always right because it is uniquely blessed by God. Folks, no matter how you look at it, that is bad theology. The fact that we live in a democracy demands that we be vigilant and involved in the process of government while holding our deepest and highest commitment to Christ and his church. It is indeed something of a balancing act, but it is also the only way to give back again.

When September 15 rolls around, I plan to be ready with my two checks. I do not write them in anger, nor am I resentful for having to do so. I am indeed grateful to live in a free country. But I also recognize that the gift I give each week to my church has far more potential for doing what I have given my life to accomplish. I hope you feel the same, for to live a life of faith is to apodote… it is to give back again.

Lord, we love you and your kingdom, and are grateful that we are able to worship you in freedom. We love our country too. May we share our faith with others, that they might find their freedom in you as well. Through Christ our Lord we pray, Amen.

Notes

1David J. Lose, Feasting on the Gospels, Volume 2 (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2013), p. 193.

A sermon by Randy Hyde, Pastor, Pulaski Heights Baptist Church, Little Rock, Ar.

July 6, 2014

Exodus 33:12-23; Matthew 22:15-22

I’ve got the routine down pretty well, since I’ve been doing it this way for a number of years. Each week, I set aside a certain amount of money and put it into a savings account. Actually, it really isn’t a savings account as much as it is a holding account. You see, I don’t get to keep the money very long because it really isn’t my money.

On January 15, April 15, June 15, and September 15, I transfer the funds from the savings account into our checking account and I write two checks. One is to the United States Treasury, and the other is to the state of Arkansas’ Department of Finance and Administration. If those dates, and this routine, sound familiar, it is because you do the same as I. You make quarterly estimated tax payments.

It’s a bit of a guessing game as to whether the money I send in to the federal and state governments is the appropriate amount. I find out each spring if I’ve done it correctly when I file my annual tax return. If I do it right, the government owes me no money and I owe the government none. If, on April 15 I break even, I consider that I have fulfilled my civic duty and have done so accurately.

Just the other day, on the Classics Radio station, I heard an old Red Skelton comedy routine. I see those of you whose hair is the same color as mine. You remember Red Skelton, don’t you? For all you others, he was a famous and very popular radio – and then televison – comic and actor. In this routine, when his accountant asked him why he refused to sign his estimated tax form, Red said that if he had to guess how much money he owed the government then the government could just guess who it was making the payment. I didn’t say he was the brightest comedian to come down the pike. This process of estimated taxes evidently goes back a long way.

To some people, the word taxes is a four-letter word, not five. They resent paying taxes because they are skeptical of the way our government uses the financial resources provided through tax payments. They look upon the government with great bitterness, and do everything they can to keep from paying their fair share. I admit there have been times when I haven’t been too happy with the way our government operates. But then I realize that despite our limitations, in terms of always doing what is right, our system of governance is still better than any other country on earth. At least that’s what we’d like to think, isn’t it?

Others consider paying taxes the duty and privilege of living in a country that affords us the freedoms not enjoyed by many other people who live on this globe. Every time I prepare my taxes, I think of Payton Kolb. When Dr. Kolb died just a few months after we came here in 1996, I visited with his widow Margaret at their home over on Colonial Court. She told me she never got to entertain guests at her dining room table because that is where, year-round, Dr. Kolb kept his tax papers. He loved working on his taxes, she told me, because he considered it such a privilege to live in this free country. And, just as she said, when I looked in their dining room area off the living room, the table was covered with his stuff. It probably still was the day Margaret died twelve years later.

If you are one of those who resents paying taxes, the purpose of this sermon is not to try and convert you to a different way of thinking. But it is to try and convince you to consider it from a biblical perspective, which brings us to one of the most famous and well-known statements in all of scripture… “Render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s, and to God that which is God’s.”

Long before we read that a few moments ago, I’m sure you would have recognized those words as coming from Jesus. Need I remind you that Jesus lived in a place and time where taxes were paid, not to a democratically-elected government, but to one that occupied the land by sheer force and violence? One day, Jesus was confronted by a group of people who were still having a hard time being reconciled as to just exactly how they ought to be getting along with that oppressive regime.

You may not have thought a thing about it, but the make-up of this group of inquisitors is really quite interesting. There are some Pharisees, we are told. We’ve all heard of the Pharisees. They seem to be nipping at Jesus’ heels at just about every turn, trying to trip him up and make him look bad in front of the people who have chosen to follow after him. But did you notice who came along with them on this little encounter? The Herodians. Hmm. Is the picture starting to come into sharper focus for you? If not, let’s do a little explaining…

The Pharisees would have been counted in that group of folk who resent the government, and whenever they are forced to pay taxes do so with gritted teeth. They are reminded, every time they send in their quarterly check accompanied by the appropriate form 1040-ES with their Social Security numbers attached, that they are doing nothing short of supporting a pagan cult of emperor worship, not to mention the lavish and lascivious lifestyles of the Roman rulers who lord it over their people and increasingly make life difficult for them.

The Herodians, on the other hand, were in cahoots with King Herod (hence the name Herodians) who was in cahoots with the Romans. Herod had gotten quite rich and powerful by means of his association with the prevailing government, and his empire had grown exponentially because he had turned out to be one of their more effective toadies. So, on one hand you’ve got people who hate the occupying government, and on the other hand you have those who have learned to take financial advantage of the government. On this particular day, they have come together to form an unlikely alliance, an alliance whose intent is to trick the Nazarene into making a politically-wrong and damning statement. Matthew puts it bluntly. They’ve plotted to entrap Jesus in what he said.

They are strange bedfellows indeed. It shows how desperate they have become in seeking Jesus’ demise.

“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.” Oh please… do you really think he can’t see right through you?  What’s with all this fake falderal? You don’t really believe he’s going to be taken in by your false flattery, do you? Just because he dresses simply and doesn’t carry an air of sophistication doesn’t mean he’s simple or stupid.

“Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, or not?” Now watch them as they step back a bit, fold their arms in satisfaction at having come up with such a clever, clever question, and stand there with a smirk on their collective faces. Can’t you just see how satisfied they are with themselves? Why, it must have taken a long time for them to come up with this idea, and now all they have to do is wait for Jesus to incriminate himself by the way he responds to their question. Gotcha!

This is going to be good. This is going to be really, really good. If Jesus says they should pay the tax, the people who resent the Roman government, such as the Pharisees, will not be happy. If he says they should not pay the tax, the Herodians can have him charged with treason and convince the government that his purpose is to lead a rebellion against those who are in authority.

Understand, if you will, that the people of Jesus’ day paid many taxes. Every time they turned around, not just quarterly, some government official was standing there with his hand out. The tax that the Pharisees and Herodians mention to Jesus is a very specific tax, however. In fact, of all the taxes paid by the Jews to the Romans, this is the one they hated most to pay. This is the imperial tax paid as tribute to Rome to support the Roman occupation of Israel. That meant they had to pay a tax to their oppressors to support their own oppression.1 Every time a Jew paid this tax, it was a reminder that Rome was telling them the land belonged to Caesar. The Jews believed fervently that it belonged instead to God, who in turn gave it to them so they could be good stewards of it.

Everyone who was present that day to hear this little interchange between Jesus and this group of questioners would have been quite aware of how the Romans were working with Herod to take the land away from the common people. That is just one reason why they hated to pay this imperial tax.

“Show me a coin,” Jesus says to them. One of them gives him a denarius. I wonder if it was a Pharisee who offered it to him. If so, he would have been in violation of his own convictions, for they were not supposed to have anything, ever, on their person that bore what to them was a graven image. “Whose image is on it? What does the inscription say?”

“Caesar’s.”

“Then render to Caesar what belongs to Caesar, and to God what belongs to God.”

What a great answer! And because they have no comeback for it, this combined and oddly-aligned group of Pharisees and Herodians slink away like shamed dogs with their tails between their legs. End of story, right? Well, maybe not. It still leaves us with a question: what belongs to Caesar and what belongs to God? And is there any middle ground?

After two thousand years we still struggle with this question. Just the other day someone was complaining to me about how we’ve taken God out of government, that this country was given birth by means of Judaeo-Christian principles, and by taking “In God We Trust” off our coinage we are simply showing again how God is being removed from the marketplace. We deal with this issue every day, don’t we? What belongs to God and what belongs to country?

No one can take God from anything that God himself does not want to abandon. Still, the very best act of stewardship and patriotism that we can exercise is our willingness to give back to our country what belongs to it, and to God what belongs to God. In fact, that is the very meaning of the word that is translated “render.” It means to give back again.

I try very hard not to flood you with Greek terminology, Greek being, of course, the language in which the New Testament was written. I do that for at least a couple of reasons. One is that I am hardly a Greek scholar, and to try and act like one would not be completely honest. The other is that to do so would be boring. But for today’s consideration, I think it is appropriate.

Did you notice the title of the sermon? Yes, it is Greek… apodote. Apo is a preposition that means “to give” and dote is a form of the word didomi, which means “back again.” Jesus says we are to give back again what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God.

A vital part of stewardship is determining, as well as acting upon, that which is appropriate. You might think that Jesus, since he had come to proclaim the in-breaking of the kingdom of God, would have told his questioners not to give anything to the hated Caesar… that it all belongs to God. Jesus didn’t hold a quarter for the kingdom of Caesar, recognizing that it was man-made and not eternal. He also had no respect for the way the religious leaders among his own people were administering their practice of faith. Some time later, when Simon Peter was told by the leaders in Jerusalem to stop proclaiming the risen Christ, he responded, “We must obey God rather than any human authority!” (Acts 5:29). He had learned his lesson well.

But Jesus recognized the necessary balance between the two. That doesn’t mean that one side isn’t weighted a bit more heavily than the other. What his response to his questioners reveals is that we get into trouble when we start blending the two together and don’t recognize how they need to be kept separate. When that happens, we are tempted to think that our country is always right because it is uniquely blessed by God. Folks, no matter how you look at it, that is bad theology. The fact that we live in a democracy demands that we be vigilant and involved in the process of government while holding our deepest and highest commitment to Christ and his church. It is indeed something of a balancing act, but it is also the only way to give back again.

When September 15 rolls around, I plan to be ready with my two checks. I do not write them in anger, nor am I resentful for having to do so. I am indeed grateful to live in a free country. But I also recognize that the gift I give each week to my church has far more potential for doing what I have given my life to accomplish. I hope you feel the same, for to live a life of faith is to apodote… it is to give back again.

Lord, we love you and your kingdom, and are grateful that we are able to worship you in freedom. We love our country too. May we share our faith with others, that they might find their freedom in you as well. Through Christ our Lord we pray, Amen.

Notes

1David J. Lose, Feasting on the Gospels, Volume 2 (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2013), p. 193.