When hearing today’s Gospel story we know we are witnessing another attempt to trap Jesus and disgrace Him before the public. This time the religious leaders and politicians pick an issue that is still controversial: taxes!
In the case of first-century Jews, they paid a day’s wages to Rome to cover the cost of supporting the occupying forces. They were paying to be subjected to the rule of Rome. To make that tax even more intolerable, Jews had to pay with a Roman coin imprinted with the image of Tiberius on one side and on the other an inscription that read: "Tiberius Caesar, son of the divine Augustus."
For a Roman citizen to declare that their emperor was god-like didn’t mean much; they had many gods so what’s one more? But for Jews who pledged to have no other gods than the God of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob, to use that coin to pay that tax offended and infuriated them.
There, in the Hebrews’ temple with NO images, Jesus is quizzed, “Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, or not?”
Notice Jesus doesn’t have the coin on Him, He must ask for one and when He does, it is produced, and then He asked, “Whose head is this, and whose title?”
And they, the Pharisees and the Herodians, answered, ‘The emperor’s.’
Then he said to them, ‘Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.’
Give the government the money needed for public services and the the order maintained by first-century Roman legions; an acceptable answer, if Jesus had stopped there, but He didn’t.
He went on to add: ‘… and to God the things that are God’s.’
Jesus put the image on the Roman coin alongside the “other” coin; the coin-like life of human beings imprinted with God’s likeness on one side, and the inscription on the other: “In the image of God He created them, male and female, he created them.”
As was noted this all took place in the temple where the keepers of the Hebrew rituals of worship and the Hebrew commandments for living, were carrying the coin – right there in the temple, where images of other gods and of their own God were forbidden.
Some, knowingly or unknowingly, were turning their lives into pulpits from which they preached a double allegiance, to Caesar and to God, making the choice when it seemed appropriate to them.
In striking contrast, Jesus turned the temple’s courts reserved for prophets, rabbis and teachers of Hebrew Law into His pulpit to call humankind back to living a life that is imprinted with the image of God.
In a short time, His pulpit will take the shape of a cross raised on the hill of the city’s garbage heap and dump, where – in His death – He will preach His ultimate sermon that rings through time: (John 3: 16, 17) “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but may have
eternal life. God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”
Later, the Apostle Paul turned his letters into pulpits to carry that Good News to Christians in Corinth and now to the whole world: (2 Cor. 5: 19,20) “…in Christ God was reconciling (bringing back) the world to himself …and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us, making his appeal through us.”
We who are living pulpits marked with the image of the Creator, pulpits from which we now preach. Making us pulpits from which we preach, in the words of Paul Gilbert:
are writing a gospel, a chapter each day,
By the deeds that you do, by the words that you say;
(Others) read what you write, whether faithless or true.
Say – what is the gospel, according to you?
And, as a reminder to Christians who think pulpits are reserved for preachers, Søren Kierkegaard, the early nineteenth-century Danish pastor, theologian, and tongue-in-cheek critic, said,
“People have an idea that the preacher is an actor on a stage and they are the critics, blaming or praising (the one who preaches). What they don't know is that they are the actors on the stage; (the preacher) is merely the prompter standing in the wings, reminding them of their lost lines.”
And, to hold us preachers to that calling, the Apostle Paul said,
“For we do not proclaim ourselves; we proclaim Jesus Christ
as Lord.” (2 Cor. 4: 5)
In seminary we were taught to hope for a response after a sermon that has us hearing not “What a great sermon you preached!”
But “What a great Savior!”
You and I are moveable pulpits set up wherever we happen to be,
and whatever we do or say is a sermon that reveals God’s imprint on us.
A Christian couple sat and listened to a financial advisor boasting about a sudden windfall of investable money coming from a farmer’s
sale of acres that will be developed by a builder and yield more profit for housing than from crops, making both rich.
Hearing that, the couple protected, “Not so!”
The investor, with a puzzled look, asked, “Why not?”
The Christian couple answered, “The land doesn’t belong to them. It belongs to God, and we are but God’s tenants and caretakers!”
The way in which the land is used is a sermon that we preach.
A mother and child are waiting on the corner for the school bus. Her cell phone rings and she begins a trivial conversation while her child stares off into space. Suddenly she realizes she is ignoring her son.
She turns off the cell phone to spend those precious moments to talk with him and listen to him, to treat him as a child who like herself, bears the imprint of God,
and with that choice, that bus stop became her pulpit.
A public hearing on funding for an affordable housing project becomes the occasion for one person to object because it will open the neighborhood to undesirable people – “undesirable” people.
Another person stands up and reminds the protestor, “Both of us are Christians and we live by the Gospel words of Jesus, “Just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.” (Matt. 25:40)
In as much as we see ourselves as part of God’s family who want the same quality of life for others as we want for ourselves, we become living pulpits, preaching that sermon…which I as a preacher must preach to myself as well as expecting you to do the same.
Every time I hold a menu I must decide whether or not I will resist picking a food I’d like to eat but shouldn’t because of allergies.
Every time I use a credit or debit card, I must decide whether or not I am purchasing what I really need.
Every time I open my mouth I must decide whether or not my words honor or disgrace the image God has imprinted on me.
Throughout a day I must ask myself what kind of what kind of sermon I am preaching, for all of life is a moveable pulpit, for me and for you.
Where might that be for you? Where is your pulpit?”
To keep us from dreading the answer or feeling total inadequate in our attempts to respond, today’s Old Testament reading has us hearing God preaching to Moses, and now to us,
‘My presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.’
‘I will make all my goodness pass before you,
and will proclaim before you the name, “The Lord”;
and I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious,
and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy.’
The promise that strengthens us to preach living sermons that reveal God’s imprint on us, encouraged by a prayer Peter Marshal prayed years ago:
“Bless every humble soul who in these days of strain and stress
preaches sermons without word.”