Jesus’ answer to the Pharisees and the Herodians is not only an answer that side steps the trap they have set for him, but it raises some important questions for us. What are the things that belong to the emperor? What are the things that belong to God? And the unspoken question: what are the things that I can claim as my own?
Somebody has a coin in his pocket imprinted with the image of Tiberius. It is a sign of the complex intersection of people’s daily lives with the over-arching presence of the Rome. We could be asked to produce symbols of the complex intersection of our own daily lives with workings of our federal and state governments. A piece of currency, a drivers license, a social security card, a credit card, a school ID card, or a passport are all symbols of the rules, laws, and regulations as well as the infrastructure, education and security programs provided by government that benefit to our lives every day. Collectively, through taxes, we create a common good that is a benefit to everyone, and I would go so far as to regard our citizenship – including paying taxes – as a faith practice through which we seek to do good for our neighbor. “Give to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s.”
And what of God? What are the things that belong to God? We know what the psalmist says: Psalm 24:1 – “The earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it.” And the circular question this raises is that if everything finally belongs to God, is there anything left that truly belongs to the emperor? But if it doesn’t belong to the emperor, then it doesn’t belong to me either. And that’s the real hard part of Jesus’ answer, because it’s not about paying taxes or not, and keeping the rest for myself. It all belongs to God – one hundred percent – my money, my time, my skills, my life – it all belongs to God.
That is why stewardship is not about paying the bills at the church, it is about the way I live my whole life. God entrusts me – God entrusts each one of us – with the management of all kinds of talents, opportunities, financial assets and other resources. And with these resources, God also give us responsibilities – for the well-being of our families and communities, for the common good and general welfare of the people we live with on this planet, for the care of God’s creation, and for the proclamation of God’s love revealed to the world in good news of Jesus. Stewardship is the way we live out the trust God has placed in us by dedicating the resources God provides for the responsibilities God asks us to tend to.
And that does mean that God entrusts me with some of those resources for my own well-being and the well-being of my family. And the danger is that I think this responsibility as the only responsibility God gives me, or I start to believe that the resources God entrusts to my management really belong to me and I can use them however I please. But if we can make that critical step on our spiritual journey to acknowledge before God that all we have belongs finally to God, then we will show ourselves worthy of the trust that God have placed in us.
Part of our stewardship is the proclamation of God’s love through Jesus Christ. Our Savior’s Lutheran Church exists so that more and more people might know the amazing love of God through Jesus. You know that you are wrapped in that love – now and forever; and it is that love that bubbles up and overflows in you, transforming you into a channel of that love so that others can also be wrapped in God’s love. And the stewardship question is this: what portion of the resources God gives you to manage do you dedicate to God’s mission through Our Savior’s? The orange insert in your bulletin today is meant to help you think about that question. What percent of your income do your dedicate to the stewardship of the gospel through Our Savior’s? Find your level of giving, find your income level; the chart tells you your percent of giving. The challenge: increase your giving by one percent for next year. The flip side of that insert shows steps. It is another way to think about your giving. What step represents your current giving? Can you move to the next step as you commit yourself to a level of giving for 2015? The yellow commitment card is also in your bulletin this week. We will gather these commitments in two weeks on November 2nd. They are a sign of your stewardship of the gospel, and what we can do together to proclaim God’s love. It’s not about paying the bills at the church – though that needs to be done – Stewardship is rather a way of life that knows that all we have has been entrusted to us by God, and God calls us to manage those resources faithfully for the responsibilities God places in our care. AMEN