The text for this sermon is Matthew 22:15-22
In the cat and mouse game that makes up a lot of the book of Matthew, the Pharisees are at it again, trying to trick Jesus. With their question about paying taxes he seems to be left with two bad choices. Support the payment of taxes and have the people hate him or be arrested by the Romans for encouraging people not to pay taxes. Jesus chooses option three, by indirectly answering the question, pretty much saying pay your taxes, but telling them and us they have a much bigger tax to worry about, paying God what God is owed. He does all of this while holding on to a coin.
The coin he was holding onto had a picture of Caesar, the leader of the kingdom where it had currency. Jesus told them to spend this coin in the kingdom of the king who minted it, created it, gave it value. Then he looks squarely at the Pharisees, the disciples, the crowds around him and in a real way us. We are like this coin, because God’s image is stamped on each and everyone of us, our King, in our Kingdom. God creates us. God gives us value. God mints us and now God tells us to go and spend our coin, our lives in the Kingdom of God.
Let’s go and spend our coin. We have been fooling with the Seven Essential Questions of Faith during Lent and today we ask a question that not only people of faith ask, but everyone really, what brings us fulfillment? My answer, spending our coin. After fits and starts and thoughts and words and frustration, that is the answer I am sticking with. What brings us fulfillment is spending our coin in the world. Giving our lives back to God, who minted us and gave us value.
We have choices you know, with this coin of ours. We could save our coin. Saving our coin is about not taking risks, not embracing our gifts, not believing the good news, that daily we die to sin so that we can rise and embrace a fresh start. Almost six or seven years ago, we had a thirty something year old visitor to Messiah, that met me in my office before she ever worshipped here. Her husband had just abandoned her and her two kids in an ugly incident that had left her devastated. Her marriage, her family had been everything to her. She had bet her life on it. She had lost the bet.
She had been raised in the church, served in the choir as a teenager, gone on mission trips and youth gatherings, but had not been back much since college. Now, when life seemed really difficult, church seemed like a good place to start over. She had a lot of gifts to share. She smiled even in an otherwise emotional meeting, as she told me what she liked to do, how she would like to start refocusing her life on God in the church, introducing her children to this joy that she had as a child, but had never shared with them before. She came to worship about four times in a row, but then only once or twice a year around Christmas. She is saving her coin, next year, she is going to become a bigger part of the church she told me at Christmas, the last time I saw her.
Saving our coin makes no sense. How long do we want to live life thinking about what we are going to do different next week, next month or next year? How long are we going to read stories about people who make a difference in this world, before committing to be that person this year? How much more groaning in God’s world do we have to hear before we decide to help? Spending our coin will bring fulfillment, making a difference in our lives and the lives of those we serve.
We have choices, with what to do with this coin. Many of the gifts God has given us have value in the Kingdom of Man. Dustin Wissinger spends all week as an accountant for a local company and then at night takes care of our books for HEART Food Pantry. Some gifts have value in both worlds, but we lose on the exchange rate. Have you ever been to Canada and tried to spend American money at the counter of a store? The exchange rate is always less than if you had exchanged your dollars at a bank before the trip. Subject to the clerk’s determination on how much your money is worth that day, you always leave thinking you didn’t quite get as much bang for your buck.
This is what motivated our member Brian Peters to lead the 4:30 worship service. Brian has had some success singing and playing harmonica at clubs and festivals around the area. He has even started his own band, Deuce and a Quarter, like them on Facebook. His coin, his gifts have some currency in the Kingdom of man. Yet, he longs to share these gifts with the Kingdom of God. This is where his heart is leading him. He got to talking with a woman he sings with, Holly about this. Her passion has been in the church for a while. Mike, overheard them at a practice one day making plans to sing at Messiah and asked if he could join them, too. They came to us. Thadd and I had no plans to start a 4:30 service. It was their enthusiasm to spend their coin, share their gifts, that convinced Thadd and I. Our lives have value in the Kingdom of man, but they get redeemed at full value in the Kingdom of God.
Let’s spend our coin on God and find fulfillment for our life. This doesn’t only mean a life of helping the poor, lost or least, although there is nothing wrong with that. Spending your coin might mean, working a morning at Joseph’s Coat and see the delight in a mother’s eyes when she finds a faded short sleeved boys shirt that will fit her son. Stay the afternoon at HEART, the food pantry we support, and help the 70 year old woman who worked her entire life at Lazarus, had donated often to food pantries before retirement, and never once thought she would need to shop at one herself. Surely, God would be delighted if we spent our coin serving and supporting financially these ministries or the many others like it that we are passionate about at Messiah.
There are other good places to spend it, too. Jean Limbers has sewn all of her life, her children and grandchildren have worn her clothes. She created the quilt that says Welcome that hangs in our Welcome Center. A few years ago she gave us a gift that is even more special. A pall is a white sheet we put over a casket in a funeral. It is a symbol of the baptism of the person who died and the trust we have that God will keep God’s promise to bring life from death. Jean heard me say that I felt bad we couldn’t include this special ritual for a member who is cremated. She got to work and created a small pall that is not only beautiful, but identical to the large sheet we have used for years for caskets at messiah. We put it over her good friend Charlotte’s urn, just this year.
Let’s spend our coin and not die holding on to it. Let’s start looking at our entire life as currency that get’s the most bang for it’s buck if spent in God’s kingdom. Each and everyone of us is rich already because we are the highest denomination imaginable. God’s image has been stamped on us. Die broke, having given every piece of our lives to the delight and need of God’s world. Amen