Recently I’ve been thinking back to the long journeys I took to church when I lived in Tokyo many years ago.
I would get up early on Sunday mornings, walk to the train station, and then transfer twice before I got to my destination.
After I got off the train, it was a twenty minute walk to Hiyoshi Church, where I worshipped in Japanese every single Sunday.
I remember the first week, when someone walked with me from the train station, I thought, “I will never be able to do this on my own.” But I did.
I remembered the route, and took the trains and walked the winding streets every single week.
Then one week, a gentleman sat down next to me on the train and struck up a conversation.
Where was I going, he wanted to know. To church, I replied.
He was curious, having never been to church before. He asked if he could go to church, too. I said that he certainly could.
I was thinking that I was fulfilling my calling as a missionary! Someone is going to church because of me!
But then he kept asking me if he needed to have money in order to come to church.
I kept assuring him that it was perfectly okay if he didn’t have money. He could come to church and worship without paying for it.
I wondered why he was so worried, or what he could be thinking. But I kept assuring him – no offering was necessary.
I just wanted him to experience a worship service.
You don’t have to pay to go to worship. There is no entrance fee. I stand by my statement to that Japanese gentleman.
But today – when we are ‘shining in our worship –‘ there is an offering – and it is an integral part of the worship.
It’s not an entrance fee and you don’t ‘have to’ – but it’s not optional either.
Today we are “shining in our worship’ – and we will also be receiving our commitments for the coming year.
And today the gospel reading is all about money – and about what it means…..
The setting is the temple.
The time is “Holy Week” – which means that Jesus will soon be crucified.
The religious leaders are trying to trap Jesus by asking him a question about money and taxes – and they believe that no matter which way he answers, he will be giving the wrong answer to someone. They asked him, “What do you think, Jesus? Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, or not?”
If he says, “Yes,” he’s made the Pharisees angry – because they think it is not right to pay taxes to the occupying forces of Rome.
If he answers, “No,” he will obviously be leading an uprising, and the forces of Rome will be need to bring him down. What is Jesus going to say?
So this is not just money, is it? Like everything else in life.
But it’s about money too. Like so much in life.
It’s interesting that the two groups who approach Jesus are the Pharisees and the Herodians. They hate each other.
They don’t agree on anything.
But it appears that they are united in one thing – their hatred for Jesus. So they ask the question – they bait the trap – and they wait.
But Jesus takes it in another direction.
He answers their question with a question. First, he asks them if they have the coin. Surprisingly, someone does have a coin.
I say, it’s a surprise because they are in the temple, and Roman coins should be changed to Jewish coins for offerings in the temple.
But, someone has a Roman coin, and Jesus asks, “Whose image and likeness do you see?”
Of course – it’s Caesar.
So Jesus says, “Give to Caesar the things that our Caesar’s – “ which, on the face of it means – meet your obligations, pay your taxes, be a good citizen, -- all well and good – but he doesn’t stop there.
Then he adds something else, “And Give to God the things that are God’s.”
What DOESN’T belong to God?
This casts everything in an entirely new light, doesn’t it?
It doesn’t mean that we don’t have responsibilities to the state – It doesn’t mean that Jesus says it’s okay not to pay taxes
– but Jesus is also NOT saying that there are compartments where we can divide our loyalties either.
In fact, there are several places where Jesus speaks out particularly about loyalties which are divided.
NO – regardless of all of our other obligations in life – ultimately, everything belongs to God.
It all goes back to the “image and likeness” on the coin.
“It’s an interesting phrase, “Image and likeness”.
It is Caesar’s “image and likeness” on the coin.
But if you go all the way back to Genesis, chapter 1, verse 26 (and I can’t help but think that Jesus is counting on us remembering this verse),
when God made humanity, he made us “in the image and likeness of God.’
Each and every one of us.
And then for us who have been baptized, and who have had the cross traced on our foreheads, there is even more: we have been sealed by the Holy Spirit and marked by the cross of Christ forever.
We belong to God. Every one of us. And every part of us.
And that is, in part, why we take the offering every Sunday during worship.
It is God of course who is always always offering himself to us. And that is what Sunday is about.
But it is also about us, offering ourselves back to God. And offering ourselves to our neighbor.
We offer the sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving, confessing that God is God (and we are not).
We offer our time and our talents.
And we don’t hold back our wealth either.
What we put in the offering plate, no matter how big it is, is just part of the picture.
The part that doesn’t go in the offering plate – well, that belongs to God too, and it matters how we use it.
What goes in the offering plate – helps us to remember that EVERYTHING belongs to God, helps us to remember that everything is a gift from God, and also helps us to remember that we are a community of faith, and that we serve and worship God TOGETHER.
So I told that man, you don’t need money to come to church.
In the Shinto religion of Japan, you put your coin in before you can pray.
You pay and then you can pray. You pay to get access.
So it was a good answer, the right answer .
For us, You don’t pay your money in order to be able to pray.
You put your coin in the offering because you can already pray – for free.
You put you dollars in the offering because we already belong to God because of what God has done – because God’s image and likeness has been stamped on us, because we are redeemed.
You give up a portion of your wealth because it was never yours to begin with, because you are part of the body of Christ, that body also made in the image of God.
You give because you are part of the body of Christ and part of the mission of God and –well -- it’s not your mission either, the mission belongs to God, and because we are privileged to play a part in it.
Let your light so shine before others
That they may see your good works
And give glory to your father in heaven.