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The Idol in the Room October 22, 2017

Posted by sandhandrews in Sermons.
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Matthew 22:15-22

Proper 24

October 22, 2017

 

Focus:  God saves the world not through the government, but through His Son.

Function:  That the hearers look to Christ alone for their salvation.

Structure:  .

 

The Idol in the Room

 

Over the past couple of weeks, we have seen some of the Pharisees’ greatest attempts to trap Jesus.  And today’s gospel account is another.  This might be the most well-known of their traps, as they tried to use politics and money against Christ.  And again they had Him.  If He sides with not paying taxes, the Roman soldiers are right there and will arrest Him for inciting a rebellion against Caesar.  If He sides with Rome, the crowds who have been brutalized by the heavy taxes will turn on Him.

But then He gives His famous answer, “Give to Caesar what is Caesars, and to God what is God’s.”  But at this point, we’re abandoning the trap narrative.  I want to take a closer look this morning at that famous statement of Christ, and what it means in our context.  Because there’s an idol in the room.  And we rarely, if ever, talk about it.

In that quote, what belongs to Caesar?  Pause for answers, likely incorrect.  The correct answer to the question is nothing.  Listen to the Psalmist, David, as he began to write the 24th Psalm, “The earth is Yahweh’s, and the fullness thereof, the world and those who dwell therein.”  Jesus’ own answer is a trick, because everything belongs to God alone.  There are numerous other Bible verses that say the same thing.  That’s our topic of stewardship, that we own nothing, we only manage the things God entrusts to us. Even as I sign away “my” house to this new couple in a few weeks.  We need to watch our language.  It’s God’s house, not mine, not the bank’s, not this family.  It’s His.

This topic has been in the news a lot this fall.  A LOT.  And even that’s an understatement.  Many of you are probably very familiar with the disrespectful remark that the President of this land made publically on Friday night, September 22nd.  When he called out the football players protesting during the national anthem, labeling them sons of …[female dogs].  You know the word.  But for the children present, I won’t say it.

A league full of division found this to rally around.  And the protest of just a handful, became the protest of entire teams, and nearly the entire NFL that following week 3 Sunday.  I watched the ensuing bloodbath with a lot of interest.  Now I won’t talk about how this is really two sides speaking past each other, rather than to each other, listening and learning from one another.  That’s worth talking about, but it’s not connected to Jesus’ words in our text today.

So instead, what I thought made it so interesting to watch the fallout that day, and the next several weeks, in every media outlet, on Facebook news feeds, conversations on the street, maybe even in your workplaces and schools.  I watched as two of American Christians biggest idols went to war.  And to my surprise the NFL lost.  As many of my Christian friends decided to give up on football all together, the flag won.

We talk about false idols a lot.  Because we’re idolaters, it’s the biggest temptation that Satan puts before us because it breaks the very first commandment, that you shall have no other gods.  Anything we put before the Lord is an idol, and Satan loves this trick.  And so we talk about it.  We talk about the prosperity gospel, a false gospel indeed.  We talked last week about putting family, friends, hobbies, or jobs before God.  But today, we’re talking about the false gospel that is patriotism, which thrives in this land. It’s a false gospel when we look for our security in anything other than God Himself.

There was a really fascinating article on this topic on one of America’s leading online liberal news websites.  It was written by a Christian journalist, Jason Foster, and I still have no idea how it got past the editing floor, let alone, how it’s still online today.  I’m going to let his own words pose a challenge to you this morning.  From the article, “Why ‘God and Country’ Christianity is Just Another Phony Prosperity Gospel,”:

This form of American Christianity is a frustrating faction of the faith. There are passionate but generic references to God, calls for fervent prayer and public pleas for “morality.” But the alleged No. 1 devotion to God is usually tied to a No. 1a devotion to the Stars and Stripes, as if one must always be tied to the other.

 

It’s a gospel that pays lip service to a god that’s in control, but it’s heavy on emotions that say man is really the one who protects us. In other words, it’s a gospel that downplays or ignores the complete sovereignty of God.

 

Among its other tenets:

It’s a gospel that suggests living out and sharing your faith is dependent on having the freedom to do so.

It’s a gospel that looks to the government, rather than the church or the home, to do the heavy lifting on matters of faith.

It’s a gospel that suggests without conservative Supreme Court justices, or without guns, or without a strong military that life will be unbearable for Christians.

It’s a gospel that suggests one’s greatest source of identity and value can be found in one’s nationality.

It’s a gospel that laments the loss of prayer in schools, rather than the lack of prayer at home.

It’s a gospel that dreads a future in which Christians are persecuted for sharing their faith, but puts no real emphasis on sharing it now.

It’s a gospel that says it’s better to silence opponents than minister to them.

It’s a gospel that looks to Fox News for truth, rather than the Bible.

It’s a gospel that says it’s OK to put biblical teachings aside to “make America great.”

It’s a gospel that calls for blood when someone “disrespects” the national anthem.

It’s a gospel that says persecution is having to hear someone say “happy holidays.”

It’s a gospel that says eating at Chick-fil-A counts as living out your faith.

Friends, it’s simply a false gospel.

 

That’s a lot of false teaching that he just challenged in such a short space.  And he wrote that a year ago.

This idol lives among us.  To see brother pastors overstep their bounds and protect the flag, a piece of cloth, over the people whom they should be sharing the gospel with, is depressing.  This tab in my throat reminds me that the words I speak I speak not of my own will, but in service to His (point up) will.  This tab is white because of the blood of Christ, cleansing me of my sins, not striped with seven red lines.

While the separation of Church and state is a false concept to begin with, and one pushed upon us not by Scripture but by the very state that would benefit most from it, we do need to understand Luther’s teaching of the two realms.

God works in this world in two distinct ways.  On the one hand, God works to preserve and care for His creation.  He works to establish law and to bring about justice.  On the other hand, God is working to bring people into a right relationship with Himself.  He’s working to fully restore this world to the work of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, justifying people not in their works, but in Christ’s own righteousness.  We call this hand “government.”  We call this hand “church.”  They aren’t separate, but they are distinct.  Two clearly distinct vocations.

Two of the false ideas that go with an idol of patriotism would be these: Christianity is the American religion, and, America is God’s chosen nation.  Those are both false.  One 4th of July Sunday I recall visiting a congregation who began their service with the color guard presenting the nation’s flag.  The people then proceeded to pledge their allegiance to that flag, all the hymns were sung in honor of America, and the sermon was very heavily based upon the history of this being a Christian nation, with the note of sadness at the decline of our culture and the lack of prominence of the Church today.

Imagine that being flipped.  Imagine going to a foreign nation, let’s say North Korea. Somebody has to take the risk to share the gospel with them. And you find the Christians there, and you go to worship with them.  And down comes a flag, and out of their mouths a song praising their nation.  Could you join them?  Could you sing it with them?  Or would it seem out of place?  Didn’t you go there, to that church, that morning, to worship Jesus with your brothers and sisters in Christ?  Didn’t you go there to approach the Lord’s table, to receive His body and blood, shed for you?  Our partner churches throughout the world fly no flag in their sanctuaries.  And American Lutherans only started while they were still speaking German during the World Wars because they wanted to prove which side they were on.

Now, allow me to take a step backward.  There is nothing wrong with loving your country, which is what it means to be patriotic on the most basic level of that word.  There’s nothing wrong on the 4th of July if your pastor prays for this nation.  There’s nothing wrong on Veteran’s Day to thank the men and women who have lovingly sacrificed of themselves to serve their neighbors.  There’s nothing wrong with being grateful for the land and the gifts that God gives to us.  There’s nothing wrong with caring about this land and its people, being concerned about the direction we see things going, and wanting this country to reflect God’s truth.  There’s nothing wrong with working diligently as a citizen in this land to make that happen.  These are good things.

The Scriptures even tell us that we ought to pray for our leaders, which is why our weekly church prayer list names local, state, and federal government leaders.  This is worth your time, these men and women can really use your prayers.  The Scriptures also teach us to encourage our leaders, and to respect our leaders, only disobeying them if they command us to do something contrary to Scripture.

The point this morning is that we have but one Lord.  And we are ever grateful for Him!  It is the blood of Jesus Christ that saves you, not a government.  It is His loving and tender care that we are to trust to stay out of harm’s way, not a military.  It is His hand that provides for our daily bread and provision, not an economy.  We are not defined by our American citizenship, but rather, by being one of God’s people.  And in fact, following Christ will make you a bad American.  Because this land is going the opposite direction, choosing to reject Christ and His gifts, and really, that’s regardless of who’s been in power over the past couple generations.

It’s not our job as Christians to assert our rights as Americans, nor really even to fight for them.  This is a tough one, and I admit I struggle with it also.  It’s hard not to watch the Christians going before the Supreme Court.  Many Christians today fear they are being marginalized, pushed out of society.  But that’s not only true, it’s actually okay.  Really, it’s a good thing.

History has born this out.  Where is the Church growing the fastest today?  It’s in Africa, where people are daily dying for their faith.  And here, and places like Europe, places where the Church enjoyed a position of power and comfort for generations, in these places the Church is declining the fastest.

We lost sight of what it means to be a citizen of heaven.  We lost sight of what it means to be in the world, but not of the world.  You’re not here to fight over your rights.  We’re here to love and serve our neighbor.  Jesus once taught:

You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you. – Matthew 5:38-42

 

We need not trust in our government or in our things or in ourselves to provide for us.  The Lord will do that.  The Lord does do that.  The Lord cares for us.  This goes back millennia!  God created everything.  All of this.  His creation, and He cares for it.  To double back to stewardship again, and a Sabbath rest, that’s all about trust.  It’s God’s way of saying, “I built this in six days, can you trust Me that if you take a day off, I can keep it spinning?”  And, the answer yes, He can keep it spinning.  He’s been doing that for over 6,000 years.

And about 4,000 years into that, God was not content with mere daily bread.  But instead, God sent His Son into this world, into His own creation, to provide for our greatest need, to provide for our salvation from sin, death, and the devil.  To take the sins of an idolatrous people, and to cleanse them in the blood of His own Son.  That’s precisely what He’s done.  2,000 years ago, Jesus died on the cross for the very idolatries that you and I hadn’t even committed yet.  In Him, we’re already forgiven!

And we are the Church, we are the very body of Christ Himself, made in His image, not the image of Caesar America; and the Church exists so that the gospel of Jesus Christ is proclaimed and sinners are justified in the blood of Christ.  The more the state pushes against it, the more the Church will thrive.  History has shown this to be true.

 

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Comments»

1. Espirational - October 29, 2017

Amen!


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