Let’s start with three deep breaths and relax….
let us begin today’s worship
Call to Worship:
L: We belong to God.
P: God’s stamp is on our lives.
L: God’s love and compassion is built into us.
P: God’s mercy and hope flow through us.
L: Let’s celebrate the powerful presence of God.
P: Let’s rejoice in all the opportunities God gives us to serve. AMEN.
Opening Hymn #459 Come, O fount of Every Blessing.
(All candles lit.)
The Question of Paying Taxes
15 Then the Pharisees went and plotted to entrap him in what he said. 16 So they sent their disciples to him, along with the Herodians, saying, “Teacher, we know that you are sincere, and teach the way of God in accordance with truth, and show deference to no one; for you do not regard people with partiality. 17 Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, or not?” 18 But Jesus, aware of their malice, said, “Why are you putting me to the test, you hypocrites? 19 Show me the coin used for the tax.” And they brought him a denarius. 20 Then he said to them, “Whose head is this, and whose title?” 21 They 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.” 22 When they heard this, they were amazed; and they left him and went away.
The word of God for the people of God!
P: Thanks be to God
Sermon; Grateful for Ceasar
In today’s divided America, where I find myself having to tell members of my community I ain’t that kind of Christian. Many people believe that the political arena is something the pastor should stay clear of. Religion and politics don’t mix. Of course one never discusses religion or politics in polite company. I have heard people say we can get enough of that from television. If I want politics I’ll read it in my newspaper. Therefore, due to today’s Gospel reading, there will be no sermon today.
Today’s Gospel is the beginning of four tests put to Jesus. One commentator states “here we have four skirmishes, all a part of the bigger battle which is the cloud on the horizon. The first is a potentially lethal trap laid by the Pharisees, with connivance of the ‘Herodians’, unlikely bedfellows of the Pharisees, since they would be expected to support the Roman domination.”
So who were the Herodians?
“At the time of Jesus, there were certain groups—the Pharisees, the Herodians, and the Sadducees—that held positions of authority and power over the people. Other groups were the Sanhedrin, the scribes, and the lawyers. Each of these groups held power in either religious or political matters. The Herodians held political power, and most scholars believe that they were a political party that supported King Herod Antipas, the Roman Empire's ruler over much of the land of the Jews from 4 B.C. to A.D. 39. The Herodians favored submitting to the Herods, and therefore to Rome, for political expediency. This support of Herod compromised Jewish independence in the minds of the Pharisees, making it difficult for the Herodians and Pharisees to unite and agree on anything. But one thing did unite them—opposing Jesus. Herod himself wanted Jesus dead (Luke 13:31), and the Pharisees had already hatched plots against Him (John 11:53), so they joined forces to achieve their common goal.
The first appearance of the Herodians in Scripture is Mark 3:6, "Then the Pharisees went out and began to plot with the Herodians how they might kill Jesus." Jesus had been doing miracles, which caused some of the people to believe in Him for salvation, and that threatened the power and position of the Pharisees, the Sadducees, and the Herodians. The Herodians again joined with the Pharisees to challenge Jesus, to see if they could trap Jesus in His words by a trick question, to either discredit Him or to get Him to stop preaching (Matthew 22:16).” 
Reverend Martin Dale reminds us that “In any other situation, these two groups wouldn’t have passed the time of day with each other.
The Pharisees were “devout” Jews. They were sworn enemies of the Romans and vigorously opposed Roman rule. And they stood against paying taxes to Caesar.
The Herodians, on the other hand, were the party of that Roman stooge, Herod. They were the wealthy and privileged class who gladly collaborated with the enemy - helping them rule the Jews - in exchange for status and power in society. So they would have no problems in paying taxes to Caesar!!
The adage: “My enemy’s enemy is my friend.” was certainly true that day
The enemies of Rome and friends of Rome were united in their opposition to Jesus.” 
Okay so now let us look at the setting if we read backwards Mathew 21:23 tells us Jesus is in the temple. He has given a few parables including one that stated many are invited to the wedding feast but few are selected…this is when “the Pharisees went and made a plan to set a trap for him. (matt.22:15)” So they ask Jesus a political and potentially volatile question. “the tax issue is a perfect stratagem to entrap Jesus. If he supports the payment of the highly unpopular poll tax he will lose standing with the people; if he rejects payment he runs the risk of being identified with Groups (such as those later known as Zealots) who were in more or less perpetual rebellion against Rome, and so presenting himself as a significant threat to peace and public order.”
Basically, should Jesus answer one way he is discredited in front of his followers. If he answers the other way he is guilty of encouraging rebellion. Of course this is exactly what he will be accused of in Luke 23:5 “We found this man subverting our nation, forbidding us to pay the tribute tax to Caesar.”
So Jesus calls them Hypocrites, which they are for they never work together but to discredit Jesus, and to prove that they were he asks them to produce a coin by which the poll tax would be paid…. Let’s stop right here for a minute. Remember when Jesus gets angry in the temple, which at this point hasn’t happened yet, but remember that??? What does he turn over? What is the famous image showing us goes flying. The change tables among other things. What is this fuss around a coin?
Well you see the temple had a tax. The temple tax was one third shekel per year. Originally in Solomon’s time it was half a shekel. “Shekel was a weight—not a coin—equaling from ten to twelve grams, or less than half an ounce. It could be cast as either gold or silver in the form of bars, bracelets, and necklaces. In fact, kikkar, Hebrew for "talent" in the Old Testament, literally means "ringlike." People would wear their money!”
Now as time went on coins eventually came into fashion, Stan Hudson has a bit of education for us around that:
At any rate, by the end of the second century B.C., coins were probably fully accepted in Temple services. From this time to the first century A.D. , Jews were not able to make their own silver coins, for political reasons—their Syrian or Roman rulers wouldn't permit them. So they chose the silver coins of the nearby city of Tyre, which enjoyed a special political status.
Specifically, the coins chosen were Tyrian didrachms (two drachma pieces) and tetradrachms (four-drachma pieces), which approximated by weight the Jewish half-shekels and shekels, respectively. First minted in 126 B.C., they appeared in large enough numbers and with good enough quality to end the real need of scales and weights (if they were still used). These coins were dated according to the year of the Tyrian dynasty, 126 B.C. being "year one."
It is ironic that Tyrian coins bore the image of Melkart, the Phoenician equivalent of Baal, Israel's old enemy. This surely stirred a resentful thought or two from the pious Jew worshiping in the Temple. The reverse carried an Egyptian-styled eagle and the Greek inscription "Tyre the holy and inviolable." The date was to the eagle's left (Figures 2 and 3).
That Jews so soon after the religious revival of the Maccabees chose coins tainted with paganism for sacred service is based on two factors: (1) the liberal Hellenistic Sadducees had gained administrative control of the Temple, and (2) no one wanted to use Roman coins, such as the tetradrachms of Alexandria or Antioch. Apparently no one wanted "Caesar's image" around the Temple. Even Baal was better than Caesar! 
So Jesus asks these Good Jewish leaders to produce the coin of the poll tax , right there in the temple and well they do. What they show him is most likely a denarius which has the head of Tiberius on one side with an inscription that reads (“Caesar Augustus Tiberius, son of the Divine Augustus”), claiming that Augustus was a god. To have such a coin proves Jesus point that these men are hypocrites. Any one nearby may already be laughing and smiling at the irony that Jesus is bringing into view.
Then he says one of the most controversial things he could say. Whose head is upon that coin? Then pay to Caesar what is Caesar’s and Pay to God what is God’s. The Reverend Martin Dale asks;
“What can we draw from this today?
The problem is not such a hot potato in our society as it was in Jesus day. In the first century AD, the state and religion were closely joined. "The cult of the gods and the power of the ruler" went hand in hand (Matthew - Michael Green p. 232-233)
But it is a real dilemma in countries where the State (such as certain Islamic and Communist states) persecutes Christians and demands their religious allegiance away from Christ.
We all enjoy the benefits that the State brings. What would we do without electricity, roads, rail and running water.
As Michael Green has so succinctly put it: in Jesus day, the Jews benefited from "imperial roads, education, justice and freedom from invasion.... Jesus was saying that those who enjoy Caesar’s benefits should pay Caesar’s taxes" (Matthew - Michael Green p. 232-233)
We can, as Christians, be good citizens in a secular society provided what that society asks of us does not contravene our commitment to Christ.
“Render unto Caesar’s the things that are Caesar’s and to God the things that are of God” (Mt. 22:21) cannot mean anything else.
For our ultimate loyalty lies with Jesus and our heavenly Father.
(Reverend Martin goes on to say) When I was preparing this talk, I was very taken by a thought of Michael Green’s. In Jesus’ response to the Pharisee, he used the Greek word "apodote" which is translated render or give back. "The coin bore Caesar’s image : give it back to him. You bear God’s image: so give yourself back to him." (Matthew - Michael Green p. 234)”
One of my Professors at Christ Church points out that “We are to applaud his adroit response: ‘give to God what belongs to God’ – and what belongs to God, of course is nothing less than everything.” I want to say that this is the very point.
We all have choices to make; What laws do we support, what leaders do we support, even what taxes we support that is all literally a matter of choice or perhaps, if you prefer, circumstance. What is the governments, belongs to the government, but when it comes down to it, even that, even that frustrating tax we have to pay by April the 15th we must understand that over it all, our God reigns.
So, if we are to give to God what is Gods then amid frustration, in the midst of Grief, in the midst of anger and pain. We are called to Give it to God. Offering our circumstances, offering our lives, offering our pain, anger, and disappointment to God is not blaming God. It is part of this life, we are spiritual beings who have chosen to live a human life and with being human comes… well… life. God chose to be human that the God self might know and understand our suffering.
God shares in our grief and suffering.
Unfortunately, many of us were taught that grief and suffering were to be done in private. We were brought up to believe that we are good when we serve others and we should keep our pain and suffering to ourselves. The author in a proverb of ashes shares this thought. “When I was in distress, I did not turn to my family or my church. In Both places, I had learned that personal need had no place. The good person cares for others, but if she herself is hurt, frightened, confused, or in need, these weaknesses are to be nursed in private, covered over, or solved without bothering anyone else.”
This things we are living through, the fires, the storms, coviid 19, all give us an opportunity to explore the way we walk with God. The God of all things. How do we walk with God? How do we talk with God? Do we acknowledge God in our lives properly? Are we okay in taking our grief and anger to God? Are we okay taking our Joys and surprises and successes to God?” You know It is funny but, we, as humans, are in the habit of asking why did God do this when things are bad and then we say Didn’t I do Great when things are good.
Okay, and now for an Oprah moment.
This moment is brought to you by Praxis. Practice or dare I say …Prayer.
I remember first hearing of a Gratitude Journal on Oprah. But this is a Good practice. Keeping track of things we are grateful for. Especially if we are in a time of tragedy and despair. “studies have traced a range of impressive benefits to the simple act of writing down the things for which we’re grateful—benefits including better sleep, fewer symptoms of illness, and more happiness among adults and kids alike.”
“The basic practice is straightforward. In many of the studies, people are simply instructed to record five things they experienced in the past week for which they’re grateful. The entries are supposed to be brief—just a single sentence—and they range from the mundane (“waking up this morning”) to the sublime (“the generosity of friends”) to the timeless (“the Rolling Stones”).” 
There are studies that show that this practice is beneficial and other studies that say not so much but the key is just how you practice. As with any prayer you need to be attentive to it.
Robert Emmons “a professor at the University of California, Davis, shared these research-based tips for reaping the greatest psychological rewards from your gratitude journal.
Don’t just go through the motions. Research by psychologist Sonja Lyubomirsky and others suggests that journaling is more effective if you first make the conscious decision to become happier and more grateful. “Motivation to become happier plays a role in the efficacy of journaling,” says Emmons.
Go for depth over breadth. Elaborating in detail about a particular thing for which you’re grateful carries more benefits than a superficial list of many things.
Get personal. Focusing on people to whom you are grateful has more of an impact than focusing on things for which you are grateful.
Try subtraction, not just addition. One effective way of stimulating gratitude is to reflect on what your life would be like without certain blessings, rather than just tallying up all those good things.
Savor surprises. Try to record events that were unexpected or surprising, as these tend to elicit stronger levels of gratitude.
Don’t overdo it. Writing occasionally (once or twice per week) is more beneficial than daily journaling. In fact, one study by Lyubomirsky and her colleagues found that people who wrote in their gratitude journals once a week for six weeks reported boosts in happiness afterward; people who wrote three times per week didn’t. “We adapt to positive events quickly, especially if we constantly focus on them,” says Emmons. “It seems counterintuitive, but it is how the mind works.” 
Now to add to this, to bring it back to this day, this practice can be made sacred Simply by making a prayer out of the practice and living gratefully into the God of All things. We must choose to be grateful, I am not saying to be Pollyanna but to be truly grateful and in times of trouble that may be the smallest of things. Even in Giving onto Caesar what is Caesars we can be grateful because, though it doesn’t always work as well or as quickly as we like our government is here in the midst of tragedy, helping those in need. Providing shelter, water, food, medical supplies, research, social-workers, police and fire fighters.
So Today let us pause. Let us pause and be grateful, grateful for all that surrounds us in nature, for all that provide service to us through “Caesar” and let us be grateful for the spirit of God that surrounds us all.