Trinity 23: Dual Citizenship

Readings: Proverbs 8:11-22, Philippians 3:17–21, Matthew 22:15–22
Hymns: 674, 714, 601, 596, 516, 730

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

We live in a divided nation. Millions of dollars were spent to buy your votes for one party or another. The deep division in our country is shown by the close presidential race and the very divided makeup of the House and the Senate.

Our nation’s morals are declining. Marriage is despised as couples frequently divorce, marriage itself has been redefined, and cohabiting has become the norm for most younger couples. Drug use and excessive alcohol consumption is fashionable. Our government still funds abortions, covers sex change operations, and funds health insurance for same-sex couples.

This all makes it hard to render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s. In fact, some are tempted to justify the lies they make on their tax returns by stating that they oppose how their dollars are spent.

But if you look at the Roman government at the time of Christ, it was far more corrupt than ours, and hard-earned tax dollars were spent in immoral ways. Yet Jesus still says, “Render unto Caesar.” We are called by God to pay our taxes. On the Last Day, we will be asked to give an account—including if we cheated on our taxes, which is indeed a violation of the seventh commandment.

The government, though, is also breaking the seventh commandment. No, they are not stealing from us when they levy taxes. Instead, they are stealing from the younger generation and future generations by spending beyond their means.

Remember 5-10 years ago when they talked of the impending “fiscal cliff?” Now the talk is all about the next stimulus payment, as if there’s no intention for our government to pay off its debt.

When families become indebted, they ought to engage in austerity measures—ways to cut expenses to live within their means. This is good. Our government needs to consider the same.

When families make cutbacks, they sometimes fail to rein in alcohol, lottery, smartphone, or TV expenses. Many people find these things to be important. Instead of cutting these, many would rather cut back on their giving to charities. Many somehow think it is even prudent to scale back their giving to the Lord.

But is this wise? Should our giving to the Lord even be considered when we’re forced to make cuts? Even more so, should our giving to the Lord even be considered when we’re making cuts simply due to worrying about the future? In whom do we trust?

Stewardship is a spiritual matter. What we do with the things God entrusted to us is important. We are accountable to God for our giving. Jesus says, “Render unto God the things that are God’s.”

In the Old Testament, the people were commanded to tithe. They also had to give other offerings on certain occasions. And there were also additional opportunities for the people give even further out of thanksgiving for the Lord’s generosity.

In the New Testament, we do not have a requirement to give tithes. So what do most do? They give far less than a tithe. And then they only increase their giving when the Church is having budget issues. Christian giving should not be governed by the church budget. Out of thanksgiving for all the Lord has given us, we ought to be so generous in giving back to the Lord so that we not only make our budget, but we far surpass it and can support more to missions. We do not give when the Church needs it. We give because God has given us everything. God is a generous giver and so God’s people are generous givers.

It is written, “Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Cor 9:7). We render unto God what is God’s—cheerfully giving what we have decided to give. God says in Malachi 3:8-9, “Will man rob God? Yet you are robbing me. But you say, ‘How have we robbed you?’ [Answer:] In your tithes and contributions. You are cursed with a curse, for you are robbing me.”

God calls poor stewards robbers. Consider this truth and consider how generous God has been to you when you decide in your heart what you will give for the remainder of the year and when you set your budget for next year.

We often think the reasonable thing is to determine our giving only after we have met our other financial obligations. The trouble with this thinking is that we are not giving of our first fruits. We are giving what is left over.

But God has not given you what is left over. No, God has given you all that is His. He has given you this world and He has given you His Son. He has taken your sins away through Christ and He promises you everlasting life. All of this is possible because Jesus died for you on the cross. He gave up everything so that you can have everything. He rose from the dead, securing your glorious resurrection into His Kingdom.

Knowing this, our desire as true Christians is to be generous back to God—even when times are tough—even when there’s much uncertainty. Three weeks ago, we boldly sang the chief hymn of the Reformation. In it we sang, “And take they our life, Goods, fame, child, and wife, Though these all be gone, Our vict’ry has been won; The Kingdom ours remaineth” (LSB 656). Why can we sing this with such boldness and confidence? The reason is simple. Life on earth is not the main thing. We are in God’s hands. He always takes care of us. “He’s by our side upon the plain With His good gifts and Spirit.” Nothing can snatch us from our Father’s hand. So even if we should lose everything, we are still blessed—for we are still citizens of Christ’s kingdom and eternal life awaits us.

You see, we’re not just citizens of the United States of America. Through Baptism, God adds us as citizens of His Kingdom. When we’re citizens of His Kingdom, we can be confident that God will take care of us and that He will lead us ultimately to be with Him in Heaven. Many want to see the government as our caretaker, but our true caretaker is Christ. After all, God made us and the whole world. He set up the governments of the world. He is with us and He has redeemed us through the Blood of the Lamb of God.

We are, in reality, dual citizens—citizens of this country and citizens of God’s Kingdom. In today’s Gospel, the Herodians wanted to catch Jesus by getting Him to speak against the government. The Pharisees wanted Jesus to speak against the Church. But Jesus would do neither. First, He asked to see a coin that was used to pay taxes—a single denarius—a common day’s wage. Second, He asked “Whose likeness and inscription is this?” It was Caesar’s, the ruler of the Roman Empire. Jesus taught of the Christian’s dual citizenship when He proclaimed those famous words, “Therefore render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”

Perhaps He also did so in another subtle way, when Jesus asked, “Whose likeness and inscription is this?” Consider whose likeness you are. What inscription do you bear? God made you in His image and likeness. God inscribed His name upon you in Holy Baptism. The same Greek word (εἰκὼν) Jesus uses for likeness is also used as image in Romans 8:29-30, “For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image (εἰκόνος) of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.” Also, 1 Cor. 15:49, “Just as we have borne the image (εἰκόνα) of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the Man of Heaven”—Jesus Christ!

God grafts you into His family. He writes—He inscribes—your name in the Book of Life. He joins you unto Himself. He places you as a member of His kingdom through Baptism—a citizen of His kingdom. This citizenship is spoken of in our Epistle: “But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself” (Phil 3:20-21). And yet, we are citizens of His Kingdom even now.

What wonderful citizenships we have! It is wonderful enough to be citizens of this country. We are grateful for the government God has placed over us. We are, as we observed this past Wednesday, grateful for the brave men and women who have served our country to defend our freedoms. We are blessed beyond measure to enjoy the freedoms we have.

And above all, we are blessed to be citizens of an even better Kingdom. The citizenship granted to us in Baptism is the best and most blessed. For in Christ’s Kingdom, we are children of God—heirs to an eternal promise. We are washed white in the blood of the Lamb, innocent in Him and holy. We are granted freedom from sin, death, and Satan.

When our Lord returns, He will conform our lowly bodies to His glorious body. And we will live with Him forever.

Nations come and go. But the Word of the Lord endures forever. The citizenship which Christ has granted to us out of His grace will never end. Thanks be to God. Amen.

 The peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus to life everlasting. Amen