Sermon: For the Love of God and Country
Scripture: Luke 20:20-26
Preacher: Patrick H. Wrisley, D.Min.
Location: First Presbyterian Church, DeLand
Date: November 6, 2016, Proper 27, Year C
We pick up in the Story today at the point where Jesus has entered Jerusalem for his final week before Easter and he has centered his work in the Temple precincts teaching the people. His actions have drawn the attention and the ire of the religious leaders in the city and the Roman garrisons are casting quizzical glances his way as well. The religious leaders are debating with Jesus with the hopes of having him slip up and incriminate himself in violating the Jewish Law, the Torah. Jesus isn’t biting the bait. The religious leaders decide to change their tactics. They send people undercover to pretend to be sincere would-be followers of his teaching but their real purpose was to trap Jesus. Instead of attacking Jesus’ faith, they decide to attack his political loyalties. This is where we pick up in the Story. Listen to the Word of the Lord!
20So they watched him and sent spies who pretended to be honest, in order to trap him by what he said, so as to hand him over to the jurisdiction and authority of the governor. 21So they asked him, “Teacher, we know that you are right in what you say and teach, and you show deference to no one, but teach the way of God in accordance with truth.22Is it lawful for us to pay taxes to the emperor, or not?” 23But he perceived their craftiness and said to them, 24“Show me a denarius. Whose head and whose title does it bear?” They said, “The emperor’s.”25He said to them, “Then give to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” 26And they were not able in the presence of the people to trap him by what he said; and being amazed by his answer, they became silent.
Coming down Woodland yesterday, I saw two groups of what I thought were the Friday Christian picketers and figured they must have changed their strategy in order to make good use of the all the music festival crowds and Stetson Alumni visiting. The closer I came to the intersection, I realized they were opposing groups of Clinton and Trump camps rallying people to their sides and I sighed and thought, “Just three more days of this!” It seems like the campaigning has gone on for over two years now and the nation is getting tired. I am beginning to wonder if the way other countries campaign is more efficient when they say, “We’re having an election in four months – start your campaigns!”
Many folks say that about this time of year when churches all over the country are talking about their stewardship campaigns as well! People moan, “All the church does is talk about money!” Well, I’m grateful the Session of our church doesn’t approach our financial stewardship that way; your church leadership knows how faithful your giving is and so we at First Pres have a two-week stewardship focus. We begin it today and we will conclude it next week with our Celebration Sunday! Don’t you wish our national election was like that?
There is an old Latin phrase that goes like this: Pro aris et foci. Literally translated it means ‘for our altars and our hearths’ but later came to be understood to mean ‘for God and country.’ Today’s text merges these two themes together for us as we hear Jesus deftly raise issues of ultimate loyalty: Give to the State what belongs to the State but give to God what is truly God’s. Jesus’ interrogators wanted him to choose one or the other; Jesus responded that the one’s faith is lived out in all of life and not kept in a religious box. Our Christian life is not lived in isolation from the world but it is lived out vigorously in the world. Yet, although Jesus said Christ-Followers live in the world, we do not live of the world because our ultimate loyalty is to God who is in yet above and surrounding the world. Jesus is telling us to do our civic duty but he is also saying our primary devotion is God.
In light of the week we are in, it is an easy connection for us to make. What is our civic duty this week? Vote! As Christ-Followers, we have a civic responsibility to do three things: Pray for the nation’s best outcome and that God’s will be ultimately done. Next, we are called to do our theological homework on how to vote as Christ-Followers by looking through the twin lenses of God’s very character. The first lens in our theological homework is to look through the lens of God’s character of Love. Agape, sacrificing, and intentional love even when it hurts. The second lens of God’s character we look through is through the equally important character of God’s justice; I am not talking God going about smiting-people-type-justice; the justice we look through is God’s care for the most vulnerable among us. In other words, we are to figure out how my civic duty not only affects me but how will my vote impact the least of these. The third aspect of our civic duty it to act. Our text reminds us that we are to be in but not of the world while transforming the world we live in. What does Tuesday represent for our country? It provides us the platform to act through our vote. Pray, do our theological homework by looking at issues through the lens of love and justice, and then swallow real hard and act, vote! Let us give to Caesar, the State, which the State requires of us – our civic duty.
Our text also reminds us of our primary and ultimate duty: Daily devotion to God. It’s a devotion demonstrated through our daily intentional acts of love and justice to women and men around us who are living in both our and other surrounding neighborhoods. It’s a devotion demonstrated by placing God first in every decision we make whether who it is to vote for, what causes we subscribe to, or how much investment we are making in tending to the relationship we have with the Father. It’s a devotion that demands we take out our printed and minted currency from our pockets and purses whereby we read, “In God We Trust” and then ask ourselves if the spiritual depth reflected in our giving, in our faith and in our life genuinely reflect as though we do!
If there was ever a time when coming together at the Lord’s Table was paramount, it is this Sunday prior to Tuesday’ election and as we come together as a congregation to discern what we estimate our giving to be for next year. We come together and are reminded of our kinship with one another in this room and in this community. We come together for mutual encouragement. We come together and physically, tangibly participate in a costly, extravagant meal provided by and hosted by the Lord of Lords and the King of Kings himself, Jesus. We do not come as Republicans or Democrats in Christ. We do not come together as Blacks, Hispanics or Whites in Christ. We do not come as gays or straights. No my, my friends, we come as children of the living Christ who share the same genetic spiritual DNA, beloved members of the same family whose ultimate fidelity is to God and to one another.
Pro aris et foci. For our altars and hearth. For God and country. Oh, for the love of God and country. So be it.
Patrick H. Wrisley, D.Min.
Senior Pastor & Teaching Elder
First Presbyterian Church
724 North Woodland Blvd.
DeLand, Florida 32720
© 2016 Patrick H. Wrisley. Sermon manuscripts are available for the edification of members and friends of First Presbyterian Church, DeLand, Florida and may not be altered, re-purposed, published or preached without permission. All rights reserved.
 The New Revised Standard Version, copyright 1989, 1995 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.