Graceful Living Week 6

Almighty God, from whom all thoughts of truth and peace proceed: Kindle, we pray thee, in the hearts of all men the true love of peace; and guide with thy pure and peaceable wisdom those who take counsel for the nations of the earth; that in tranquility thy kingdom may go forward, till the earth is filled with the knowledge of thy love; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

(bcp 1928 Oxford book of prayer #715)

Daily Readings
Day 1: I Thessalonians 1:1-5
Day 2: I Thessalonians 1:6-10
Day 3: Matthew 22:15-22
Day 4: Psalm 96:1-6
Day 5: Psalm 96:7-13
Day 6: Isaiah 45:1-3
Day 7: Isaiah 45:4-7

Weekly Reflections and Questions

Matthew 22:15-22

It isn’t just Jesus who had disciples. In this passage, we read about the disciples of the Pharisees, the Jewish leaders of the day. Their disciples were committed to studying the “correct” interpretation of the Torah and the Jewish way of life.  It is these disciples who are used by the Pharisees to entrap Jesus. Oddly, they are joined by the Herodians, supporters of the Roman-endorsed Herod and the taxes. 

At first the interrogators appear sincere, flattering Jesus. Then, they question him about the law and the payment of taxes to Rome, the non-Jewish occupier of their land. Answering “yes” or “no” is bound to get Jesus into trouble with someone.  Jesus is aware of the malice in their hearts.

Nevertheless, Jesus offers a classic response: “Give to rulers the things which are the rulers.  Give to God the things that are God’s.”  Jesus’ answer turns the tables on those who try to trap him.    What is not God’s?  As the Psalmist says, “The earth is the Lord’s and everything within” (Psalm 24:1). Look around. Is this not God’s world? Are not humans made in the image of God? Wherever humans go, they are God’s. This is true no matter the form of government.

God has created people to live within creation, allowing them to choose to form governments, bring good order to people, and help to provide basic needs. Sometimes these governments are ruled by emperors, councils, or the people themselves.  Governments can be good or evil.  A government is judged from God’s perspective and can be an expression of goodwill for humanity.

When Jesus looks at the head depicted on the coin, he acknowledges the government of the day.  His advice: give the Emperor his coin. Jesus knows God’s rule and throne far exceed  any human ruler. Jesus sees the bigger picture, but at the same time, he recognizes the here and now.  It is a practical answer. For Jesus to suggest the people not pay taxes would certainly have provoked a riot and rebellion as people tried to usurp

the Roman regime.

Thus, Jesus places the question back to the interrogators. Each is to decide the boundary between God and the emperor’s reign. Jesus’ issue is not with the emperor. Instead, he sees the bigger picture, inviting people to follow God.  It is God who deserves absolute allegiance.

Find a coin in your pocket or purse. Examine it. Look at both sides of the coin. 

Although the faces on our coins today are different, the question asked of Jesus still rings true. Do we, as disciples of Jesus, need to pay taxes? If so, are all taxes justified?  Why not withhold taxes and give the same amount to the church? Is it OK to fudge on tax returns and give the government less than the law requires? 

Jesus doesn’t give an easy answer. It’s not a clear “yes” or “no”.  In no way does Jesus say all taxes are right. Nor does Jesus say taxes are wrong. Likewise, Jesus does not affirm or condemn government. Instead, in a simple formula, Jesus reminds the interrogators, and us as well, to give to God what is God’s – which is everything. This places any government as secondary to God’s rule. Our primary allegiance is to God. 

Jesus challenges us to view our government with God’s eye. As disciples of Jesus, we try to be good, honest citizens who uphold laws, respecting the rights of others and working for justice for all.  If taxes are not fair and balanced for all the citizens, then we, as Christians, work for change.  It’s not an issue of wheeling and dealing for “my” money and “my” investments. It’s all God’s anyway. 

The dilemma of the modern-day disciples is to not get caught in the consumer cycle, forgetting Jesus in the process. It’s all God’s. Always has been. Always will be. We seek to be good stewards of our financial resources, generously giving for the work of God’s reign.  At the same time, we support our government as it works for peace and justice for all, but raise questions when it does not.

1. Why are the Pharisees trying to trap Jesus?

2. How might a government bring good?

3. How might a government bring discord?

4. Make a list of the top ten things the government provides for you.

5. What is a helpful way to view taxes?

6. What is the greatest challenge in being a Christian citizen?

Thessalonians 1:1-10

Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians is full of words of thanksgiving.  The first verse gives a clue behind Paul’s attitude of thanks. Paul refers to the congregation as being in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. That is a high compliment from Paul. 

Paul gives thanks for this congregation constantly for their love, faith and hope.  These three attributes are frequently associated with the beloved final verse of 1 Corinthians 13, “And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.” (1 Corinthian 13:13 NRSV)  That chapter is often read at weddings, but the context of Paul’s letter is broader than the love found in marriage.  Paul writes to the congregation of Corinth to encourage them to become a healthy body of Christ marked by love. 

Similarly, Paul writes to the Thessalonians, “. . . remembering before our God and Father your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1 Thessalonians 1:3 NRSV)  This triad of attributes works together because of a rootedness in God.

The witness of the Thessalonians speaks loudly.  The Holy Spirit is at work, manifesting fruit-filled lives in the Thessalonians. Seeds of faith have been blessed and have grown into a mature harvest of faith, hope, and love.  No wonder Paul gives thanks constantly.

A pattern of faith development can be observed.  Paul imitated the Lord despite enduring hardship, persecution, and rejection.  His faith in Christ was not constructed of words alone; his deep commitment to Christ was reflected in his deeds and life. 

The people of Thessalonica turned from worshipping idols to following Christ.  They imitated Paul and Christ.  Their transformation is real and deep, producing followers of Christ who are now being imitated by others. 

Sally was the spittin’ image of her mother.  Not only did they look alike, they acted alike.  Their laughter and mannerisms were all the same. 

Thus it was no surprise when Sally began to drink alcohol—just like her mother.  At first, Sally would drink a sip, but then the drinking increased.  Like her mother, Sally began to hide her drinking habits.  One thing led to another.  Finally, Sally’s mother and father confronted Sally about her excessive drinking habits.  Sally blurted out, “I am just imitating you, mom!  Don’t you see how much you drink?”

Children often follow the behavioral patterns of parents–for good or bad. 

Our tendency to imitate others continues throughout life.  Children imitate adults and older children.  Teenagers imitate their peers.  All of us can be tempted by expensive advertising campaigns to imitate celebrities by purchasing products they promote. 

The bottom line—we imitate those people we admire. Sometimes the people we admire and strive to emulate become our personal mentors. When it comes to mentors in the faith, they come in all different shapes and sizes, showing up as a neighbor, colleague, or friend at church.  We find ourselves wanting to be more like that person as he or she encourages and guides us to grow into our own gifts and personhood.

When we affirm our baptism, we make certain promises of faith.  One such promise is to serve all people following the example of Jesus. In other words, we promise to imitate Jesus, particularly in serving others.  In that promise, we align ourselves with Paul, the Thessalonians and others who follow the example of Jesus. 

Paul writes to the Thessalonians, “. . . remembering before our God and Father your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.”   (1 Thessalonians 1:3 NRSV)  This triad of faith, hope, and love are fruits of a Christian worthy of imitation.

1. What does it mean for a congregation to be “in” God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ?

2. How do faith, hope, and love interrelate? In other words, can you have one without the other? Explain your answer.

3. How do faith, hope, and love grow from a personal relationship with Christ?

4. Why is it important to have a Christian mentor? Who is your mentor?

5. Where in your life do you need the steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ?

Reflections and Questions from McCullough-Bade, “Daily Discipleship,” Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, 2005.  McCullough-Bade, “Daily Faith Practices,” Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, 2011.
Prayer, “The Oxford Book of Prayer,” Ed. George Appleton, Oxford University Press, 2009, pg 223.