Ironically, we’re not the only country that adopted the motto, “In God we trust.” As it turns out, it’s also the motto of our neighbor to the south, Nicaragua. Which makes me wonder if the men and women of faith in the White House in the 1980’s who approved the illegal torture and killing of innocent Nicaraguans in the Iran-Contra affair, ever felt a contradiction there? What does it mean to trust in God? What does it mean to have that motto on your currency? I don’t know for sure? What do you think? Really! I’m interested in your thoughts, and I invite you to write them down on the Stewardship paper provided in your worship folder today. “What do you think Jesus means? What things are the emperor's and what are God's?”
Anyway, my family’s envelope system goes back to when I had my first lawn mowing and snow shoveling jobs, and my parents shared their elaborate system of saving money with me. All my brothers and my sister got the same lesson sooner or later, to get in the habit of saving some of your paycheck for the future, whether it’s for college or for clothes, for church or for something you want for yourself. I remember I wanted a mini-bike! The point was, you simply write the name of the fund you’re saving for on the envelope, and decide how much you’re going to put in there each time you get paid, and stick to it. It was pretty primitive, but it was easy, and it worked! And later I realized what a transformative lesson it was. Not only did I have some nice clothes for school and church, I also got that mini-bike, and had a good chunk of change for tuition. Debt would never be a serious problem for me.
Such proprietary lessons were essential in preparing to enter the world of 20C middle-class living. But for those who lived in Palestine and listened to Jesus’ parables, even that level of savings was not possible. Money was not a broad based standard available to the 99%, the subsistence living crowds Jesus so often cared for. There were no checking accounts, much less ATM machines or online banking options. The amount of coins in circulation with the emperor’s image on them, were minted simply to expedite the system of collecting taxes and creating debt. A farmer or carpenter would rather have bread in hand, than coins. It was no spiritualized abstraction to, pray for ones “daily bread.” Money, whether bronze or silver coins, occasionally gold, was just another way for the 1% to “lord it over,” the 99.
But in the dawning of the kingdom and realm of God in Jesus, a different economy, built on trust in God, had emerged. The economy of Rome was the prevailing option, which the Pharisees and the Herodians in Jerusalem, had been co-opted into, and, more and more, benefited from. An economy of debt and excessive taxes, of owing the elite for your land or your business, were the price paid to feed the family. You could imitate them and join the rat race, the system of indebting others to you, so that in pushing them down, you could rise up a bit, trust that you would not be one of the newest victims needed to fuel the economy. Or you could entertain the option Jesus revealed, a new kind of trust. Serve God, not Mammon! In the economy of the realm of God, trust was shared between the faithful, and within the ekklesia or church, a trust that first came from God, based on a deeply held belief that God was the creator of heaven and earth.
It’s still an ideal we attain to, continue to seek, and make a reality. But trust is key. It’s complicated in the 21C, with a world-wide economy! We live in the empire, even as we negotiate our faith in the creator of everything. We pay our taxes and do business with money saying, “In God we Trust.” I don’t know. What do you think? Write it down and we can discuss it at the Stewardship meeting.
No one can really say just what Jesus meant when he so skillfully got himself out of the trap that the Pharisees set for him, “Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” Does that mean we’re supposed to give all our coins away to the rulers of this world, and, give all our lives, our allegiance to God? Is giving the emperor the things that are his, the taxes? How does it work? I really don’t know for sure. What do you think?
At the Occupy Wall Street protests, a popular sign said, “Keep the Coins, I want Change!” A clever double-meaning! Maybe a modern translation of Jesus’ reply? We do know that, in Jesus day, no one even expected to receive services for payment of taxes. They were levied largely to keep order, at the expense of freedom and creativity for the 99%.
It wasn’t just “the love of money” that corrupted those at the top of the system in Jesus’, or any other day since then, but the lack of faithful and secure grounding in God, and the misunderstanding of whose “image” we’re made in. It takes a deep and sincere trust that we are created, not just symbolically, but unequivocally and marvelously, in the image of God, the only trust bold enough to “walk through the valleys of the shadow of death,” we must face. Which opens us up to accept the invitation to this table, and trust, that this bread and wine are Jesus body and blood for us, the beginning of a path of unimaginable joy, and way to transformation for the world. “Keep the Coins, I want Change.”
These times are full of uncertainty, and to trust in God will require a new and deep trust in one another, an openness to the realm of transformation. We hold on to our faith in a loving God, a truth that does not change, but we also must answer the call to deeper faith, to a more bodily and incarnate kingdom and realm of God, that always pulls us into that loving grace anew.
What does it mean to trust in God? What do you think? What things are Caesar's and what are God's? How does our faith shape our economic decisions?" "What one question about the relationship between faith and money would you most like to talk about at church?" Write down your thoughts. Put them in the offering plate or give them to me. We’re in this together!