Sundays:  Pastor's Class 9:00 AM (Ephesians)
               Divine Liturgy 10:30 AM

Wednesdays: Pastor's Class 10:00 AM (Psalm 119 deep dive)
                    Divine Liturgy 7:00 PM

Private Confession: By appointment.



What Shall I Render To The Lord?

October 22, 2023 Pastor: Rev. Dean Kavouras

SACRIChrist Lutheran Church
Cleveland, Ohio
October 22, 2023
by: Rev. Dean Kavouras

Pentecost 21
What Shall I Render To Lord?

Then the Pharisees left and took counsel together on how they might trick him into saying something they could use against him. So they sent their disciples, along with the Herodians and said, "Teacher! We know that you are true and that you teach the way of God in truth, and are unconcerned what others think, for you are not partial to anyone. Tell us what you think? Is it lawful to pay tax to Caesar, or not?" But Jesus, aware of their malice, said, "Why do you put me to the test, O Hypocrites? Show me the coin used for the tax;" and they brought him a denarius. He said to them, "whose image and inscription is this?" They said to him, "Caesar's." Then he said to them, "give to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God's." When they heard this they marveled and left him and went away. Mt. 22:15-22 (dkv)

The days were waxing late. The religious establishment was getting more desperate by the minute. And they were trying everything they could think of to discredit Jesus. Arresting him and handing him over to the Roman governor was not their first plan, but finally it became the only plan.

In today’s gospel we find the Pharisees, helped in their mission by the pro-Roman Herodians, approaching Jesus for one more desperate run. The Pharisees and Herodians did not like each at all; but they relied on the old adage that, “my enemy’s enemy is my friend.” And so they joined forces to trap Jesus in his own words; to get him to incriminate himself; so that the they could report him to the Roman authorities – then maybe they would solve the problem for them.

They had to do something! They were rapidly losing their “market share” to an itinerant preacher with no credentials – except that he taught with authority, forgave sins with finality; cured sick people well with a touch; multiplied bread with a blessing; and raised the dead back to life at will.

And so today’s gospel is a train-wreck waiting to happen. Jesus who is the New Temple, stands inside the Old Temple, trying to make men see the Light. For you see the instant our Lord “was made man” the Old Temple, with its sacrificial system, became obsolete. Closed for business. Because God no longer dwelled there in mercy – but his new dwelling place was the Flesh of Jesus.

Remember what Jesus told them in a previous visit to the temple recorded in John Chapter Two? “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up again.” They Jews were outraged. But St. John inserts this all-important foot note, “he was speaking about the temple of his body.” John 2:21

Now only when we realize this theological fact, that the incarnate Christ is the Temple of God; the place where God dwells; the person from whence he freely distributes his “good gifts and Spirit” to men, only then can we know the truth that sets us free from our sins. (John 8:32ff)

And so Jesus is not giving a civics lesson in today’s gospel, but something far, far greater. He is teaching us that he is the new Temple, new Priest, new Sacrifice, and New Testament; and that if we want to render unto God the things that are God’s, then we must offer him nothing less, than the Spotless Gift he first gave us.

Now it is true that we must give Caesar the things he demands: money, honor and glory. But we also find in today’s Old Testament lesson that the LORD uses kings for his own purpose, for the blessing of his people. Case in point, Cyrus the King of Persia was a very hard man, who dwelt in stygian darkness, and was utterly unaware of the One True God.

Yet in Isaiah 45:1 the LORD calls Cyrus “my messiah.” The same title as Jesus himself. And like Jesus God had a mission for Cyrus to carry out. It was to free the Jewish people from Babylonian captivity, allow them to go back to their homeland, and rebuild it 70 years after it was leveled by the another King at God’s command – Nebuchadnezzar.

Do you see how the King of kings makes use of earthly kings? And that what Isiah teaches us in today’s Old Testament lesson is true?

“I am the LORD and there is no other!
I form light and create darkness.
I make peace, and I create disaster.
I am the LORD who does all these things!”

Not only was Cyrus commanded to liberate God’s Old Testament church, but he was to give them letters of safe passage for their 500 mile caravan journey back to Israel, and to finance the entire operation with public funds – no separation of church and state here!

And so we must render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s. But the takeaway from today’s gospel is the second half of the Lord’s saying, “Render unto God the things that are God’s.” The first part is obvious, the second not at all, until we are fully instructed in Christian worship.

What are we to render unto God? Or in the words of King David, “What shall I render to the LORD for all his benefits to me?” There is only one such offering, viz. the One God first gave us, even Jesus Christ our Lord! As the coin was the image of Caesar, even so our Lord is the image of God (Col. 1:16), and we the image of Jesus by faith! (Rom. 8:29)

But what does that mean, how does that work, and how do we render Jesus to God?

Only one way dear Christians: by this Divine Service, this Divine Liturgy, this Eucharistic celebration that we rejoice in every Sunday. In this Holy Engagement and Arrangement the church Offers the Son to the Father. By which we mean that we approach God at his holy altar – not in our own name, image, person or inscription but we come boldly to our God in his own image; that of Jesus Christ his Son who purifies us from every sin.

Not Jesus the five letter word, or Jesus the talking point. But by Jesus as God gave him to us in these last days “slain for our sins from the foundation of the world,” and delivered to us in glorious liturgy, his celebrated Word and Sacraments of which we partake this very hour.

This is what we indicate when we elevate the Host and the Cup and ring the bells! By this liturgical gesture we are confessing that we believe and joyously receive the things of God. Christ! And render them back to him again in a seamless circle of unity and love.

Now many Christians will advise that you must “give your heart to Jesus,” and they are not wrong. But that can only be done in as much as we are baptismally located inside of Jesus; a member of his Body/Soma the church. (Col. 1:13)

Saint Paul takes up that very subject in Romans 12:1 when he gives this Eucharistic admonition, “Offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your reasonable worship.” But it is something we can do only because our bodies are joined to the Lord’s Body by faith and baptismal union as Saint Paul repeats nearly 100 times in his epistles with the phrase "in Christ.”

And so for now God has established sinners to watch over sinners in the form or government, such as it is; so let us render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s. But let us especially render unto God the things that are God’s. His Son in whom the image of our God dwells bodily, and to whose image we are conformed by faith. Amen.