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Do Politics And Religion Mix?

Sermon
SERMONS ON THE GOSPEL READINGS
Series I, Cycle A
Originally published in 2004.

It was a trap. The Pharisees set it. Jealous that Jesus was gaining a following, they were eager to destroy him, and they'd do it by using his own words against him.

So they brought Christ a coin, asking him, "Is it right to pay taxes to Caesar?" If he said yes, he'd anger the Jews because they were an occupied nation suffering the indignities of the Roman army. If he said no, he'd incur the wrath of Rome for seditious remarks. Jesus, exhibiting great wisdom, asked to see a coin. "Whose picture is on this coin?" he inquired. "Caesar's," they replied, and in a moment of unforgettable eloquence, Jesus retorted, "Then render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and unto God the things that are God's." Clearly Jesus was saying that his people had something to offer both God and government.

Today the Caesar/God question is still tricky. Our society is still trying to answer the question, do politics and religion mix? The first amendment of the United States Constitution reads, "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion nor prohibit the free exercise thereof." What the first amendment is saying is that government should stay out of religion, but religious people can exercise their faith in the influence of public policy.

Over the past fifty years, lawmakers have misinterpreted the Constitution. We've majored in the first part of the amendment while abandoning the second part, and in doing so, we have disenfranchised the gospel, politically, socially, judicially, and culturally. Like a sponge with the water squeezed out, ours is a society with Jesus squeezed out, and we are living in a fifty--year experiment of building a nation without God. No prayer. No Ten Commandments. No sermon at graduation. No Sabbath. No respect for marriage.

Those things may be contributing to factors to some of today's problems: We have massive teen drug abuse, a girl at her prom who delivers a baby in a bathroom and trashes the child so she can rejoin the dance, school shooting sprees, and an adolescent suicide rate up 350 percent since 1960.

One wag, commenting on our politically correct times, wrote of a school essay turned in to academia at Thanksgiving. It read, "The Pilgrims came to these shores seeking freedom of you--know--what, so they could give thanks to you--know--who, so we, their descendants, could worship each Sunday, you--know--where." It's entirely ludicrous, eh? It's time to ask, cannot politics and religion mix?

Consider: God called Abraham to be the father of many nations. Moses was to emancipate Jewish slaves from an evil empire. The Ten Commandments were civil law for a new nation. The last ten books of the Old Testament, the Minor Prophets, are sermons to a nation that is morally adrift. God once exiled a nation into Babylonian captivity for indecency. Nehemiah, Ezra, and Zerubabel of Old Testament fame rebuilt a ruined country by rebuilding her walls, people, and priests on the biblical model.

Even our own American heritage is full of Christian influence. When the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth in 1620, they paused to write the Mayflower Compact, the first law of American shores. It reads in part: "In the name of God, Amen. We whose names are underwritten ... having undertaken for the glory of God and advancement of the Christian faith ... a voyage to plant the first colony in the northern parts of Virginia...."

George Washington, in his first presidential inauguration, added to his oath, "So help me God" and then kissed the Bible. Ben Franklin, in 1778 at the Constitutional Convention, made motion that proceedings each day be opened with prayer. He said, "I have lived for a long time, and the longer I live, the more convincing proof I see of this truth, that God governs the affairs of men. If a sparrow cannot fall to the ground without his notice, is it probable that an empire can rise without his aid? We have been assured by the Holy Scriptures that 'Except the Lord build the house, they labor in vain to build it.' I firmly believe this, and I also believe that without his concurring aid, we shall proceed in this political building no better than the founders of Babel."

Every presidential inaugural speech, less one, has mentioned God. Our coins have In God We Trust on them. The Ten Commandments are mostly still in our law books, forbidding theft, lying, murder, and such. Congress is still opened with prayer.

So you see, politics and religion can and have mixed in our nation's past. Fact is, as Jesus did say, we have something as Christians to render to God as well as something to render to Caesar!

Rendering To Caesar!

First, let's consider what Christ meant when he said, "Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar's." Certainly, it means we pay taxes. It means we pray for our leaders of government, and it means we obey the law. But it means more. It means we strive to be informed citizens; it means we help others to be informed. It means we vote, we protest, we even seek to hold office ourselves.

James Russell Lowell called the United States Constitution "a machine that won't go of itself." Like a bicycle, its engine is people. We peddle it with steady citizenship. It was Abraham Lincoln who pointed out, "All it takes for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing." It's easy. Christians just get off the bicycle and leave government to others, and we soon find our politic godless and wrong in its direction.

President James Garfield's words from 1877 still ring true. "Now more than ever before, the people are responsible for the character of their Congress. If that body be ignorant, reckless, and corrupt, it is because the people tolerate ignorance, recklessness, and corruption. If it be intelligent, brave, and pure, it is because the people demand these high qualities to represent them in the national legislature ... if the next centennial does not find us a great nation ... it will be because those who represent the enterprise, the culture, and the morality of the nation do not aid in controlling the political forces."

My friends in Christ, my fellow citizens, Jesus said we must render unto Caesar our salty influence. And in citizenship there are one thousand forms of duty. A military career, prayer, being a watchdog, a career in government service, elected office, teaching, homemaking, and so much more!

Rendering To God!
Yes, we've something for Caesar, our citizenship. That is not just marching in a parade or puffing one's chest out with a tear in the eye and lump in the throat as the flag passes by. Our citizenship must be a steady, patient, faithful work of a lifetime.

But that's not all! We also have something to render unto God. He is our reasonable worship; Christ is our first love.

Using the same imagery that Jesus used, we need to remember that, just as the coin was made in the image of Caesar, humankind is made in the image of God. Jesus' words still ring true: "... give to God that which is God's." God calls us to make a complete commitment of life and possessions to him and then he will guide how we use them. The far larger commitment in life must be to God. Using the simple question posed made popular today, WWJD (What would Jesus do?) we begin to get at the heart of what it means to give to God that which is God's. What would Jesus do with my possessions? With my time? With my gifts and talents? With my priorities? With my love of country?

It is far too easy to make an idol out of our country, to put our faith in the party and the economy and the president. Yet, our God is Christ. He is our hope, our savior, our Lord, our ultimate allegiance.

I saw a bumper sticker that read "My country, right or wrong!" I said, "My country, right, and my country put right when she is wrong!" In marriage. In justice. In race relations, ecology, foreign policy, schools, courts....

As Christians, we must not be like some and worship the state. Why, to hear some talk, God is a Democrat, or to another he is a Republican! Our faith is in Christ, not country. What if early believers put their faith in the Roman Empire? Where would they be now? Well does the scripture remind us, "For here we have no lasting city, but we seek a city which is to come."

In short, our worship is Christ, but our service of neighbor--loving is to the state.

Conclusion

Do politics and religion mix? You bet they do! Jesus said they are our dual renderings.

George Washington, in his farewell address, spoke: "The truth is, politics and morality are inseparable. As morality's foundation is religion, religion and politics are necessarily related."

So let the word go forth from this place: Made in the image of God, we in Christ are a salty, gifted segment of the populace, and we have something to give to both God and the nation. In our obedience to Christ, as did our forefathers, we will give the full measure of it all!

Suggested Prayer

Lord Jesus, make me a faithful steward of both church and state. Amen.

Stephen M. Crotts
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