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Living as God's Child in the State

October 23, 2022 Speaker: Rev. Jack Meehan Series: Placed for a Purpose - Fall 2022 Stewardship Series

Topic: Biblical Verse: Luke 18:9–17

The Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost

October 23, 2022

Luke 18:9-17

 Fall Stewardship Series – Week 3

“Placed for a Purpose: Living as God’s Child in the State”

In today’s Gospel lesson we see first-century church and state coming together in an unusual and unexpected way. Jesus’ parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector is about more than church and state; it’s about becoming as little children in order to enter the kingdom of God. All of this serves as background to the message for today, which is the third in our Fall Stewardship series, “Placed for a Purpose.” As we have learned, Luther identified three primary estates, or places, in life where we live and serve in Jesus’ Name: the church, the state, and the home. The stewardship of our selves, our time, and our possessions focuses on these three areas so that the Name of the Lord may be glorified in our lives and that we may serve the needs of our neighbor, who is Christ in our midst. Today our focus is on the second of those three estates which Luther identifies: the state. Based on today’s Gospel lesson, the theme for the message is “Living as God’s Child in the State.” May the Lord’s rich and abundant blessing rest upon the preaching the hearing, and the living of his Word for Jesus’ sake.

We live in the shadow of our nation’s capital, and many of us live where we do because we work for the government in some capacity, either directly or indirectly. This is what many of you do on a daily basis. It’s no secret that many people in our nation are extremely dissatisfied with government and greatly concerned about the state of affairs in our country. Accusations of corruption, partisanship, self-interest, gridlock, and power plays are everywhere. Leading up to midterm elections next month are a plethora of political ads and commercials for various candidates for various offices. Mudslinging, name calling, things taken out of context and measured in soundbytes – all of this is nothing new, but it seems to be getting worse. So discouraging is all of this that many people, including many Christians, just tune it out altogether, believing that the system is broken beyond repair. But government is a gift from God. Is it perfect? No, but without it we would quickly degenerate into chaos and depravity. The truth is, despite all its imperfections and shortcomings, we need government to regulate our lives. We are called to be responsible and involved citizens of our communities and our nation. We are called to live as God’s child in the state.

Even way back in Jesus’ day, government workers were not held in high regard. The tax collector in Jesus’ parable was one such person. Hated by his own countrymen as a collaborator with the Roman occupiers, it was common knowledge that tax collectors collected more than just the required tax, lining their own pockets at the expense of their fellow citizens. Tax collectors were lumped together with prostitutes – sort of the untouchables of first-century Judaism. And so these two individuals come together in the temple: the upstanding and devout Pharisee, seen by his countrymen as the embodiment of all that is good and holy, and the tax collector, who was shunned and hated by everyone. All of this gets turned upside-down from what people would have expected Jesus to say about these two individuals. People would have expected Jesus to praise the Pharisee for his good works, his fasting, his generosity. People would have expected Jesus to let that miserable tax collector have it full bore. But that’s not what Jesus does. This parable is unique to Luke’s Gospel, where the concern is for those who are outsiders; those who are on the fringe; those who are overlooked and ignored; those who are the untouchables. The good news of Jesus, his compassion and mercy, is for these people as much as for anyone else.

When we come before the Lord, we have no cause for holding up our good works under God’s nose. As the prophet Isaiah records, “all our righteous deeds are like a filthy rag” (Isaiah 64:6). We have no room to boast of how good we are before God our Maker and Redeemer. We can only come before the Lord, and say as the tax collector did, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!” (Luke 19:13). To humble ourselves rather than exalting ourselves, trusting in God’s mercy rather than our own self-made righteousness, is to become like little children. And the good news is that through faith in Jesus, who shed his blood and gave his life on the cross for us and for our salvation, there is mercy and grace to help in time of need (Hebrews 4:16). It is from this place of mercy and grace in Jesus that we are then sent out into the world to live as God’s child in the state.

Taxes were assessed and collected in Jesus’ day and they still are today. The taxes we pay today support so many things in the life of our nation: infrastructure like roads and power supplies, national defense, education, Social Security, public health care programs like Medicare and Medicaid, veterans benefits, and safety net programs. Sometimes we are prone to grouse and complain about paying taxes, a subject that almost always comes up in election years. But the simple truth is that our taxes support a great deal of good that happens each and every day in the life of our nation. As Christian citizens, we understand the Biblical foundation for this, as St. Paul writes: “For because of this you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing. Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed” (Romans 13:6-7). Coming home last Tuesday from the Southeastern District church workers conference in Silver Spring, Maryland, there was a series of sickening and perverse political banners fastened to an overhead walkway above the Beltway. You could not help but see this, and it was disgusting. Over against this, Jesus calls us to be salt and light for the world (Matthew 5:13-16). This is what it means to live as God’s child in the state.

There are no taxes that are assessed and collected within the life of our congregation, of course. That’s not how we operate. Funds for ministry come from tithes and offerings that are freely given by all of us. These tithes and offerings support many things in our life together: mission work at home and overseas; human care through agencies like Koinonia and Lutheran Social Services; Bible study materials; altar care needs; office supplies and utility bills; staff salaries; fellowship events; and much more. Do we contribute freely and willingly, not only with our taxes to the state, but with our tithes and offerings for Christ’s church? With record high inflation right now, it would be very easy to cut back on our tithes and offerings. Today’s Old Testament lesson (Genesis 4:1-15), which records the murder of Abel by his brother, Cain, also provides insight about the offerings which each of them brought: “In the course of time Cain brought to the Lord an offering of the fruit of the ground, and Abel also brought of the firstborn of his flock and of their fat portions. And the Lord had regard for Abel and his offering, but for Cain and his offering he had no regard. So Cain was very angry, and his face fell.” (Genesis 4:3-5). So what’s the difference between the two? We are told that each brought something, but that Abel brought the “firstborn of his flock and of their fat portions.” That means Abel brought as his offering to the Lord the first and the best. We are not told this about Cain and his offering. Can it be any different with us today? Originally, first fruits offering meant the first of your harvest (Deuteronomy 26:2ff.), but for us today, it means giving to the Lord off the top, not the bottom. If we are giving to the Lord only what is left over after everything else has been taken care of and all the other bills have been paid, how does this honor the Lord? As we consider all that God in Christ has done for us, not withholding the life of his only Son, but freely giving him up for us all, all that we are and have comes from and belongs to the Lord. We are merely the managers, the stewards, of what God has placed into our hands. Let us then, like Abel, return the first and best of what we have to the Lord for his kingdom work.

Join us next week on Reformation Sunday (October 30) as our fall stewardship series, “Placed for a Purpose,” concludes with the focus on “Living as God’s Child in the Home.” Amen.

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