How many of you remember the VISA credit card commercial “What’s in your wallet?” My favorites involved the marauding Vikings on holiday, but they all ended with a bellowing question- “What’s in YOUR wallet?” I think of it whenever I hear this gospel lesson. Because what’s in our wallets is close to us, and important to us. As the Pharisees are being tested by Jesus as much as they thought they were testing him. But what exactly is Jesus really getting at when he tells them to hand him a coin and then tells them to give to Caesar what is Caesar’s but give to God what is God’s?
The short answer is “I don’t know for sure.” But I do think we have Caesars in our lives too. And by that I mean whatever occupies us and controls us.
The Pharisees and God’s people lived in an occupied land. They were taken over by the Romans who brought their laws, their army and their money. Literally the answer to what’s in their wallet is money that had a picture of Caesar on it and proclaimed he was the Son of God. So much for the people who say they will have no other gods before the Lord. Claiming allegiance to the Lord was seemingly an impossible dilemma. They were allowed to worship their God as long as they also worshipped Caesar. And it seems they are caught and yet, they have no trouble even in the temple of handing Jesus that coin. The one they tell others they can’t have in the temple and must exchange for temple money for a price. They have a lot of those Caesar coins and they’re not sharing. And they have no trouble going to the occupying leaders about Jesus. Their words about God and their actions have gotten pretty disconnected. Frankly, they’ve spent an awful lot of time cozying up to the very thing that threatens them.
We are not occupied in the same way, but we are also living in a system that demands much it seems. However we answer the question of what occupies us affects our decision making, how we see the world, and tells where we place our hope. Often it is in our wallet. Even though our money boldly says “In God We Trust” on it.
But I wonder if anyone has looked at those words when you’re buying something, or before you spend money. Does anyone stop and look at those words “ In God We Trust” and ask if this decision lives that out? Anyone? Me neither.
With credit cards and electronic purchases becoming the norm kids today perhaps no longer will even see those words. They won’t even cross our minds.
We’re all far more likely to pay attention to the words of the brands we are loyal to. Now advertisers have gone beyond trying to convince us of a brand- it’s about creating a whole community. There are Nike people. And I-phone people. There are Weis shoppers and Redners shoppers. There are whole systems based upon these loyalties- there are even loyalty cards. And while some offer us a deal here and there, they are mainly just tracking what we buy to get us to buy more of what it seems we can’t do without. I keep waiting for my loyalty to Turkey Hill really give me the better gas discount. They tell me to keep spending. Getting us to cozy up to their system and treat the connections as real. To be the thing we want most. But they’re not real connections.
What’s in our wallet says a lot. It says not only what we are loyal to, but I think it says where we place our hope. That’s why retail therapy is a thing. For those of you who don’t know, that’s shopping at a favorite place to feel better. The next product is bound to make a difference until maybe we do realize that VISA really does own us. There’s even a spoof on the Viking commercial where the person realizes how much they owe and the Vikings come back and smash it all.
The truth in this is that there is an obvious tension in life between how to live a life of faith in the world and how to live in the culture of our world. How to live without letting the culture own us.
And I wonder if maybe the real question Jesus was asking the Pharisees and us is, whether we think the pull of the culture is so strong we don’t even try?
Maybe we begin to think it’s too much to ask how faith shapes our decisions in life about spending and saving and giving. That’s a place of no hope in the end. Yet Jesus says give to Caesar what is Caesar’s but give to God what is God’s. Which may be a way of reminding us how our coins and our cards do not define us.
Because God does. We belong to God.
Jesus invites and even demands us to engage these words we say about God and ourselves- to speak of our Lord in terms of a real living relationship. And a source of hope. Because while God wants all of us, the good news is that God first says- you are mine. It’s a promise not a threat.
Words that are intended to reassure us that we are more than our money and don’t have to live in fear of having it all.
Perhaps now more than ever these are words of community and comfort and direction we need to hear. That our hope is not limited to what we can buy. That we can live in faith that God loves us, provides for us and saves us and we can believe there is a future and hope. Now more than ever as we look at our world and feel powerless we can be a community that continues to gather together around what is real- God’s love and promise today and forever in Christ’s work of the cross. That’s our hope. And it’s real.
In a few weeks, we will be gathering for our annual meeting, and voting upon a plan for how we will carry out ministry in the coming year. The time honored term is called a budget. And it often feels that our thoughts about bills and coins are the only way we see this process. But I want to suggest we view it as a statement of trust in God and as a statement of hope.
That the choices we make in our commitment will be based upon our trust in God so that we can support it financially. And that the choice we make in shaping ministry will be based upon what we believe God is calling us to do, not only what we feel used to doing.
Because we’re liberated by God from the weight of whatever feels like it occupies us. We are liberated! And our primary response is to say thank you! Thank God! And trust God’s providing as we carry out the gospel for others. So they can feel liberated and thankful too.
And this is who we CAN be because God claims us, loves us and empowers us to respond.
Let us pray- Lord God, sometimes we are unsure about how we can respond to your calling. Help us to surrender ourselves, and be thankful because we are yours, and to trust that you love us and provide for us, so that we can break free from what holds us back and share of ourselves for the sake of your world.
In Jesus’ name. Amen
PS- here's the Vikings!