Hello, I’m Peter Nimmo, the minster of the Parish of Cambuslang. Welcome to this Sunday’s church service. It’s great to have you join us, whether you’re watching on the internet, or if you’re listening on CamGlen Radio, or on our Dial-a-Service telephone line.
We also meet at 10.30am for Sunday services in our church building. Due to Coronavirus restrictions, you have to book a seat, so please visit our website for more information.
Today you’ll also hear music from our Worship Band. Linda Neeson will read Scripture for us, and Deacon Karen Hamilton will lead us in prayer.
Everything was recorded with the appropriate social distancing.
Let’s prepare for worship with a moment of silence.
Our Call to Worship comes from Psalm 96:
O sing to the LORD a new song; sing to the LORD, all the earth.Psalm 96:1-2
Sing to the LORD, bless God’s name;
tell of God’s salvation from day to day.
Let us worship God.
Hymn 180 Give thanks with a grateful heart
Karen Hamilton, Prayer
The Question about Paying Taxes
15 The Pharisees went off and made a plan to trap Jesus with questions. 16 Then they sent to him some of their disciples and some members of Herod’s party. “Teacher,” they said, “we know that you tell the truth. You teach the truth about God’s will for people, without worrying about what others think, because you pay no attention to anyone’s status. 17 Tell us, then, what do you think? Is it against our Law to pay taxes to the Roman Emperor, or not?”
18 Jesus, however, was aware of their evil plan, and so he said, “You hypocrites! Why are you trying to trap me? 19 Show me the coin for paying the tax!”
They brought him the coin, 20 and he asked them, “Whose face and name are these?”
21 “The Emperor’s,” they answered.
So Jesus said to them, “Well, then, pay to the Emperor what belongs to the Emperor, and pay to God what belongs to God.”
22 When they heard this, they were amazed; and they left him and went away.
In Amsterdam, there’s a house I visited once in which eight people, including two children, hid in just two rooms in order to save their lives. For in a speech at the Concertgebouw concert hall in 1941, Arthur Seyss-Inquart, the Nazi ruler of the German occupied Netherlands, had stated ‘We do not consider the Jews to be members of the Dutch nation. The Jews for us are not Dutch’. That Jews had been part of tolerant Dutch society for centuries made no difference whatsoever. Having a Jewish identity was, the Nazis said, incompatible with being Dutch.
When the six adults and two children were discovered in their hiding place, they were taken to concentration camps, where all except one of them died.
One of the children who died was Anne Frank, who, of course, wrote a famous diary about the experience. The Nazis had decided that people like Anne Frank were a threat to their mythical racial purity. The master race was threatened by the mere existence of this sixteen-year-old girl, and so she was murdered, with many, many others, at Bergen-Belsen. Anne Frank was just one of over 100,000 Dutch Jews who did not survive the Holocaust- killed simply because of their Jewish identity.
People are still being killed and imprisoned because of the ethnic, religious or Christian identity. In 1995, more than 8,000 Muslims were murdered at Srebrenica was carried out by Bosnian Serbs who didn’t think that Muslims belonged in their country. More recently, the Rohingya were being forced from their homes and murdered by people who don’t think Muslims belong in Burma. And at this very moment, hundreds of thousands of Uighurs and minorities are being held in internment camps, as the Chinese communist party tries to strip away their identity. Someone was saying to me the other day that most Christians in the Middle East- in places Israel and Egypt- feel ‘under pressure’: because they are Christians, their identity puts them at risk.
There’s a question of identity being asked in today’s Gospel reading. This story comes from another place and time when Jews were under occupation. The time is 2,000 years ago, the place is Israel itself, and the occupiers are the Romans. Some religious leaders- called Pharisees- ask Jesus a question which is meant to trick him: is it against the Jewish Law to pay taxes to the pagan Roman Emperor.
Jesus says those who are asking the question are hypocrites. For they are asking a trick question- they hope to get Jesus into trouble, whatever answer he gives.
We know that the ordinary folks of the time were often burdened with heavy taxes. Struggling peasant farmers resented seeing much of their income going to the hated Roman occupiers. Indeed, the Gospels tell us that tax collectors were particularly hated. They collected taxes on behalf of the Romans from their fellow countrymen. They were notoriously corrupt, becoming wealthy by pocketing some of the tax money for themselves. The tax collectors of Jesus’ day were, to use the language of the Second World War, collaborators. In the Gospels, they are usually mentioned in the same breath as prostitutes, drunkards, pagans and ‘outcasts’- proverbial sinners, in other words.
‘So’, reasoned the Pharisees, ‘let’s ask this trick question of Jesus: “Is it against our religious Law to pay taxes to the Emperor?” If he says we should pay taxes to the Romans, he’ll lose supporters among the ordinary folk with whom he’s so popular. But on the other hand, if he says people shouldn’t pay, he’ll be in trouble with the Romans occupiers- and they’re harsh with rebels!”
Jesus gets out of the trap by giving them a very clever answer. He asks for the sort of coin which was used to pay the tax. One of his questioners produces a choir, and Jesus shows it them, and asks: Whose name is on this coin? Whose face?
Coins usually are symbols of a state’s identity. And as our British coins still do today, Roman coins bore the name and the face of the ruler. A typical coin of the period would have portrayed the Caesar, or Emperor, Tiberius, with the inscription ‘Tiberius, Caesar, Son of the Divine Augustus, the high priest’. This coin had been produced by the disciple of a Pharisee, who were supposed to be so strict about their adherence to the one God is Israel! Yet it bore the face and name of a pagan Roman Emperor, who claimed to be the son of a god. And yet, a Pharisee had had one in his person- he didn’t think twice about using this idolatrous object! And so Jesus replies: pay the Emperor what belongs to the Emperor, and pay to God what belongs to God- and leaves the Pharisees in confusion!
Sometimes, theologians and preachers have treated this saying of Jesus as if God and Caesar are in some way equal. They say that this is a story which reminds Christians that they have duties to the state- pay your taxes, obey the law, say your prayers, go to church. But Jesus is being far more subtle than that.
By all means give back the Emperor his coin, says Jesus. It’s got his name and face on it. But give to God what belongs to God. But here’s the rub- if you believe in the God of the Bible, God and Caesar are by no means equal.
For everything- even the wealth represented by that pagan Roman coin- everything really belongs to God. God has created the world and sustains it all in being. ‘The earth belongs unto the Lord, and all that it contains’ says the Psalm. The Emperor may think that the wealth the coin represents belongs to him- but all good things around us are sent from heaven above, as the harvest hymn says. God even created the Emperor Tiberius, if he but knew it. For God and Caesar are not equals. God is infinitely more than any earthly ruler.
Rulers, governments, nations, political parties sometimes want to impose identities upon us. Often we are happy to take on such an identity, alongside our faith identity. Many faithful Christians have also been patriots of their countries, for example. Yet we have to protest when people are being forced to give up an identity because, like the Nazi Party of the Chinese Communists, they see another identity being an insult to their power.
I consider myself a Christian, and try to live by the Christian way of life. Through my baptism, I belong to God in Christ. I try to live my life according to the teachings of the Jesus Christ. And yet my Christian identity is not my only identity. I’m also a Scot, an inhabitant of Great Britain, and a European. And those are not mutually exclusive identities. Anne Frank has become a Dutch national hero- although her family were German, and they were, of course also Jewish. Lots of us have multiple identities, and it’s wrong to try to strip that away.
Jesus said, ‘Give to God what belongs to God’. It we take that seriously, we have to say that everything we have belongs to God. The Emperor Tiberius was the most powerful man in the world in Jesus’ day- but he is literally ancient history today. Rome’s glory is gone, Tiberius almost forgotten, but today we still baptise people in the name of Jesus Christ.
I might describe myself as Scots, British or European, but the identity I received at my baptism is my deepest identity. Like most Christians, I live with that identity along with my other identities. I’m Scottish, British and European, for different purposes. But ultimately, what really matters is that I am Christian.
The city of Thessalonica, in Greece, was a multicultural city when St Paul founded his church there. A port city, it was home to people from across the Mediterranean- place of many national and religious identities. And so St Paul wrote to the Christians of Thessalonica that:
We know that God loves you and has chosen you to be his own.
Those words could be addressed to us, too. If we have a firm hope in Jesus Christ, we know that we belong to God: an incredibly liberating thing to believe, that we are loved by the Creator of all that is. That comes from our basic identity as Christians.
You can be a Scottish Christian, or a Presbyterian Christian, or a Roman Catholic Christian, a gay Christian, a feminist Christian, a socialist Christian, a conservative Christian, a Chinese Christian, an African Christian, an Asian Christian. There are all kinds of Christians, for the Christian church is a kaleidoscope of humanity in all its diversity and colour.
Yet none of those other identities is more important than the identity we receive when we are baptised in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. You can’t put country before God, because God loves people in other countries as well. You can’t put your race before God, because people of all races are as much children of God as anyone else. God loves you in all your complexity! And the risen Christ invites us all, without exception, to discover our deepest identity as citizens of the Kingdom of God, children of God, beloved by our Creator.
Hymn 198 Let us build a house
Thank you for joining us for worship today. Thanks to Deacon Karen Hamilton, to Linda Neeson for the Bible reading, to our musicians, and to Fraser Hamilton for filming and editing. I love hearing people’s reactions these recorded services, so if you have enjoyed this service, or have questions, or if you just want a chat or a prayer, please do let me know. My phone number is on the Cambuslang Parish Church website.
Friends, know that God loves you
and has chosen you to be God’s own.
Put your faith into practice,
may your love made you work hard,
and may you be firm in your hope
in our Lord Jesus Christ.
The blessing of God,
Father, Son and Holy Spirit,
be with you all.