"Image and Identity" - Sermon for the 20th Sunday After Pentecost, Year A

"Image and Identity" - Sermon for the 20th Sunday After Pentecost, Year A

Oct 18, 2020

Passage:Matthew 22:15-22

Preacher: The Rev. Jared Houze

Series: Season After Pentecost

Category: Love, Incarnation





I come from porch sittin’ people. 

Our summers were spent on my grandparents back porch in Odessa.

And when we would make the journey up to the family farm in Indiana, we would inevitably find ourselves sitting on my great-grandparents’ porch. 

I have this idea. I want to turn half of our back porch here into a patio pub. You know…a place to relax, unwind, invite folks over to watch the Cowboys play in the fall and the Texas Rangers play in the Spring and Summer. I mean we could watch other teams too…as long as they’re playing the Cowboys or the Rangers. So I started researching online some designs to build my own bar top. Well, just one hour of research and now thanks to Big Brother’s weird tracking algorithm every time I’m on social media I’m assaulted by advertisement after advertisement for bar supplies companies, and furniture companies, and beer kegerator lines. It’s almost eerie. 


You know how many advertisements you and I take in with all our senses on a daily basis? 

5,000…research shows we take in five thousand advertisements a day. Each one offering us a different image or symbol – something recognizable or resonating to lure, coax, and convince us that we need this or that. All these images and symbols in some way shape our identity. They do! Images shape our identity. Writer Wallace Stegner says that “we live our lives by patterns and forms…” Five thousand advertisements a day…that’s quite a pattern. Patterns, forms, images, and symbols. 


Our gospel reading this morning has that famous remark often translated “Render unto Caesar…” And I’d like to suggest that maybe this story isn’t so much about Jesus providing us with a sound economic philosophy or a paradigm of Church and world politics – as it has often been used…what if it’s more about Jesus calling our attentions to something, to this interplay between….


Image and Identity 


Up to this point Jesus has been telling stories…stories that confront the religious program of the Pharisees and those in the upper echelons of Jewish religious society. Now, they are fed up with Jesus, feel threatened by Jesus and want nothing more than to trap Jesus. That’s what our gospel reading clearly states, right? “The Pharisees went and plotted to entrap him…” It’s like for them Jesus is this wild animal of a man and he’s going out into the highways and the byways and he’s showing people the love of a wild God, a God no religious program can contain – so you got to trap him- shut him up. But they’ve just spent the last several encounters with Jesus having all of their questions turned back on them through story and allegory. They’re embarrassed – tired of looking bad in front of their congregations. So what do they do? 


The Pharisees send their disciples. They say, “Hey! You know what…we got all these interns standing around – fresh out of school. They’re eager to prove, eager to please. Let’s send them to Jesus. And you know what would be really good let’s get them together with some of Herod’s interns…all those political wannabes they got something to prove too. I know, I know…we never really liked them – but now….NOW we have something in common. Trapping this Jesus.” 


So…doesn’t that create an interesting scene – here we have the disciples of the Pharisees and Herod – a group of religious blowhards and political windbags surrounding the disciples of Jesus and there sits Jesus. And what are the first words out of their mouths to Jesus? Praise…flattery…they are laying it on thick. (Oh Jesus…we know you are wise, and a good teacher, and has anyone told you that tunic really brings out your eyes….) Why? Because when you’re the disciples of religion and politics that’s the language you’re used to – ego stroking, the language that lets you climb the ladder. But here’s the deal…it’s not the language of Jesus and the discipleship that follows after him. And these cats are trying to hide a trick question inside all the flattery. So they ask, “Is it right to pay taxes to Caesar or not?” Shrewd, right? If he answers in the affirmative he looses trust with the people and if he answers in the negative he commits treason. But watch what Jesus does…and here’s how I imagine it.


He asks someone for a coin. And sitting next to him is this kid with a ball cap and peanut butter and jelly on his face and Jesus does that disappearing coin trick with his hands and then makes it reappear behind the kids ear… and he flips it up and down a couple of times and slaps it on the back of his wrist. And on one side he sees the image of Caesar and it says “Tiberius Augustus Son of the Divine” and on the other side it’s the same image with the words “Our Great High Priest” 


There’s Jesus…the Son of God in who all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell…the One in whom the author of Hebrews will one day refer to as the Universe’s Great High Priest. He’s sitting there looking at this coin with this little image of a face claiming a god-like status…and he looks up and asks, “So, who’s image is on this coin?”  “Well, that’s the Emperor. That’s Caesar.”


“Well then,” Jesus says, “he can have it.” And he flips the coin over to the kid. 

“Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s. And give to God what is God’s.” 


Now, if you’re a disciple of Herod you know he hasn’t committed treason. But it becomes a little more complicated for the Pharisees. Because any good Jew in the crowd knows the answer to the question “What belongs to God?” Everything….EVERYTHING. Caesar can have his measly tribute, his little coin bearing his little face. But YOU…you bear the IMAGE OF GOD. Caesar wants your tax…God wants your life. Caesar wants to show you an empire…God wants to you show a love so tender and yet so fierce it has brought empires to their knees. 


Give to Caesar the things that belong to him, but we belong to God…so give yourself to God. 


So, yet again – those who tried to trap him, leave Jesus stunned and speechless. 

When everything belongs to God, you can’t trap the wildness of God. 

Five thousand images….five thousand images you and I are bombarded with on a daily basis. Images that compete for our loyalties, images that attempt to define our identities – who we are and whose we are. But we…WE belong to the God whose image we all bear…and our identity is in the ONE who bore that image all the way to the cross. 


Severus of Antioch, a 5th Century scholar and bishop wrote, “The image of God is not depicted on gold or silver but is imaged in humanity. God has chosen the human personality, whom he created in love, to reflect his glory.” 


God is imaged in a humanity…created in love…to reflect his glory.


Isn’t that something? God chose you. God chose you. 

(I’m going to say it again) God. Chose. You. 


There are the images that try to shape us and then there is the Image that truly shapes us. 


May we be a people shaped by the image of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.