The Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost (A)
“The Games People Play”
October 22, 2017
Sermon Text: Matthew 22:15-22
Peace be unto you from our Triune God – Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.
Dearly Beloved of the Lord,
Oh, the games people play. I am not talking about sports, although some certainly make a sport out of it. I am not talking about board games, although one would think the person playing games would get bored doing it and just stop it… “cease and desist” if you will.
It gets old and… as is often said… life is too short to play games with people, be it at work, school, home, wherever and whenever. Just come out with it. Just tell it like it is. Just let your thoughts and opinions… your desires and intentions be known in a straightforward and matter of fact way.
But it is not that easy to do when one’s thoughts and opinions, desires and intentions are not good… are not right… are, in fact, downright sinister and evil… wicked even.
Then “playing games” becomes a handy tool to ensnare someone… to entangle them in one’s plot of deceit. St. Matthew tells us, “Then the Pharisees went and plotted how to entangle [Jesus] in his talk.” (Matthew 22:15)
They “had it in” for Jesus. They were “out for” Jesus… out for His blood. And so, they devised what they thought was a neat little trap for Him.
Those sent were actually quite “crafty,” just like that serpent… Satan… is described in Genesis, chapter three, in what was mankind’s fall into sin. (Genesis 3:1) These Jews were likewise hoping this would be our Lord’s fall, that they would be able to trip Him up.
And they begin by using flattery which nevertheless happened to be true, saying to our Lord, “Teacher, we know that you are true and teach the way of God truthfully, and you do not care about anyone’s opinion, for you are not swayed by appearances.” (Matthew 22:16)
There’s the bait as they count on Jesus telling the truth, saying it like it is and in the process, put Himself against the Romans… against Caesar himself.
“Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?” (Matthew 22:17)
The Jews were counting on our Lord defiantly and definitively saying “No. It is not “lawful.” To which they would summarily hand Him over to the Romans for prosecution.
But here, my friends, we see how spiritually ignorant the Pharisees and those they sent to trap our Lord actually were… of their own faith… maybe not the traditions which man had added on to the faith… but the faith itself found in God’s Word.
And what an amazing coincidence and connection this has to next Sunday and the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation… where the Roman Catholic Church and those who led the church had become spiritually ignorant, not of their own man-made rules, regulations and traditions, but that which is imparted to us in Holy Scripture.
If the Pharisees, their disciples and the Herodians had only remembered God’s Word and especially the Torah, the first five books of the Old Testament. If they only remembered the Commandments including the fourth and our submitting to those who are in authority over us… including the Romans… including Caesar.
So yes… definitely, “render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” (Matthew 22:21)
Well, that didn’t go as planned for the Jews. Our text tells us they marveled at Jesus’ answer and left.
Certainly, in all of this, we see the underlining… we see the importance of knowing God’s Word… knowing the truth of God’s Word. Something which continues to haunt and hurt many churches today, including this congregation and many members of this congregation… namely in regard to their handle on and understanding of what the Lord our God is saying to them and all of us today and all of our days in His living Word. The Word that is so applicable to us every minute of every hour of every day… in every situation.
And, too, dear brothers and sisters, do we see the underlining and the importance that comes out of this morning’s Gospel lesson of our submitting to God’s sovereignty… God’s authority… that we hold Him and Him alone to be our God… and not put Him to the test… not play games with Him. That never ends well.
We put God to the test every time we take the position of just waiting to see if He will help us… if He will really and truly come through for us regarding this or that… instead of not waiting at all and simply move forward… believing… fully believing, knowing and trusting that He will in His perfect time and way help us. He says so in His Word!
We put God to the test every time we, in any way, try to see if God is going to be consistent and fair as to what He says in His Word and what He actually does in our lives and in the world.
We put God to the test every time we look for discrepancies, errors and mistakes in His Word or where we, in any way, declare some portion of it to be false.
We put God to the test every time we try His patience and His longsuffering.
We put God to the test every time we see if maybe He will bend a little regarding His Word, His Commandments and His ways.
We put God to the test every time we challenge His authority as well as the authority He has given to His Church and to His called and ordained servants.
When you think of it, we put God to the test quite a bit… as did the people of Israel. And in our Old Testament lesson we see how the Almighty responds in one instance… in this instance… using a pagan king, Cyrus, to remind everyone that He, the Lord God, alone is God. We hear again,
“Thus says the Lord to his anointed, to Cyrus, whose right hand I have grasped, to subdue nations before him and to loose the belts of kings, to open doors before him that gates may not be closed: “I will go before you and level the exalted places, I will break in pieces the doors of bronze and cut through the bars of iron, I will give you the treasures of darkness and the hoards in secret places, that you may know that it is I, the Lord, the God of Israel, who call you by your name. For the sake of my servant Jacob, and Israel my chosen, I call you by your name, I name you, though you do not know me. I am the Lord, and there is no other, besides me there is no God; I equip you, though you do not know me, that people may know, from the rising of the sun and from the west, that there is none besides me; I am the Lord, and there is no other. I form light and create darkness, I make well-being and create calamity, I am the Lord, who does all these things.” (Isaiah 45:1-7)
Ah, the games people play… and with the one true God of this universe no less. And we are no better at times… many times… for which we repent, being truly sorry for not acknowledging the sovereignty and the authority of God as we should. For putting God to the test instead of simply believing, simply trusting and moving forward in faith.
All for which we are forgiven in Christ Jesus, through His innocent suffering and death on the cross. That is the Good News which continues to fill our hearts with joy and peace. The Good News of God’s great love for us in Jesus… our Savior, Sovereign Lord and King.
Completely forgiven, made clean, renewed and refreshed in Word and Sacrament, we continue on in the faith the rest of this day and every day while there still are days for us and for the world.
We continue to move forward in confidence and contentment with Psalm 121 on our lips as was chanted a little while ago in today’s introit:
The Lord is your keeper;
the Lord is your shade on your right hand.
I lift up my eyes to the hills.
From where does my help come?
My help comes from the Lord,
who made heaven and earth.
He will not let your foot be moved;
he who keeps you will not slumber.
Behold, he who keeps Israel
will neither slumber nor sleep.
The Lord will keep you from all evil;
he will keep your life.
The Lord will keep your going out and your coming in
from this time forth and for evermore.
(Psalm 121:1–4, 7–8; antiphon: Psalm 121:5)
May the peace of God which surpasses all understanding, guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus, unto life everlasting. Amen.
“The Games People Play” 10/22/17 The Rev. Mark H. Hein, St. Paul’s Ev. Lutheran Church, Lockport, IL