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Sermon - November 15, 2015

Princeton Presbyterian Church (EPC)                                               Sermon # 1236

November 15, 2015                                                                            Matthew 22:15-22

Dr. Ed Pettus



“Render To God”


            It seems petty and just downright silly for people to act the way we do.  In light of all that we have seen since 9/11 and the terrorism that exists in the world, it is absolutely childish for what we see in college students demanding free tuition or people taking offense at every slight spoken or complaints against companies who may not recognize every Christian tradition we are used to seeing.  It is really a reflection of the superficial narcissism and selfishness of the human person.  We have serious issues to deal with in the world.  The terrorist attack in France is a serious issue for the entire world.  In one sense it is an attack on everything we stand for as Christians and as a free society. 

            We are at war and this is a war unlike any other because it is not being fought between military forces, but fought amid civilians.  It is the difference between warfare and terrorism.  It is unfortunate, but a stark reality, that people need to grow up and face the hardships of life.  But, as I thought more about the big things and the little things, there is at least one connection.  If we are not able to discern the little things in life, we will have a more difficult time discerning the larger issues of life.


  • Christmas and Culture


Let’s start with a little issue!  A new round of grumbling has begun.  The first one I read about was a mall in Charlotte NC where the traditional Christmas tree in the Santa area was replaced with an iceberg.  Someone said it looked like a huge MRI machine.  People complained, the mall brought back the Christmas tree.  The next issua was coffee cups at Starbucks.  I’m not a coffee drinker and I’m especially not a Starbucks fan so I gave little attention to this story at first.  Then everyone started commenting and sharing ideas and then a division arose!  The first thing said was that Starbucks had removed Christmas from their cups.  After the initial panic from some who must think it is Starbucks job to tell and sell the Christmas story, more thoughtful responses began to roll in.  Some Christian voices felt like boycotts are the best strategy.  Boycott Starbucks because they do not recognize Christmas.  That is about as effective as progressives boycotting Chick-fil-A because they are a business owned by Christians.  Chick-fil-A is going to draw people in who love chicken sandwiches and Starbucks will do the same for people who love fancy coffee. 


            Most likely, what has happened in the Starbucks case is someone who likes to pretend to represent Christianity started the whole thing just to give Christians a false story.  Then there is the Starbucks conspiracy theory that Starbucks started it all for some free publicity.  Some suggested we boycott Starbucks.  There are many companies Christians have suggested we boycott for a variety of reasons. 




  • Are boycotts our best strategy?


Let me share one thought I have on boycotts.  If we were to boycott every business and organization who did not line up with Christian beliefs and principles, we could not be living in our homes, driving our cars, eating out anywhere, and perhaps not even able to buy food to cook at home.  I have boycotted some businesses in my life but never for reasons of the company’s stance on faith.  It was always because the company ripped me off in some fashion.  I did not buy anything from Sears for 20 years because they charged some ungodly amount to ship something one time.  I don’t eat at certain restaurants because their service or food is pitiful.  I deeply respect Chick-fil-A for closing its doors on Sunday, but if they started to open on Sunday, I might be the first in line after worship! (I hope they keep that Sabbath practice forever!)  We would hardly be able to function in our society if we boycotted every business that did not show ample respect to the Christian faith. 


Paul basically says we should let our conscious be our guide.  When the issue of eating food sacrificed to idols came up in the Corinthian church, Paul said there was no need to pursue the details about meat in the market, but if they knew for certain that the meat had been sacrificed to idols, then we should avoid it.  If we don’t know, we need not pursue it.  Paul was asked, “Can we eat meat sacrificed to other gods?”  We would ask, “Can we buy products that feed idolatry?”  How do we function in a culture that is not looking out for the common good but only for the next profit?  (1 Corinthians 10:23-33)  Paul ends his discussion on this by saying that we should do all things to the glory of God.  So, drink your overpriced coffee to the glory of God!  “Whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.”



  • Render to God  (Matthew 22:15-22)  15 Then the Pharisees went and plotted how to entangle him in his words. 16 And they sent their disciples to him, along with the Herodians, saying, “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. 17 Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?” 18 But Jesus, aware of their malice, said, “Why put me to the test, you hypocrites? 19 Show me the coin for the tax.” And they brought him a denarius. 20 And Jesus said to them, “Whose likeness and inscription is this?” 21 They said, “Caesar's.” Then he said to them, “Therefore render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's.” 22 When they heard it, they marveled. And they left him and went away.



As I thought about the commercialization of Christmas or the neglect of Christmas, I thought about what Jesus said in Matthew 22. Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and render to God what is God’s.  I think one thing this tells us is that we really need not concern ourselves with whether or not Starbucks honors Christmas.  Instead, we need to concern ourselves with whether or not we are honoring God and Christmas.  A member of the church I once served said this on her Facebook page, “Christians should not expect secular businesses to keep Christ in Christmas. It is solely our responsibility. Christmas begins in the heart and not in a mall or coffeehouse. For [most] businesses, Christmas is about the bottom line. For Christians it's about celebrating the birth of our Savior and nothing or no one can take that away from us. As a matter of fact, when we give in to the commercialization of Christmas (and I am guilty) and our main focus is on the gifts and pretty decorations, we are the ones who take Christ out of Christmas.” 


            It really is up to us to keep the birth of Christ at the core of Christmas no matter how many companies revert to saying Happy Holidays.  All in all I believe that the Starbucks internet hoopla is all faked anyway.  If trolls exist, they certainly exist on the internet to make mountains out of molehills.  The real question for us today is how do we live as Christians in a culture and business world where Christ is no longer a dominant consideration?  One answer is to render unto God what is God’s.  Let’s do all we can do to honor God by telling the story of Christ from birth to death to resurrection.  We can no longer expect businesses in America to honor Christ or cater to Christians as they once might have done.  While we might continue to “bring America back”, it will never get back to what we romanticize it once was.  Let our witness be a people to give to God what is God’s.  Let us seek to glorify God in all things. 



  • Our Citizenship in Heaven.  (Philippians 3:20)  But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ,


The second scripture I thought about is one on perspective.  We are here only for a short time.  Our permanent dwelling is in heaven.  It is not that we should not worry about being good citizens here, but we know that this is only for a time.  For first century believers, this was not a radical thought.  It is doubtful that first century Christians even wanted to be a citizen of Rome?  But our situation has differed in that we were established on a nation with an eye on Judeo-Christian thought and understanding.  We have known a great country, a country of hope and freedom, and it is a great country because of the Christian values ingrained from its beginning.  But when things start deteriorating, we need to remember Paul’s perspective of our heavenly citizenship.  Yes, we strive to be good citizens; the scripture calls us to do that as well.  But, we know that God has a larger purpose and that purpose should always find its way in our thinking about these matters.


  • Seeking Discernment (Romans 12:1-3)  I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.


The final text I considered is Romans 12 where Paul tells us to not be conformed to this world but be transformed by renewing our minds for the purpose of discerning God’s will – that which is good and acceptable and perfect.  Discernment is critical in walking the path of righteousness.  We need to discern what is truly offensive and what is not.  We need to discern how God would have us respond to terrorism.  We need to discern what we shall render to God and what we render to our “Caesar”.  Renewal comes from knowing God’s word, renewing the mind, that is, how we think about things.  This is how we are able to discern what we need to give to God or how we are to be good citizens in America and in heaven or how to discern God’s will. 

      In the larger picture, our worries about Starbucks or college protesters or keeping Christ in Christmas as a culture don’t measure up to the threat of idolatry or terrorism or the sanctity of life or the authority of God’s word.  But all these things are in our lives and we must discern how to respond and be faithful and call others to the truth about these matters.  So let’s seek to do all things with a renewed mind and all to the glory of God.  Amen.