unChristian: Week 3

Below you'll find the text of the message and the discussion questions that we used for our 3rd week of our unChristian series. So for the last two weeks we have been working through a series called unChristian, because as the art on the screen says, “Christianity has an image problem.” Two weeks ago we looked at the idea that the perception of Christians in the reality. That when someone has a perception of something it is true, to them. And when asked what the perception of Christians were, young Americans both outside and inside the church, said the same 6 perceptions. The 6 perceptions that were repeatedly shared were that Christians were: judgmental, anti-homosexual, too political, too sheltered, hypocritical, and only cared about getting others “saved”.

So we are taking 2 perceptions a week and tackling them together. Last week we looked at the idea that Christians are perceived as judgmental and anti-homosexual. This week we are looking at the perception that Christians are too political and too sheltered.

Now where in the world do these perceptions come from? Is it grounded in reality? Are Christians way too political and too sheltered? Before you say yes or no, let me share a few things with you. If you type in the word Christian vote into Google, the second website you find is called Christian Vote and here is their tag line, “How can a Christian vote Democrat.” And farther down the website you find this, “WHY PRAY TO JESUS ON SUNDAY AND VOTE AGAINST HIM ON TUESDAY?” So what they are saying is that Christians should only vote Republican because that is what Jesus would do. Personally I have a huge issue with that, and not because I believe the opposite to be true, that Jesus would vote democrat.

Politics and faith are some of the biggest issues that seek to divide people. And when you put them together, it seems like they just combust and blow up. Followers of Jesus, going to the same community of faith can’t get along because one is republican and one is democrat. Instead of letting the Kingdom be our true allegiance, we put our allegiance in this or that political party.

So this morning we are going to talk about politics and faith, and just like last week this can have the potential of getting pretty divisive. So the same ground rules apply. Speak your mind, and ideas, but do so out of love and respect for others, who may have a different opinion. Please share disagreements, we aren’t afraid of that, but do so in grace.

The reason we’re going to talk about faith and politics is because one of the greatest perceptions of Christianity is that Christians are too political. And more often than not, Christians are associated with right-wing politics. Maybe you don’t think this is an issue, because you yourself support right-wing politics. But, this is becoming a bigger and bigger issue among younger generations.

Another top perception of Christianity is that Christians are sheltered, old-fashioned, unintelligent, and out-of-touch with reality. Often, this is related to politics because Christians fight for values that many outsiders think are old-fashioned or out of touch with reality. All of this raises a question: is it a bad thing to be too political or too sheltered in the eyes of outsiders?

Now before we get into the Scripture this morning, I have to say that I really really wrestled with what Scripture we should even look at. I spend some time looking at various passages and nothing seemed to connect. Than I prayed and a weird statement came to my mind. Have you ever heard the statement, “politics makes strange bedfellows”? That thought came to my mind, and then that led me to the text that we’ll spend some time unpacking together this morning. We’ll be looking at Matthew 22:15-22.

“Then the Pharisees went out and laid plans to trap him in his words. They sent their disciples to him along with the Herodians. “Teacher,” they said, “we know that you are a man of integrity and that you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. You aren’t swayed by others, because you pay no attention to who they are. Tell us then, what is your opinion? Is it right to pay the imperial tax to Caesar or not?” But Jesus, knowing their evil intent, said, “You hypocrites, why are you trying to trap me? Show me the coin used for paying the tax.” They brought him a denarius, and he asked them, “Whose image is this? And whose inscription?” “Caesar’s,” they replied. Then he said to them, “So give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.” When they heard this, they were amazed. So they left him and went away.” Let’s look at this text and see what it might say about how our faith should play itself out in the political world. It might be easy to say that Jesus wasn’t involved in politics but it isn’t easy to say that people didn’t try to get him involved by trapping him with the big questions of his day. For example, one of the biggest questions that floated around Israel in the time of Jesus was whether or not a faithful Jew would pay taxes or not. Now keep in mind that Caesar’s coins were floating all over the empire, stamped with Caesar’s image and inscribed with the world “Long live the Son of God.” Now these coins were a sign that the entire economy belonged to Caesar and without him everything would fall apart. The interesting thing though is that the Jews even started minting their own coins, branded with the palm leaf (which is like their revolutionary flag). There was a group of Jews that refused to pay taxes. They “refused to call any man master” believing that they owed exclusive loyalty to God and could not render tribute to Caesar, who claimed to be Lord. Poor Jewish people like Jesus’ family in Galilee were usually so enslaved to debt and taxation that over 50 percent of their income went to Caesar. So it’s not surprising that people wanted Jesus to weigh in on the question, “Should we pay taxes to Caesar or not.” It is also not surprising that people would use this question to trap Jesus.

Now remember when I said politics makes strange bedfellows? This is such a case where politics certainly put together two opposing factions. You could almost say it another way, “An enemy of my enemy is my friend.” So these two groups of people come to Jesus, the Pharisees (and their disciples) and the Herodians. Two unlikely groups to work together. You see the Pharisees were at odds with the Roman occupation of Israel. And the Herodians who represented the Roman Occupation of Israel and were working for the man, so to speak.

So they come to Jesus and ask him to weigh in on this important question of his day, Should we pay the imperial tax to Caesar. You see they thought they trapped him. If Jesus would have said to not pay the Imperial tax, the Herodians would have passed that on to their superiors and the power of the Roman Empire would have been brought down on Israel. Jesus would have been seen as an enemy of Rome and then the hand of Rome would have sought to execute him before his time. If he would have said to pay Rome, he would have been accused of siding with the Roman occupation. He would have been accused of denying the sovereignty of God over Israel and would have been seen as an enemy of the Jews. So they thought they had Jesus trapped. But like our conversation from last week, Jesus had a habit of going above the conversation, not falling into the either/or trap. He went to a higher level, a third way if you will with his answer. He didn’t let either side dictate his position or his answer. His answer is brilliant. “Show me the coin used for paying the tax.” They brought him a denarius, and he asked them, “Whose image is this? And whose inscription?” “Caesar’s,” they replied. Then he said to them, “So give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.” A couple of thoughts regarding this answer. First, it was quite radical to speak of God and Caesar as two separate entities. Jesus then left it to the hearers to decide what was God’s and what was Caesar’s. Caesar could brand his image on coins, crowns, and robes, but life and creation has been branded/stamped by God. Caesar could have his coins but life is God’s. We are reminded that just as Caesar stamped his image on coins; God’s image is stamped on each one of us. Even Caesar had God’s stamp. God made Caesar and Caesar was not God. What does this say about how followers of Jesus should engage with politics? I believe we can learn something about engaging in the political process by not being subverted by either party. Jesus wasn’t subverted by either the Pharisees or the Herodians. He lived out a third way of dealing with the questions. Neither political party in America today speaks for God; he is not a Republican or Democrat. When our values become to closely associated with one political party, platform, or candidate, we become spokespeople for that party/platform/candidate rather than for God. And we lose our ability to be a prophetic witness for God’s kingdom, which is not of this world. When we become more know for what we are against (either a Republican or Democratic agenda), we are perceived as sheltered, ignorant, and close-minded.

Let’s take some time now to unpack this perception that Christians are too political and too sheltered together as well as what God might be saying to us through the story of Jesus’ interaction with the Pharisee’s and Herodians.

1. Why do you think Christians are perceived as being too involved in politics? What is your own level of involvement in politics? How much or little involvement do you think Christians should pursue through politics? 2. Many Christians view the political arena as a means to promote Christian morals within the culture. When does this work and when does it not work? Is this the most viable approach? What other ways can Christian values be infused into a community? 3. Do you think Christians should change the language and style of their approach to politics? Do you think we should avoid citing Scripture in explaining our position on different political issues? 4. How can you strike a balance of in the world, but not of the world? How can you live with purity and values while still being proximate to a broken world with often opposing values?