‘Render unto Caesar’ – 18th October 2020 – 19th Sunday after Trinity

You can download a PDF of this week's order of service here:

20 10 18 order of service

This week's service and meeting to elect 2 Churchwardens will be livestreamed together on the parish YouTube channel:


The Readings

1 Thessalonians 1.1-10

Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy,
To the church of the Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ:
Grace to you and peace.

We always give thanks to God for all of you and mention you in our prayers, constantly remembering before our God and Father your work of faith and labour of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ. For we know, brothers and sisters beloved by God, that he has chosen you, because our message of the gospel came to you not in word only, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction; just as you know what kind of people we proved to be among you for your sake. And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, for in spite of persecution you received the word with joy inspired by the Holy Spirit, so that you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia. For the word of the Lord has sounded forth from you not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but in every place where your faith in God has become known, so that we have no need to speak about it. For the people of those regions report about us what kind of welcome we had among you, and how you turned to God from idols, to serve a living and true God, and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead—Jesus, who rescues us from the wrath that is coming.

Matthew 22.15-22

Then the Pharisees went and plotted to entrap him in what he said. So they sent their disciples to him, along with the Herodians, saying, ‘Teacher, we know that you are sincere, and teach the way of God in accordance with truth, and show deference to no one; for you do not regard people with partiality. Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, or not?’ But Jesus, aware of their malice, said, ‘Why are you putting me to the test, you hypocrites? Show me the coin used for the tax.’ And they brought him a denarius. Then he said to them, ‘Whose head is this, and whose title?’ They answered, ‘The emperor’s.’ Then he said to them, ‘Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.’ When they heard this, they were amazed; and they left him and went away.


Scripture Quotations are taken from New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized Edition, copyright © 1989, 1995 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org

The Sermon
by David, Reader-in-training at St. Mary's

The question raised by Jesus in our Gospel passage today is one worth considering. It’s not something many of us often think about, and it has the capacity to divide as well as unite us. We shouldn’t avoid it because of this.
How should we, as Christians, relate to secular authorities?

The passage opens with the Pharisees, religious teachers, sending followers to test Jesus. With them come the Herodians, followers of King Herod, the local ruler who governs with the occupying Roman Empire’s permission.
They begin with flattery, hoping to feed Jesus’ ego and catch him off guard. Then the question to trap him. Here is the moment of danger:
“Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, or not?”

Why is this dangerous for Jesus?

If he says it is not lawful to pay taxes to the Emperor then the Herodians, whose master owes his position to the Romans, will label him as subversive, seditious and a threat to Roman authority. More than enough for his arrest and execution.

If he says it is lawful to pay taxes to the Emperor, then his disciples and the crowds gathered around him will feel betrayed by his apparent acceptance of the occupying Roman force.
It’s a no-win situation.

Jesus, aware of their intent to trap him, turns the question back upon them.
“Show me the coin used for the tax.” forcing them to handle the Roman coin used for the census tax. It would likely have had the image of the emperor Tiberius and carried the inscription “Tiberius Caesar, son of the divine Augustus, high priest.” A problem for devout Jews who viewed the Emperor’s claims of divinity, and his image, as blasphemous. A problem also for Jesus, the actual son of God.

Jesus then questions them about the coin: “Whose head is this, and whose title?” getting the obvious response: “The Emperor’s”.

The climax of the story follows with Jesus declaring: “Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” He leaves the Herodians and Pharisees shocked and speechless.
Jesus appears to be separating some things as belonging to God, and some to earthly rulers. This feels like it goes against our understanding that everything we have comes from God, and we offer back to him. See 1 Chronicles 29.14 “For all things come from you, and of your own have we given you”.

It can appear as if Jesus is setting up two equal and different authorities here, Caesar and God, and that we are called to give to both with equal weight.

But the context is important.

The Jewish people were not minting coins during Jesus’ lifetime; all currency used was Roman or Greek. During Jewish rebellions against the Romans between AD 66-73 and again between AD 132 and 135 they did begin to mint their own coinage. It seems odd this was a high priority when defending against the Roman army.
It highlights how much a symbol of occupation and oppression these coins were. Which helps us see that in Jesus’ eyes these coins did not come from God, but earthly rulers.

Giving the blasphemous coins back to the Romans as tax wasn’t giving away something that was God’s. The Jewish people could, and can, follow the rules and expectations of secular rulers and society without breaking their covenant with the living God. The Emperor could have their money, but not their allegiance. The people belonged to God, not to Caesar.

How does this impact our interaction with secular rulers and authorities?

If we belong to God, then we should offer to God the first fruits of our labours, rather than what we have left over.
I’ve often wondered why the Church of England’s teaching on giving, 5% to the church and 5% to other charities, is based around gross income, the money we are paid before taxes, national insurance and pension contributions are taken off. It always seemed a bit unfair, particularly for those on lower incomes. Surely using the net value, what is left once the contributions to the state are paid, would be more just? Here is an answer: we are called to give to God from all that we are given, regardless of any given to the modern-day Caesar.

This could equally apply to our time as our money. How often do we give God the time when we are tired, at the end of a long day?

Neither of these points are supposed to add to the burdens of those who are poor in time or money, especially as time and money offered to God can take many different forms, and doesn’t always take place through the church.
How then should we, as Christians, relate to the secular authorities?

At the heart of this question is one of citizenship.

Theresa May uttered in 2016: “if you believe you are a citizen of the world, you are a citizen of nowhere”. This felt odd when I heard it, particularly from someone who professes the Christian faith. It fails to knowledge people often feel ties of citizenship to multiple places. We might be citizens of Sheffield, Yorkshire, England, the UK, as well as the world.

But for Christians this goes one stage further, Paul reminds us in Philippians 3.20 “our citizenship is in heaven” and Jesus at his trial tells Pilate “My kingdom is not from this world”.

This is not to advocate a complete rejection of secular authority. HMRC, if you’re watching, I’m not telling people to evade paying tax. But we must remember that our primary allegiance is to God and our citizenship is of his kingdom.
The practical outwork of this will mean potentially coming into conflict with secular authorities over issues where our faith tells us one thing, and secular authority another. An example of this includes the Conscientious Objectors, many of whom refused compulsory military service in the First World War on the grounds of Christian pacifism and were subsequently jailed, being treated appallingly. Or more recently the members of Christian Climate Action, associated with Extinction Rebellion, engaging in civil disobedience to highlight the damage done to God’s creation, who also face criminal charges for ultimately telling truth to power.

Whether we agree with their methods or not, one has to admire their faith and recognise that their primary allegiance is to God and his kingdom. How would we react when faced with such a difficult choice?

May we set the example of Jesus, and those who have followed him with faith before us when we are similarly tested.

Let us pray:
Now to God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit,
be ascribed as is most justly due,
all might, majesty, dominion and power,
now and for evermore. Amen.

The Prayers
prepared by Joe

With thankful hearts we bring our prayers to our heavenly Father.

We pray for the Church of Christ, for Bishop Pete and Canon Sophie, all here who lead us in worship and prayer, and all those whose time and talents are given to St Mary’s. On this day when we recall the life and work of Luke the Evangelist, we pray that the Gospel continues to be preached truthfully and widely, and that in these difficult times we find new ways to spread God’s word.

Lord, have mercy.
Christ, have mercy.

We pray for all those in authority, and those who have influence in the world, that their power and influence be used compassionately for the good of all. Bring clarity of thought and vision to those who make an implement policy, and ensure that wise decisions can be made on national and international issues. We pray for a resolution to the conflict around Nagorno-Karabakh, and pray that the UK and EU can come to a satisfactory and just arrangement for trade relations in the future.

Lord, have mercy.
Christ, have mercy.

We pray for our community here in Walkley, and for the city of Sheffield, and for our neighbours and friends. As our region settles in to a new level of precautions to try and slow the spread of Covid-19, we pray for all those whose jobs and livelihoods are threatened by the new rules.

Lord, have mercy
Christ, have mercy.

Lord, we pray for those we know who are worried and troubled especially at this time of continuing uncertainty. We pray for those whose health and livelihoods have been affected by Covid-19, and those who have ongoing health or emotional problems where treatments are still only partially available.
Luke was also a physician; inspire our physicians with professionalism and compassion for their patients. Enable them to cure the ills of both body and spirit that afflict so many.
We pray for the aged and infirm, and those sick in mind, body or spirit, those that need your grace and blessing. Be with them at this time, Lord, and give them peace and strength.

Lord, have mercy.
Christ, have mercy.

We pray for those close to death at this time, and those accompanying them on this final part of their Earthly journey. We pray for those who have died, recently and in the past, and those who mourn. We especially pray for those who have died without the comfort of their family around them, and those who felt fear and felt alone in their last moments. We pray that they were comforted by your presence, Lord, and that you give strength and love to all those close to death and caring for the dying at this time.

Lord, have mercy.
Christ, have mercy.

Finally, Lord, we silently bring before you those special to us, and also those issues and concerns that we have in our own lives.

Lord, have mercy.
Christ, have mercy.

Rejoicing in the communion of Mary and of all the Saints, let us commend ourselves, and one another, and all our life, to God.

Merciful Father:
accept these prayers
for the sake of your Son,
our Saviour,
Jesus Christ.


Common Worship: Services and Prayers for the Church of England, material from which is included here, is copyright (c) The Archbishops' Council 2000