Coins, Icons, and Humanity

A Homily for the Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost

Text: St. Matthew 22:15-22


Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, the image of the invisible God. Amen.

Christ’s answer about taxes is really a quite simple and elegant solution in hindsight:

Show me the coin used for the tax….Whose head is this, and whose title?

The emperor’s, of course. In stamping a coin with his image, Caesar is laying claim to the money – a statement that this is how we conduct business in the Roman Empire, the currency of an imperial economy.

These are all ways to portray the image of a nation, whether it’s rooted in a single monarch, a piece of land, or a set of aspirations and ideas.

If you lived in the United Kingdom in the 1960s, your coin would look like this:

…with (a much younger) Queen Elizabeth II on one side and emblems of the English crown on the other: a Tudor rose and Henry VIII’s title, “Defender of the Faith,” the lion dating back to Richard I, the gate of the Tower of London.

Or if you used the Icelandic krona, your coins would feature various sealife, the longtime staple of life and trade in the middle of the Atlantic, and on the reverse, Iceland’s coat of arms (with a lion, bull, dragon, and giant, which is just kinda cool).

You can tell a lot about a nation by their currency: the icons chosen reveal how that country thinks. It’s a glimpse into the nation’s history, culture, its ideals, its understanding of authority.

In the 1890s, the US “Morgan” dollar featured Liberty on one side and the seal of the US on the other. In the late 20th century, our coins featured the heads of presidents (to include Ike and JFK), and the 1973 Eisenhower dollar put our national bird, the eagle, on the moon, celebrating the greatest technological feat our nation had accomplished and looking boldly into the future.

These small little tokens are the things used to conduct business in the nations of this world

Typically, today’s Gospel text would fall in or around stewardship season, that annual parish pledge drive as we try to prepare a budget for the coming year. We might belong to a Kingdom not of this world, but the Church must, by necessity, also conduct some of the world’s business. Here’s the sales pitch: “The Church needs money to keep the lights on and the AC running during the summer, so please consider giving more than a tithe today. We might not have tote bags, but we do have Jesus.”

These annual campaigns are always a little awkard but necessary because money keeps the doors of the parish open and allows the Church to minister to a world in need.

And let me stop here to give thanks. While this year has been anything but typical, y’all have been so remarkably faithful in giving – both in finances and time.

But this is an incomplete vision of stewardship. When we talk about giving to the Church, offering back gifts to God, we are not only talking about a 10 or 18 or even 20% contribution.

The Church is not just a building that has to be maintained or a Sunday meeting that needs bread and bulletins but instead, it – no, not it. We.WE are a Body of believers spread across the continents and centuries. The Body is maintained by faithful members who give but also who gather for worship, who sing a joyful song in the choir, who visit the sick and the homebound and imprisoned. It’s supported by people like all of you who read our Scripture on Sunday, who assist in serving Holy Communion. It’s supported by people who pray, day in and day out, for those in need and for this community.

Stewardship is about finances and time and manual labor and prayer. But even this is incomplete.

If the cash belongs to Caesar, what do we owe to the Lord?

God has laid claim not to 10% or 20% but more than we know we are worth.

Look next to you – at the spouse or friend beside you.
At the pictures on the wall.
Glance in a mirror.
Pull out your phone and take a selfie.
Whose image do you see?

Genesis 1 tells us that all humanity is made in the image of God. No matter who you are, you – yes, you, specifically – bear the image of God.

Beloved, we are all image-bearers, marked by God from Creation, formed in divine likeness. Caesar may have a claim to our cash, but God has claimed all of humanity for the Kingdom of Heaven. And to be faithful stewards means to care for those who share with us in God’s image.

Treyvon Martin was made in the image of God.

Ahmaud Arbery was made in the image of God.

Breonna Taylor was made in the image of God.

George Floyd was made in the image of God.

Faithful stewardship means demanding justice for the image of God when vigilantes, white supremacists, and unrestrained police officers seek to perpetrate violence against our Black and brown kindred. Faithful stewardship means answering God’s call to stand against four centuries of racial violence perpetrated on these shores.

In a few weeks, we will read from Matthew 25:

I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me…. just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.

On the Feast of Christ the King, we look to God’s return in judgment and remember that our Lord identifies with the poor, the afflicted, the imprisoned, and those made in his image who, like him, are oppressed and killed by the ruling powers of this fallen age.

The government may call us to hand over a few trinkets made in the image of living monarchs or dead presidents, but our Lord has called us to care for our neighbor made in the image of the Triune God.

Amen.

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