“What Image is in Your Heart!”
Matthew 22:15-22 // Matthew 22:34-40
Sometimes things happen. The things that push us back to our deepest questions and force us to answer. A marriage breakdown, loss of a job, financial strains, or physical pains, any of these can push us back to asking what it’s all about, what do those things mean in the course of our faith journey?
Two weeks ago, I shared with you the highest point in my life. My current life on the island with my family and Chilmark Church is a high point and I am so happy. After telling this to you, things bad happened which pushed me to my deepest questions and forced me to answer. Thursday before last, my wife had a car accident and the car was totaled. When she had this accident, I was in Rhode Island for a meeting with the Bishop. My wife was very upset and Sieun cried and cried. I couldn’t help them which made me so devastated. There were so much paper work to deal with. It was hard. And two days after the accident, we went to Westport to meet friends as scheduled and we went to a mall to buy some stuff. At the mall, my wife’s handbag was stolen. She lost everything, a smart phone, credit cards, cash and more. My wife and I were sad. And there was an old car available for my family in Boston. We went to Boston to pick up the car this Wednesday. The car didn’t work and I did everything to fix it for two days but nothing worked. It was raining hard and I was like a wet dog frantically running around. In a week, these things happened. I was very busy taking care of everything and felt burdened with a huge financial loss and physical and emotional stress. I was not happy.
All of a sudden, this question came to me, “Are you still happy and sure that now is your highest point in your life?” I took this question as a test. It doesn’t necessarily mean that God always tests people with challenges. I, as a pastor, took that as a test based on my faith in God. While preparing this sermon, I have had a moment to answer the question. As this sermon goes by, I hope you can figure my answer out.
When we look at our lives, we can say that there have been many tests. Some of them are on going. Likewise, Jesus got through tough tests in his life. Some of the tests came from the religious leaders. One of them tested Jesus with this question, “Which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” The Jews had over 600 hundred laws for their religious practices. And they might expect Jesus would pick one of them. But Jesus didn’t pick one in the laws they were following. Instead, Jesus gave them two, which are equally important in the way of life. “Love your God and Love your neighbors.”
Before this, Jesus had other test from the Pharisees. In Matthew 22, some Pharisees lay out a trap by asking Jesus whether it is right to pay the imperial tax to Caesar. The Pharisees knew this was a very tough question. If Jesus says no, he risks committing a political crime instigating people not to pay taxes. If he says yes, he could get into trouble with the religious leaders because they believed that the Roman Empire was such a great enemy and God would conquer the Empire sooner or later. Also, for the first century Jews, paying taxes to the Roman Empire was a way to support their own oppression. That is, paying taxes to the Roman was an act of shame.
Either way, the Pharisees knew, the power of Jesus will be deflated once Jesus says no to the Roman or yes to the Jews.
Jesus knew their evil intent and said, ‘You hypocrites, why are you trying to trap me? Show me the coin used for paying tax.’
They brought him a denarius, and he asked them, ‘Whose image is this? ‘Caesar’s,’ they replied.
Then Jesus said, ‘So give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.’
The Pharisees were amazed by this answer and left him and went away. The trap they set up didn’t work.
In this conversation between Jesus and the Pharisees, I found my answer to my question. “Give back to God what is God’s.”
As I told you about my wife’s car accident when I was in Rhode Island, I was devastated. But I got great help from Tim, Pam, Arlene, Ann and neighbors. I was relieved by their help. Without their help, we would be in a huge trouble. My wife and I felt deep care and support which made us feel secure. And here comes the point.
Methodists and other Christian groups traditionally believe that human beings cannot do good without God, due to the human’s nature inclined to do evil. But the Holy Spirit guides and leads us to stand against evil things and to do good things. It has been controversial but this has been accepted as one of the core theological doctrines.
Based on this perspective, the deep care, concern and support my family and I got definitely came from God, the Spirit working within those people. That is, it was God’s care, concern, and support that took care of my family. What I got was God’s love.
Jesus said to the Pharisees, “Give back to God what is God’s.” What is that? I believe it is love. Even though my family has been in trouble, I have been full of God’s love and therefore full of passion to give it back to God. Moreover, no one got hurt which made me more thankful.
Jesus asked this question to the Pharisees in Matthew 22, “Whose image is on the coin?” This question leads me into this question, “Whose image is in our hearts? From Jesus’ teaching and life, we can surely say that it is the image of God and the image of love. When this image is in our hearts, the two commandments will be “loving God and loving neighbors.”
I pray we all humbly walk with the Holy Spirit who is continually restoring the image of God in our hearts.
Let us pray
Loving God, thank you for gathering us here to worship and praise you. And we thank you for the abundant gift in our live, love. We thank you for the steadfast signs of your loving presence in our lives and world. And now we ask you to bless us to fill your love in our hearts and share it with one another. In your holiest name, we pray. Amen.