Sunday, October 30, 2011

Good Works Fair and 'Trunk or Treat'

Sunday October 30th was another red letter day for us at St. Margaret's!

At both our services this morning we had a 'Good Works Fair'. We had representatives from four mission agencies in Edmonton - Hope Mission, the Mustard Seed, Habitat for Humanity, and the Edmonton Food Bank - come and speak to us about the work their agencies do. After each service we had a coffee hour and an opportunity for our members to speak with the mission representatives and find out more about their work and what individuals and groups can do to help. Many people mentioned how much they appreciated what our four mission partners had to say and the fact that they were willing to come and take time to talk with us, both as a group and as individuals. One of the agencies represented was the Food Bank, and our Sunday School children had prepared small parcels of food which they presented at the end of the 10.30 service.

Then it was out into the parking lot for 'Trunk or Treat'! Those who participated had brought Halloween treats in the trunks of their cars; we closed off the parking lot to make it a safe place for our children, and then the children went from car to car 'Trunk or Treating'. We had a costume competition and ended the proceedings with a wiener roast around the fire pit behind the church. Wieners and pop were sold and all proceeds went to our Sunday School's World Vision mosquito net appeal.

Everyone agreed that the day had been a great success. Many thanks to Marci Chesterton, who had the idea for the Good Works Fair, to Maggie Woytkiw who worked with her to organise it, and to Erin McDougall who organised the 'Trunk or Treat' party!


Food bags from the Sunday School offered for the Edmonton Food Bank.


Members of St. Margaret's interact with our mission agency representatives after the 10.30 service.


Our four mission agency representatives: Armand Mercier (Habitat for Humanity), Joel Nikkel (Hope Mission), Paula Cornell (The Mustard Seed), and Kelly Cailliau (Edmonton Food Bank).


Our four mission agency representatives with Marci Chesterton, who first had the idea for the 'Good Works Fair').


'Trunk or Treating' in the parking lot!


Children and parents 'Trunk or Treating'.


The day's events ended with a wiener roast around our fire pit behind the church.


Saturday, October 29, 2011

Spaghetti Church #7

We had about forty people out for our 'Spaghetti Church' gathering Saturday afternoon. We looked at the story of Joseph in the Old Testament (Genesis 37-50), using crafts, songs, a story and prayers, and we then gathered for a spaghetti meal. Here are a few of the pictures.






Spaghetti Church is today (Saturday) at St. Margaret's!





This is our monthly opportunity for parents and children (and grandparents too) to play, sing, learn, pray, and eat together. The theme this month is 'The Story of Joseph' (the Old Testament character from Genesis, not the New Testament husband of Mary!). Here's what we're up to today:

· Arrival time, welcome, name tags (basement).
· Tim Chesterton will lead an opening prayer at 3.30, and will introduce the theme for the day.
· Crafts/Games time (basement):
o   Regular craft led by Amy Cook/Barb Cavey
o   Dessert craft led by Tricia Laffin
· Teaching time (upstairs):
o   Tim will get one of the kids to light the candle.
o   Tim will lead the songs.
o   Sarah Doyle will tell the story of Joseph.
o   Esther Stocker will lead us in our prayers.
· Supper:
o   Sally Floden and Elsie McFall are cooking.
o   We have enough pasta to feed the Russian army, so no one needs to bring any!
o   Marci Chesterton is bringing one pot of pasta sauce.
o   Melanie Ericksen is bringing a second pot of pasta sauce
o   Esther Stocker is bringing veggies
o   Aynsley Verrill is bringing garlic bread
o   Peter Rayment is bringing dessert
· Cleanup: Elsie McFall and all of us!



Hope to see you there!

Front of the church

The church looks pretty magical at 8.00 on a weekday morning as Tim arrives to pray Morning Prayer!

Friday, October 28, 2011

November Roster

November 6th, 2011 Pentecost 21

Coffee between services

Greeter/Sidespeople: T. Willacy/B. Cavey

Counter: T. Willacy/ D. Sanderson

Reader: D. Schindel

(Readings: Josh 24:1-3a,14-25, Psalm 78:1-7, 1 Thess:4:13-18)

Lay Administrants: C. Aasen/E. Gerber

Intercessor: L. Thompson

Lay Reader: D. MacNeill(Matthew 25: 1-13)

Altar Guild (Green) M. Lobreau/T. Wittkopf

Prayer Team: M. Chesterton/M. Rys

Nursery Supervisor: T. Laffin

Sunday School (School Age): M. Aasen

Sunday School (Preschool): E. McDougall (last one)

Kitchen: - 9:45 am The Martens

Music: W. Pyra

November 13th, 2011 Pentecost 22

Greeter/Sidespeople: The Popps

Counter: B. Popp/D. MacNeill

Reader: T. Cromarty

(Readings: Judge 4:1-7, Psalm 123, 1 Thess 5:1-11)

Lay Administrants: V. Haase/D. MacNeill

Intercessor: M. Rys

Lay Reader: L. Thompson(Matthew 25:14-30)

Altar Guild: (Green) J. Mill/L. Schindel

Prayer Team: E. Gerber/S. Jayakaran

Nursery Supervisor:

Sunday School (School Age): M. Cromarty

Sunday School (Preschool): M. Doyle

Kitchen: B&M Mirtle

Music: E.Thompson

November 20th, 2011 Reign of Christ (Baptisms)

Greeter/Sidespeople: The Aasens

Counter: C. Aasen/D. Sanderson

Reader: T. Wittkopf

(Readings: Ex.34:11-16,20-24, Psalm 100, Ephesians 1: 15-23)

Lay Administrants: M. Rys/D. Schindel

Intercessor: D. Mac Neill

Lay Reader: B. Popp (Matthew 25:31-46)

Altar Guild (White)M. Woytkiw/L. Pyra

Prayer Team: L/ Sanderson/ K. Hughes

Nursery: G. Hughes

Sunday School (School Age): C. Ripley

Sunday School (Preschool): M. Horn

Kitchen: A. Shutt

Music: M. Eriksen

November 27th, 2011 Advent 1

Greeter/Sidespeople: A. Shutt/ T. Cromarty

Counter: A. Shutt/ T. Cromarty

Reader: V. Haase

(Readings: Is 64:1-9, Psalm 80:1-7,16-18, 1 Cor. 1:3-9)

Intercessor: D. MacNeill

Lay Reader: L. Thompson (Mark 13:24-37)

Altar Guild (Purple): MW

Nursery: K. Hughes

Sunday School (School Age): P. Rayment

Sunday School (Preschool): M. Eriksen

Kitchen: M Rys

Music: E. Thompson

Oct. 31st - Nov.6th, 2011

October 31st, 2011 Office is closed.

Nov. 1st, 2011

12 – 2:30 pm Whitemud Deanery Clericus

7:30 pm “Out of the Saltshaker” Book Study #7

Nov. 2nd, 2011

3:30 pm Corporation Meeting @ the Bogani Cafe

Nov. 3rd, 2011

7:00 am Men’s & Women’s Bible Study @ the Bogani Café

2:00 pm Women’s Bible Study @ M. Rys’ Home

3:00 - 7:30 pm Music Rental

November 6th, 2011 20th Sunday after Pentecost

9:00 am Holy Communion

9:45 am Combined Coffee

10:30 am Holy Communion & Sunday School

Stewardship Initiative; Week #1

12:00 noon: Fall Congregational Meeting

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Sermon for October 23rd: Matthew 22:23-33


‘Rest in Peace and Rise in Glory!’

Today we gather to remember with thanksgiving our loved ones who have died over the past year or so. Ever since we began this annual service at St. Margaret’s back in 2009 I have been amazed by the response to it, and by the number of people who choose to bring a carnation forward in memory of a loved one and to offer their name in remembrance and prayer. Obviously many of us have been touched by the sobering reality of death, and it seems appropriate for us today to ask what the Christian faith has to say to us about death, and about life after death? In our Gospel for today Jesus is asked to comment on the nature of life after death, and his comments are directly relevant to our theme today.

In the time of Jesus, the Sadducees were a small and powerful religious party; most of the Jerusalem priests and elders were members of this group. One feature of this party was that they only accepted the authority of the first five books of the Bible, the so-called ‘books of Moses’ - Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy; they did not accept the rest of what we call ‘the Old Testament’ as scripture. Neither did they believe in any kind of life after death, whether the survival of the soul or the resurrection of the body. As far as they were concerned, when you were dead, that was it; you could live on, in a sense, in your children, but they would never see you again after your death, because death was final.

Now here’s another thing we need to know to understand this passage: there was a law in the Old Testament called ‘Levirite marriage’, which said that if a man died before he had a chance to have children, his brother must marry the widow, and their first son would be counted as the dead man’s son, so that his name would not be lost, and so that there would be family members to inherit his land. This being the case, the Sadducees come to Jesus and try to catch him out by posing for him a rather fanciful story. Imagine a woman who had been married seven times to seven successive brothers. At the resurrection, whose wife will she be?

This is not as ridiculous a question as we might think. I know many people who believe that after they die and go to heaven they will be reunited with their wife or husband and will continue to have the special relationship with them that they had before death. But what about those who lost a spouse, and then later remarried? If there is marriage in the life to come, who will they be married to? Yes, the spectacle of seven brothers, one after another, marrying the same woman and then all dying childless seems a little far-fetched! But there is a genuine pastoral issue underlying it, and so the question should not be dismissed as ridiculous.

As it turns out, this passage does have some important things to say about life and death. Let me point out to you three important questions that it answers.

Question One: Is there life after death? The Sadducees said ‘no’, and so do a lot of people today. On the other hand, most people in the history of the world have believed that there is a life after death. In this passage Jesus sides with the majority in saying, ‘Death is not the end’.

In making this point Jesus goes to the books of Moses, the books the Sadducees accepted as scripture, and he refers to the story of how God met Moses at the burning bush. When God introduced himself to Moses there, he said ‘I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’ (Exodus 3:6). This is covenant language: God made a covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, in which he bound himself to them as their God, to guide them and protect them, to bless them and to care for them.

Jesus’ point here is not so much that the verbs are in the present tense – ‘I am their God’ rather than ‘I was their God’ – because in Hebrew there actually is no verb in the sentence, so tenses would not be an issue. Rather, his point is that it is inconceivable that a God who made an everlasting covenant with the patriarchs would allow death to bring it to an end. Nowhere in the Bible is God described as being ‘God of the dead’. As Jesus says, ‘He is God not of the dead, but of the living’ (Matthew 22:32).

So Jesus teaches us quite clearly in this passage that there is a life after death. Now on to the next question: What is life after death like? On this question the Christian faith and Judaism stand almost alone in the religions of the world, and it’s very important for us to understand clearly what Jesus and the New Testament teach here. Most people today believe that life after death is a non-physical experience; that we will leave our bodies behind and live forever as disembodied spirits in a better place called ‘heaven’. We take this idea for granted and we think the Bible teaches it.

In fact, in the earlier books of the Bible people seem to have believed that after we die we go to a shadowy place called sheol, which is neither heaven nor hell but a depressing place of departed spirits. It’s very similar to the Greek idea of Hades, which again is not ‘hell’ but simply the underworld, the world of the dead. No one in the Old Testament wants to go to sheol; they’d all much rather stay alive in this physical world.

So originally Greek and Hebrew ideas about life after death were quite similar, but they changed in the centuries before the birth of Jesus. In the Greek world, the philosopher Plato began to teach that this material world is an evil world which was created by an evil god, and the only way we can be saved is to detach ourselves more and more from this material world and find our pleasure in non-material, or ‘spiritual’ things. No sex please, we’re Platonists! Death, he taught, was a freeing of ourselves from the shackles of this miserable physical world and going to a place which is purely ‘spiritual’, away from the curse of matter altogether. And so Plato reversed the Greek view: life is bad and death is good, because death means freedom from the evil material world.

But the God of the Bible created matter, and he thinks it’s good. He created things like eating and drinking, and the senses of smell and touch and taste. So the truth that he gradually revealed to his people, later in the Old Testament period, was that life after death doesn’t mean living forever as a ghost or a disembodied spirit; life after death means that one day the righteous dead will be resurrected and will have new bodies which will live forever. Our life after death will be a physical life in a world set free from evil by the power of God.

In our reading for today Jesus shows that he totally accepts this view. In verse 30 he doesn’t say, “When they go to heaven they neither marry nor are given in marriage”, but “in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage”. And this view is the view of the rest of the New Testament as well. Of course, the prime example of it is the resurrection of Jesus himself. He died a horrible physical death just as many others do, but death was not the end for him. On the third day God raised him from the dead. He was still the same Jesus his friends had known, but in some ways he was different. They didn’t recognise him at once. His resurrected body could pass through walls and could appear and disappear. But it was definitely a body, not just a disembodied spirit; the gospels tell us that the disciples could touch him, and Luke adds the little detail that he ate a piece of broiled fish before their eyes to prove that he was not just a ghost.

Paul uses the resurrection of Jesus as a kind of visual aid to show us what our own resurrection will be like. In 1 Corinthians 15 he says ‘But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep’ (1 Corinthians 15:20). He then goes on to say that when we are raised from the dead we will have the same kind of incorruptible bodies that Jesus has enjoyed since his own resurrection. As he is today, so, one day, we who belong to him will be.

Now this teaching raises a few questions for many of us. I need to say at the outset that many of the questions aren’t given clear answers in the pages of scripture, and when the scriptures do not give us clear guidance on a particular issue, we need to be ready to say, “I don’t know the answer to that one”.

Some people ask “If the resurrection of the body is a physical experience, where will all these bodies live? After all, the earth is getting rather over-populated now!” A very good question - and one on which the scriptures have absolutely nothing to say! The closest we get is the hint that on the last day God will make ‘a new heaven and a new earth’; not only humans will be transformed, but the whole of God’s creation will be set free from evil and share in the freedom of God’s children. Does this mean more room for the resurrected dead? We aren’t given an answer to that one, and although it’s tempting to speculate about what will happen to all these uninhabited planets in the universe, I’m going to rein in my Star Trek imagination and resist the temptation!

But the big question in people’s minds when they hear about the doctrine of the resurrection of the body is, ‘So what happens to those who have died while they’re waiting for the resurrection? We thought they went to heaven to be with the Lord. Were we wrong on that? And if so, where are they?’

The New Testament gives us hints of an answer to this. Throughout its pages Christian dead are said to have ‘fallen asleep in Jesus’; this obviously refers to the fact that their bodies are inactive, and that death, like sleep, is only temporary. But on the other hand there are also texts that talk about ‘departing and being with the Lord, which is far better’. How might we hold these two ideas together? Is there a temporary non-physical existence with the Lord while we wait for the resurrection of our bodies? Will we experience what we sometimes do when we have a really good sleep: waking up on the resurrection morning with no sense of time having passed at all since our death? Or when we die will we in fact be outside of time, as God is outside of time, so that for us our resurrection day will be immediate?

Any of these are possible ways of reading the New Testament texts. What we can be sure of, on the basis of the word of Jesus and his apostles, are these two things: Firstly, after we die, we are with the Lord. Secondly, God’s long-term plan for our life after death includes not just the survival of our souls, but the gift of new, resurrected bodies, and a continued physical existence.

So we’ve seen that there will be life for us after death, and that it will be a renewed physical life. Now - Question Three: What about our loved ones who have died? What will be our relationship with them? After all, the issue of continuing relationships was what the Sadducees asked Jesus about: “In the resurrection, therefore, whose wife of the seven will she be?” (v.28). Jesus’ answer challenged all of their assumptions about life after death. It’s as if he was saying to them “Your mistake is that you’re assuming that life after death will be just like this life, only lasting forever. It won’t! Life after death will be completely different from the life we have now. And one of the differences will be in the whole area of marriage”. Jesus points out that those who are raised from the dead through their faith in him will never die, and so there will no longer be any need to perpetuate the human race. The physical reason for families - the raising of children - will no longer be there. And so Jesus says, “For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven” (v.30).

This comes as something of a shock to us, to hear that in the age to come our spouses will no longer have that special relationship with us. I suspect that’s because we aren’t told here what will replace that relationship. It may be that the closeness we will experience with one another as children of our heavenly Father will be so real that we will no longer need the particular intimacy of marriage. It may be that our relationship with God will then give us all we now need from our marriages. We aren’t told. But what we do know from other scriptures is that what God has prepared for us is far beyond the power of our imagination to conceive. If the God who loves us thinks that we will no longer need marriage in the life to come, you can be sure that whatever will take its place will be far better.

So this passage gives us good news when we face the sobering reality of death. Our loved ones who have died in the peace of Christ are safe with Christ, and we will be with them again one day. And we ourselves can face death without fear.  Death is no longer the great unknown for us as Christians; our Lord Jesus Christ has gone through it and come out on the other side in resurrection, and he assures us that if we trust and follow him the same thing will happen to us. So we can rejoice in his victory over death and look forward to sharing the same victory ourselves.

When we see an obituary in the newspaper we often see after it the letters ‘R.I.P.’: ‘rest in peace’. What you might not know is that those three words are in fact a sad truncation of an ancient Christian blessing: ‘Rest in peace and rise in glory’. Resting in peace is a good thing, but by itself it carries no message of hope for the future. So let me suggest that when we think of the loved ones we are remembering today, and when we name them, we don’t just act like unbelievers and say in our minds, ‘Rest in peace’. Rather, let’s act like the believing Christians that we are; let’s pray for something better for them, something that Jesus has promised to all who belong to him. Let’s say, ‘Rest in peace, and rise in glory’! Amen!

Friday, October 21, 2011

November Roster 2009

November 6th, 2011 Pentecost 21

Coffee between services

Greeter/Sidespeople: T. Willacy/B. Cavey

Counter: T. Willacy/ D. Sanderson

Reader: D. Schindel

(Readings: Josh 24:1-3a,14-25, Psalm 78:1-7, 1 Thess:4:13-18)

Lay Administrants: C. Aasen/E. Gerber

Intercessor: L. Thompson

Lay Reader: D. MacNeill(Matthew 25: 1-13)

Altar Guild (Green) M. Lobreau/T. Wittkopf

Prayer Team: M. Chesterton/M. Rys

Nursery Supervisor: T. Laffin

Sunday School (School Age): M. Aasen

Sunday School (Preschool): E. McDougall (last one)

Kitchen: - 9:45 am The Martens

Music: W. Pyra

November 13th, 2011 Pentecost 22

Greeter/Sidespeople: The Popps

Counter: B. Popp/D. MacNeill

Reader: T. Cromarty

(Readings: Judge 4:1-7, Psalm 123, 1 Thess 5:1-11)

Lay Administrants: V. Haase/D. MacNeill

Intercessor: M. Rys

Lay Reader: L. Thompson(Matthew 25:14-30)

Altar Guild: (Green) J. Mill/L. Schindel

Prayer Team: E. Gerber/S. Jayakaran

Nursery Supervisor:

Sunday School (School Age): M. Cromarty

Sunday School (Preschool): M. Doyle

Kitchen: B&M Mirtle

Music: E.Thompson

November 20th, 2011 Reign of Christ (Baptisms)

Greeter/Sidespeople: The Aasens

Counter: C. Aasen/D. Sanderson

Reader: T. Wittkopf

(Readings: Ex.34:11-16,20-24, Psalm 100, Ephesians 1: 15-23)

Lay Administrants: M. Rys/D. Schindel

Intercessor: D. Mac Neill

Lay Reader: B. Popp (Matthew 25:31-46)

Altar Guild (White)M. Woytkiw/L. Pyra

Prayer Team: L/ Sanderson/ K. Hughes

Nursery: G. Hughes

Sunday School (School Age): C. Ripley

Sunday School (Preschool): M. Horn

Kitchen: A. Shutt

Music: M. Eriksen

November 27th, 2011 Advent 1

Greeter/Sidespeople: A. Shutt/ T. Cromarty

Counter: A. Shutt/ T. Cromarty

Reader: V. Haase

(Readings: Is 64:1-9, Psalm 80:1-7,16-18, 1 Cor. 1:3-9)

Intercessor: D. MacNeill

Lay Reader: L. Thompson (Mark 13:24-37)

Altar Guild (Purple): MW

Nursery: K. Hughes

Sunday School (School Age): P. Rayment

Sunday School (Preschool): M. Eriksen

Kitchen: M Rys

Music: E. Thompson

Oct 24 - 30, 2011

October 24th, 2011 Office is closed.

October 25th, 2011

7:30 pm “Out of the Saltshaker” Book Study #6

October 27th, 2011

7:00 am Men’s & Women’s Bible Study @ the Bogani Café

2:00 pm Women’s Bible Study @ M. Rys’ Home

7:00 pm Building & Planning Committee meeting @ the Church

October 29th, 2011

3:30 – 5:30 pm Spaghetti Church #7

October 30th, 2011 20th Sunday after Pentecost

9:00 am Holy Communion

10:30 am Morning Worship & Sunday School

Good Works Fair (during morning coffee)

12:15 pm Trunk or Treat

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Sermon for October 16th: Matthew 22:15-22


Where Does Our True Loyalty Lie?

Some of you here are old enough to remember the movie ‘Chariots of Fire’, made back in the mid 1980s. The movie is based on the story of Eric Liddell, a runner who competed in the Paris Olympic Games in 1924. Eric was one of the fastest runners of his day and was scheduled to compete in the 100 metre sprint. However, he was also a devout Scottish Presbyterian who believed in strict observance of Sunday, and when he discovered that the heats for the race were going to be run on a Sunday, he pulled out and refused to compete. Eventually he ran in the 400 metre race – a distance he had never competed at before – and surprised everyone by winning the gold medal.

The movie dramatizes the story a little, as movies generally do. In actual fact Eric knew about the Sunday races months beforehand, but the movie has him only finding out on the boat on the way over to Parish. The movie also adds a dramatic scene where senior members of the British Olympic Committee, including the Prince of Wales, try to persuade Eric to compromise his principles and run in the race. The Prince of Wales explains to him that they share a common allegiance to king and country, and that they are all called to make sacrifices out of loyalty to that allegiance. One crusty old lord on the committee adds, “Yes, and in my day it was king first, God after!” But Eric Liddell refused, and spent that Sunday morning in church instead.

Whether or not we agree with Eric’s principles about the observance of Sunday, we can appreciate the difficult position he was in and we can admire his resolution to put nothing ahead of obedience to God’s commandments as he understood them. And this does raise the question of ultimate loyalty. If push comes to shove, what comes first: my loyalty to God, or my loyalty to my country?

 Over in Iran right now a little drama is going on; a Christian pastor, Youcef Nadarkhani, has been in jail for months, accused of the crime of apostasy – that is, of converting from Islam to Christianity. Apostasy is a capital offence in Iran and so Pastor Youcef has been on trial for his life. If he will renounce his Christian faith and convert to Islam he can go free; if not, dire consequences may be ahead for him. I have been following the story; a couple of weeks ago it seemed that death was close for Pastor Youcef, but we just got word this week that the Iranian supreme court has ordered a new trial for him. And so his ordeal continues.

This sort of conflict between loyalty to Christ and loyalty to those in civil authority is of course just ‘business as usual’ for Christians in much of the Islamic world, but we’re not used to the idea that it may become an issue for us here in Canada. After all, we used to think that we lived in a so-called ‘Christian country’ – whatever that means – and that society around us would cheer for the same beliefs and values that we did. Nowadays that is blatantly not the case, and in fact it may give us cause to wonder whether it ever really was. So what is the relationship between our loyalty to Christ and our loyalty to Canada? Is it all peaceful and easy, or are there points of tension? And if there are points of tension, what ought we to be doing?

As we think about these questions, today’s gospel reading gives us food for thought. The scene is the Temple courts in Jerusalem, in the week before Jesus’ death and resurrection. Since he entered Jerusalem on the back of a donkey a couple of days ago, the tension has been mounting between Jesus and the Jerusalem leaders – the priests, the Pharisees, and the political establishment. He has had a series of disputes with them and has told some parables which read like sharply-worded criticisms of them and their regime. Now, in the rest of Matthew 22, the leaders are going to try to trap Jesus by asking him some trick questions, questions to which he could easily give answers that would get him into trouble. And that’s their whole purpose: to get him into trouble. Their questions are not sincere; they are out to score political points against Jesus and, if possible, to get him arrested.

The first question concerns an issue dear to the heart of Albertans: taxes! As we heard in our gospel for today, the Pharisees and the Herodians brought Jesus a question: “Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, or not?” (v.17).

Just a couple of background points here. First, the Pharisees and Herodians were political opponents. The Herodians were supporters of the family of King Herod Antipas of Galilee; they were in bed with the Roman occupation and as a result had gained a lot of advantage and wealth. The Pharisees, on the other hand, believed that it was totally wrong for God’s chosen people to be under foreign rule; they believed that if all Israel scrupulously obeyed God’s Law, then God would reward them by sending them the Messiah, the King who would drive out the Romans and the corrupt Jewish leaders and set up the Kingdom of God in Jerusalem. So for these two groups to actually be co-operating against Jesus shows how dangerous they thought he was, and how desperate they were to do away with him.

Second, the tax in question was the poll tax; it was imposed by the Romans on every adult in Judea, including women and slaves. The tax caused wide resentment, as you can imagine. How would you feel if you woke up one morning to find that a foreign army had occupied your country and was now imposing a tax on everyone to pay for the occupation? When Jesus was a young boy a man named Judas the Galilean had led a revolt against the tax; the Romans had mercilessly crushed the rebellion and crucified its leaders.

So this was not just an academic question the leaders were bringing to Jesus. If he said, “No, it is not lawful for us to pay taxes to Caesar”, he would be declaring a new rebellion against Rome, and there would be no way of avoiding violence and bloodshed. On the other hand, if he was claiming to be leading a ‘Kingdom of God’ movement, there was no way he could endorse the paying of taxes to Caesar: surely the whole point of God becoming King was that Caesar wouldn’t be? To endorse imperial taxation would have invited ridicule and resentment from the ordinary people who were all looking for a political and military Messiah to deliver them from Roman oppression and corruption.

Third, the coin in which the taxes were paid was a Roman silver coin, a denarius. The head of Caesar was stamped on the coin, and also an inscription claiming that Caesar was the son of a god and supreme high priest. These coins had caused huge unrest in Judea. Jewish law forbad the making of graven images, and the head of Caesar on the coin was interpreted as being just such a graven image. The inscription also was seen as idolatrous – who was Caesar to claim to be a son of a god and the supreme high priest? So great was Jewish opposition to the coins that the Romans had compromised and allowed the Jewish people to mint their own copper coins, with no such image and inscription, for daily use in Judea. However, the Romans insisted that the poll tax be paid using a proper silver denarius, so the coins were still in circulation in Judea. But they were seen as tainted, and it would be especially offensive for a Jew to take one of them into the Temple, the house of the one true God.

So how does Jesus respond to the question? Well, of course, he sees right through it; he knows they are trying to trap him. So he responds: “Why are you putting me to the test, you hypocrites! Show me the coin used for the tax” (vv.18-19a).

This was very clever. First of all, by asking someone to show him the coin he was making it clear that he didn’t actually have any of that tainted Roman money on him. But he was also putting the Pharisees and Herodians in a difficult situation. Would they own up to having Caesar’s money in their pockets? We can only guess that it was a Herodian, and not a Pharisee, who dug into his coin purse and shamelessly handed Jesus one of those idolatrous coins! Nonetheless, the Pharisees and Herodians were working together here, and so the Pharisees also would be tainted by association; we can almost hear the crowd start to hiss and boo as the hated silver denarius is passed to Jesus. And of course Jesus has made a point here without saying anything. He’s said, “You’re trying to trap me into a position of disloyalty to God, but I’m not the one who’s carrying Caesar’s money: you are!” So he’s already scored a point in the eyes of the crowd.

The story continues: ‘“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”’ (vv.20-21).

This is not just a clever, ambiguous reply that gets Jesus off the hook. It’s actually a profound theological principle that gives us a place to start when we consider the question of conflicting loyalties between God and the state. Let’s unpack it for a minute.

“Give to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s”. By these words, Jesus indicated quite clearly that he was not interested in following the way of Judas the Galilean or the Zealots; he was not going to start a tax revolt against Rome. He knew what human nature is like; even if a revolt was successful, the new leaders would quickly become every bit as corrupt as the old one. What was needed was not just a change in government or a change in tax policy; what was needed was a change at the deepest level of the human personality.

So on the surface Jesus seems to be endorsing the poll tax – enough to get him out of trouble with the Romans, anyway. But then he goes on to say, “and give to God the things that are God’s”. This immediately qualifies the endorsement he has given. Not everything that Caesar demands is rightfully Caesar’s. Yes, he may be a political leader, but he’s not ‘the divine Caesar’ and he’s certainly not ‘son of a god’. To give to God the things that are God’s means that when Caesar comes knocking on our door asking for those things, we have nothing to give him. “Sorry, sir: I already gave those things to God. You’ll have to take it up with him”.

What are those things that belong to God? Ultimately, God has a right to our unconditional loyalty and obedience. God is the only one who can legitimately claim this of us: that whatever he asks of us, we give it to him. No one else has that right. So to say, as some do, “My country, right or wrong”, is ruled out. To commit ourselves to loyalty to our country no matter what it asks of us is an act of idolatry; it is to put our country in the place of God.

But earthly countries do not usually like being put in second place, as Eric Liddell found out. Another person who found it out was George Bell, Bishop of Chichester in the Church of England during the Second World War. Bell was not a pacifist, as I am: he believed in the Christian theological tradition of the ‘Just War’: the idea that under certain conditions Christians may legitimately take up arms and fight for their country. One of those conditions was that noncombatant civilians not be harmed. Britain in the 1940s claimed to be a Christian country, and so Bell rose in the House of Lords to condemn the carpet bombing of German cities which was killing thousands of unarmed noncombatant civilians. Bell was the only bishop to speak out on this; he was accused of being a traitor and a Nazi-lover, and his views were ridiculed and condemned by the overwhelming majority of British Christians.

Tempting as it is to go further with this, I am not going to speculate this morning about what other specific issues might bring our loyalty to Christ into conflict with our loyalty to our country. I simply want to point out that, as our country and the other countries of the west become more and more secular, it is likely that there will be more issues on which we find that we are standing apart from our fellow-citizens. And when those issues arise, loyalty to Christ will demand that we continue to stand apart.

Jesus says, “Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s”. So it is not wrong for us to pay our taxes; it isn’t wrong for us to be good neighbours and good citizens and work together with our non-Christian neighbours to try to make our city and our country – and indeed the whole world – better places to live. Civil government is part of God’s plan for the ordering of his world, and we can participate in it as Christians with a clear conscience and even a sense of calling.

But Jesus goes on to say, “give to God the things that are God’s”. Ultimately, the Christian is a citizen of two countries – a temporary one, that will pass away one day, and a permanent one that will last forever. When our temporary country demands our absolute obedience and calls us to be disobedient to our true King, we have to be clear about our response. Jesus Christ is Lord of all, which means that Caesar is not. The kingdom of God will be a shining reality long after our earthly country has been forgotten. So we must be clear where our ultimate loyalty lies: it lies with God and with his anointed King, Jesus Christ our Lord.