Give to God (Mark 12:16-17)
I'm going to do something today that I've never done before. We're going to take up another offering. The only difference is that this is going to be a reverse offering. We are not asking you to give us anything; instead, we are going to give you something. When last have you ever taken anything out of the offering basket? But that's what we're going to do today. I feel a little like Oprah, except we're not giving you cars. So let's invite the ushers forward, and when they come around, please take one envelope out of the basket. Don't open the envelope when you get it; just hold on to it for a minute.
Okay, so today's text for the next few minutes is found in Mark 12:16-17:
They brought the coin, and he asked them, "Whose image is this? And whose inscription?"
"Caesar's," they replied.
Then Jesus said to them, "Give back to Caesar what is Caesar's and to God what is God's."
And they were amazed at him.
Many of you know the background of this story. The Pharisees and Herodians come with a plan to trap Jesus by asking him whether or not it's right to pay the imperial tax to Caesar. It's a trap. If Jesus pays the tax, then he's giving legitimacy to Rome's right to rule over Israel. If he doesn't pay the tax, then he's rebelling against Rome. This is a no-win situation for Jesus. He's being forced to take sides with the Zealots, who refused to pay taxes, or with the Herodians, who paid the taxes. But Jesus is smarter than all of them, and he says "Give Rome what belongs to Rome, but also give God what is God's."
If you look at our currency, this is what you'll see: a picture of the Queen. Somehow she's not looking to happy. It looks like someone has annoyed her. But we all generally recognize that the government of Canada, which is the government of the Queen, has the right to collect taxes in order to run the government. We don't always agree with how they spend the money, but we understand that some of this stuff that is in our wallets will rightfully go toward taxes, because it bears the image of the Queen.
But today you hold in your hands, maybe for the first time, money that bears the image of God. Look at the envelope. It has one word on it: love. Today, you're holding in your hands money that bears the image of God, because love is God's currency. I want to tell you the story behind what you're holding in your hands.
There's this church in Philadelphia called The Simple Way. They try to live differently in how they treat the money and possessions they have, and they have made redistributing wealth a big agenda item in their lives. Some people call them crazy.
One person there, Shane, came into $20,000 as a one-time gift plus a settlement from a lawsuit. Ask yourself: what would you do if you suddenly came into $20,000? A vacation? Plasma TV?
Let me tell you what they did. He began to imagine: what would it be like to have a little jubilee celebration? Jubilee is the celebration described in Leviticus 25. Every seven years, all debts would be forgiven – a financial fresh start for those in greatest need.
So here's what Shane did. Let me read from a description of the event from Rick McKinley's book This Beautiful Mess:
Working with a coalition of adventurous co-conspirators, Shane took the money and headed for the Stock Exchange on New York's Wall Street. Their strategic opportunity: the opening bell at the Exchange.
The group hid two dollar bills all over lower Manhattan, lugged in over thirty thousand coins in briefcases and backpacks, and climbed to balconies above the crowd carrying thousands of dollars in ones. Word spread through the alleys and projects that something was up, and hundreds gathered.
At 8:20, as the buyers and sellers inside started killing each other to make a buck, Shane and Sister Margaret, a 70-year-old nun stepped up to proclaim the jubilee. Their declaration read in part:
"We are a broken people who need each other and God, for we have come to recognize the mess that we have created of our world and how deeply we suffer from that mess. Now we are working together to give birth to a new society within the shell of the old. Another world is possible. Another world is necessary. Another world is already here."
Then, in keeping with Jewish tradition, Sister Margaret blew the ram's horn, and Shane announced, "Let the celebration begin."
Cash started falling from of the sky. On the steps, Kingdom conspirators dressed as business people, tourists, homeless persons, and passers by started emptying their bags and pockets of change. "The streets turned silver," Shane recalls. Those who needed money picked it up. Those who didn't put it down. The police looked on in confusion, but the joy was contagious, even for the Wall Street traders. And New York was shocked and disarmed to see the evidence of another Kingdom breaking in.
But that wasn't all.
Shane and other members of his group sent one hundred dollar bills to 1,000 communities around the world that, in their opinion, incarnate the spirit of Jubilee. In the envelope with the money, Shane quoted the verse we just read from Acts about laying money at the apostles' feet.
One of the pastors to receive a hundred dollar bill from Shane was me. Across the bill he'd written the word "Love."
On the day I received it, I put it in my pocket. Now what? I wondered. Sure it was mine now, but I'd received it from one of the poorest guys I know. I knew I had to use it well, but I held on to it for a while.
Every now and then, I'd take my wallet out and see it again. The bill didn't look ordinary to me; it felt different, not really mine. It had the stamp of empire on it. I'm holding a sacred 100 dollar bill, I'd think to myself. I don't know if I've ever held one before.
One day I ended up in a store with no cash, so I pulled out the 100 to tide me over. But it said "Love" all across it, and that's not why I was in the store. Nothing in that particular store had anything to do with love. I put the bill back in my pocket.
By the time Jeanne and I had passed the money on to a single mom we know, we had received a visceral lesson in Kingdom economics. Money is to be treasured—but differently.
Because not all treasures are created equal.
And because every bill is marked.
You have $1 in your hands. On the envelope it says "Love," the mark of the empire, the Kingdom of God. I want you to take it home with you. Don't spend it. Put it in your wallet or your purse and use it well. Here's the challenge I want to give you.
Hold on to it for a month. Over the next month, ask God what he wants you to do with it. Don't give it to a ministry or put it in the offering – that's too easy. Begin to dream about what God wants you to do with it.
You say, "What can I do with a dollar?" The answer is" not much. But God can do a lot with a dollar. Mother Teresa said, "In this life we cannot do great things. We can only do small things with great love." You can join your dollar with someone else's and combine your resources. You can add from your own money to this dollar.
But even if all you use is this dollar, you can probably do far more with a dollar than you think. A dollar is enough to buy a small child a toy from the dollar store. It's enough to stand by shopping carts and to pay the deposit for the first four people that you see. It's enough to buy a stamp and mail a note of appreciation for someone that could use the encouragement. It can pay for four phone calls. It can buy a donut for a friend or a can of Coke for a teenager after school. A dollar can do a lot if you really think about it.
But I don't really want you just to spend one dollar. I want you to dream of what God can do with small things. I want to you to dream about where God is calling you to serve, whom God is calling you to bless.
So take this dollar. Don't spend it yet. And begin to pray about what God wants you to do with it. It bears the mark of the empire. It's the year of jubilee. So let's pray a prayer of blessing over these before we give to God what is God's.