Giving Neutron Stars to Caesar

by | Oct 22, 2017 | Sermons

Matthew 22:15-22

Paying Tax to Caesar

Why don’t the children come forward and sit here at the front on the floor. I’ll need two volunteers in a minute, but first. What makes somebody of value? What makes them worth knowing? {Children give answers}

We show value in different ways also, by talking about them, by spending time with them, by celebrating them. Think about what things we value here on a Sunday morning. Watch through the rest of the service and think about what things you think we value most as a community and come tell me afterwards. Does anybody have any idea why I gave you this to colour in? Hold up the star drawing. This past week astronomers witnessed a collision between two Neutron stars for the first time. A Neutron Star is the smallest and densest star known to exist. They are only about 12 miles wide. That’s less than 1/100 the size of the moon. It’s less than the milage by driving from here to Watford or directly North to the M25. But a teaspoon of neutron star weighs about a billion tons. So they aren’t big but they are very heavy. These two stars started 200 miles away.

{Two children are invited to be volunteer Neutron Stars}

The two stars started circling at 30 times a second. Gradually going faster and faster as they got close to each other. Eventually reaching 200 orbits a second before they collided. BANG. The collision produced very heavy elements like Gold, Uranium and Platinum, In fact it is believed that nearly all Gold and Platinum comes from collisions like this. Which perhaps is why Gold they are so rare and so expensive.
Think, if you have a bit of gold in a ring on your finger or in your necklace or an earing – you are literally wearing stardust.

And you are all wondering what on earth I’m going on about this for. So we come to today’s Gospel. Jesus is put in a trap, like when a Newsnight interviewer gets a politician in the chair – keen to catch him out. ‘Is it lawful to pay taxes to the Emperor?’ Obviously, the people of Israel were under Roman occupation, they resented paying taxes to the Emperor. Equally, if he straight out says they shouldn’t be paying taxes he’d be seen as inciting an uprising and the Roman authorities would need to step in. So Jesus gives a clever answer he looks at one of their coins and asks whose face it is – the emperor – so give to the emperor what is the emperor’s and to God what is God’s.

Of course, what isn’t God’s – after all, whose image are we all made in – according to the story of creation we are made in God’s image. This bit of the gospel is one of those cases where Jesus’ cleverness in navigating the trap can lead us to think we should value cleverness above all else. But then that is the very trap the church sometimes falls into, there can be an expectation that we need to pass a test to prove we understand what we believe to be a part of the community. But fundamentally, this passage highlights the silliness of the worldly value we place on things. Yes, Jesus speaks a lot about money in the Gospel, about us using it wisely and generously. Because he sees that we can too easily put all our valuing of life based on money. ‘If it’s so important to the emperor that this money has his face on it, then give it to him,’ because in the end – everything is created by the one true God. The God who instills a value in us, not because of what we can do, or earn or know. A God who values us not because we are good company or entertainment or think the same thing. The God who loves and values us because we are. We are created beings, made with the same mystery and beauty as two neutron stars colliding. By the God of love and out of love.

So give to the Emperor what is the Emperor’s, but remember that it all belongs to God, and so give your own self, your life your very being, to follow the God of love, who knows you, who made you and who sent Christ that you might know him. And follow the example this God puts before you to love one another with that same generous grace, not because of what somebody’s worldly value is, but because they are one of God’s beloved creations, mysteriously, beautifully and wonderfully made.

The Reverend Robin Sims-Williams