“Imago Dei”

“Imago Dei”

Matthew 22:15-22

Kings pawn to e4.
Kings bishop to c4.
Queen to h5.
Queen to f7.

Four moves.
Four moves is all it takes to win a chess match.
To win a game in four moves though
your opponent either has to be very new to chess
or not paying close enough attention.

The average game of chess is around 40 moves.
Though, one tournament game on the internet
reportedly went to 277 moves.

But whether it happens in four moves or forty moves or 400 moves
the goal is the same: to capture the king.
And to do that, the only way you capture the king of your opponent, is to set a trap.

Chess is a game that takes strategy and patience
and the ability to visualize your moves
and your opponents moves ahead of time.
When you know your opponent well they are easier to predict.
My dad and I have played hundreds of games over the years
and even today I can manage to capture his king
in less than 15 moves if I play it just right.

But, my dad knows me too,
so there are times when I think he is playing right into my hands and then he sets a trap of his own, not against my king,
but against my trap itself.
The web I had woven begins to fall apart
and it is only a matter of time
before my king is backed into a corner
and I am stuck analyzing the mistakes I had made.

Now you may not be a fan of chess,
many people I understand, find it boring. No one is perfect.
But the game is present in our lives
whether the board is in front of us or not.

Have you ever purchased a car off of a lot?
You are playing chess with that sales person.

That sales person has a strategy, they are the opponent,
they not only want to get you to buy from them
but they want you to pay top dollar so their commission is bigger.

But you go in with a strategy of your own.
Your own tactics for convincing the sales person
that you are not as interested as you are
or that you have not done the research
or that you are willing to walk away from the whole deal.

You play against each other
in the hopes that you will come out
with the best deal possible on the car you want.

We do it in our careers as well,
in that case it is going to be more of a social strategy.
You want to rub elbows with the right people.
You want to be seen at the right places at the right times
doing the right things
in the hopes that it will get you noticed and promoted.
Or, if you are not the ambitious type,
maybe your strategy lies in keeping your head low
and not getting noticed.
Doing your job in such a way as not to bet noticed
for being too good or noticed for your lack of effort.

Its not all conscious mind you,
but it does happen in our lives all the time.

And it was no different for Jesus.

When we read about the Pharisees
and their interactions with Jesus
they are always asking him questions.

And their goal with those questions
is not deeper spiritual understandings but rather,
with their questions, they are trying to capture the king,
they are trying to trap Jesus.
And I am pretty sure
that when the Pharisees came up with this question,
the one about paying taxes,
they were certain they had won, that this was checkmate.

At this point in the narrative
we are beyond the Pharisees having a bit of jealousy.
They are no longer just seeking to poke holes in Jesus theology.
They are not trying got undermine his popularity.
Now, they are trying to kill him.
The goal is to strike a death blow,
and as finishing moves go in chess this is not a bad one.

With this question,
they firmly stick Jesus between the proverbial rock and hard place.

Let’s look at the set up for a minute:
“So they sent their disciples to him along with the Herodians…”

So first, the Pharisees themselves are hanging back.
They have coached some of their disciples
and sent them along with some Hellenistic Jews.

The mix is important here.
The disciples of the Pharisees
are going to be more conservative, traditional, Jews
while the Hellenists were better traveled
and were influenced by their growing up outside of Palestine.
They spoke Greek and would have been, presumably,
more supportive of the Roman occupation.

Can you see the chess game happening?
The Pharisees have moved two pieces in for the kill.
One that represents traditional Hebrew values
and one that represents good citizens of the empire.

Before they even get to the question of course
they have to butter Jesus up right?
They have to put him at ease.
They have to make it seem like they are on his side
and wanting to learn from him:
“Teacher, we know that you are sincere,
and teach the way of God in accordance with truth,
and show deference to no one
for you do not regard people with partiality…”

That is the full fat kind of buttering up right?
Rabbi you are sincere and only teach truth
and no one person is of more importance
than another in your sight.

They are laying it on pretty thick,
really trying to lull Jesus into a sense of being
in the presence of friends.

Like saying “Hi Jesus, we love you,
could you please come and stand on this “X” right here
while we ask you a question
we promise it isn’t a trap
because we think you’re just the best Jesus.”

The pieces are in place,
the opponent is presumably lulled into a false sense of security,
so now is the time to make the move,
to go in for the kill and so they ask the question:

“…Tell us, then, what you think.
Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, or not?”

They are asking for a straight forward answer. Yes or no.

If Jesus answers “YES”, it is lawful to pay this tax to the emperor
the Jews are going to get worked into a lather
because it would paint Jesus as a collaborator
with the Roman occupation, or at least in support of it.
And the disciples of the Pharisees
were right there to bear witness to that answer.

If Jesus answers “NO”,
its not lawful for Jews to pay the tax to the emperor
the Pharisees could work the Romans into a lather
because this popular teacher with a big following
is “trying to subvert” the empire.
And the Herodians where right there to bear witness to that answer.

And their trap might have worked
if it wasn’t for one crucial fact that they had overlooked.
Jesus wasn’t even playing the game.

See, the Pharisees, in setting up their trap,
made the mistake of assuming
that Jesus was playing the same game they were.

The kind that focused on things like
political affiliation or doctrinal correctness.
In light of all they had seen and heard of Jesus
they failed to realize that he has consistently,
unabashedly, refused to play by their rules.

And while I love the chess match
that I see taking place the reality is
it is not what our focus should be on
and Jesus makes that unmistakably clear
with his response to the question.

Jesus doesn’t waste time
debating the implications of answering the question.
He gets to the heart of the matter.

Jesus asks to see the coin that pays the tax.
They show him.
He asks “Whose image is on this coin?”
They answer “The emperor’s of course.”
“Oh, well, in that case, give the emperor
the things that are the emperor’s
and give to God the things that are God’s.”

What I love about this answer of Jesus’ more than anything
is how it elevates and changes the conversation,
if not for the Pharisees (who clammed up pretty quick),
than for those around and paying attention, and for us today.

They ask a question as basic as
should we pay taxes and Jesus brings it back
to a much more basic and fundamental truth.
Something more true and persistent than death and taxes.
Jesus points us back to the beginning
and to the nature of who we are.

In Genesis chapter 1 verse 26
“Then God said, ‘Let us make human kind in our image,
according to our likeness;’…”

It is here, in this act of creation,
where God’s image is stamped onto humanity.
Here is where we became distinct from
any other part of creation.

Distinct from the angels, beings of spirit,
and distinct from the animals, beings of flesh.
We became beings of flesh and spirit.
Simultaneously alive and present in both worlds.
The imprint of God embossed on humanity.

And it is more than poetry friends.
It is more than words on a page.
It is a bright neon sign of a reminder,
of who, and whose we are.

We really are like God in this way.
We put our name one EVERYTHING!

Titles to our cars and our homes. Our homework in school.
Insurance policies for our possessions.
Passwords on our computers.
Luggage tags on our bags.
We put our name on food items
when we have to store them in a communal place.
We put our names on casserole dishes
that come to church potlucks.
We even write our kids names in their underwear
before we send them to summer camp.

All to prove, beyond doubt,
when push comes to shove, who those things belong to.

A couple of weeks ago I was writing
at the holy tabernacle of St. Arbuck’s
and when I type for long periods of time
I usually take my watch off
so that it doesn’t scuff up my computer or vice versa.

So I was at St. Arbuck’s writing and I took my watch off.
A nice watch, not the watch I am wearing now, which is nice,
but a different nice watch that I value greatly.

I took it off and placed it next to my laptop as I normally do.
And I wrote. I wrote for at least an hour and a half or so.
I had my books and papers spread out on the table
and before I knew it, it was time to go.

And so I gathered up my things and went home.
And later that evening I realized… my watch was missing.

I looked all over the place.
I checked my backpack and my briefcase.
I checked my car and my pants pocket.
I interrogated Braeleigh who has a habit
of taking things that don’t belong to her
and putting them in strange places. But, alas, no watch.

And so I thought about when I had last seen it.
And I remember taking it off at Starbucks
but not putting it back on.

So I called the store and asked if, perhaps,
some nice highly caffeinated person
happened to turn in a watch.
And they told me that, indeed, someone had.
And so I went back to pick it up but they wouldn’t give it to me.
They had put it in the safe
and would not give it to me until I described it to them.

So I did.
I described the band and I described the face.
I even described the scuff marks on the casing
from where I keep knocking it on a door frame.

They were surprised
at the detail with which I could describe my watch.
I wasn’t. Because it’s my watch.
It has tremendous value to me.
It means something to me.
And I may not have my name engraved on it
but my mark is there none-the-less,
in every scuff and scratch.

When we value something… we put our name on it. 
 The last yogurt.
Our favorite chair
and even our pew.

How much more value does God ascribe to us,
we are not just called the children of God by name,
we are made in God’s image.

And this is where it gets tricky for us.
Because being made in God’s image
isn’t only about the value that God places on us
its not just about the poetry,
but its about what God expects from us.

You might think of an image bearer as an ambassador.
One who speaks on behalf of another.
One who represents an entire group of people.

We have ambassadors from our government to other countries.
Those ambassadors are the conduit through which
information gets communicated.
And ideally that ambassador
is going to represent to that other country
the very best of who we are as a nation.

As image bearers of God we are the ambassadors.
We are the face of God that the world sees.
We are supposed to represent the best of God to the world.

Sometimes we think that its just supposed to be the pastor
or the church leaders who are representing God.
But that just simply isn’t true. 

Every one of us, those who call themselves Christian,
those seeking to follow Christ,
no matter their title, every one bears the image,
everyone is an ambassador,
is the conduit through which the good news of God’s love flows,
the conduit that presents Jesus Christ to the world.

We just got done with our charge conference
and one of the questions that gets asked is about church growth, both numerically, and spiritually.

But it’s important to note however
that the question of church growth is not directed at the pastor.
The question is directed to the congregation.

We, all of us,
from the pastor to the Sunday school teachers
to the leadership to the people who only come on Sunday morning. All of us are image bearers,
all of us are not just called,
but created to be the conduit of God’s love into the world.

There is an old saying that goes something like
“we need to remember that for some people,
we are the only Jesus they are ever going to see.”

Jesus defeated the trap of the Pharisees by not playing the game.
By changing the conversation
and dropping a giant reminder of who and whose we are.
It is not about the politics.
Its not about doctrinal correctness.

It is about realizing who we were created to be
and seeking to live into that life.
To be the best image bearers we can be.
To be the mirror through which other people,
the last, the least, and the lost,
get their first glimpses of the God whose image they also bear.

We belong to God.
God’s image is written on our souls;
God’s name is inscribed on our hearts.
We are God’s, so friends let’s live like we belong to God.
Amen? Amen. Let’s pray.

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