Well, today is the day. You ready? It’s April 30th the last day to get your taxes filed for 2016. Or maybe you’ve already filed. Maybe it depends on whether it you are getting money back or paying money out.
And taxes are a touchy subject for some folks, Politicians are elected or rejected often based on what they promise to do with our taxes. Oh, if we only had every tax cut that had been promised to us by the parties who got elected into power.
A little history here, Canadian Income Tax is a hundred years old this year. It was first instituted in 1917 to help pay for Canada’s efforts in the First World War. When the Canadian income tax act was first printed in 1917 it had six pages. Today it has 1412 pages. In 1917 the average Canadian paid $14.00, that’s in today’s dollars and the total collected represented 2.6 percent of total government revenue. Today the average Canadian will pay $4,120.00 in income tax and the total collected represents over half of the total government revenue.
It was Albert Einstein who said "The hardest thing in the world to understand is the income tax."
And taxes have been a touchy subject as long as there have been taxes being paid, and that has been for quite a long time. How do you think the Egyptians built the pyramids, or the Mayans built their cities, or the Romans constructed the aqueducts and coliseums?
And as long as there have been folks collecting taxes there have been folks resenting having their taxes collected. Throughout the New Testament the term “Tax Collector” is often used in statements like Matthew 9:10 Later, Matthew invited Jesus and his disciples to his home as dinner guests, along with many tax collectors and other disreputable sinners. Or Mark 2:16 But when the teachers of religious law who were Pharisees saw him eating with tax collectors and other sinners, they asked his disciples, “Why does he eat with such scum?” Nice. And when the religious leaders criticized Jesus one of the charges was Matthew 11:19 . . .‘He’s a friend of tax collectors and other sinners!’
So here we are in week last of our Stewardship month. You can all breathe a sigh of relief. It’s almost over.
For those who are visiting with us or new to Cornerstone this is an annual event. Each April I take the opportunity to teach the theology of stewardship, which is a fancy way of saying we look at what the Bible says about money, what got, how we get it and what we do with it after we get it. Nice thing is that means I won’t ambush you about money throughout the year.
And we culminate Money Month with an event we call Step Up Cornerstone which happens today and we will be talking more about that later in the service.
Sometimes pastors choose to not speak about money in church, maybe in hopes that somehow their people will learn about it on their own, perhaps by osmosis. Or maybe it's because they feel that talking about money is too personal or too obtrusive. but Jesus talked a lot about money, he talked about the way people make it and what they do with it after they have it.
And because money is talked about in the scriptures, and because Jesus seemed to attach a great deal of importance to it, to the point of linking it to our eternities it is something that needs to be addressed. And we can’t just ignore it because it bothers some people and offends other people.
Seriously, what would happen if every preacher prepared his messages in an effort to not offend or bother anyone? You might as well open fortune cookies.
Apparently Jesus wasn’t afraid to express his opinion on a wide variety of topics that are deemed off limits today. People’s behaviour, people’s attitudes and people’s money.
Surprisingly though, especially if you are in the habit of watching the political situation in the States, Jesus never talked about politics. He never told people how to vote, never expressed a preference for a certain political party, never wore a campaign button or endorsed any particular candidate or political party. Just sayin’.
And this is how this particular Jesus story happened. Luke 20:20 Watching for their opportunity, the leaders sent spies pretending to be honest men. They tried to get Jesus to say something that could be reported to the Roman governor so he would arrest Jesus.
Who were these leaders? In the other gospels we are told they were the Pharisees and some unlikely allies. In the NLT we are told they were “supporters of Herod” the actual word used was “Herodians”.
So, on one side you have the Pharisees, the religious elite of the Jews and on the other side you have the Herodians who through their support of Herod, the puppet king of Palestine, are de-facto supporters of Rome. What is that old saying about “strange bed-fellows”?
And so this unlikely and unholy union sent a group to ask Jesus a seemingly harmless question, Luke 20:20-22 Watching for their opportunity, the leaders sent spies pretending to be honest men. They tried to get Jesus to say something that could be reported to the Roman governor so he would arrest Jesus. “Teacher,” they said, “we know that you speak and teach what is right and are not influenced by what others think. You teach the way of God truthfully. Now tell us—is it right for us to pay taxes to Caesar or not?”
Now we need to understand that this was not just a innocent question about Jesus’ philosophy on taxation. They were not talking about taxation in general they were speaking of a very specific tax. 2000 years ago in conquered Palestine there were several different layers of taxation, much as there is today in our country.
Those in the know tell us that there was a first of all a ground tax. Kind of like our property tax. Then there was income tax, that's self-explanatory. And then there as what was called “the poll tax” or the “Tribute”, which considering that we are in district 13 is kind of funny.
This tax had been put in place when the Romans conquered Israel in in 63 B.C. and had to be paid by every male from the age of fourteen to the age of sixty-five, and by every female from the age of twelve to sixty-five. It was a tax paid simply for the privilege of being alive and living as a subject of the Emperor.
And people resented paying it. There had already been one rebellion, 25 years earlier, primarily over this particular tax. So you see where this is going, right? If Jesus speaks out in favour of the tax, the ordinary people are going to be outraged; it will solidify what the religious right has been saying about Jesus not being the Messiah.
However if Jesus rejects the tax the Herodians will take the report back to Herod, and eventually to the Romans, that Jesus is talking treason and encouraging people to not pay their taxes. Win, win for the enemies of Jesus, lose, lose for Jesus himself. In Australia, they would say it was a bit of a sticky wicket, here we would say that Jesus was between a rock and a hard place.
Doesn’t seem to bother Jesus though he doesn’t even break stride let’s keep reading, Luke 20:23-24 He saw through their trickery and said, “Show me a Roman coin.”
Some people have commented that it shows that Jesus wasn’t concerned about money because he didn’t even have a coin on him. But the coin he was talking about wasn’t simply pocket change, it was a denarius. And it was a silver coin that was the equivalent of a full day’s salary. But I think it goes deeper than that. The problem with the coin was the inscription on it. On one side would be a picture of the present ruler and the inscription “Tiberius Caesar, son of Divine Augustus.” This picture and the claim of quasi-divinity made the coin a portable idol, is it any wonder that Jesus wasn’t carrying one with him.
So they waited with baited breath, waiting to find out who Jesus would offend, knowing that there was no way that he could come out of this unscathed. And let’s keep reading Luke 20:24 “Show me a Roman coin. Whose picture and title are stamped on it?”
Simple question, perhaps they thought he was simply stalling for time and so they answered. Luke 20:24 “Caesar’s,” they replied.
And I’m sure they were thinking . . . “and . . .” Luke 20:25 “Well then,” he said, “give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar, and give to God what belongs to God.”
And then we are told in Luke 20:26 So they failed to trap him by what he said in front of the people. Instead, they were amazed by his answer, and they became silent.
The big question for us today is “So what?” What does that mean for us today?
Some of Your Money is the Government’s Nobody really likes paying taxes, that’s something that most of us have in common, we think we pay too much and deep down think others pay too little. We always assume the burden falls to those of us in the middle. The very poor don’t pay tax and neither do the very rich.
Most of us were not surprised at the attitude expressed by American business woman Leona Helmsley. Helmsley was worth over a billion dollars, when an employee commented that she must pay a lot of taxes when she said “We don't pay taxes. Only the little people pay taxes...” She took it as her due that she shouldn’t have to pay taxes.
It was no surprise when Donald Trump didn’t deny paying income tax instead he said that made him smart.
Of course Helmsley did go to jail for income tax evasion and maybe someday the president will as well.
But the reality is that all of those who enjoy what our country has to offer should pay taxes. It was President Franklin D. Roosevelt who said “Taxes, are the dues that we pay for the privileges of membership in an organized society.”
Jesus was acknowledging that there was benefit to being a part of the Roman Empire. The sword of Rome might have been wielded by an oppressor but it had brought peace to the known world, something that hadn’t been seen in hundreds of years. Road systems were developed for trade, water systems were built and laws were being enforced. It wasn't perfect but it was working. It was the Roman Historian Publius Cornelius Tacitus who wrote “The repose of nations cannot be secure without arms. Armies cannot be maintained without pay, nor can the pay be produced without taxes.”
We grumble and complain about government waste and extravagance but as long as we want our public health care, as long as we want our children educated, as long as we expect a degree of safety, both from outside forces and from the criminal element there will be taxes that have to be paid. If we expect safe water to come out of our taps when we turn them on, and if we expect our streets to be plowed and our garbage to be picked up we will have to pay taxes.
And the more you travel the more you appreciate our system. (Pictures from Africa) Because this is what health care looks like without the taxes we pay. And this is what education looks like without the taxes we pay. And this is what main roads look like without the taxes we pay. This what the drinking water supply looks like without the taxes we pay. And this is what dinner looks like . . . actually that has nothing to do with taxes it’s just one of my favourite Africa meal pictures.
And so Jesus was telling us that if we want all the benefits that our tax dollars bring then we will have to pay taxes. And I’m proud to pay taxes in Canada, although truth be told I think I could be just as proud even if I only paid half as much.
And maybe tax time can even be a time to be thankful. You understand that you pay more in taxes than your Grandparents, or maybe even your parents made. When I was a teenager I remember my father telling me what he paid for income tax that year and he seemed excited about it. When I asked him why he said “Do you know how much I had to make in order to pay that much in tax?”
And so today, as 2000 years ago there are taxes that must be paid, and I also think that our Governments need to pay heed to other words from 2000 years ago as well, it was Emperor Tiberius Caesar who observed “It is the duty of a good shepherd to shear his sheep, not to skin them.”
Some of Your Money is Yours Then there is the money that we get to keep. And this money comes with all kinds of choices. Will we spend it or will we save it? And what we will spend it on and what will we save it for? Most of us are familiar with Christ’s words when he told his followers Luke 12:22 Then, turning to his disciples, Jesus said, “That is why I tell you not to worry about everyday life—whether you have enough food to eat or enough clothes to wear.” And while we are not to worry about such things we are still required to provide them.
And some of us make good choices and some of us make bad choices.
Every once in a while, you hear about someone who is desperate financial straits and then they win the lottery.
They are supposed to be a good news stories, but my first thought is always “What is a someone who is desperate financial straits doing buying lottery tickets?” You understand that is a message for a different time, but lotteries are really a tax on the mathematically challenged.
If we spend more than we make eventually it will catch up with us, if we spend our money to support our addictions, eventually that will catch up with us.
And I don’t think that Christians are supposed to be destitute but I do believe that we are supposed to be responsible with what we have. A good exercise for all of us is every once is a while just sit down and figure out where you are spending your money. Are you using it wisely or not?
And that really is subjective, what you might consider wise I might consider foolish. But if you are having trouble paying for food and shelter or if you have problems giving the government their share or God his share then you may be spending it in places that it shouldn’t be spent. And those are all part of the choices we make.
Some of Your Money is God’s From the very beginning of the book people have offered up something as an offering or as a sacrifice. So in Genesis and continuing throughout the Bible we see people returning part of what they have to God. Notice I said "returning" because we need to understand that all that we have comes from God, from our lives to our livelihoods. And sometimes that was called offerings, and sometimes it was called sacrifices and sometimes it was called a tithe.
And those gifts, those sacrifices, those offerings were given for a couple of different reasons. From the time the Israelites began gathering together for corporate worship there were costs associated with that worship.
If you read through the Old Testament first there was the Tabernacle, which was like a portable temple that needed to be constructed and maintained. There were priests who led the people into worship who needed to be paid, there were scrolls and ink for recording the scriptures that needed to be purchased. There were sacrifices and offerings that were part of their worship which needed to be provided. And God called on his people to provide for those expenses. There was a fiscal responsibility to their worship.
Could God have done it without the giving of his people? Sure he’s God. But he knew that anything in life that doesn’t cost you something isn’t worth anything.
Today there is still that practical aspect of our worship. If you want to worship under a tree by yourself there will probably be very little practical cost associated with that. However, if you want to come together corporately to worship there are costs associated with that. We’ve talked about this before. Before we even look at salaries at Cornerstone there is a building to be paid for and maintained.
There are mortgage payments that have to be made every month, there is power that needs to be paid to light and heat the building, there are cleaning supplies and insurance and snowplowing and lawn mowing.
And we need to have people come in to inspect and maintain the alarms and emergency lighting and to inspect and clean the Heating and Ventilation system and to take away the garbage.
And that is before we do anything in the building. And then there are the salaries and curriculum and licensing costs that allow us to provide the ministries for you and your family.
Do we require that people at Cornerstone give? Yep, sure do. Does that mean that if you don’t give you can’t worship here? Nope. Does that mean that if we are going to send someone around to your door looking for your offering envelope? Nope.
But if you don’t give there will be no Cornerstone. You understand that right? If the people of Cornerstone didn’t make the sacrifices necessary to pay the bills then the staff would be laid off, the building would be sold and there would be no Cornerstone. Because there is no magical pot that we go to for our funds. Every dollar in our budget comes from those who call Cornerstone their church home.
But more than just the practical side of giving is the spiritual side of giving. Because even if you were worshipping under a tree by yourself there should still be a sense of giving back to God. Early in the story that was called making sacrifices and it involved bringing meat, grain, wine or oil and offering it to God as a gift.
Did God need those things? No he is God. But it goes back to anything that doesn’t cost you anything isn’t really worth anything, including your worship. Because it allows us to acknowledge that what we have comes from God and to be thankful for that which we keep.
And very early in the story it is laid down what God’s people are to return to God, When the law was laid down over three thousand years ago it was written Leviticus 27:30 “One tenth of the produce of the land, whether grain from the fields or fruit from the trees, belongs to the LORD and must be set apart to him as holy.” And it was reiterated in Deuteronomy 14:22 “You must set aside a tithe of your crops—one-tenth of all the crops you harvest each year.”
And often when you bring up the tithe people will tell you that the tithe is an Old Testament concept, and that is a sermon in itself, but when Paul was writing about money to the church in Corinth this is what he wrote. 1 Corinthians 16:2 On the first day of each week, you should each put aside a portion of the money you have earned. The believers in Corinth had a Jewish heritage so I wonder what they assumed when Paul said that should put aside a portion of the money they had earned.
And then they will go on to tell you that the Tithe was used for something very specific and that is true, listen to the words of the prophet Malachi 3:10 Bring all the tithes into the storehouse so there will be enough food in my Temple. The tithe was provided so that the temple and all that was involved in temple worship could be maintained. And we don’t have a temple and priests and scribes but we do have a church and we do have a pastoral staff.
So what is the tithe? Tithe simply means tenth and throughout the word of God the concept is reiterated that all that we have comes from God but he requires a tenth of it back. For the people of God this does not mean that we give God ten percent of what is ours, it means that He allows us to keep ninety percent of what is His.
Now listen to the last part of that verse from Malachi 3:10 Bring all the tithes into the storehouse so there will be enough food in my Temple. If you do,” says the LORD of Heaven’s Armies, “I will open the windows of heaven for you. I will pour out a blessing so great you won’t have enough room to take it in! Try it! Put me to the test!
And so God tells his people, “If you tithe, if you return to me ten percent of what I have given to you then I will bless you.”
You see when we give to God, we are just taking our hands off what already belongs to Him.
But it really doesn’t matter what I say today, the past two message we talked about why people gave the little things to God and the big things to God. And the reasons were the same. They loved God and they believed in the mission. And those are the same reasons you will choose to give to God through Cornerstone.
And as a side note, we live in a great country where if you give to God what is God’s than Caesar won’t want nearly as much.
When you do up your taxes this year and you use the receipt that is provided by Cornerstone for your giving you will discover that Caesar will give you a break on your taxes. If you gave a hundred dollars a week, which is the tithe on a fifty-thousand-dollar salary, then you will save over $2,500.00 on your taxes. And to quote F. J. Raymond “Next to being shot at and missed, nothing is quite as satisfying as an income tax refund.”