Erik Ullestad–West Des Moines, IA

Warm-up Question

How do you stay connected with your friends?

Why Pay Taxes?

Cell phone usage is at an all-time high.  Many people are getting rid of their landline phone and exclusively using a mobile device for all their communication needs.  The pre-teen market has grown significantly in the last five years.  The average age for a kid’s first cell phone is 11 years old and 77% of kids ages 12-17 have a cell phone.  Contributing to this growth in mobile device usage are an abundance of new devices entering the market place (like two varieties of Apple’s new iPhone 6) and wireless service providers that offer a wide variety of monthly plan options suited to the needs of the customer.


Phone companies and wireless providers aren’t the only groups who are profiting from the mobile boom.  Federal, state, and local governments are seeing increased revenue as a result of taxes applied to cell phone plans.  According to a study by the Washington D.C.-based Tax Foundation, the U.S. average combined tax rate for wireless plans is 17.05%.  The federal rate is currently fixed at 5.82%, which is added to the varying state-local rates.  Washington State has the highest rate at 18.6 percent, compared to neighboring state of Oregon which has the lowest at 1.76 percent.

For some, the issue of high cell phone taxes is political.  Governor Rick Scott has promised to give the people of Florida at $120 million annual reduction in the communications services tax.  Others see this as a justice issue.  The Centers for Disease control reports that over 56 percent of adults living in poverty have only wireless service as their means of communication.

Discussion Questions

  • Do you have a cell phone?  If so, how do you use it?  (Social media, texting, phone calls, etc.)
  • How much money do you think is an appropriate amount to spend on a cell phone?
  • What do you think is a reasonable tax rate for wireless service plans?

Lectionary 29

Isaiah 45:1-7

1 Thessalonians 1:1-10

Matthew 22:15-22

(Text links are to Oremus Bible Browser. Oremus Bible Browser is not affiliated with or supported by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. You can find the calendar of readings for Year C at Lectionary Readings.)

For lectionary humor and insight, check the weekly comic Agnus Day.


Gospel Reflection


In the Gospel reading today we find Jesus in a potentially sticky situation.  The church leaders, in conjunction with Herod’s followers, have set a trap for Jesus.  They ask him, “Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, or not? [17]” This was a trick question.  If Jesus answered “yes”, the church leaders would be upset because they felt taxation – especially the poll tax – was unjust.  If he answered “no”, the emperor could throw Jesus in jail for challenging the law.

Jesus offers an answer that leaves both parties speechless.  He says, “Give to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and give to God the things that are God’s [21].” In saying this, Jesus not only silenced his adversaries, but he lifted up the importance of giving back to God.  The money that was to be given to the emperor was just money – an idolatrous coin with the face of Caesar on it.  God, the creator and ruler of all, blesses us more than any earthly leader ever could – which means we have a lot to give back.

When it comes to “giving to God”, students might remember the 3 T’s – time, talents, and treasures.  When we give to God in this way, it’s not about acts of service; it’s about lives of service.  It’s about a life-altering change in the way we look at our tangible and intangible gifts.  Like Abraham, God blesses us so that we may be a blessing to others [Genesis 12:3].

Discussion Questions

  • How did the Pharisees try to trick Jesus?
  • Why do you think the Pharisees sent their disciples to confront Jesus instead of talk to Jesus themselves?
  • How did Jesus answer the question about taxes?
  • What do you think Jesus’ words mean to you today?  What does it say about your priorities?
  • In Jesus’ day, taxes were often associated with corrupt leaders who made themselves rich at the expense of the poor.  What do you think about taxes today?  Are they important?  Why do you feel that way?
  • What are ways that God has blessed you?
  • What is one way that you can share these blessings with others this week?

Activity Suggestions

Consider making a commitment as a group to financially support a local, national, or global organization that helps other people.  Ask the group if they have any suggestions.  If they don’t, offer some of your own.  You’ll want to research this in advance.  ELCA Good Gifts can give you some great ideas.  Discuss all the suggestions, and then try to come to a decision as a group.  Sign a covenant that everyone will bring a regular offering to help support this project.  You may want to make a poster that demonstrates how much money is given each week/month to this ministry.  Inform parents and other congregation members of the way that the young people are “giving to God what is God’s.”

Closing Prayer

Generous God, we give you thanks for the ways in which you bless us.  Help us to be in tune with the gifts we have received, and help us to use those gifts to bless the lives of those around us.  Open our eyes to the needs of others and give us the strength to share words of peace, hope, and love to the world.  For the sake of Jesus, we pray, amen.