John Wertz, Blacksburg, VA

Warm-up Questions

The sign in the window says the drink costs 99 cents? What will the final price of the drink be when the cashier rings it up? Why will it be more than 99 cents?

Paying Taxes

In 1789, Benjamin Franklin wrote in a letter to one of his friends that “in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.” As Christians, we might argue that the only thing more certain than death and taxes is the generous love of God, but Franklin is correct that in life each of us will have to deal with both death and taxes.

In late September, President Donald Trump announced a new tax proposal that will attempt to completely overhaul the American tax code. (1) While the details and implementation of the new proposal still need to be worked out in Congress, any change to our complicated tax code will likely impact nearly resident of the United States. For some people, changes in the tax code could bring reduced tax bills. For others, changes in the tax code come mean increased tax bills. While the changes being discussed by the President and Congress are focused on income taxes and business taxes, even if you are currently not working at a job, you still pay taxes. Each time you go out to eat, put gas in your car or buy a new shirt, you pay sales tax.

Who pays taxes and how much each person or company is required to pay will continue to be in the news until the President and Congress agree upon a plan. Regardless of what they decide, however, taxes will continue to be a required, if unpopular, part of our life together because taxes provide the money necessary to public services like roads, first responders, health care for senior adults and public schools.

Discussion Questions

  • What services or activities in your community are supported by taxes?
  • When people start talking about taxes or politics, how do you respond? How do you see the people in your life respond?
  • What are your main sources of information for understanding issues like politics or taxes? How do those sources of information shape what you believe about those issue

Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost

(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 B at Lectionary Readings

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


Gospel Reflection

“Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s” Jesus said, “and to God the things that are God’s.” (Mt 22:21) The Pharisees had hoped to trick Jesus into upsetting the crowds by getting him to endorse the unfair tax policies of the empire or, more likely, they hoped he would speak against paying taxes and then the empire would arrest Jesus. As is often the case, Jesus does not respond as others expect. By responding in the manner he does, however, Jesus teaches us two valuable lessons for our lives of faith in the world.

The first lesson has to do with living in the world. As people of God, we are called to be in the world, but not of the world. Our decisions and ideals need to be guided and shaped by God, not by the pressures and priorities of the world around us. At the same time, we are also called to live in the world, to share what we know of God with others and to live out or faith in our daily lives.

As God’s people in the world, we live under a set of rules established by the government. We pay taxes on the money we make in the public market place. We give to the emperor, what is the emperor’s.

At the same time, we give to God what is God’s which means that we are constantly trying to determine how we can live and act faithfully in the world. We give back to God as God has given to us by supporting ministries we believe in with financial resources and through our gifts of time and expertise. It isn’t always easy, but as followers of Jesus we try to live faithfully in the world giving to the world what is the world’s while at the same time giving to God our love and obedience.

In addition to this fairly direct lesson on life in the world, there is a second lesson that Jesus teaches which we can see, when we examine the way in which Jesus responds to the Pharisee’s question. In his response, Jesus models an approach to dealing with a problem that invites us not simply to react to a problem we might face, but rather to respond from our strength, to act out of our convictions and beliefs, not simply react to what is happening around us.

Many people when faced with the type of question posed to Jesus would have felt trapped by the question. They would have felt the need to answer either ‘yes’ or ‘no.’ Many people would have allowed the question to define the conversation, but Jesus shows us that we don’t simply have to react to the world around us. We don’t have to take option ‘a’ or ‘b’ simply because those are the options presented to us, but instead we are called to take or to create the option that is faithful to God.

When you are faced with a choice in life where none of the options presented to you seems faithful to what you believe. Don’t feel trapped. Follow the example of Jesus we see today and look for a different way forward that allows you to act on your beliefs and to act out of God’s love for you, not simply react to the world around you.

Discussion Questions

  • What does it look like to you to live in the world, but not to be of the world?
  • How to you give to God what is God’s in your daily life?
  • Share a time when you acted out of God’s love for you instead of simply responding to what was happening in the world around you.

Activity Suggestions

Drawn Together – Tell the group that the whole group is going to draw a picture together. You can draw an animal, a building, a superhero or some other picture that works with your context. Give everyone in the group a portion of a shape that they are allowed to draw. One person might have half a circle. Another person might have a straight line. Once everyone is assigned a portion of a shape, announce the image you will draw. Each person in the group takes turns using their portion of the shape to complete the drawing. Each person must contribute their shape to the drawing before a shape can be repeated. Discuss the idea that when all of us contribute our gifts and talents, we are able to accomplish far more than one of us could accomplish alone.

Closing Prayer

O God, you give us a variety of gifts and call us to share those gifts in your service in the world. Help us to be faithful to you in our daily lives and give us the confidence to know that you are with us even if it feels like the world is against us. Amen.