Jeremiah 29:4-7; Matthew 22:15-22
The story of Jesus’ encounter with Pharisees and Herodians is an example of “Challenge-Riposte,” or a public verbal battle in which honor is gained by the winner and shame placed on the loser. Jesus wins this verbal exchange thus increasing his honor in the eyes of the observers, the crowd.
Bruce J. Malina and Richard L. Rohrbaugh explain in Social-Science Commentary on the Synoptic Gospels (Augsburg Fortress Press, 1992), pp. 41-42:
“Just as concern about money, paying the bills, or affording something we want is perpetual and pervasive in American society, so was the concern about honor in the world of the Gospels. In this competition the game of challenge-riposte is a central phenomenon, and one that must be played out in public. It consists of a challenge (almost any word, gesture, or action) that seeks to undermine the honor of another person and a response that answers in equal measure or ups the ante (and thereby challenges in return). Both positive (gifts, compliments) and negative (insults, dares) challenges must be answered to avoid a serious loss of face.”
Reading the Scripture
Here are some ways you might read the scripture or tell the story:
o The Bible Experience: The Complete Bible (“presented by a stellar ensemble of today’s top-name actors, musicians, clergy, directors, and award-winning producers.” Available from Keith).
o Faith Comes by Hearing: You’ve Got the Time (Dramatized New Testament we used a few years ago during Lent. Available in the library and the church office.)
o The Gospel According to Matthew: The Visual Bible The Bible Experience: The Complete Bible (Dramatized video movie, word for word from the NIV text. Available from Keith or the web page: http://www.lexingtonavenue.org/sunday-school-supplements/).
• Cotton Patch Gospel:
Then the good church members got together and hatched a plot to trap him in something he said. So they sent a committee with some FBI men. “Doctor,” they said, “we know that you are a straight shooter, and that you tell God’s way like it is. And it doesn’t matter to you who you’re talking to, because you pay no attention to a man’s standing. Now please give us your opinion on this matter: Should one pay Federal taxes or not?”
Catching on to their trick, Jesus asked, “Why are you putting me in a bind, you phonies? Show me a dollar.” They brought him a dollar, and he said, “Whose engraving is on it?”
They said, “The government’s.”
All right then,” he replied, “give the government’s things to the government and God’s things to God.”
When they heard that, it bowled them over and they laid off him and left.
• Share the guidelines for healthy dialogue with the class. Encourage open and respectful dialogue on issues which could be controversial.
• Atlases and Bible maps, available in the library, will help you locate the location of the Babylonian exile in relation to land of Israel referred to in the Jeremiah passage. See for example, “Big Bad Babylon,” in the Common English Bible, Bible Map Guide, number 10 and “The Babylonian Empire,” in Oxford Bible Atlas, Fourth Edition, pp. 122-125.
• The Formations Study Guide (p. 37) mentions a powerful scene from the movie, Chariots of Fire. If you would like to show that clip, I have the movie in my office.
o We have some replica Roman coins from around the time of Jesus with the emperor’s image and a denarius. A replica Roman coin might make a nice visual for the Matthew passage. A similar point could be made with a United States coin. The replica coins will be available in my office or the library. The U.S. coins are in your pocket or purse.
o A Picture of a silver denarius from around the time of Christ can be found in The New Testament World in Pictures (p. 140, number 219). Available in the library
• If the sanctuary is a place devoted to the worship of God alone, what place does an American flag have there? Many churches have struggled with that question. Consider using these three articles below (and copied at the end of this session), about how some Christians have dealt with this issue, as the basis of a dialogue about our dual citizenship:
• Application: What can your class do for the common good of the Danville community? (See the activity, “Investment Strategy,” in the Formations Teaching Guide (p. 34).
• The Lord’s Prayer, we pray each Sunday, includes the prayer, “Thy kingdom come thy will be done.”
o What does this part of the Lord’s Prayer have to say about our dual citizenship?
o Suggest to the class: “As you pray the Lord’s Prayer in worship this morning remember that it is our citizenship in the kingdom of God that unites us as Christians—with Christians in America and in every nation.”
I have set aside a shelf in the library with resources for Sunday School teachers. I will place there resources of general interest and some specifically applicable to current lessons.
• For additional commentary on the text see these commentaries in our library:
o Mercer Commentary on the Bible (Mercer University Press, 1995)
o Harper’s Bible Commentary (Harper & Row, 1988)
• Also available in the Library
o “Big Bad Babylon,” in the Common English Bible, Bible Map Guide (Nashville, 2011), number 10
o “The Babylonian Empire,” in Oxford Bible Atlas, Fourth Edition (Oxford University Press, 2007), pp. 122-125.
o The New Testament World in Pictures (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1987), p. 140, number 219.
o Replica Coins
July 3, 2012
Jim Dant: It's Independence Day. Do you know where your church's flag is?
Tomorrow is Independence Day, and many pastors across the country will face the dilemma of what to do with the U.S. flag in their worship space.
The terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, brought this issue to the surface in a church I pastored in Macon, Ga., and a solution presented itself that reflected our community’s values.
But it wasn’t easy. We all had strong points-of-view.
The people’s arguments were fraught with errors. The weeks after Sept. 11 held an abundance of arguments.
“You took the flag out of the sanctuary.”
“If ‘In God We Trust’ has always been on our money, then the flag should fly in our churches.”
“The only reason we are able to gather to worship is because that flag grants us the freedom.”
The most personal, argumentative attack? “You aren’t patriotic.”
The most ridiculous? “It wouldn’t hurt anything to move the processional cross and place the flag by the pulpit. We all know we are Christians.”
From a foundation of factual authority, I reminded them that the flags had never been ‘in’ the sanctuary. ‘In God We Trust’ is a relatively recent addition to our currency.
With the faith of our persecuted forebears, we would gather to worship whether we were free to do so or not. I put my hand over my heart and tear up every time I hear our national anthem played. And it made absolutely no sense to move the cross away from the pulpit -- in a house of prayer for all people -- so that a national flag could be displayed.
My arguments were void of experience. I had never stormed a beach and faced the bayonets of an enemy battalion. I had never jumped from an airplane amid the peppering upward spray of ground fire. I had never zipped a buddy into a body bag.
My friend’s arguments were peace-full and biblical.
Two years -- and a lot of conflict -- after 9/11, a friend invited me to share lunch at the Acapulco Mexican Restaurant in downtown Macon. Having observed the ongoing tension within our church concerning the display of the flag (or lack thereof), he offered a solution based not on fact or feeling or even compromise but on community.
Or maybe I should say “communities.”
From his perspective, the larger community of the church often comprises smaller subcultures and communities. He observed that I was part of a theological community and my antagonists part of a military community.
These smaller communities experience and express faith differently.
It is reflective of the conflict discussed in Acts 15 concerning the necessary or unnecessary circumcision of Gentile believers. And to make that situation even more confusing, circumcision was deemed unnecessary, but the Gentiles were asked to eat kosher! Why? Probably because circumcision was a privately held and expressed belief, but eating kosher was a means of ensuring that all could sit at the table together. Facts and feelings both gave way to the priority of community.
Our church’s solution was to display the flags on the Sunday closest to the three major national holidays -- Memorial Day, Independence Day and Veterans Day.
No one was completely satisfied and no one relinquished their convictions, but we celebrated and affirmed community.
A frequent speaker and retreat leader, Jim Dant has authored four books and pastored four churches in Georgia. He is currently a principal in the consulting and creative services company, Faith Lab, and he maintains a blog that deals with “Spotting God.”
(From Call and Response Blog, http://www.faithandleadership.com/blog/07-03-2012/jim-dant-its-independence-day-do-you-know-where-your-churchs-flag)
The U.S. Flag in the Place of Worship
Written by Bill White
Wednesday, 23 March 1994
I am an American. My dad served in the United States Navy at the end of World War II. My mother's father fought in World War I and served as a leader in the American Legion throughout the later years of his adult life. His only son, my uncle and namesake Wayne, died on the USS Franklin in 1945. Throughout my childhood I was proudly a part of the Boy Scouts of America. In scouting, I earned the Citizenship merit badge and ultimately achieved the rank of Eagle Scout as well as performing the extra service required to earn the God and Country Award. Since I was a boy I have pledged my allegiance to the flag of the United States of America. Even now as an adult I make that same pledge weekly as a member of a local civic club. It was my honor in 1987 to be invited to the United States District Court and offer the invocation at a naturalization ceremony of immigrants from 30 other countries who were becoming American citizens. I wept as I heard them make their promises to the government of this free land.
I love my country and I pray for my country. I am an American citizen and patriot and I find it personally offensive when anyone dares disdain my allegiance. As a citizen of this nation I am a debtor to every one of the brave men and women who have served this country and especially to each of those who have made the ultimate sacrifice for the freedoms we enjoy which so many glibly take for granted. Truly there is no greater love than this "that a man lay down his life for his friends" (John 15:12). It is my firm belief that our war dead should be respectfully memorialized and their sacrifices deeply appreciated as they fought to defend our nation, its Constitution, Bill of Rights and values of "freedom and Justice for all."
But I am also a Christian and as such I possess a dual citizenship. I am an American just as the Apostle Paul was a Roman (acts 16:37). But as a Christian, we are also citizens of a greater kingdom, the Kingdom of Heaven (Philippians 3:20). As a believer in Christ I affirm with my Lord Jesus that we are to "Render unto Caesar that which is Caesar's and unto God that which is God's" (Matthew 22:21). This essential difference in allegiances was recognized by our Lord himself and must ever be acknowledged. Worship of God is never to be confused with worship of country. The sacrifice of precious human life, even the lives of soldiers for our nation, cannot be compared with the sacrifice of Jesus Christ who gave himself for the whole world.
As a follower of Jesus Christ I am thankful for the God-given freedoms our forefathers acknowledged and, furthermore, protected for the citizens of this great country on our founding documents, not the least of which is the freedom of worship. But as a Christian, when I come to worship, I don't come to church to celebrate America. I come to celebrate Christ! As precious as my uncle and grandfather and cousin (who was a career military man with the Air Force) are to me, I don't come to church to remember their sacrifices or to memorialize a man-made document or nation. I come to remember the incarnate God in Christ and the tremendous sacrifice he made as he paid for my sins, rose from the dead and won my salvation. I come to church as a John 3:16 believer who worships a God who loves the whole world (now 200+ nations strong). I am so thankful I have he privilege of coming as a free American to my place of worship. But when I come as a Christian, I join hearts with brothers and sisters around the entire globe, across national boundaries, across the man-made barriers of time and space, and across the ravages of sin that have led to the loss of millions of lives from hundreds of countries around the world that God loves.
When I come to church I come to be about "my Father's business" (Luke 1:49 KJV). I come to fulfill the commission of Jesus Christ "to make disciples of every nation" (Matthew 28:19). I don't come merely to socialize Americans (i.e., to curb crime, to obey laws, to promote national interests). I come to sensitize believers to God's purpose for all nations. The cross of Jesus is the symbol of my faith, not the flag of the United States. As an American citizen I have the right to worship freely without the presence of government intrusion. So I come to church not to pledge my allegiance to the flag of any country, even the flag of the United States which I so love, but I come to pray for my country and every country as I pledge my allegiance to Jesus Christ.
For these reasons I oppose the regular display of the flag of the United States of America on the platform of the church of Jesus Christ during worship. The flag is not the focus of our worship. Our country is not the focus of our worship. The Lord Jesus alone is the focus of our worship.
The following ideas should be considered as applications:
1. I say "yes" to the use of the American flag on the platform when its presence can be explained in terms of the purpose of the church and her ministry in the world. This would involve periodic use of the flag on the platform when its presence could be understood in terms of prayer for our nation, on special national holidays, Memorial Day, Independence Day, Veterans Day or the National Day of Prayer.
2. I say "yes" to the presence of the American flag in the sanctuary when accompanied by the flags of other nations where we presently have missionaries serving or even where we don't have missionaries by where the flags are understood to represent all countries God loves and desires to win to himself.
3. I say "no" to the presence of the American flag in the worship center when its presence there will simply blend into the environment. The flag is not merely a decorative item. The flag is not intended to be a fixture or furniture. It represents the values, history, sins and character of our nation and so should not be demeaned by merely "blending in with its surroundings."
4. I say "no" to the presence of the flag in the worship center when its presence could be misunderstood as an object of worship or a distraction to knowing Jesus Christ. When the flag becomes the object of worship this is nothing less than idolatry and should be treated as such.
5. I have no intention of allowing this church or any other church that God graces me to pastor to become the political action group of any position or party.
The first pastor of UBC, Frank Keene, wrote in 1927, "Columbus found North America; to us is given our day a part in the task of making North and South America one. In our church the North and South are met in bonds of love to build a church of fellowship and power." In the spirit of this vision we are called to lift up our eyes to the fields--to our neighbor continents and countries and seek to share the love of Christ. In a world class city like Miami where the international and multi-ethnic realities of intercontinental life converge in our local community, it seems in the vision of our churches our founders foresaw the opportunity we have to declare and demonstrate a Christ who is bigger than any single human nation or continent; a Christ who embraces the world and a Savior who establishes his church as a place where sinners of all human citizenship are welcomed in Christ as "a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God" (1 Peter 2:9).
(From Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty, http://www.bjconline.org/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=162&Itemid=106)
Should American flags be in church sanctuaries?
Written by J. Brent Walker, BJC Executive Director
In times of heightened patriotism or in the weeks surrounding patriotic holidays, the Baptist Joint Committee often receives inquiries about the propriety of flying the American flag in church. Should American flags be displayed in Baptist churches? The short answer is yes, but only in certain places and at special times.
Of course, this practice does not constitute a constitutional violation. The First Amendment’s Establishment Clause bars government endorsement of a religious message; it does not prohibit a church from endorsing a patriotic symbol. The objection to the routine display of an American flag in the sanctuary is that it represents an act which, for some, including me, raises serious theological concerns.
At worst, the placement of an American flag at the front of the sanctuary can result in “flag worship” — a form of idolatry. At best, when the American flag is placed alongside of the Christian flag, it signals equivalence between the Kingdom of God and the kingdom of Caesar. Christians know that this is not the case. We are citizens of two kingdoms. We are to respect our governmental institutions and pray for our governmental leaders, but that must always be secondary to our commitment to God. Faith in God is superior to love of country; allegiance to God transcends all nationalism.
In any case, displaying the American flag in the sanctuary in America diminishes our ability to reach out to non-Americans. It sends an unfortunate signal to believers and unbelievers alike from around the world that somehow the Kingdom of God and the United States of America are either the same or are on equal footing.
Even if it is not advisable to display the flag routinely in the worship center, there are other opportunities to show and celebrate the flag.
Here are several ideas:
1. It is appropriate to display the flag, even in the sanctuary, on special occasions.
These include the day of worship closest to the Fourth of July when we celebrate our country’s independence, religious freedom day when we express gratitude for the freedom we enjoy as Americans, and yes, even in times of national crisis and mourning. However, even then, the flag should be positioned in a way that does not signify equivalence with the Kingdom of God.
2. It is also fitting to display the American flag along with flags from other countries.
The symbolism would signify unity with Christians throughout the world, appropriately displayed on World Communion Sunday, for example.
3. The flag can be displayed routinely in other parts of the church campus not devoted to the worship of God.
This could include the fellowship hall, assembly rooms and other places where it can be seen and appreciated but where it does not threaten to displace the cross as the quintessential symbol of Christianity.
A healthy sense of patriotism is good. But we are Christians first and Americans second. When these words are used together, “Christian” is the noun; “American” the adjective. Our symbolism in worship should reflect that theological truth.
This is adapted from Walker’s October 2001 column in Report from the Capital titled “Patriotism surge raises questions about use of flags in sanctuaries.”
(From Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty, http://www.bjconline.org/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=4504&Itemid=112)