Put God First

CALL TO WORSHIP: From dawn until dusk; may God’s name be praised!

From the ocean depths to the heavens above; may God’s name be praised!

From life’s beginning until its end may God’s name be praised! Now and forever; may God’s name be praised!

Gracious and Holy God, we are Your people and we have come to worship You, to give You the glory that You deserve.

Later on, we will bring our offering; but help us from the very beginning to bring open hearts and minds as well so that we may take in all that You want to say. May we give You our full attention for You deserve nothing less. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen

HYMN 51: GREAT IS THY FAITHFULNESS-StF

PRAYER OF ADORATION: Sing a new song to the Lord! Let the whole earth sing to the Lord!

Lord, we have come to You with a song of praise, for You are our God. Every day should be filled with Your praise, so that all may know of Your saving love. The whole world ought to know about the wonderful things that You have done.

Sing a new song to the Lord! Let the whole earth sing to the Lord!

You made the heavens and the earth. Nothing and nobody else is worthy of worship. You are our great King, stronger and more beautiful and majestic than we could possibly imagine.

Sing a new song to the Lord! Let the whole earth sing to the Lord!

We long to tell the world about You, so that everyone might understand how great You are, and give You the glory that You deserve. You reign on high, Lord of all that we see, and of all that is beyond our sight.

Sing a new song to the Lord! Let the whole earth sing to the Lord!

Everything that You have made shouts aloud to us of Your goodness. Even the fields, the trees, and the sea in their beauty seem to sing Your praises, and look forward to Your coming. For one day You will come, and make the whole world Your own. Then it will be exactly as You intended.

Sing a new song to the Lord! Let the whole earth sing to the Lord! Amen

TALK FOR ALL: FOLLOWING THE RULES – MATTHEW 22:15-22

Have you ever been to the library? There’s an important rule for being there. Do you know what it is? (Be quiet so others can read.)

You probably have a whole list of rules at school. Can you tell me a few? (Solicit children’s answers.)

And how about driving in the car? Are there rules there too? There sure are – and those rules are so important for keeping us safe that – if we break them – we might even be asked to stop by the police.

Our lives are full of rules, aren’t they? And some of them are so important that they become laws – which are rules that everyone has to follow.

In today’s Gospel story Jesus is asked a tricky question: Whose rules does he follow? (In other words, does he follow people’s rules or God’s?)

How would you answer that question? Whose rules do you follow? (Solicit children’s answers – guiding as necessary to establish that they follow both God’s rules and those of man.)

You’re so smart. Jesus wasn’t tricked by that question either. He explained in his own words that it’s important to do both – but that we follow God’s rules all the time.

So at school we follow school rules…and in the car we follow road rules…and we’ll even whisper in the library – but we let God’s rules guide us no matter where we are.

Will you remember God’s rules this week? Good.

Let’s pray.

Dear God, We follow many rules in life, but none are more important than yours. Guide us as we work to be faithful followers during the week ahead. Amen.

HYMN 254: SEEK YE FIRST, THE KINGDOM OF GOD-StF

CONFESSION AND THANKSGIVING: The Pharisees wanted to make a trap for Jesus. They asked him: ‘Is it right to pay taxes to Caesar or not?

Jesus said, ‘Here, show me the coin used for the tax.” When they handed him a Roman coin, he asked, ‘Whose picture and title are stamped on it?’

‘Caesar’s,’ they replied. ‘Well, then,’ he said, ‘give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar, and give to God what belongs to God.’

Let us pray.

Lord, when we hear this story we feel ashamed, for we know that we can be guilty of giving to Caesar what belongs to God.

For putting spending time with our possessions ahead of spending time with You, Lord, forgive us.

For judging people by how much they have or by how well they are dressed Lord, forgive us

For making false divisions in our lives between what is holy and what is everyday Lord, forgive us.

Forgive us for not giving You the central place that You deserve in our lives, our homes, even our churches.

As we think of Jesus holding the coin, we remember that not long afterwards, He was nailed to a cross, because He put You first in everything.

Thank You that through Him we can be forgiven. Help us by Your Holy Spirit to make a new start, and put You first, wherever we are, whatever we do. Amen

READING: MATTHEW 22:15-22

HYMN 104: GOD MOVES IN A MYSTERIOUS WAY-StF

SERMON: PUT GOD FIRST

Have you ever had one of those days when you needed to be in two places at one time?

Let me rephrase that: Have you ever had one of those days when you didn’t need to be in two places at one time? Say, you’ve got a big meeting to get ready for at work, you’ve got a sick child at home, and your best friend is on the phone saying she really needs to talk, and can you have lunch today?

We’ve all been there, haven’t we? More often than we care to admit.

We’re committed to a lot of different people and a lot of different entities – family, friends, vocation, community, civic clubs, fraternal organizations, the church … not to mention taking care of ourselves. It’s a juggling act. And when two or more demand our attention at one time, we’re torn.

That’s the essence of stress: Being pulled in two or more directions at the same time. Like a rubber band, being stretched to the limit.

And that’s the topic of the sermon this morning – the way in which competing forces lay claim to our time, talent, money and energy. And what I hope you’ll get out of it is this: When we place God at the centre of our lives and commit ourselves, first and foremost, to doing God’s will, everything else will fall into place. It’s a matter of putting God first. Let’s begin with the text.

On the surface, the gospel lesson seems to address a legitimate question: “Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?” (Matthew 22:17) But then, we all know it’s a trick. Those who asked the question weren’t seeking Jesus’ counsel; they were trying to catch him off guard.

Just so you know: The Herodians and the Pharisees were different in many ways. The Herodians were pro-Roman, the Pharisees were anti-Roman. No matter how Jesus answered the question, he was sure to offend one or the other. To side with the Herodians was to commit heresy in the eyes of the Pharisees, for to pay tribute to Caesar was, in effect, to bow down before other gods; but to side with the Pharisees was to commit treason in the eyes of the Herodians, for to refuse to pay tribute to Caesar was an act of sedition. And so, they flattered Jesus in an attempt to entrap him. They said,

“Teacher, we know that you are honest, and teach the way of God in truth, no matter whom you teach, for you aren’t partial to anyone. Tell us therefore, what do you think? Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?” (Matthew 22:16-17)

If they thought they were going to pull the wool over Jesus’ eyes, they had another thing coming. He turned the question back on them and said, “Why are you putting me to the test? Show me the coin used for the tax.”

They handed him a denarius, the equivalent of a day’s wages. He looked at it and asked, “Whose is this image and inscription?” They said, “Caesar’s.” And he said, “Give therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” (Matthew 22:21) Matthew doesn’t say whether or not he kept the coin.

“Give therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” If only if it were that simple.

We are not called upon simply to give the emperor what belongs to the emperor. We are called upon as well to give to relatives, friends, strangers, co-workers, employees, and all other people whatever it is of us they can rightly claim. We are charged with the creative and challenging task of transforming our diverse and divided loyalties into a unified life governed and directed by our supreme and absolute loyalty, which is to God and God alone … Once we give ourselves absolutely to God, then remarkably we are free to give to others in ways that are gracious and life-giving, rather than distorted and destructive … No longer are these loyalties divided; instead we recognize how, deep down, they are in concord, for each is an invitation from God.

Let’s apply that to everyday life. I was asked to conduct a wedding last year at Mayflower. As scripture for the service, the couple selected a passage from Ecclesiastes, which says,

“Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their labor. 4:10. For if they fall, the one will lift up his fellow… Again, if two lie together, then they have warmth… If a man prevails against one who is alone, two shall withstand him; and a threefold cord is not quickly broken.” (Ecclesiastes 4:9-12)

To illustrate the text, I bought a “three-fold cord” from “Pound Land”. It has three short lengths of rope connected to a brass ring. One of the strands is white, symbolizing the wife;

another is gold symbolizing the husband; the third is purple, symbolizing God. You get the point: A healthy marriage is one that weaves together all three in perfect unity.

But we all know what happens in real time – you get busy and preoccupied paying the bills and doing a good job at work and raising kids and going out with friends and serving on committees and keeping up with the “Jones’” you will be lucky if you have any time left over for each other.

Well, guess what gets left out … your relationship with God. And it’s God’s grace and love – and the peace and presence of God’s Spirit in the home – that makes all the difference.

So, what I said to the couple – and what I’d like for you to hear this morning – is simply this: Put God first. Cultivate and nurture your relationship with God and your relationship with your spouse, your children, your friends, and all the others you’re committed to will fall into their proper place. You’ll find the time and energy to do what needs to be done.

Then there’s the question of money. You knew I’d get around to this, didn’t you? There never seems to be enough to go around. In addition to paying the bills, there are things we’d like to have, and places we’d like to go, and things we’d like to see and do.

The Old Testament speaks of offering God the first fruits of the harvest – giving to God the very best of the crop, a lamb or goat without blemish. The people of Israel found when they gave their first fruits to God they prospered all the more and, when they didn’t, they weren’t satisfied with what they had, even when they’d had a good year. The Book of Proverbs puts it this way:

“Honor Yahweh with your substance, with the first fruits of all your increase: so your barns will be filled with plenty, and your vats will overflow with new wine.” (Proverbs 3:9-10)

I’ve said this before: I believe in tithing – giving ten-percent of your disposable income to God off the top and trusting God to provide for your needs with what’s left over. I invite you to try it. It’ll make all the difference in your attitude toward money and your ability to enjoy what you have, however much or little you happen to have.

Here’s the bottom line: Whether it’s paying taxes to Caesar, or spending enough time with your loved ones, or doing a good job at work, or fulfilling all of your various commitments in and around the community, there are lots of competing claims on your life, and some days – if not most – you probably wonder whether there is enough of you to go around.

The secret is to put God first. Make your relationship to God the first and most important part of each day, and God will give you the capacity to do the rest.

The keynote speaker filled a vase with rice. Then she took three large walnuts and tried to squeeze them in. Rice went everywhere. There wasn’t room. Then she poured the rice into a bowl and put the walnuts in the vase first. Then she poured the rice back into the vase, and – voila! – there was plenty of room for both the rice and the walnuts. Not a grain was spilled.

Put God first and everything else will fall into place. This is what Jesus told his disciples so long ago:

“But seek first God’s Kingdom, and his righteousness; and all these things will be given to you as well.” (Matthew 6:33) Amen.

HYMN 249: JESU, JESU –StF

PRAYERS OF INTERCESSION: Jesus held a coin in His hand and used it to give some teaching. Now, as we hold this coin, we will use it to help us in our prayers.

Let us pray.

First, let us look at the picture on the coin. Lord, we pray for those who are in powerful positions in our land.

We pray for the Queen whose head we see now. We pray also for those in government who have to decide what taxes will be, and how the money will be spent. We pray too for those in local government, who are responsible for the needs of people in our own area. Give them wisdom, and a spirit of justice, so that all may pay a fair share and have what they need.

Lord, the world belongs to You, Show us how to please You by the way we live.

Now, as we look at this coin, let us imagine it with many others, gathered into cash bags, put into sacks, taken to a bank for safety.

Lord, we pray for those who look after other people’s money. We pray for banks and building societies, and for all who work in them. We pray too for our own church treasurer, and for the treasurers of any groups to which we belong. Help them to be clear-sighted and skilful and give them a strong sense of responsibility.

Lord, the world belongs to You, Show us how to please You by the way we live.

Now we look at our coin again and imagine how we would feel if this was our very last coin, with no prospect of more to come.

We pray for those who have very little money; for those who have a family to provide for, and do not know how to pay their bills; for those whose jobs are at risk; for those who live on the street.

Show them how to find a way forward and help them to put their trust in You. We thank You for those who try to help them. Show us how we can play our part in helping the needy.

Lord, the world belongs to You, Show us how to please You by the way we live.

Now let us look at this coin, remembering that in a moment, it will go back into our pocket or purse. How will we spend it?

Lord, we thank You that we have enough so that we can live. Guide us in our spending, so that we may use our money wisely and well, and in this, as in every other part of our lives in giving You all the glory.

Lord, the world belongs to You, Show us how to please You by the way we live. Amen

HYMN 476: ONE MORE STEP ALONG THE WORLD I GO -StF

BLESSINGS: Lord, as we go out into this noisy world, where so many things clamour for our attention, help us to remember that always and everywhere, we are Your people.

And may the Blessings of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, continue to be upon us and remain with us always. Amen