... Then He (Jesus) said to them, "Therefore render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's." Matthew 22:21b
If it looks like a duck and it swims like a duck, then it probably is a, well, it could be a duck, but it could also be a coot, or a loon, or a grebe.
In short, it ain't necessarily a duck.
The truth of that twisted expression was recently shown in the Arizona House of Representatives where an atheist lawgiver, Juan Mendez of Tempe, decided to take his turn and give the daily prayer.
What he said was beautiful like a prayer, and it used lofty words like a prayer, and it expressed concerns of his heart like a prayer but, well, it wasn't a prayer.
Thanks to Professor Rupprecht who taught me grammar at Concordia, Milwaukee (now Concordia University Mequon), I was able to identify the words of Mr. Mendez as being an "hortatory paragraph."
And for the less-than-a-handful of you who are a trifle curious about knowing more about an hortatory paragraph, I can tell you it is a figure of speech used by a speaker to move his listeners to do something. Very often, at the end of his sermon, your pastor will probably use a hortatory paragraph in which he says something like, "Let us then go forward and witness to the neighborhood" or "Let us strive to balance the budget" or "Let us do our best to use the gifts the Lord has given us."
In this case, Mr. Mendez was encouraging Arizona's legislative body to be good leaders and do that which would be of benefit to the people of the state. It was a noble effort on the part of Mr. Mendez, and I hope he accomplishes his objectives.
Yes, they were beautiful words, but beautiful words don't miraculously transform a paragraph into a prayer.
It wasn't a prayer because it was addressed to the legislature and not to God, and while I have nothing but the greatest respect for the lawgivers of Arizona, I am still compelled to confess that there are some major differences between the two.
Jesus was speaking about those differences when He told His followers to give God that which belongs to Him and offer the government that which fits under its sphere of influence.
And prayer is something which belongs to God -- not the government.
That is why when Jesus taught us to pray, He began, "Our Father who art in heaven" and not "Our emperor who art in Rome" or "Our legislature which art in Tempe." Jesus knew, and He wants all of us to know, that government receives its authority from God and not the other way.
And this devotion would like to add we are saved through the blood of Jesus Christ and not by any law enacted by any legislature.
THE PRAYER: Dear Lord, today we pray You will bless our land, so we might follow Your will and be a blessing to a sin-encumbered world. This we ask in the Name of Jesus who died to take away our sins and rose to show us we would live forever. Amen.
In Christ I remain His servant and yours,
Pastor Ken Klaus
Speaker emeritus of The Lutheran Hour®
Lutheran Hour Ministries