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The Edge of a Coin - By Pastor Thomas Engel


Math was never my best subject back in school although I do appreciate it now. And Physics was definitely not on top of my list of majors to choose from in college.

For those who are good at those subjects-as I start out today with an example that uses math and physics-please excuse me if I’m mess something up here.

Although, the example is simple-the tossing of a coin. What is the probability of a coin landing on heads more than fifty times in a trial of one- hundred tosses?

Can you do the math? There is a formula for figuring probability.

Well, I cheated-I did a search and actually found a coin toss calculator. The probability of a coin landing on heads over fifty times when tossed one-hundred times is just under fifty-four percent.

After worship, can one of you math geniuses explain what I just said? Did I even say it right?

Since a coin has two sides, why is landing on heads slightly favored?

I cheated again and searched for the answer-it’s a physics answer-for most coins, the heads side weighs slightly more than the tails side.

Also, I searched the probability of a coin like a nickel landing on its edge. If I had to predict what would happen when the nickel is tossed for a lot and a lot of times, I say that the nickel will never land on its edge, even though a nickel has one of the widest edges.

It would seem to me that a nickel will never land on its edge because it will wobble until it falls flat, especially with what I know now about the head’s side weighing slightly more.

To check my guess, I searched on the internet. Here I go again proving that I’m far from knowing anything much about physics. But, I’m sure “wobble” is a term used in physics.

It is possible for a nickel to land on its edge after it has been tossed-about a 1 in 6,000th chance.

In my searching, I found a video of a guy tossing a nickel, and it did show a nickel landing on its edge.

It proves that in life anything can happen. First, there is a guy out there in the world who has sat and tossed a coin until it landed on its edge.

And we can wonder about how coin tossing is an analogy to show how perseverance is needed to get through all the variables that life has to offer-that if you toss a nickel enough times, it will more likely land just a little more on heads than tails, so you got that knowledge going for you, and if you keep tossing, at some point, it will land on its edge.

Hmmm, I’m sure all of our lives our changed for the better with all these fascinating facts about coin tossing.

I will come back to coin tossing and life in a minute-but, first, let’s look at how a coin did bring a deep topic to the world-the separation of church and state.

During the last week before Jesus’ death on the cross, the Jewish leaders were looking to trap Jesus. So, they ask Jesus about his opinion that if he should pay taxes or not to the Roman government.

When Jesus was asked about paying taxes, he knew the history of government from Scripture well. He knew that God the Father established government with first King Saul and then King David.

God gives us government, so mainly we have order in society. Using one of over a thousand examples, we can talk about our passion for cars.

With so many cars-about 1.4 billion in the world, and with the bulk them at wherever I need to find a parking space-government needs to regulate the pollution that cars emit-that’s mostly why we have a check engine light, government needs to build and maintain highways and roads, government needs to keep us safe with stop signs and speed limits, and it needs to enforce those laws-as you look in your review mirror and see blue lights flashing-your heavy foot got you in trouble again.

Even in Jesus’ day, the system of roads was expanding with sophisticated roads for military travel, so armies could move swiftly, and they were used for trade to build the economy.

The Jewish leaders wanted to get Jesus to oppose government, so they could say he was a agitator. As they saw Jesus as a threat to them, they thought they could get the Roman government to bring charges against him and get rid of him that way.

Jesus knew what the Jewish leaders were trying to do. When it came to the Roman government at that time, Jesus could have talked against the government about how they were persecuting Jews.

When asked about taxes, Jesus didn’t give his opinions, but he stated a fact. Any person under any government needs to pay taxes.

As much as the paying of taxes can cause a debate about how much we need to pay in taxes, God has given us government, and it needs money to fulfill its purposes.

Jesus’ answer in his short statement has caused much discussion about the relationship between church and state for centuries.

By Jesus saying, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” It seems that Jesus is telling us that there is a separation of church and state.

As Lutherans, we have a doctrine of the two kingdoms. To explain this teaching correctly, it takes a seminary-type kind of course.

In saying that the doctrine of two kingdoms is a course in seminary, I’m not saying that it’s so difficult to understand, but in the world, it can get complicated in its application.

In my illustration, I onkly used one coiin in our tossing, but how about if a used several coins? All the possible combinations would greatly mutiply.

Basically, the doctrine of two kingdoms is the teaching of law and grace. As we talked about earlier-for the world to keep turning in some kind of order, we do need laws.

These laws come about by reason and logic. Humans do not need grace to function in the world.

Of course, the only way to heaven is by the grace of God the Father in Christ. The world has nothing to offer us for our salvation. Even in ourselves, reason and logic will not be able to give us eternal life. Only the gift of faith that we received at our baptism will give us a relationship with God.

From the doctrine of two kingdoms, we might ask, “How does a person who is saved by grace live in a world of law?”

To illustrate the situation of the question, I remember when I was first hired to teach English at a community college in Indiana.

It just so happens that the dean who hired me was also a pastor. He told me something that we both already knew, but to be sure, he said, “You know, Tom, that you can’t be preaching Jesus to the students here at a public college.”

In the decades that I have been teaching, I am tempted to talk about faith, but there is a time and a place for everything. I was hired to teach English and not to preach the Gospel.

At the beginning of each semester, I do introduce myself as a pastor, and often I get a feeling from the students that they think that at least I will be a “nice” guy since I’m a pastor.

Going back to talking about coins, we can see living with faith in this world as a two-sided coin.

On one side of the coin, we can see a symbol like a picture of Caesar for the world, and on the other side, we can see a symbol like a cross for faith.

With the tossing of coin, we might get the idea that sometimes we act as a Christian when the situation calls for it, or we act as a person of only reason and logic if the situation calls for it.

But let’s not talk so much about our lives as tossing of a coin, but let’s talk about the coin’s edge. When it comes to the coin of two kingdoms, can we see that it is so very thin and the thinner the better?

The edge is so thin of this coin that there is not much distance between living in this world and a life of faith.

No analogies are perfect, but I hope the thin coin gives a little picture of how we move about with faith in this world.

As I teach English, I don’t give sermons about Jesus, but I hope my life is a sermon that shows people how Jesus lives in me, so they perhaps can see how Jesus can live in them.

On Sunday mornings, I wear a robe. A few times over the years, I have had children see me and say, “Hey, there’s Jesus!” I have to make sure that does not go to my head.

Although, when it comes to the confession and absolution, I do say, “As a called and ordained minister, and by the stead and the command of my Lord Jesus Christ, I forgive you all of your sins.”

I am not forgiving your sins, but it is Jesus. Since Jesus is not here, he has given the authority to forgive sins to the church.

Through Word and Sacrament ministry of the church, Christ is close, near, and in each one of us.

As each of us goes out into the world, we, as disciples of Jesus, are to bring what we have-the grace and love of God-to everyone whom we meet.

We might not be giving a sermon about Jesus all the time, but we can always be showing a heart and character of faith.

In all of our vocations; whatever they may be-scientist, plumber, accountant, or public servant, Christians are such thin coins that the people whom we meet will not only see us as fellow workers and neighbors but as servants of Jesus, our Lord and Savior.

We are sinners living in a fallen world, but also saints who are forgiven of every sin who are looking forward to the certainty of eternal life in heaven.

As we pray, “On earth as it is in heaven,” we bring heavenly peace to this world that needs it so much.

In every day, there is a time and place to show and maybe even tell a person about the love and grace of God in Christ.

With my mom listening to this message by live stream, I probably should not be telling this story.

Our neighborhood, where we lived while growing up, is by train tracks. The other guys and I took pennies and put them on the train tracks and watched the train go by. Then, we picked up our flatten pennies.

I’m not sure why we did that, but boredom makes for all kinds of crazy stuff.

I never would have thought that putting pennies on train tracks back then would help in a sermon, but those times has made me an expert on the flattening of coins.

A thin coin is not a perfect illustration for living a Christian life in this world-a holy life in Christ in a sinful world. It all can get rather complicated, and it seems like a wide gap should be between the two.

As we are seeing so many conflicts that are causing so much hate, we need to let people see how we can be citizens, workers, and neighbors, who are first and always children of a heavenly Father.

I like reason and logic. In my English class, we talk a lot about critical thinking, but the world, too, needs people who are prepared to show and tell of God’s grace in Christ.

Preparing people to be disciples is what we do here in church.

As we find, in this grace of God, the world will gain a peace that is beyond all understanding and the hope of a new heaven and new earth that is coming soon.

Living by God’s grace in this fallen world is a challenge, but if we keep praying, “On earth as it is in heaven,” and if we keep living by God’s grace foremost of all and through it all, there does not have to be any much separation of faith and the world at all.


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