The Fifteenth Sunday after Trinity
September 8 & 11, 2013
“You Cannot Serve God and Mammon”
St. Matthew 6:24-34
"No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon. Therefore I say to you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink; nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air, for they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? Which of you by worrying can add one cubit to his stature? So why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; and yet I say to you that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. Now if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will He not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? Therefore do not worry, saying, 'What shall we eat?' or 'What shall we drink?' or 'What shall we wear?' For after all these things the Gentiles seek. For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble." St. Matthew 6:24-34
When someone pretends that he can be neutral about God he is only fooling himself. There is no such thing as spiritually neutrality. Jesus said, “He who is not with me is against me, and he who does not gather with me scatters.” (St Luke 11:23) When it comes to spiritual matters we must listen to our Teacher from heaven who told Nicodemus that one must be born from above to enter into the kingdom of God. Jesus told the Jews that “Whoever sins is a slave to sin.” Only Jesus can set you free from spiritual slavery.
Perhaps you’ve heard of parents who refuse to teach the Christian faith to their children because they want their children to decide for themselves what to believe when they become old enough to make such a decision. The problem with this kind of thinking is that nobody is ever old enough or smart enough or spiritually gifted enough to choose God. Choosing God is not like choosing a car or a brand of peanut butter. God is the One who does the choosing. As Jesus said to his disciples, “You did not choose me, but I chose you.” (St. John 15:16a) God chooses his children and he does so by his grace alone.
Grace is a familiar word to us Christians. It refers to God’s undeserved love. It has been explained by the acronym: G-R-A-C-E – God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense. Grace isn’t a quality inside of us. It is the favor of God. God looks at you through Jesus and when he looks at you he sees the innocence, the obedience, the love, the suffering, and death of Jesus his only begotten Son. He listens to Jesus, who is risen from the dead and ascended into glory at his right hand as he intercedes for you, pointing to his obedience and suffering as all the righteousness you need. God sees you covered by Christ’s righteousness, so that all of your sin is washed away by Jesus’ blood. That’s what grace means. It refers to how God sees you.
God’s grace isn’t floating around up in the sky somewhere waiting for you to jump up and grab it. It isn’t hiding down in the ground somewhere waiting for you to dig down and discover it. God’s grace is present wherever his gospel is proclaimed purely and his sacraments are administered rightly. St. Paul calls the gospel the power of God to salvation to everyone who believes because it reveals the righteousness of God from faith to faith. (Romans 1:16-17) The righteousness that is ours by faith comes to us in the gospel.
That’s what the kingdom of God is all about. Most people have a purely legal understanding of God’s authority. You talk about the kingdom of God and they immediately think of God laying down the law. That’s because they know nothing of this righteousness that the gospel gives to us. They regard Christianity according to the flesh and think of it purely in terms of getting something for doing something. You do this and God will do that. Even faith becomes their side of the bargain. They imagine that God will take care of them and bless them if only they can muster up enough sincere faith to get him to do so.
But we don’t become God’s children by serving him. Jesus says: “But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you.” God makes himself your Father by placing you in his kingdom and clothing your with the blood-bought righteousness of his Son.
The kingdom of God isn’t a place. You cannot see it. But that doesn’t mean you cannot identify it and know that you belong to it. You can’t see God’s kingdom, but you can know you belong to it and live in it and enjoy the favor of God. The kingdom of God and his righteousness is God’s gracious rule over you by his gospel.
God’s kingdom is God’s rule. He governs. Isaiah wrote of him, “The government will be upon his shoulder.” Christ is the King of the kingdom. When Christ rules over you he does so, not by imposing an authority on you against your will, but by capturing your trust and affections by exercising his authority on earth to forgive you all your sins. He is the One who reveals the Father to us.
Now consider your Father in heaven. He feeds the birds of the air. He clothes the grass of the field. He sends the rain and the snow. He causes the crops to grow. He who upholds the entire universe by his almighty power provides for the needs of the baby birds. The beauty of God is displayed in the flowers he makes, with which he adorns the fields and the forest.
When we Christians look at the so called natural world we see our Father’s world. Its beauty reflects the beauty of its Creator. There are no natural laws. Nature is just a word, a humanly invented construct used to refer to what God does in and for this world. What we call natural laws are simply our own feeble efforts to explain the wonders of God’s works throughout the world. The Psalmist declares:
The heavens declare the glory of God;
And the firmament shows his handiwork. (Psalm 19:1)
The God who feeds the little birds; who clothes the fields with beauty; who opens his hand to satisfy the desire of every living thing; is the God who sees your need for food, clothes, shelter, and every need of life in this world. He will take care of you. He will see to it that you have enough to eat. He will keep a roof over your head. He will clothe you, shelter you, protect you, and provide for you. He will do it because he loves you. You are more important than the birds. This is your Father’s world and he rules over it for your benefit. The things you need for your body are the things that he will give you. Seek first his kingdom and his righteousness and you will see that. You will learn that. God will teach you that. By revealing to you the blood and righteousness of Jesus, God will show you how precious you are to him. St. Paul writes:
He who did not spare his own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with him also freely give us all things? (Romans 8:32)
In his kingdom of grace God teaches you. He teaches you that your true worth is not in what material things you own but in what God gives you in Christ.
Sad to say, some folks never learn that. They worship the god of mammon. Mammon is a Hebrew word meaning money. Our Lord Jesus uses this word to refer to the false god of materialism. Those who believe in this god put their trust in the things that they have. When they have a lot of money they feel secure and safe. When their finances run low they feel anxious and they worry about their future. They are never content because they never have enough money.
Materialism is vicious god who exploits with lies everyone who serves him. People believe the lies because they want to. Their greed takes away their ability to think straight. Mammon promises the good life. He assumes the form of socialism and promises the poor equality with the rich. He assumes the form of hedonism and tells you that bodily pleasure is the greatest good. He assumes the form of God himself while he replaces the true gospel of the forgiveness of your sins by Christ’s obedience and suffering with a false health-wealth gospel that promises you more and more and more stuff. Mammon entraps you by your own envy and greed and captures you in a false faith that promises everything and delivers nothing as socialism breeds poverty, hedonism brings pain, and the health-wealth gospel simply fulfills the cynical wisdom attributed to P. T. Barnum, “There’s a sucker born every minute.”
You cannot serve God and mammon. It’s impossible. That’s because true service, that is, true worship is a matter of the heart. The body moves this way and that, stands, sits, and kneels. Voices sing, and heads bow in prayer, but it the faith of the individual worshipper that determines whether his worship is any good. False faith and true faith are antithetical. You cannot synthesize God with Mammon. Trusting in the things of this world that perish is trusting in death itself. You see that it all wears out. As the prophet writes:
All flesh is grass,
And all its loveliness is like the flower of the field,
The grass withers, the flower fades,
Because the breath of the LORD blows upon it;
Surely the people are grass,
The grass withers, the flower fades,
But the word of our God stands forever. (Isaiah 40:6-8)
The word of our God is what calls us into the kingdom. When the god of Mammon has been shown to be a fraud, God’s word will be validated before all creation. God’s word is what reckons to us the righteousness of Christ. It sets us before God as righteous. This gives us our dignity before God. This gives us the confidence that we are precious in God’s sight. This teaches us to know and believe that God will feed us, clothe us, shelter us, and protect us. Why? Because he loves us and we are precious in his eyes.
So don’t worry, dear Christian. Whatever you lack, God will provide for you. You want proof? You want to know for sure? Seek his kingdom and his righteousness and learn from him. Learn what is truly valuable in life. Then you won’t waste your time worrying over trifles. Amen
Rolf D. Preus