The Fifteen Sunday after Trinity
September 24, 2017
“Grace and Providence”
Matthew 6: 24-34
"No one can serve two lords; 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
God provides us with everything we need to support this body and life. We confess this. We say, “I believe in God the Father almighty, maker of heaven and earth.” What does this mean?
I believe that God has made me and all creatures; that He has given me my body and soul, eyes, ears, and all my members, my reason and all my senses, and still takes care of them. He also gives me clothing and shoes, food and drink, house and home, wife and children, land, animals, and all I have. He richly and daily provides me with all that I need to support this body and life. He defends me against all danger and guards and protects me from all evil. All this He does only out of fatherly, divine goodness and mercy, without any merit or worthiness in me. For all this it is my duty to thank and praise, serve and obey Him. This is most certainly true.
When we confess that God created us, we also confess that God takes care of us. He does not do so grudgingly or absentmindedly as we might do. God created us in his own image. He made the human being the crown of his creation. That God created us in his image meant that God could become one of us. We were made in the image of God. Jesus Christ is the image of God. God joined his creation. He took upon himself our own flesh and blood. God became a man.
The Father did not become a man. The Holy Spirit did not become a man. The Son became a man. He is the eternal Word. He preaches. His first sermon, the Sermon on the Mount, is introduced by these words recorded by St. Matthew 5:1-2,
And seeing the multitudes, he went up on a mountain, and when he was seated his disciples came to him. Then he opened his mouth and taught them saying . . .
The words before us today are words Jesus preached to his disciples, that is, to his church. He is talking to Christians. He is not talking to deniers of God: unbelievers who make no secret of their unbelief. He is talking to people who confess to be Christians. He is talking to people who want to serve God. He is teaching them that they cannot serve both God and mammon at the same time. (Mammon refers to money and wealth that people want and seek.) Jesus preaches to his church. He asks every Christian, “Do you want to be a Christian? Do you want to serve God? You cannot serve God and money.”
To serve someone is to obey him, but how can money tell us what to do? It cannot talk. It cannot communicate. How can we serve an inanimate object? Surely, money cannot order us to do this or that!
But service does not begin with obedience. It begins with faith. Jesus says that no one can serve two lords. We live in a time of pretended equality where lords and servants no longer exist, so nobody knows what a lord is. A lord doesn’t just tell you what to do. He takes care of you. You serve money by trusting that money will take care of you. But if you trust that money is going to take care of you, you are not trusting in God to take care of you.
There are things we need. We eat and drink, wear clothes, and live in houses. We drive cars, communicate through telephones or computers, and receive money from a job, from a business, farm or ranch, or from investments. We know what we need to do to get money. We know what things cost. We know that we need money. It doesn’t fall from the sky. One must find a way to get it and keep it.
So we rely on our money. We trust in what we can see and measure. The more we have, the more secure we are. When our money is threatened, so are we. When it appears as if we might lose it our faith in it brings us pain and suffering. God knows this is so. He inspired the apostle to write:
Now godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into thisworld, and it is certain we can carry nothing out. And having food and clothing, with these we shall be content. But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and harmful lusts which drown men in destruction and perdition. For the love of money is a root of all kinds ofevil, for which some have strayed from the faith in their greediness, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows. 1 Timothy 6:6-10
When we trust in what we have instead of in the One who gives it to us we become guilty of idolatry. Idolatry is forbidden in the First Commandment:
You shall have no other gods before me. What does this mean? We should fear, love, and trust in God above all things.
A god is whoever or whatever you fear, love, and trust in the most. The true faith is to trust in the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ to provide us with everything we need for this life. The true faith is to trust in the Lord Jesus Christ, who has purchased us for his kingdom by bearing all our sins on the cross, washing them away by his blood, and rising from the dead with life and immortality to give us. The true faith is to trust in the Holy Spirit who calls us into Christ’s kingdom, works in us saving faith in the one true God, and keeps us, through God’s word, in the true faith until we die.
There is but one true faith. The number of false faiths cannot be counted. There is the religion of the false prophet Muhammad, who by a devilish mixture of fatalism with heretical distortions of Christianity manufactured Islam, a religion responsible for the slaughter of millions of Christians throughout the years.
There is the false religion of Hinduism that worships demons, calling them gods, and keeps untold millions of people in poverty by a cruel caste system that treats animals better than it treats people.
There is the false religion of so called Christians who talk about their loyalty to Jesus and then turn around and deny him by teaching salvation by human works instead of salvation through faith alone in the perfect redemption that Jesus has accomplished for us all by his obedient life, sacrificial death on the cross, and victorious resurrection from the dead.
And then there is the respectable all-American religion of making money. This religion gives lip-service to Jesus – after all, once upon a time most Americans at least pretended to be Christians – but just as Islam, Hinduism, and the false versions of Christianity all pretend to respect Jesus while treading his holy precious blood underneath their feet – the making money religion has no use for Christ’s kingdom or Christ’s righteousness.
But you cannot know God as your Father; you cannot believe in him; you cannot rid your heart of its idolatrous proclivity to worry about food, clothing, and the things that money can buy; you cannot entrust yourself to your Father in heaven to take care of everything you need in life and to love you as the crown of his creation, of greater value than all the birds of the air and flowers of the field combined, unless you seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness.
You cannot know God as your Father until you have seen him in the suffering and death of his only begotten Son. You cannot know God apart from the kingdom of grace in which his Son rules over us by bearing our sin, taking it away, and filling us with the Holy Spirit who sustains us in the true faith. This is why, after Jesus tells us not to worry about what we will eat, what we will drink, or what we will wear, he points us to the kingdom of God. Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and God will certainly take care of every need of your body.
Christ rules over us in God’s kingdom. He baptizes us. He preaches to us. He feeds us with his body and blood. This is how he fills us with the Holy Spirit who enlightens us. The Holy Spirit attacks our false faith. He breaks the idols within our hearts. That hurts. It cuts. It’s humiliating. But he doesn’t leave us faithless. He turns our faith away from the things that are perishing with this world and joins us by true faith to Christ in a mystical union. The Holy Spirit sustains us in this true faith by teaching us through the Holy Scriptures. When we, in our folly forget, he teaches us again and again.
The kingdom of God is Christ’s gracious rule over us. The righteousness of this kingdom is the righteousness in which he clothes us. With our hearts broken and bleeding from the beating given us by the false gods in which we trusted, we limp back to the true God and we find him in his Son. He forgives us our idolatry, washes us clean in our baptism, and gives us treasures in heaven that cannot be destroyed by sin, death, or the passage of time.
Only a fool – an idolatrous fool – would prefer the things that money can buy to the gifts Jesus purchased for us by his own blood. God, for Christ’s sake, forgives us all our sins, sets us at peace with him, and bestows on us a value more precious than anything the world can offer.
Don’t worry about tomorrow. It’s not in your hands. It’s in the hands of your Father in heaven who takes care of you. He did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for you. Won’t he also freely give you everything else you need?
Rolf D. Preus