The Fifteenth Sunday after Trinity
September 13, 2015
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
In a free market economy the value of a product is what someone is willing to pay for it. If there are few of them for sale and the demand is great the price will be high. If there are many of them for sale and the demand is low the price will be low. It’s called supply and demand. It determines the value of what we buy and sell. What people want determines the value of things.
But the value of the most precious things in life cannot be measured by human wants. The value of human life isn’t determined by what people want. God made us in his image and has redeemed us with his blood. God has assigned a value to our lives. Jesus says that our lives are of much more value than the value of birds. Human life has a unique value. We did not evolve out of the slime. We were made by God according to his likeness to know him and worship him and love him. The market doesn’t determine the value of human life the way it determines the value of cattle, sugar, wheat, cars, houses, oil, and everything else that we buy and sell. Our value as human beings is determined by God.
Whoever or whatever you value the most is your god. People worship their gods. You worship one who is greater than you. When you make money your god and serve it you cheapen your own life. You confess that your value as a human being can be measured by money. This is the American religion. Our currency says, “In God we trust.” The American god is the American dollar. Children aren’t regarded as blessings from God. They are seen as economic burdens. Parents plan babies for when they think they can afford them. Babies are killed in the womb because they cost too much. Money is the measure of the good life, the successful life, the life worth living. The worship of money elevates the value of money in the heart as money is held to be more precious than things that cannot be bought or sold: integrity, a clean conscience, faithfulness, piety, and love. You cannot buy or sell these things. They are far more valuable than money. But when you serve money as your god you are saying that he is worth more than anything else. That’s what worship is. It is ascribing worth to your god, whoever he may be.
Jesus says we cannot serve two masters. Not that we should not. We cannot. We say we agree. We say that we worship only the eternal God. We say that we don’t worship the things of this world that are perishing. But then we worry about not having enough of the stuff that money can buy: food, clothes, house, car, insurance, entertainment, retirement, and so forth. We worry. While we worry we insist that we are devoted to God and not to all the stuff we worry about. But if we are truly devoted to God won’t we let him do the worrying for us? If we are serving God, and not money, won’t we have as much confidence that he will provide as do the birds of the air that rely on God’s daily provision for all their needs?
Worrying does you no good. It cannot make you taller. It can’t give you a longer life. It can’t provide you with any kind of security. Besides, your Father in heaven knows what you need better than you do and he values your life more than you do. He knows life is more than food and the body is more than clothes, even if you don’t. He’ll take care of your bodily needs. He feeds the birds. You’re worth more than a bird. He clothes the field with flowers. Won’t he feed and clothe you?
Money is a mean god. Jesus uses the word mammon. It refers to money that is served or worshipped. Money itself is neutral. The Bible doesn’t say that money is a root of every kind of evil. It says that the love of money is. Mammon is the money that people love. This affection of the heart makes it an idol and he is one demanding idol. Serving mammon is like drinking salt water. It won’t quench your thirst. It will only make you thirstier. The god of mammon promises what he cannot deliver. Mammon’s promised treasures are described in the words of the hymn:
What is so appealing to the senses turns out to be a trap and a snare. Mammon promises everything. It’s all a lie. He gives you nothing. He only takes away from you. He steals your affections away from what is truly precious and enslaves your heart to a false hope. He teaches you to trust in what is temporary.
Here his meanness is cleverly disguised as something else. He promises newness, innovation, fresh insight, and other contemporary things. The Christian God reveals unchanging truth. His doctrine doesn’t change. He is faithful to his word. This faithfulness the god of mammon dismisses with a sneer, promising relevance instead. The Christian creeds don’t change. The god of mammon changes creeds like you change your socks. Whatever works. Whatever brings the heart into submission to the god of materialism. Get them to trust in the creation instead of the Creator. That’s his goal.
This god has no loyalty to his subjects. He’ll teach free market capitalism one day and socialism the next without batting an eye. He’ll mix religion in politics and politics in religion to suit his goal, which is always the same: to steal the affections of the people away from the God who gives the gifts and attach them instead to the gifts. That’s idolatry. That’s the religion of mammon.
He tells you your job is more important than going to church. That’s a lie. Going to church is more important than your job. He tells you that your kids need something – whether pertaining to sports, academics, or whatever – more than they need to be taught by God. That’s a lie. They need to be taught God’s word more than they need anything else in life – more than food, clothing, house, school, sports, or any other benefit God gives us.
Mammon is a liar. He wants you to think like an economic animal instead of a Christian. He wants you to believe that the food you eat and the clothes you wear and the house in which you live are not really provided you by your loving Father in heaven, but are the result of your labors. I am reminded of the dinner prayer that James Stewart prayed in the movie, Shenandoah. He prayed:
The lying god of mammon convinces you to put your trust in your own labors rather in the God who causes the rain and snow to fall and the crops to grow. He injects Darwinism, Marxism, and a few other godless “isms” into the piety of the people. Jesus says: You cannot serve two masters. You will either hate the one and love the other or be loyal to the one and despise the other.
Jesus takes on this false god by a twofold argument. He argues from what you can see. Then he argues from what you cannot see. From what you can see you know that God cares for the birds of the air and the flowers of the field. He is in charge. Only a blind and obtuse ignoramus – what the psalmist calls a fool – can look out at the world and not see God’s hand in it. He directs everything in such a way that we are all supplied with our daily needs. That you can see.
Then Jesus argues from what you cannot see. He says:
The kingdom of God cannot be seen. Jesus says it comes without observation. It isn’t here or there. It is within you. How’s that? It is Christ ruling in your heart. How does he rule? Listen to his words, “Seek the kingdom of God and his righteousness.” What is God’s righteousness? Is it what God tells us to do? Is it our obedience to the Ten Commandments? Is this what Jesus means when he tells us to seek God’s righteousness? No, if it were a righteousness that we were required to do then it would be our righteousness, wouldn’t it? But Jesus says it is God’s righteousness. God’s righteousness is a righteousness that God gives and that faith receives. It’s a gift. It is the doing and suffering of Jesus. It is his perfect submission to the Father, his obedience all the way to the death of the cross where he bore our sins and washed them away by his blood.
This is the righteousness by which God governs us. It is the treasure Jesus won for us. We are saints in God’s sight. God says so and so he captures our hearts. When the car needs to be fixed and we don’t have the money; when the market takes a hit and so does our pension; when the bills add up and our health is deteriorating; when the god of mammon shows himself to be the liar he is, the Holy Spirit shows us our true wealth. We have the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting. That makes us rich.
It’s an argument from the greater to the lesser. If you belong to God’s kingdom and are covered with Christ’s righteousness you have the wealth of heaven itself. Surely God will give you the things of this world as well. For why would he give you so much and then give you so little? As St. Paul says in Romans 8,
Those who worship mammon perish with their god. Those who worship the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ have their futures secured in the hands of him who died for them and rose again.
Rolf D. Preus