Trinity Fifteen Sermon 2004| Rev. Rolf D. Preus| Matthew 6:24-34
The First Commandment sets the foundation for the rest: “You shall have no other gods before Me.” What does it mean to have a god? Here is the answer that Martin Luther gives in the Large Catechism:
What does it mean to have a god? or, what is God? Answer: A god means that from which we are to expect all good and to which we are to take refuge in all distress, so that to have a God is nothing else than to trust and believe Him from the whole heart; as I have often said that the confidence and faith of the heart alone make both God and an idol. If your faith and trust be right, then is your god also true; and, on the other hand, if your trust be false and wrong, then you have not the true God; for these two belong together, faith and God. That now, I say, upon which you set your heart and put your trust is properly your god.
Idolatry is not primarily an outward act of worshipping a false god. Idolatry takes place in the heart. It is false faith. This false faith could be directed to certain false gods promoted by various religions of the world. The Muslim god, for example, is a false god. He doesn’t really exist at all. He’s a human invention. Likewise the god worshipped by Mormons, Jews, Jehovah’s Witnesses and others who reject the true God of the Holy Scriptures. The only true God is the Holy Trinity, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. But it is possible for those who are baptized in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit and who outwardly confess the Triune God to fall into the sin of idolatry. They do so when they fear, love, or trust in anyone or in anything more than they fear, love, and trust in the one true God. Idolatry proceeds from the heart into outward worship.
Worship is an old English word that means literally worth-ship: ascribing worth or value to someone or something. We worship God by saying and doing those things that express our belief that He is who and what is most important in our lives. We worship God by serving Him. We serve Him by obeying Him. We receive His words and believe what He says to us. We do what He tells us to do. We serve our neighbor, especially fellow Christians, by humbly doing those things that will benefit them. To restore a Christian who has fallen into sin in a gentle and loving way is to serve God, that is, to worship God. Worship doesn’t take place primarily during the Divine Service on the Sunday morning. Worship takes place every day of the week as we do those things that God gives us to do in whatever occupation He has placed us.
The worship of mammon is quite different than the worship of God. Just as the worship of God ascribes great worth to God, the worship of mammon ascribes great worth to mammon. Mammon refers to money and other material blessings that are used in a purely selfish way. When mammon is your god he never requires you to serve anyone but yourself. When you worship mammon you are required to put your own needs first and your neighbor’s needs second. You are to amass more and more things for yourself. Of course, the more you have the more you must worry about losing.
Mammon is a very strict god. When you tell him that you would like to serve the Triune God and put your trust in Him alone, mammon won’t tolerate it. He reminds you of everything that could possibly go wrong. You could lose your job. You could become disabled. The economy could go sour. There are a multitude of things that could come between you and your financial well being, mammon argues, and it is plain foolishness to think that God will protect you from the cruelties of life. Then mammon will proceed to recite to you a litany of reasons why you must put your own material wellbeing at the center of your concerns.
But the god of mammon is a liar. He’s not God at all. He’s an imposter. The true God is the Creator of heaven and earth. The true God is the God who not only made this world in six days as Moses records it for us in Genesis, but who also sustains with fatherly care everything that He made. The true God is our Father in heaven and the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. The true God tells us to reject the god of mammon. Mammon is the god of worry. Our God is the God of faith. Mammon forces you to worry because he insists that you not be content unless you can see the evidence of your material security. The true God takes your worry away by showing you evidence of His fatherly love.
Look out and see how He cares for the birds. Are you not worth much more than birds? If God is going to feed them will He not also feed you? Look out and see the beauty of a meadow. Grass does nothing. It is only done to. It cannot act or think or worry. Yet God covers the grass with a covering more beautiful than what any fashion designer could possibly create. There isn’t a fabric known to mankind that compares in beauty to one flower. Flowers don’t work and they don’t create. They are passive, because they cannot act.
Mammon forces you to act. He forces you to be in the driver’s seat and to drive your life to wherever your life is going to go. In short, mammon forces you to become your own god because that’s essentially what you make yourself out to be when you place yourself and your material concerns before God and your neighbor. Mammon forces you to be your own god and then he robs you of any security because we all make bad gods.
Life is more than food and the body is more than clothing. Life is knowing God. Jesus prayed to His Father, “And this is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.” (John 17:3) True live is lived within the kingdom of God. We live in the kingdom of God while dealing with such things as food and clothing, money and bills, fields, cars, houses, stocks, bonds, Social Security, pensions, and bank accounts. But the kingdom of God is none of these things. It is God governing us, ruling us, in such a way that we stand before Him as perfectly righteous children with whom He is well pleased.
The reason people put their first affections on the things that they own – things they can see and count and measure – is because they know nothing of the kingdom of God and His righteousness. But Jesus tells us to seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness and all these things over which we worry will be ours as well. The kingdom of God is the government of God with Christ as the King. Christ rules over us in a twofold manner. First, He rules over us by what He has done once and for all. Second, He rules over us by what He continues to do throughout our lives.
Christ is our King and He rules over us by what He has done once and for all. He was crucified for us. He was there identified as the King of the Jews. He assumed David’s throne while suffering on the cross for the sin of the world. It was in His suffering that He fought the battle by which His kingdom comes. God reckoned to His beloved Son in whom He was well pleased the sin of the whole human race. The innocent took the place of the guilty and bore their sin for them. By bearing the sin of the world, Jesus took it away. “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” So said John the Baptist. And so it was. Jesus took away the sin of the world. This is how He gained His kingdom. This is how He gained all authority in heaven and on earth. He earned the authority to forgive sins by bearing the punishment of all sinners for all their sins. Jesus rules over us by what He did for us once and for all.
Jesus rules over us by what He continues to do throughout our lives. He sends His Holy Spirit into our hearts to establish in us a living faith so that we may receive by faith Christ and His righteousness and be confident that our sins are indeed forgiven. The Holy Spirit comes and makes His home in our bodies. Our bodies are more than clothes. They are temples of the Holy Spirit. By bringing to us the forgiveness of sins that our King has purchased for us, the Holy Spirit takes up residence in us and makes us children of God. He uproots from our hearts idolatrous desires and replaces them with sincere faith that looks to God in times of all trouble and trusts in His providential care. The Holy Spirit changes us day after day.
Mammon preaches his lies to us. He persuades us to place our affections on all the things we own and don’t own. Thus he traps us into the cycle of worrying about what we have and what we don’t have. Mammon is a cruel god. The Holy Spirit fights against this cruel god. He is the Comforter. He is the Counselor. He is the Spirit of truth. And Jesus sends Him to us so that through the counsel and comfort of the Holy Spirit our hearts and affections may be led away from mammon’s lies. He raises our affections from the things of this world that perish with this world to the things that Jesus alone can give to us. These are spiritual treasures which, when you have them, you can then understand the true value of your material goods. The spiritual treasures of God’s kingdom are peace with God, freedom from guilt, and the forgiveness of sins.
Christ rules over us in His kingdom and He doesn’t govern us by means of His law. He governs us by means of His gospel. Instead of imposing penalties and punishments upon us, He forgives us all our sins. He speaks kindly to our guilty hearts and He persuades us of the truth of His gospel. He convinces us that the God of all Creation who is responsible for the sun rising, the rain falling, and for every material blessing we have is also the God who, in the suffering and death of His only begotten Son, is now fully reconciled to us. When we know God in this way we know that He will certainly always take care of us. How could He love us so much that He would lay our burden on Jesus for Him to carry for us, that He would impose on His innocent Son the penalty of all our sins, that He would absolve us and free us from all guilt and condemnation for Christ’s sake and not give us everything we need to keep body and soul together? He could not.
We seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, confident that everything else we need will be ours as well. We have God’s word and promise. We have no reason to worry. The god of mammon has no claim on us because our heavenly Father knows what we need and will never fail to provide it for us.