Trinity Fifteen Sermon| Rev. Rolf D. Preus| September 28, 2003| Matthew 6:24-34
Freedom is one of the greatest blessings God has given to America. We know it. Americans love to sing about being free. Just about every patriotic song you know celebrates this freedom. And it is, to a large degree, very true. There are places all over this world where folks cannot legally and safely gather together publicly to worship God and to hear His gospel proclaimed. Whether in Saudi Arabia or the Peoples’ Republic of China, Christians face severe persecution in the world today. God has graciously kept America free. Thank God for the freedoms we treasure as Americans.
These freedoms can be a double-edged sword, however. We have the freedom here at River Heights Lutheran Church to preach and teach the pure gospel of our God and Savior Jesus Christ. Our neighbors, than a mile to our west on County Road 19, have the same freedom to preach and teach a false gospel that denies Christ is God and rejects His saving gospel. The followers of Christ and the deniers of Christ have equal rights in this country. As Americans we concede that the Jehovah’s Witnesses may publicly deny the saving truth because as Christians we cherish the constitutionally guaranteed right to preach, teach, and confess the pure and evangelical truth by which souls are saved. Religious freedom is not a given. For this freedom, we should bow in grateful thanksgiving to our God.
But to say that America has religious freedom is not to say that she has spiritual freedom. They are not the same thing. The land of the free is the home of spiritual bondage. Most Americans are not free. They are helplessly and hopelessly bound. They are enslaved by a power that permeates every aspect of their lives.
Jesus said, “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.” We need to listen to Jesus. He says it is not possible to serve two masters. He doesn’t say it is inadvisable or difficult or troublesome. He says no one can do it. You cannot serve God and mammon at the same time. You will love either the one or the other because you cannot love both. You will be devoted either to the one or to the other because both are jealous of your affections and will not share them with the other. The two cannot be mixed together as if we may willingly serve both at the same time.
“Mammon” is sometimes translated as money, but the word means more than that. Jesus is the only one to use this word in the New Testament Scriptures, and He always uses it to refer to those material goods in which people put their trust. Long before political philosophers developed their philosophy of materialism, Jesus identified materialism for what it is. It is idolatry. It is worshipping the creation instead of the Creator. And those who bow down at the altar of mammon or materialism bow down to one mean idol.
Mammon promises you everything, but he does it as a ruse to win your foolish heart. After he lures you to put you trust in him, he immediately proceeds to steal from you precisely those things in which you placed your trust. The promise of more and more and more things takes hold of a person and gives him no peace or contentment with what God has given to him. Mammon lies about God and says He’s stingy. But when Mammon has captured your devotion and conquered your heart he always leaves you unsatisfied. You cannot get enough. You cannot make enough. You cannot have enough. You need more and more and more. Why? Because you don’t know the One who owns it all and who would freely give you anything you ever needed if only you would ask Him.
Now we know that an idol isn’t really any god at all because there is only one God. Apart from the Holy Trinity – the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit – there is no God. But while an idol is not a personal being there is a personal being who uses idolatry to seduce Christians away from the true God. Jesus called him a liar and a murderer. He lies by contradicting God’s word. He murders by enticing folks to trust in lies.
“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 preserves them; that He richly and daily provides me with food and clothing, home and family, property and goods, and all that I need to support this body and life; that He protects me from all danger, guards and keeps me from all evil; and all this purely out of fatherly, divine goodness and mercy, without any merit or worthiness in me; for all which I am duty bound to thank and praise, to serve and obey Him. This is most certainly true.”
This is our Father’s world. He is our Father and He governs this world. He feeds the birds of the air. He clothes the flowers of the field. He feeds, clothes, shelters, supports, protects, guards, and keeps His children. They are worth much more than plants and animals. They are created in God’s image. They are redeemed by Christ’s blood. They are sanctified by the Holy Spirit. They have a value that far exceeds the value of any merely material thing. Their value is not determined by the market place or by the government or by various human ideologies. Their value is placed upon them by their Father in heaven.
The reason Mammon is such a useless and ultimately cruel god is because he cannot deliver on his promises. There is nothing you can see, hear, smell, taste, or touch that will not be taken away from you. When you put your trust in the things you own and worry about not having enough you become the most pathetic kind of slave. It is not only likely – it is guaranteed – that your stuff will be ruined, lost, rusted, worn out, broken, or in some other way destroyed.
Jesus tells us quite specifically what to value so that we can know without a doubt that our heavenly Father will take care of everything we need in this world. He says: “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you.”
Before we can be confident that God will provide for all of our material needs so that we need never worry about having enough of this world’s goods, we need to become confident that God will provide for all our spiritual needs. Before we can rest assured that God will take care of us here on earth, we need to have the assurance that God will take us to heaven some day. Few people have this assurance. This is why they cannot trust God for anything good. They don’t know where they stand with Him. They don’t know where they are going when they die.
The kingdom of God exists here on earth, but it is not just here. It is in heaven as well. Here on earth we call it the kingdom of grace. In heaven we call it the kingdom of glory. But it is the same kingdom. Only those who enter into the kingdom of God here on earth will find it in heaven. There is only one door to this kingdom. It is God’s righteousness. “Seek the kingdom of God and His righteousness,” Jesus said. God’s righteousness is flawless. Whereas human righteousness is never perfect because all human beings are corrupted by sin, God’s righteousness is perfect because God is without sin. Where then is the kingdom of God and His righteousness to be found?
God’s kingdom and God’s righteousness is to be found in Jesus and nowhere else. The god of Mammon demands that you acquire more and more and more while never gaining true contentment or happiness. Christ says something entirely different. He says, “Come unto Me, all you who labor and are heaven laden and I will give you rest.” Mammon makes you work hard for what will not last. Jesus invites you to lay down your burden and put your confidence in His work rather than your own. He knows that we have failed to obey God at the very beginning of the task. We haven’t even made it past the First Commandment. Mammon’s lies have found fertile soil in our hearts as we have worried about whether or not our Father in heaven really is who Jesus says He is. We worry about our jobs, our cars, our houses, our children, our future, our health, and so much more. We don’t believe God will care for us until we see it.
Jesus brings us God’s kingdom and righteousness. Having this we don’t need to see more proof than the birds or the flowers. Look to Jesus as He obeys His Father and does the righteousness His Father demanded of us all. Watch Him as He counters every temptation of the devil with God’s word. See Him turn aside anger with gentleness. Watch Him bear abuse, hatred, violence, and cruelty all the way to the death of the cross. And read the inscription above His head, “King of the Jews.” There is the kingdom of God! There is the righteousness you need! There is all the wealth of heaven and earth. For there it is that Jesus our brother overcomes every human temptation to fear, love, and trust in anyone or anything but in God alone. There Jesus crushes the lying head of Satan who by the idol of Mammon would lure us into slavery. There Jesus persuades us that true wealth does not consist in the things we own, but true wealth consists in knowing Christ and having His righteousness.
What does it mean to be wealthy and without any need of anything we don’t already have? It means to be forgiven by God through the blood of Jesus. It means to know that God, having seen us in all our idolatrous sin has loved us, washed us clean in Holy Baptism, and daily covers us with the spotless white robe of Christ’s righteousness. It means to know that for Christ’s sake and on account of His righteousness, we have a home in heaven where no sin can enter and no death, no sorrow, or suffering of any kind. It means to know that we can never be poor in this life because we are the children of the One who owns everything in this world. We have no worries because we have received what nobody can ever take away. When we know that we are righteous with Christ’s own righteousness we also know that God will provide us with all that we need in this life. This is our Father’s world and we are His children.