Seek First the Kingdom of God and His Righteousness
Trinity 15| Matthew 6:24-34| Pastor James Preus| Trinity Lutheran Church| September 12, 2021
When Jesus tells us not to be anxious, he is warning us against idolatry. Idolatry is the worship of a false god. A god is whatever you fear, love, and trust in most. So, if you fear, love, and trust in the Lord, then your God is true. But if you fear, love, and trust in anything else, money, job, friends, power, leisure, then you have a false god. That makes you an idolater.
Jesus tells us that we cannot serve both God and mammon. Mammon is earthly wealth, like money and property. Mammon is a false god, because people fear, love, and trust in it. They fear not having enough money or stuff and will monopolize their time serving the purpose of securing money and stuff. They love money and prove their love by their constant devotion. And they trust in money. It is commonly believed, even if not stated out loud, that if you have enough money, then you are secure.
But mammon isn’t a kind and loving god. It’s cold and heartless. It’ll help the thief and cheat just as well as the honest laborer. Mammon doesn’t satisfy, but rather, the more you get, the more you want. Like saltwater, it never quenches your thirst, but rather poisons you the more you drink. Mammon perishes. Everything money can buy will pass away with time. And the religion of mammon is a religion of works, leaving its followers in the constant pursuit of obtaining it. Mammon makes no promises of continued grace or providence. And for these reasons, mammon causes all its followers to be anxious. When Jesus says, “Do not be anxious,” he is telling you to stop serving and worshiping mammon.
Instead of worshipping a false god, which will fail you and will only make you more and more anxious, worship the one true God who provides for all your needs. We learn to confess in our Small Catechism, “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.”
Mammon does not promise any of that. God may use money to provide you with some of these things, but the promise is not dependent on the money, but God.
To prove that God will provide, Jesus bids us to look at the birds. They neither toil nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet our heavenly Father feeds them. And this certainly is true. I put a bird feeder near our kitchen window, because we like to watch the sparrows, cardinals, and blue jays. Yet, when we returned from vacation, the feeder was empty and I didn’t immediately refill it. When I did refill it, I found that the birds didn’t quickly come back. And even now, they don’t come around as they did before. They’d rather rely on a more dependable benefactor, our heavenly Father, who never fails to provide enough insects and seeds in the field.
And Jesus then adds, “Are you not of more value than they?” Well, aren’t you? Isn’t this self-evident? Sadly, no. For those who believe that we evolved from the sludge and that we share with all living things a common single-celled ancestor, they can’t conclude that we are more valuable than the birds, or that God or nature is more concerned about your welfare than the sparrows. Our government operates on this assumption. Today the federal government is fighting to overturn a law in Texas, which seeks to protect the life of unborn babies with heart beats. It is the belief of our rulers that these babies with beating hearts are not more valuable than the birds of the air. These rulers were elected by mammon worshipers, who value the pursuit of money and stuff over the lives of children.
But our rulers in government are wrong as well as the mammon worshipers, who elected them. You are indeed more valuable than many sparrows and so are each of these little babies in danger of the abortionist’s forceps and scissors. God desires to feed them and clothe them, as he does you. But how can we know this? How do you know that God cares for you, so that you don’t need to go and serve another god?
Because God sent his own Son, Jesus Christ to die for your sins. Jesus became a little baby. Jesus’ little heart started beating around six weeks after his miraculous conception by the Holy Spirit of the Virgin Mary, because he came to save little babies. The iniquities of all of us were laid upon our brother Jesus, who knows our sorrows and anxieties even more intimately than we know them. Our God and brother was crucified and his beating heart was silenced, because he loves us so much and desired to save us from sin and hell. St. Paul sums it up most beautifully, “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not with him graciously give us all things?” (Romans 8:32)
God did not become a bird or a flower. He didn’t die for the plants and animals. Yet, he still provides for them every day, as he has from the beginning of creation and will until he makes the world new. How much more will God provide for you, for whom he has sent his Son to join your race and to die for you! How much more valuable does God find you than these countless birds and animals he faithfully feeds and cares for? Can you measure the value of God’s own blood? (Acts 20:28)
This is why Jesus tells us to seek first the Kingdom of God and his righteousness with the promise that all the rest will also be added unto you.
This weekend we remember the twentieth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, when nearly 3,000 people were killed when nineteen Muslim extremists crashed commercial airplanes into the Twin Towers in NYC, the Pentagon in Washington D. C., and, because of the efforts of brave passengers on Flight 93, who fought the terrorists, in a field in Pennsylvania. An entire country that tries to hide from the reality of death was exposed to it on that awful day. What we watched on TV was not the illusions of Hollywood. Those were real people who died. Were they worse sinners than we? (Luke 13:4) No. But this was a message for each of us that death comes to us all, and at a time we cannot know. Our mammon will not be able to help us when death comes. After that comes judgment. We must seek the Kingdom of God now, while we can.
But how do we find the Kingdom of God? God’s Kingdom is not something that we must travel distant lands to find, nor can we find it by being anxious or toiling after wealth. Rather, as our Small Catechism says, “God’s Kingdom comes when our heavenly Father gives us His Holy Spirit, so that by His grace we believe His holy Word and lead godly lives here in time and there in eternity.” God’s Kingdom comes to you when he reigns as King in your heart. He does this through the power of the Gospel, that good message that God forgives all your sins and gives you eternal life for Christ’s sake. It is through the Gospel that the Holy Spirit comes to you, so that you live in God’s Kingdom of Grace through faith. You find God’s Kingdom in your Baptism, where Scripture promises that the Holy Spirit washed you in a new birth (Titus 3:5). You find God’s Kingdom where Christ feeds you his very body and blood in the Holy Sacrament, which was given up for you on the cross. You find God’s Kingdom wherever this Gospel is preached in its truth and purity.
And his righteousness. What is God’s righteousness and how can we find it? Romans 1:16-17 answers us, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, ‘The righteous shall live by faith.’” You find God’s righteousness in the Gospel of Christ. And you receive this righteousness and make it your own when you believe in the Gospel. God is telling us to seek him in the Gospel of Jesus, so that we know that he is our God who takes care of us today and forever.
To live in God’s Kingdom of Grace is to be freed from the tyranny of the false god mammon, which burdens its followers with anxiety. Yet, we behave as if living in God’s Kingdom is a burden that we scarcely have time for. We have started Catechism Class for the children and with it the memorizing of Luther’s Small Catechism. Sadly, learning the Catechism by heart is a source of anxiety to some students. Why is this? Because we treat Catechism class like it is math, science, or history class. Instead of the children seeing this as seeking the Kingdom of God and His Righteousness, they see learning God’s Word by heart as just another deadline to repeat what the teacher says, before promptly forgetting and moving on to the next subject. Our school system teaches children to be anxious mammon worshipers, toiling at a desk with hopes that they’ll get paid to toil at a desk someday. And we catechize our children to be anxious mammon worshipers at home, by how we behave, by what we talk about, and how we spend our time. This teaches our kids to toil for mammon, to be anxious about tomorrow, and to devalue God’s Word as something not profitable to the aim of gaining wealth.
But we should not treat the Catechism as a textbook or going to church as a burden to be weighed against the mammon and pleasures of this life. The Catechism should be our book of prayer and the subject of our conversations at dinner. We go to church to be relieved from the load mammon seeks to lay on us. God’s word gives us peace. Jesus’ forgiveness gives us confidence in eternal life, let alone our daily care. And will God cause his Christians to starve or go naked? Will God cause you to lose your job and livelihood if you go to church every Sunday without excuses and have devotions each day? And even if God does permit such a thing, Scripture teaches us that if we have food and clothing, with these we should be content (1 Timothy 6:8). Why? Because we know that for us who wait for the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ, there is a crown of righteousness waiting for us (2 Timothy 4:8).
Christ invites us today to throw off the burden laid on us by the false god mammon, and to take comfort in his promise of grace and forgiveness. He promises that if you seek his grace, he will care for every other want you may have as well. Amen.