Second Sunday after Pentecost
May 25, 2008
Text: Matt. 6:24-34
“Do not be anxious. Do not worry.” Easier said than done. For the truth is, most, if not all of us, suffer from some amount of anxiety. Most, if not all of us, worry about something, some more, some less. But worry is a sin. Did you know that? Worry shows our lack of faith in God, that God will take care of us and provide us with all of our bodily, as well as spiritual, needs. Worry betrays our self-idolatry. We think that God is unreliable, that He won’t and perhaps even cannot keep His promises, that we have to be our own providers, our own gods, that it all depends on us. Such is the sin of worry. And of course, as Jesus points out in our Gospel lesson, worry is futile. It doesn’t help. It only hurts. “And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?” (Matt. 6:27; ESV). Worry and anxiety do not lengthen life. They only shorten it, and diminish its quality. Yes, worry is a sin that exposes our backward priorities, that we do not seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, but rather food for our bellies and clothes for our bodies. We become slaves to earthly things. Repent. For you cannot serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon (v. 24). You cannot serve God and the earthly things that cause your worry, whether those things be money or possessions or careers or relationships.
What is needed here is a change of perspective and a shift in priorities. What is it that is most important? Is it food? Is it clothing? Is it money? Is it stuff? Is it even a roof over your head? Jesus says that your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things (v. 32). “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (v. 33). Ah, here Jesus identifies what is most important: the Kingdom of God and His righteousness. These should be your priority. The filling of the belly and the accumulation of stuff, even the basic physical necessities take a backseat to the Kingdom of God and His righteousness. Seek that Kingdom and that righteousness, those which belong to God, first, and the rest will be added to you. Because if you have those things, the Kingdom and righteousness of God, you really have all you need.
So how do you get the Kingdom and the righteousness? The Kingdom is the Church, the total number of believers in heaven and on earth. You know where to find the Church, wherever there are holy believers gathered around the marks of the Church, where the Word is preached in its truth and purity and the sacraments are rightly administered, where God’s people gather for prayer and mutual encouragement, with love toward one another and mercy to the neighbor in need. But what about the righteousness? The righteousness we’re talking about here is not the righteousness of your own good works, or anything within yourself. The truth is, you have no such righteousness in yourself. The righteousness we’re talking about here is the righteousness that belongs to God, the righteousness He gives you and with which He covers you in Christ Jesus, the righteousness of Christ Himself. Righteousness is the same thing as justification. We’re talking about justification by grace through faith in Christ. St. Paul says it so well in this morning’s Epistle lesson: “For in [the gospel] the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, ‘The righteous shall live by faith’” (Rom. 1:17). Righteousness, or justification, is given in the Gospel to all who believe. It is the power of God for salvation to all who believe it. So again, where do you get this righteousness? Wherever God is giving out His Gospel, here in His holy Church, in the preaching and absolution, in Baptism, in the Supper of His Son’s body and blood, in your own devotional reading of the Scriptures. In the Gospel the Holy Spirit calls you to faith and enlightens you with His gifts. He gives you the death and resurrection of Christ and all the benefits that come with that. So the most important thing is not your job. It isn’t your car. It’s not your house. It isn’t even food and drink and clothing, the basic necessities of life. “Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?” (Matt. 6:25). The most important thing is the Kingdom of God and His righteousness. And these you receive by faith.
Faith knows and trusts that God will provide all that is needed, both spiritual and physical. Faith confesses, “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.” That is faith speaking. Faith believes God when He says, “Can a woman forget her nursing child, that she should have no compassion on the son of her womb? Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you” (Is. 49:15). Consider the birds of the air and the grass of the field, says Jesus. God takes care of them. God feeds the sparrows. They do not sow or reap or store in barns. Their every meal is a gift of God. God clothes the grass, which neither toils nor spins. God clothes the grass with a splendor not even matched by King Solomon, even though the grass is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven. Now if God so feeds and clothes birds and grass, will He not much more feed and clothe you? Are you not worth much more than these? The answer, of course, is “yes!” You are certainly worth more than these, and God will assuredly provide for your every need. Faith knows this and trusts that it is true, that God always keeps His promises, that there is no need to worry about these things, for God is willing and able… God will provide.
Three things, though, about God’s providence. First, it is true that God’s providence means we do not have to worry or be anxious. But Jesus is not saying we shouldn’t be concerned about our earthly affairs, that we shouldn’t plan, or be good stewards of the gifts God has given us. God does, after all, work through means. He gives us these gifts to use wisely for His glory and the benefit of the neighbor. He uses us as His hands to provide for the needs of our neighbor. But this deliberate thought about how to use God’s gifts should never turn into worry. Remember who the Giver is, and there’s no need to worry about the gift.
Second, there is a profound difference between want and need, and this is a distinction we all too often fail to make. My wife and I have often said to one another, “We need a house!” But do we need it? We’ve lived just fine in a very nice apartment for two years. We may want a house, but our life will go on if we never buy one. God has promised that He will provide us with what we need, not necessarily what we want. When we get what we want, all thanks and praise belong to God, from whom comes every good and every perfect gift (James 1:17), but we shouldn’t complain when God sees fit to withhold those things from us. Children always want things that are not good for them. Their parents know better, and so even if the child does not understand why Mom and Dad, who love him so much, will not give him Snickers bars for dinner, and instead make him eat broccoli, the parents still do what is best for him. Love demands broccoli for dinner, and not Snickers bars, because love only wants the best for its object. We are children of God. He knows best what we need. He knows best which of our desires must go unfulfilled. We are to trust, and give thanks in all circumstances, knowing that God does all things for our good.
Third, the Kingdom of God and His righteousness in Christ Jesus are really all we need. And this is the change in perspective I was talking about. God will always provide what we need. But maybe not on earth. Maybe not from our limited earthly perspective. Again, consider the birds of the air and the grass of the field. Some birds do starve. Some birds are eaten by predators. We’ve all seen grass whither and die for lack of water. Jesus promises that His disciples will bear the cross. Sometimes we will experience great need from an earthly perspective. But this, too, is God’s providence. This, too, is for our good. And we can face these tribulations also with faith and thanksgiving to God, for from the perspective of eternity, we know that we have all that we really need. We are clothed with Christ’s righteousness in Holy Baptism. We are given to feast on the bread of Christ’s body, to drink from the chalice of His holy blood, that which was given and shed for us on the cross for our forgiveness, life, and salvation… that we might possess the Kingdom, and the very righteousness of Christ.
Since this is true, we can live this life, with all its trials and tribulations, confidently. Our heavenly Father knows what we need even better than we do. And He loves us, and gives us everything for the support and needs of the body and the soul. Because we have Christ, who has given us His righteousness, in the end, we go to heaven. In the end we will be raised from the dead. Jesus lives! And we have eternal life in Him. So even if in this earthly life we lack something, we will receive so much more when we come to the joys of that place where there is no lack, where there is no hunger or thirst, where the sun does not beat upon us by day, nor any scorching heat, where God will wipe away every tear from our eyes. If the Lord withholds some good from us on earth, He will hold no good thing back in heaven. So do not worry. Do not be anxious. You are free from these things. Seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness. And “Trust in him at all times… God is a refuge for us” (Psalm 62:8). In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
 Catechism quotations from Luther’s Small Catechism (St. Louis: Concordia, 1986).