Eighth Sunday after the Epiphany
February 27, 2011
Text: Matt. 6:24-34
Beloved in the Lord, “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money” (Matt. 6:24; ESV). You see, it’s a question of priorities, and more importantly, it’s a question of who or what you fear, love, and trust above all things. What master do you serve? It is certainly not a sin to have money or do business. But on the other hand, no matter how much we have, how quickly money and possessions become our gods. The rich trust in their money and are anxious to keep it and make more. The poor despair because they have no money. Either way it is idolatry. You are serving mammon as your master. And as Jesus makes clear this morning, you can’t serve both God and mammon. We must ever keep in mind St. Paul’s warning that “the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs” (1 Tim. 6:10). We must ever be on our guard against this misdirected love, and pray that by His grace the Holy Spirit would keep us in the one true faith of Jesus Christ. For this misdirected love is a love and worship of God’s gift rather than the God who has given it. It is idolatry, beloved. Repent.
How much of our anxiety in this present earthly life is due to our false worship and misdirected love of mammon? Notice the anxieties that Jesus singles out in the Gospel lesson. What will you eat? What will you drink? What will you wear? And of course, the question behind them all is this: How will you pay for the necessities of life? When we become anxious about our earthly life, our possessions, our money, we betray that we worship the false-god Mammon. This is why anxiety and worry is sinful. Because it is idolatrous. It is a faith issue. Do you believe and trust that the God who, without any help from you or anyone or anything else, graciously created you, the God who, without any help from you or anyone or anything else, redeemed you, the God who, without any help from you or anyone or anything else, continues to sanctify you and keep you and preserve you in body and soul… Do you believe and trust that this God will provide for your bodily needs? Or do you need to supplement Him with your own works and with another god (or other gods)? When you spend this life seeking and pursuing earthly riches and comfort first and foremost, when you work all your life only for the security of this earthly life, when you store up for yourself treasures on earth where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, you have answered the question. You have shown that you believe God needs your help. You have shown that you fear, love, and trust in mammon above all things. You’re not alone. It comes to us fallen humans naturally. But that doesn’t change the severity of this sin. Repent, and trust in God alone. He has promised to provide for you, and He cannot lie. Furthermore, He has staked the blood of His own dear Son on it. You were bought with a price, the death of God, Jesus. Never think for a moment that God doesn’t mean what He says when He promises that He loves you and He will take care of you.
This sure and certain promise makes for a priority shift in the life of the Christian. More than that, it defines Who alone we are to worship and serve. Jesus makes a glorious promise to which we should cling in faith with all our might: “(S)eek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (Matt. 6:33). God comes first. He’s the priority. He alone is the object of our worship. God is not unaware of your earthly needs. After all, He feeds the birds of the air. They have neither care nor worry. They receive their daily bread from God. And are you not of more value to God than they? Jesus didn’t die for the birds of the air. He died for you. So also God clothes the lilies of the field, beautiful flowers endowed by their Creator with more splendor than King Solomon in all his majesty. Yet the flowers are here today and tomorrow are cast into the fire. Jesus didn’t die for the lilies. He died for you. He loves you and has given birds and flowers for your benefit and enjoyment. He has redeemed you to enjoy the gifts of His creation, to love your neighbor, and to worship Him alone. Your heavenly Father knows that you need to eat and to drink and to be clothed. But while the unbelievers run after all these things, working hard to earn them and serving them as their gods, you seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and let God worry about the rest. He will add all these things to you, because He loves you, and He has only your good in mind. And He alone is wise enough to know what you really need, what is really good for you. He loves you more than you love yourself. Trust in Him. Place yourself in His hands. Do not be anxious. You don’t have to be. You belong to the Maker of heaven and earth.
The kingdom of God, by the way… that’s Jesus. And His righteousness… that’s justification. Righteousness and justification are the same word in Greek. So what Jesus is saying here is that instead of being so concerned with the cares of this earthly life, concentrate instead on Him. Trust Him. Receive His gifts in His Word and His Sacraments. Believe in Him. And guess what you have when you have faith in Him. You have His righteousness. You are justified. And if you are justified, what else do you really need? You know the end of the story. You’re forgiven of all your sins. You’re saved. You get to go to heaven. You will be raised from the dead on the Last Day. You have eternal life. “Only those who live in the certainty that their lives are ultimately provided for, that is, those who live by faith, can tolerate the finiteness of the world and time.” But when you live in this faith, though all things around you are perishing, including your earthly mammon, you continue in the joy and confidence of the risen and reigning Christ and the God who loves you and will never forsake you. His kingdom and His righteousness are in no way dependent on mammon. For this life, it is enough simply to commend each day to God, asking each day for our daily bread, and letting tomorrow be anxious about itself. After all, tomorrow may never come. But if it does, God will be with you on that day as well, providing all that you need.
These are anxious times, no doubt. No one knows what the economy will do. The recent events in the Middle East make one wonder if we’ll be able to afford fuel for our vehicles tomorrow. And our politicians don’t seem to have any answers. What a great time to be a Christian. Because a Christian knows (though he needs to be reminded every day) that we put not our trust in princes or presidents (Ps. 146:3). There is no salvation in them. We trust in God. He alone can provide for our daily needs. The president certainly can’t. The Republicans can’t. The Democrats can’t. The unions can’t and the TEA Party can’t. Nor can we really provide for ourselves, even though we think otherwise. Only God can provide for our daily needs. And the Christian knows, too (though he needs to be reminded also of this every day), that there is a profound difference between what we need for the sustenance of this life and what we want and desire for our comfort and amusement. What do we really need for our bodies? Jesus says: Food, drink, clothing. You see, everything else, all the other blessings, our great abundance, God gives us in addition to our actual bodily needs. When in our fleshly blindness we run after all of these other things, we need to repent and turn again to the God who so generously provides for us. Finally, the Christian knows (though once again, he needs to reminded of this every day), that his earthly goods are not for him to store up selfishly for himself. He is to use all that he has in love and service of the neighbor. He is to give to the one who lacks. God would provide for your neighbor through your hands. Therefore He blesses you with more than you need, so that you can bless your neighbor through your abundance. Because in seeking first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, the stuff of this earthly life really doesn’t matter all that much. It can’t make you happy and it can’t save you. Only Jesus can. And Jesus does.
What a freeing word this is that our Savior speaks today. Do not be anxious. Be free from anxiety. You are free from your slavery to mammon. You are free from the chains that bind you to this life of death. You are free from sin. In Christ, you have died to your former slavery. In Christ, you are risen to a new life of freedom in His kingdom and His righteousness. What a relief. What great comfort. Come what may: economic depression, war and violence, riots and revolution, great personal loss, even death itself, you are Christ’s. You are in the hands of God. Your heavenly Father knows what you need. And He delivers. Rest in His gracious providence. Live in His gracious care. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
 Oswald Bayer, Freedom in Response (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007) p. 58. Thanks to the Rev. Christopher L. Raffa for this quote.