The idolatry of worry, and its remedy

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Sermon for the Fifteenth Sunday after Trinity

Galatians 5:25-6:10  +  Matthew 6:24-34

It’s time for our weekly dose of honesty from the lips of Jesus, and for our annual dose of that honesty when it comes to the matter of worrying—that constant companion of us all, to one degree or another. Not just honesty, of course, but along with it, a warning, and encouragement, and comfort.

As Jesus teaches His disciples in today’s Gospel, He is not afraid to call a thing what it is. After warning us that we cannot serve two masters, both God and Mammon—the idol of earthly wealth, He links Master Mammon with our tendency to worry.

It seems like those things wouldn’t be directly related to each other—wealth and worry. We think of riches and wealth as objects of greed, not of worry. We think of riches and wealth as the rich man’s idol, not as the poor man’s problem. But Jesus instructs us in the Gospel that you don’t have to be rich to bow down to Master Mammon. Everyone, both rich and poor, is inclined to worship this false god.

We’re talking here especially about worry over getting the things we need for this life, worry as the anxious pursuit of providing for oneself. People worry, they concern themselves, they become preoccupied with getting food and clothing and the other necessities of this life, or they worry that some disaster may strike that will deprive them of the things they need to live. So everything else in their life revolves around this pursuit of providing for themselves. The worry is ongoing, because our needs are ongoing.

And, more often than not, especially in our country and in our time, greed is added to worry as people worry about getting, not just the basic necessities like food and clothing, but more and more things that used to be recognized as luxuries: a tasty variety of foods, a certain style of clothing, cable TV, smartphones, enough money to support a certain lifestyle. There is no contentment for most people with just the basic necessities of life—not unlike the people of Israel as they wandered through the wilderness and grew sick and tired of eating the same manna for food every day. And so their pursuit of providing for themselves gets bigger and bigger as they find more and more things they just “can’t live without.” We’ll call that greed + worry.

Why is that a form of idolatry? Because, at the heart of worry is the suspicion—or even the conviction—that God is not the one who provides for you, that God doesn’t care. That you are actually the one who provides for you. And that wealth is the solution. Wealth is the answer. Acquiring wealth becomes the goal of one’s life, because then, you think, if I have more money, then I’ll be able to stop worrying so much. If I have more money, then I’ll be able to sleep at night. If I have more money, then I’ll have food and clothing, and maybe even happiness. So, Master Mammon, help me! Master Mammon, save me! I’ll serve you with my whole life, if you’ll just provide for me.

That’s called idolatry. And, like all forms of idolatry, it’s foolish in addition to being deadly, because Master Mammon couldn’t care less about you. Master Mammon is like a carrot on a stick held out in front of a donkey, that he chases for mile after mile, this way and that way, wearing himself out to get that carrot. But he’ll never get it. It was a trick to get him to go where the driver wanted him to go. In the same way, wealth is the devil’s carrot, and he holds it out before your eyes as the thing you should chase, as the thing you should pursue, instead of seeking the kingdom of God and His righteousness.


But see how Jesus deals with these idolaters—these worriers who have come to Him for help. He doesn’t send them away, does He? No, He keeps them close. He points out their idolatry, and then turns their gaze to their Father and His faithfulness.

Look! The Father—the God who created the earth and everything in it—provides food for the birds. They neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? Yes, you are. Because you’re human beings, created in the image of God. But more than that, because the Son of God became a human being like you and shed His blood for your sins so that you can live under Him in His kingdom forever. And you have been baptized in His name and adopted as a son of God. Will you really believe the devil’s lie that God doesn’t care about you, that you have to provide for you on your own? Will you really chase after his carrot of wealth and earthly riches, when you have a good Father in heaven who promises you so much more?

And consider the lilies of the field, Jesus says, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; and yet I say to you that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. Now if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will He not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? He will, if you’ll just trust Him. He’s already brought you to faith in His Son. He’s already clothed you with Jesus! As Paul writes to the Galatians, You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. God will use whatever means necessary to see to it that you, His dear children, will have the necessities of life as you trust in Him and look to Him as your Helper and as your Savior.

With that promise in place, given by the Son of God Himself, you can stop anxiously pursuing the carrot on the stick. You can stop worrying about your life and seeking the things of this life. Instead, Jesus shows you a better way, the way of faith. Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you. Devote your life, your thoughts, your energies, to the kingdom of God. His Word. His Sacraments. His grace. His instruction. Pursue wisdom. Pursue righteousness in how you treat your neighbor, in how you live in this world. Those are to be the first things you “worry” about. And all these things—these things that you need, whether it’s food and clothing or whether it’s any of the other necessities of this life—shall be added to you.

And don’t be surprised by the fact that you need this annual—this weekly!—admonition from Jesus not to worry. You’d think by now, those of us who have been in the Church for a long time, we’d have gotten over this worry thing. You’d think we’d have learned by now how good and gracious our Father is, and we have learned it. But here the devil always stands, dangling his carrot in front of our eyes. Here our sinful flesh still wants to believe the devil’s lie, that what you see is all there is, and the world around you is happy to repeat that lie day after day after day. With enemies such as these, it’s a wonder you’re even here in church, instead of out there pursuing the things of this life.

Jesus knows that you need a continual supply of admonitions, of His Word and His Sacrament, to guard you against the devil’s lies and the weakness of your own sinful flesh. Hear Him again today, and take His words with you when you leave. Do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble. And sufficient for the day is the strength and comfort that your heavenly Father will provide. Amen.

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