Sermon for Trinity 15
Deuteronomy 6:4-7 + Galatians 5:25-6:10 + Matthew 6:24-34
Every time I read today’s Gospel to someone (including myself!)—Jesus’ words about not worrying and about trusting our heavenly Father to provide for us—, I get almost the same reaction from people: (Sigh). Of course! I knew that. Why do I keep forgetting it?!? You keep forgetting it, or if not forgetting it, passing over it unnoticed, because there is an idol out there called money, and the devil, the world, and your own sinful flesh put a lot of trust in that idol, and they are constantly at war against your faith, pulling on you, tugging at you to pay attention to this money thing. They lie to you, tell you your Father won’t provide; you have to take care of yourself—and even then, you may not make it!
Jesus confronts the devil’s lies today by identifying for us just what exactly the problem is with worry, and by providing the cure as well. 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. Therefore I say to you, do not worry about your life.
You can serve God. Or you can serve money. But you can’t serve both, Jesus says. So serve God, who loves you, not money, which will perish, together with all who trust in it as their god.
What does it look like to serve God? It begins in the heart and flows from there, as Moses commanded Israel in Deut. 6: You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength. Or as we put it in the Catechism: The First Commandment: You shall have no other gods. What does this mean? We should fear, love, and trust in God above all things.
But the temptation to fear, love, and trust in someone or something besides God is strong. We heard about that today in Sunday School in the story of the Golden Calf. God had just spoken to Israel from heaven 40 days earlier, but then Moses went up to receive God’s Word for those 40 days, and when the Israelites didn’t see or hear from God or Moses, they turned their hearts away from Him and created an idol of gold to be their god. Well, not many people around us create actual statues of gold to worship anymore. We don’t think it’s reasonable to dance around a statue and expect it to help us. But lots of people around us do put their trust in gold and silver and the almighty dollar. We do think it’s very reasonable to tally up the dollars, and either relax because there are lots of them, or become afraid, because there aren’t enough.
Trust in money takes many different forms. For some, it means that earning money takes precedence over hearing God’s Word or receiving His Sacrament. For others, it means spending money selfishly or foolishly or haphazardly, to fulfill their own desires, without taking into account God’s instructions about how we are to use the money He has entrusted to our management. For others, it means being stingy with their money and hording it up, so that they are not generous with it, as they should be, so that they do not, as Paul said to the Galatians, “do good to all, especially to those who are of the household of faith.”
But the form of money-worship that Jesus addresses today is especially worry. When you worry about money, it reveals where your trust lies, or at least, it reveals that your sinful flesh is trying to get the upper hand in your heart. But when you call “worry” what it is, “idolatry,” then you can approach God in humble repentance and confess it, and receive absolution for it. Only then can you begin to tear down the idol in your heart.
Now, let’s make sure we understand the context of Jesus’ words. He was speaking, not to pagans or atheists, but to church members in Israel, to His disciples in the Sermon on the Mount. We don’t expect people who do not worship the true God or claim to be believers in Christ to trust in our heavenly Father or to care about God’s commandments. The unbeliever is already an idol-worshiper. To the unbeliever God doesn’t say, “I’m your Father. Trust me!” Instead He says, “Repent of your sins and believe the Gospel of Christ, so that I can adopt you as My dear child and wash away all your sins in Holy Baptism, so that you can have Me as a good and gracious Father for Christ’s sake.”
But, you who know the true God and Jesus Christ whom He has sent, you who acknowledge the Lord as God, you who “live by the Spirit—let us walk by the Spirit!” as St. Paul said in today’s Epistle. Yes, you carry around your sinful flesh that always wants you to trust in money and never wants you to trust in God. But you have been born again. You have died to sin. You have put on Christ. You live by the Spirit. So walk by the Spirit! Hear the Spirit’s words and follow where He leads, and where He leads is not revealed to you in secret. It is revealed right here in Jesus’ words: Do not worry about your life or your body. Trust in God, not in money.
See how Jesus tenderly coaxes you to do this, with beautiful signs and testimonies and promises of God’s providence, without a single ounce of your worry required.
Look at the birds of the air. They neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? Every time you see a bird or a flock of birds, you have a reminder from the Son of God that your heavenly Father is at work, providing food for those creatures of His. And you have a reminder from the Son of God that you are more valuable to God than those creatures are, so you have the promise that your heavenly Father will provide for you, too. Notice, Jesus doesn’t call God the Father of the birds; He isn’t. Yes, He is their Creator and their Master. But He doesn’t call Himself their Father. He calls Himself your Father—“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.”
Jesus goes on: Why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, 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?
Every time you see a flower—any flower, really, you have a reminder from the Son of God that your heavenly Father is at work, providing “clothing for the grass,” as it were. And the grass is worthless. The grass is mown down and burned up and nobody sheds a tear, nor should they. It’s just grass. But if God thinks enough of the grass to clothe it in beauty, Jesus says, you can’t even begin to imagine how much He thinks of man, whom He created in His own image, to whom He gave a living soul. You can’t even begin to imagine how much He thinks of man, whom He has redeemed by the precious blood of Christ, who didn’t become a bird, or a flower, or even an angel, but who became Man in order to die for us and to give us the gift of eternal life.
You know, this, Jesus says. You’re not one of the Gentiles—those who don’t know the true God and so have nothing better to trust in than money and their own strength and labor and skill. Let the Gentiles—let the unbelievers run around focused on making money and providing for themselves.
But you, children of the true God, you, sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you. Let God’s kingdom and God’s righteousness fill your agenda. Let God’s Word dwell in you richly. Let the Gospel of Christ occupy your time, and more importantly, your heart. Jesus isn’t telling you not to work. On the contrary, Paul says, if a man will not work, let him not eat. But it’s possible to work hard without trusting in your work to provide for you. It’s possible to work hard at your job while still seeking first God’s kingdom and God’s righteousness. That starts with hearing God’s Word and receiving His Sacrament. It continues with daily repentance, and prayer, and trust in your heavenly Father, and love for your neighbor, and working hard in your vocation, not to make money, but to honor God and to serve your neighbor. You have plenty to do without worrying about your life or your body. Because your life and your body are in God’s dependable hands.
Having said all that, the cure for worry doesn’t come in a single dose. Jesus didn’t speak the words of our Gospel once and then let them perish. His words are recorded in the Gospel, because His people need to hear His voice in this matter more than once. His voice is the cure and His Sacrament is the medicine. Here Jesus forgives the sin of worry, fully and completely, and repeatedly. And then, by these means, He begins the cure in your life, so that, by the power of His Holy Spirit, you defeat the devil, the world, and your sinful flesh that try to convince you that your Father is faithless. He isn’t faithless. He’s faithful. You can trust Him. He gave His own Son for you. How shall He not with Him also freely give us all things? Amen.