September 24, 2017 A+D
St. Matthew 6:14-24
Edited and condensed from http://www.christforus.org/TrinityFifteenSermon2015.htm
In the Name of the Father and of the +Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
A true capitalist can’t complain about price gouging because a thing’s value is based upon what people are willing to pay. Scarcity after a hurricane makes water worth a fortune.
But the value of the most precious things in life cannot be measured by human wants or willingness to pay. The value of human life isn’t determined by what people want or how much they want to live. God made us in His image. He has redeemed us with his blood. That is why we are more valuable than birds. Our fall dragged all of creation down with us and the Lord’s taking up of our flesh and redeeming us restores creation. He did not become a bird, though the birds are innocent. He became a Man because we weren’t innocent. So that is our value, what we are worth: the life of the Son, the cost that He was willing to pay to restore us to His image and righteousness.
But capitalism is on to something. What we want and value is theologically significant – not in determining what fair value is, but in determining who or what is our god.
When you make money or wealth your god and serve it, or constantly worry and daydream about it, you cheapen your own life. You confess that your value as a human being can be measured by money. This is an American religion. Our currency says, “In God we trust.” What God? I fear it is mainly the dollar itself and that is the real reason why we are fine with price gouging and economic disparity.
This is also why children are often seen as financial burdens rather than blessings from God. People plan babies for when they think they can afford them. They wait until they get to a point where they won’t have give up much of their own stuff. They aren’t sacrificing for their children or raising up good citizens, they are just getting pets to amuse themselves. In the same way, babies are killed in the womb because they cost too much or will negatively impact someone’s lifestyle.
Money becomes the measure of the good life, the successful life, the life worth living. This destroys men’s souls. Jesus harshly warns us against it. The worship of money causes money to be more precious than things that cannot be bought or sold: integrity, a clean conscience, faithfulness, piety, and love. You cannot buy or sell these things but you can give them away and lose them forever. They are far more valuable than money, but when you serve money as your god, when money occupies your thoughts day and night and you are constantly planning for what you would do with your money if you struck it rich, you are saying that money is what makes life worthwhile and money is what you need, the one thing that could help you. That is what worship is. You don’t have to pray to a dollar bill to make it your god. You just have to ascribe worth to it for it to be your god and then imagine that it has the power to give you what you want and need.
Repent. Jesus says we cannot serve two masters. We agree. We say that we worship the only real God, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. None of us says, “I worship money.” Nut we need to look closely. What do we worry about? What do we fantasize? Do we not think, wrongly, that money could solve our problems? Repent. We are wrong. Our faith is under attack and in danger. If we are truly devoted to God, we will let him do the worrying for us. We are worth more than birds and He takes care of them.
Money itself, of course, is neutral. It is the love of money that is the root of every kind of evil. The devil is the master of using good and neutral things to get us to turn inward and away from God. The devil finds us easy prey for all sorts of materialism and the love of money.
The devil has no loyalty to his subjects. He’ll teach free market capitalism one day and socialism the next without batting an eye. He’ll mix religion in politics and politics in religion to suit his goal. He will tell you that your job is more important than going to church because you have to make money. That’s a lie. Going to church, hearing God’s Word, receiving the Sacraments, is more important than your job. You can live but be dead. Better to starve to death or be put out of your house than to be spiritually dead and wind up in Hell. So also the devil will tell you that your kids need something — usually it is the goodness of sports and what they learn there — more than they need to be taught by God and learn the Catechism. That’s a lie. They need to be taught God’s word more than they need anything else in life – more than food, clothing, house, school, sports, or any other benefit and good. Those things all pass away. The Word of the Lord endures forever.
The devil is a good liar and he knows our weaknesses. He wants you to think like an economic animal, and he is just as happy if that is an Adam Smith animal or a Karl Marx animal – so long as you are caught up in this world and not in God’s promises. The devil wants you to believe that the food you eat and the clothes you wear and the house in which you live are not really provided by your loving Father in heaven, but are the result of your labors or the government or society, that you earned them or deserve them, that you don’t need God.
Jesus says: You cannot serve two masters. You will either hate the one and love the other or be loyal to the one and despise the other.
Jesus calls us to faith. The Lord takes care of the birds. More than that, He makes a promise to be your God. He has come to save you – not birds or flowers or fallen angels. So He says: “Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you.”
The kingdom of God cannot be seen. It comes without observation. It isn’t here or there. Jesus says that it is within you and that He is present for you, according to His grace, in Word and Sacrament. Christ rules in your heart by His Gospel, through forgiveness that is bestowed in Word and Sacrament. He doesn’t tell you to seek your own righteousness but to seek His righteousness. God’s righteousness is the righteousness that belongs to Him, is His by right, which He gives as a gift, which faith receives. Gain that and you have all other things for all other things, even the devil, serve Him. There are things more evil than boredom or sexual frustration or poverty.
The righteousness by which God governs us is this: It is the righteousness of grace given for free to faith for Jesus’ sake. It is the treasure that He has won for us. You are worth more than a bird. You are the image of Christ, whom Isaiah calls the Man of Sorrows. You were washed into His righteousness, declared to be righteous in Him. What was lost, you, is found, and what was dead, your heart, is alive. You are the beloved son of God in whom He is well-pleased. His righteousness has been given to you. In and by this proclamation, God captures our hearts and opens them for the Holy Spirit so that we become His Temples and His Kingdom and even do good works.
Often, it seems to me, the Holy Spirit shows us our true wealth by painfully taking away the illusions of money and health, that is to say, He makes us suffer so that we know what is important. Who cares who won the superbowl or what grade you got on the final or if the lawn needs mowed or not when your child is on the operating table. We have what can’t be bought or earned, but if life is too easy we forget it and we become easy prey for the devil. We have the forgiveness of sins. We expect and await the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting which is already begun in us. Sometimes we need to face death, face sorrow and hardship, to realize it and to see that money can’t buy life. To know this, the righteousness of Jesus Christ, to be His child by Baptism, to eat His living Body and drink His Blood, this is richness and goodness beyond money and time.
Those who worship mammon perish with their god. Not us. Not you. You worship the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. You are Baptized. You are a catechumen of Jesus. You hear His Word and believe. Your future is secured in the hands of him who died for you and rose again. Dass ist genug. That is enough. You are worth more than a bird.
In +Jesus’ Name. Amen.