St. Matthew 6:24-34
September 9, 2018
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, X and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
This teaching about serving God and mammon and the comparison of our bodies and lives to lilies of the field and birds of the air is located within the larger oration of Jesus that we call the Sermon on the Mount. Our passage is located almost smack dab in the middle of the three-chapter sermon. It’s important to note that after He saw the crowds, He then went up on the mountain with His disciples. It’s necessary to understand that this was a sermon to the faithful, to the believers. So when He starts out the sermon with the well-known Beatitudes, “Blessed are the poor in spirit….Blessed are those who mourn…. Blessed are the meek… etc. He is teaching those who already have come to the faith. The entire Sermon on the Mount is a teaching on what it means to be a Christian.
What is also of note is that our passage is after He gives the disciples the Lord’s Prayer with its Fourth Petition—”Give us this day our daily bread.” So while we are not to be anxious about food, drink, or clothing, we are to pray for these things and give thanks to God that He provides them. Christians should be mindful of the fact that in the Garden of Eden, God provided the food, although Adam and Eve tended to it. After the Fall, God provided the garments of skins, their clothes. In the Sinai desert, God provided the food again, and made sure their clothes did not wear out or rot for the 40 year wandering. All of these things Jesus is calling to mind for the faithful. God provides for necessities. The Christian is not to worry about them to the extent that they become a false idol. They are to take care and work for them in their vocations, but also to have faith that God provides.
Narrowing in our nearer context, then we hear the section right before our passage exhort us not to lay up treasures on earth where they may be stolen or destroyed, but rather lay up treasures in heaven. “The eye is the lamp of the body.” So if your eye is on the object that God wills, namely salvation and eternal life, then the whole body is clean. If your eye is on earthly treasure, coveting and seeking with all of your effort to gain it, then you are making the things of this creation your god, worshiping the creation rather than the Creator, and darkness will fill your body. You can’t serve God and mammon.
“This is more than a call to stop worrying. It is a call to reconsider the world and our place in it, to recognize and marvel at the compassion and gracious care of the Lord.” It’s a call to put all things in their place. There is a place for clothing and shoes, food and drink, house and home, wife, and children, land animals and all we have. God richly and daily provides us with all that we need to support this body and life. That we confess in the 1st Article of the Apostles’ Creed, when we say, “I believe in God the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth.” But those things are not enough for the life hereafter. We continue the First Article by confessing that God also “defends us against all danger and guards and protects us from all evil. All this He does only out of fatherly, divine goodness and mercy, without any merit or worthiness in me. For all this it is my duty to thank and praise, serve and obey him.” It’s this goodness and mercy that Jesus calls us to look upon in this text.
You cannot serve God and mammon is the reality set up already in the Beatitudes at the beginning of the Sermon, especially the fourth and the eighth beatitudes. The fourth reads: “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.” And the eighth, the capstone beatitude reads: “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” So “therefore do not be anxious about your life.” Hunger for the enduring food of God’s Word. Thirst after His righteousness that it bestows, know that everyone who believes and is Baptized is already clothed with Christ. If your hunger and thirst is not for righteousness, but rather for the things of this world, then repent.
This sinful world is alluring. Take, for instance the children of Israel. After the Exodus, after being baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, they grumbled in the wilderness for food and water. They had nothing to eat or drink in that desert, yet God provided. He gave them bread from heaven and water from a rock. In a miraculous way, He fed them and nourished them.
God rescued them from slavery in Egypt, brought them through the Red Sea, was with them day and night in the pillar of cloud and pillar of fire, gave them His Word from the Mountain, instituted worship, and all the while they grumbled and rebelled. They set up false gods. They turned away and sinned over and over, but still God was gracious and merciful to feed them, give them water, clothed them, and lead them to the Promised Land.
These things happened as a warning and an example to us.
God has rescued you from slavery to sin and death, brought you into His family through the waters of Holy Baptism, is with you daily by the giving of the Holy Spirit, gives you His Word through the prophets and apostles. And all the while, you are quick to grumble, and turn aside in the face of temptation. You forget His mercies to you and easily grow anxious about your life, your children, your spouse, your future, your health, your house, your job, and your retirement. You quickly set up false gods by the things you turn to in times of trouble. If you doubt this, just consider the vast majority of your daily thoughts and conversations. Are they consumed with thoughts of God and of your neighbor? Or are you planning your next promotion? Your next purchase? Your next vacation? “Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows that will he also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption” (Gal. 6). This is a terrifying statement, because it hits us right where it counts.
But still God is gracious and merciful to you. He continues to give you the means to survive. He gives food, and drink, and clothing, and family, and shelter, and protection far beyond what you deserve. At all times in your life, through the hard times and in the happy, God is molding you into the Christian He wants you to be. In the hard times, He teaches repentance, patience, prayer, and dependence upon Him. Unbelievers are not being molded like that. If you find yourself crying out to God in the hard times, in the desperate times, in the depressed times, in the fearful times, then count those times a blessing, because they have served their purpose and turned you back to your Lord—the God who is there for you, the God who cares, the God who knows what you need even better than you yourself know, the God who has the ability and desire to hear and to help.
This Sermon on the Mount is preached by a God who came for His people, a personal God who is with them in the flesh. He did not just talk. He put his words into action as He himself often went hungry, thirsty, and had no place to lay His head. The Lord Jesus did not come to live in luxury in this world. He did not come to live like a king on earth. He is the king of Heaven, who came to open up His heavenly kingdom to sinners. The key to His kingdom was the cross. He had to die in order for sinners to live. His death is the foundation behind all of His teaching and preaching. Without His death, His words are simply moralistic, idealistic speech that might lead to a good life in this world, but definitely not to life hereafter. With His sacrifice on the cross, His words are the instruction of a new life in faith. A new life that was given to you. A new life that is daily at war with your sinful flesh. It’s not a life of this world. It’s a life that is bigger than food, drink, and clothing. It’s bigger than your sins and the sins of your fathers. It’s bigger than your anxiousness. It’s as big as the kingdom of God and His righteousness.
You are more precious to Him than the birds of the air or the lilies of the field. He did not come to rescue them. He came to save and redeem you. He came despite your weaknesses, despite your idolatries and wanderings. His love does not waver, fall short, or fail. He remains true to His promise to you. He will never leave you nor forsake you. He gives ear to your prayers. He is full of compassion and gracious. His mercies are continually with you. He knows what you need, and generously provides it.
In Jesus’ X Name. Amen.