For this week’s bulletin, click here: Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost, 2012
No one can serve two masters. 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 both God and Money.25Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes? 26 Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? 27 Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?
28 “And why do you worry about clothes? See how the lilies of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. 29 Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. 30 If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? 31 So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. 33 But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. 34 Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.
— St. Matthew 6,24-34
Sometimes the hardest thing for us is to just let God be God. We sinful people have to guard ourselves constantly that something or someone else doesn’t push God out of first place in our hearts. It might be a feeling, it might be something physical like money or possessions; it might even be a person like a parent or a child. Whatever it is, we can’t love that thing or person more than we love God. Jesus tells us so: “No one can serve two masters. 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 both God and Money.”
Jesus especially applies that truth to money. Money seems to have unusual power over people, and that power isn’t always good. For that reason, money sometimes has a bad reputation, even though we have to deal with it every day. The power money has isn’t in money; it’s in our sinful hearts. Our sinful flesh wants to lust after money and what it can buy, but we still want to call ourselves Christians. So Jesus’ warning is very much in place for us. We could easily start to lose our fear of God if we love and serve money first. We can tell ourselves, “Oh, yeah, I’m a Christian, I love God,” while we begin to love and serve money as our god instead. How can we tell if we’re starting to fall into this sin? One way to tell is by looking at what we worry about.
In chapter 12 of his book the Lord told the prophet Ezekiel to eat his bread with trembling and drink his water while shuddering with fear. This was meant as an action prophecy, a way of illustrating the effects on the people of the violence that was about to come on the land of Judah. We too eat our food in anxiety and drink our water in despair, but not always for the same reasons as Ezekiel. Every day we wake up, and our thoughts turn immediately to the day. We think of the work we have to do, or what needs to be done, and our minds start to spin. An astonishing amount of that mental activity is wasted and useless. Many times we’re just worrying. Worry isn’t a bicycle, it’s a hamster wheel. It just goes round and round and you never get anywhere.
One of the biggest things people worry about is money. We worry we won’t have enough. We worry that our money will fall short, that we won’t be provided for – so we work harder. We burn the candle at both ends, sacrifice and give things up so that we can feel sure that we’ll be fine. We even tell ourselves that’s what it takes to make it – sacrifice even time in God’s house, hearing His Word, on the altar of making money.
Money is a dead god that demands all our service and doesn’t do anything for us in return. We work so hard for it, we pay attention to it and watch over it, we fret and worry over it, and yet it doesn’t do what we want it to. People say you need money to live, but you can’t eat gold. Having money in the bank doesn’t put air in your lungs or open your eyes or make your heart beat. It doesn’t bring you any closer to God and it sure doesn’t deliver you from death. Ask any number of misers who have died with mattresses and coffee cans stuffed full of bills that they weren’t able to spend once they breathed their last.
If you’re serving money, you’ll never have money enough. Jesus talks in His teaching about spinning thread, or reaping and sowing, but for us serving money might look like asking for more overtime, or putting in longer hours, or getting a second job – or it might actually be planting and harvesting, if that’s what you do. All our furious activity and hard work might just be a cover-up for other things we don’t want to think about, or other duties God has given us that we don’t want to do. If all this hard work and activity comes from worry, it’s sinful.
Worry acts as if God has abandoned you – as if He doesn’t care enough about you to feed you three square meals a day, give you clothes to keep you warm when it’s cold, and put a roof over your head, as well as giving you His only Son. Worry says, “It all depends on you, buddy, so get back to work! You can never be sure you’re fine, that you’ll be all right, so work, work harder – do more – sweat and strain, deny yourself sleep and time with your family and time with your God, because God is unreliable. Who knows if He’ll really do what He says? Can you really trust someone like that, who just makes arbitrary promises to take care of you? There’s no such thing as a free lunch! How do you know He’s going to do what He says and provide for you?”
Because He’s promised to in His Word. In fact, you don’t even have to be good and holy for God to provide for you every day. He makes the rain to fall and the sun to shine on the just and unjust alike. God still feeds and clothes and houses you even if you don’t believe in Him or do what He says. How’s that for a loving and faithful God?
If you’re still so worried that your worry prevents you from listening to His Word – because that can happen; people get so anxious about jobs or finances or what have you that it’s like they can’t even hear the Word – then take a look at the flowers. They’re all beautiful, right? Look at the beds of flowers in front of church, or in your yard or your neighbor’s yard. Even dandelions – weeds! – have cheerful, bright yellow heads. Or those tall weeds that grow at the edge of your lawn – I don’t even know what their name is, but they have such vividly beautiful purple flowers on them. Such a riot and profusion of colors and hues. Why would God take the time and trouble to make even the weeds in your lawn look pretty? To remind you that you have enough because He is taking care of you, every day.
Or look at the birds. They’re not anxious or crabby when they wake up in the dawn’s early light, are they? Who ever heard of a grumpy robin? Yet the birds never worry. They never lie awake at night thinking in their little bird brains, “Will I find enough to eat tomorrow? And what about the day after that, and after that? What if I get hurt – then what? I’m doing okay now, but what if things get a little tougher at work? What if they cut my hours? I’ve heard rumors that layoffs are coming – what if that’s me? What will I do?” Birds never act that way! If anything, they wake you up at the crack of dawn because they’re singing so loudly and cheerfully to God. Why do they sing like that? They’re thanking their Creator for giving them another day and caring for them. Listen to the birds sing. Let them remind you that God will care for you just as surely as He cares for them. He will prosper your work and establish it for you. He will protect you and provide for you – always. That’s a promise you can count on, because He clothes the flowers and feeds the birds, and aren’t you much more important to Him than they? Of course you are!
Besides, the Heavenly Father knows you need all these things. It has not escaped His notice that your kids need shoes, and your car needs gas, and all the dozens of other necessities we spend our money on. He sees, and He knows. He will not let the righteous starve. You have no need to worry, because He cares for you.
It would be a mistake to look at Jesus’ words in this gospel and conclude that He means that we don’t have to work, we should just sit back and wait for God to drop a living in our laps – wait for the roast goose to fly into our mouths, as Luther used to say. From elsewhere in Scripture we know that hard work is ordinarily the way God provides for us. God nearly always uses means when He does His work, whatever it might be, and in this case the means He uses is our own sweat and effort. Genesis 3 reminds us that by the sweat of our brow we eat our food, and 2 Thessalonians 3 tells us that if someone will not work, he shall not eat. This is so that we have something to share with those in need, which is good and pleases God our Savior. Jesus’ words here don’t remove the need to work for our daily bread; what they do remove is the fear or worry or anxiety that often drives us. Jesus’ words take away worry and replace it with faith – faith that God will provide, and that He will provide until He provides. So often we’re willing to grant that God will provide, but that seems too far away & remote and we need help now. God will provide, and also provide until He provides.
God promises to take care of us, and does take care of us, partly to free us up to focus more on Him and His Word. We could easily think, “I don’t have time to waste on God; I don’t have time to hear or read His Word. That’s fine for other people but me, I need to work for a living. How else is my family going to eat otherwise?” So to free us up and allow us to spend more time with Him and His Word, God promises: “You will always have enough. I will provide for you every single day, without fail. Now come meet with Me in My house, in My Word, at My Table. There will be opportunities and chances to make money later on – but for now, come away with Me and get some rest.” God’s Word is like a passing rain shower that does not often return where it once was. Once it passes on, it might be too late – so seek the Lord while He may be found, and all these other things will be given to you as well.
I don’t think it’s a coincidence that this Gospel was heard every year, just about this time – late summer, early fall, right around harvest time – for over 1500 years. At this time of year, when everybody is most concerned with reaping and harvesting, the Church reminds her children: yes, it’s right and proper to work hard at the work God has given you to do. That’s His will for you. Work long and hard when you have to – but don’t forget God. Honor Him by trusting in Him for everything, forgiveness of sins and daily bread alike. Take His Word over your worries and fears. Don’t forget what’s of eternal importance even as you do work that’s of great earthly importance. Remember who is Lord of the harvest. No matter how the harvest goes, whether it’s profitable or just barely enough, or even not enough – God will still provide for you. He always has and He always will, so don’t forget Him. Seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.
“Seek first His kingdom” means to look for God’s working in your life, and the first and foremost place to look for that is in His Word and the Sacraments. That’s how God gets His work done. That’s what He uses to accomplish His will. Focus on God’s Word as the goal of your life, not on what you do to make money. That’s important too, in its place, but what you do for a living won’t last forever. Too often what we work for doesn’t even last in this world. Thieves break in and steal. Moth and rust and bad weather destroy. Eventually your dust returns to the ground and your spirit to God who gave it, for in the grave, where we are going, there is neither working nor planning nor knowledge or wisdom. Some day all your work will be taken from you. Everything you’ve worked for will be taken out of your cold dead hands, and then what? Only the kingdom of God within you will save you: the faith that God worked in your heart according to His promise, when you heard and learned His holy Word. Put God and His Word first in your life, and Jesus assures you that all these other things will be given to you as well.
Each day has enough trouble of its own, or as the King James says, “Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.” It’s oddly comforting that “sufficient to the day is the evil thereof.” We don’t have to be responsible for tomorrow’s evils as well as today’s. Tomorrow never comes, anyway. We don’t have to take the fall for everything bad that’s going to happen in the future. Today’s is enough, and really we don’t have to bear the burden of everything bad or adverse that sets us back today. We don’t have to overcome it or battle it back and win out over it. God promises to provide for us every day – today & tomorrow both. What are we worried about? It’s all in God’s hands. He’s the one who will deal with it in His time. God takes everything we worry about for tomorrow gently out of our hands, and He smiles and says, “Here, I’ve got that. Let Me hold that.” Then He says, “Here, have this instead” – and He pours out on us the flood of blessings we see and use every day, many times without thinking about it. Thanks be to God for taking care of us, day by day, until at last we reach our heavenly home. Amen.