I don’t mind telling you that I love my job. I really do. I look forward to coming to work in the morning because some things have not changed since I was little boy living in Pensacola, FL.
I knew in first grade that I wanted to be a pastor. Now certainly the fact that both of my grandfathers had been pastors and were then, in the mid-1970’s, seminary professors played a role in this. But the thing that really made me know I wanted to be a pastor was that I just enjoyed being at church. The Lutheran congregation where we were members had a school and I attended there for first through third grade, before we moved to Indiana. For nine months out of the year, I spent six days a week in the setting of church – and I was happy being there. It just felt right.
That is still the feeling I have when I walk into Good Shepherd in the morning. Working in the setting of the Church in general, and this congregation in particular, is a place where I feel content.
I have found that the pastoral ministry provides great balance and diversity in life. You work in an office, but you also go out and about making calls. You work with books studying and also work with people. It never gets boring.
And speaking of books …. In many vocations there is a need for continuing education. Being a pastor is no different. There is the need to continue to study so that you have new things to share with people in preaching and teaching. I am blessed in that I really can’t tell you where my reading for work ends and my reading for fun begins. They are one and the same.
Now of course in a fallen world, work is still work – there are things that I don’t love doing. Getting the announcements ready for the bulletin is not my favorite thing. And of course no situation is perfect. When I accepted the call to Good Shepherd I had no idea that I was placing myself in the midst of rabid Cardinals fans. If you have been paying attention, you may have noticed that during the seven years that I have been here as pastor I haven’t received any other calls. So apparently it is a cross that God wants me to continue to bear. And talk about a cross: recently my son Michael had something to share that he clearly thought was very important. He told me that he had decided that he was now going to root for the Cardinals. When I asked him why he said, “Because the Cardinals are more better than the Cubs.” What could I say? In this case the double comparative is probably appropriate.
In spite of those kinds of things, I like getting up and going to work. And one of the things I like as a pastor is that I don’t have to worry about what I am going to wear. I don’t have to think about what I am going to put on. After all, I can either go with black … or black. The only real question is, “Short sleeve or long sleeve?”
In our Gospel lesson this morning, Jesus talks about not worrying about what we are going to wear. And in contrast to my rather light hearted introduction to this sermon, he is addressing something that is very serious – very fundamental to our life as Christians.
Our text this morning is found in Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. Our Lord has just said, “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Jesus is talking about the focus and orientation of our life. Are we focused on the things of God or the things of this world? Are we concerned with being rich toward God or rich in this world? Jesus reminds us that the riches of God’s kingdom – his reign - are secure and lasting while the things of this world are uncertain and prone to loss. And he emphasizes that the things you treasure reveal the true orientation of your heart.
At the beginning of our text, our Lord tells us why this matters. He says, “No one can serve two masters, for 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 God and money.” While our translation uses the word “money,” the Greek word used here – mammon – really has a broader meaning. It refers to wealth, property, money and all that goes with it. The word itself is actually a Semitic one that Matthew carried over into Greek letters. And since the Matthew kept the word and used it, I am too in this sermon.
Jesus makes a very simple point. There can be only one master in a person’s life. There can’t be divided loyalties. And Jesus explicitly identifies the two potential masters: God and mammon.
What does it look like when mammon is the master in your life? You worry. Jesus says, “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?”
Our Lord uses the example of the basic necessities of life. And that illustrates for us the way mammon acts as our master – the way it enslaves us. Our wealth creates ever increasing new expectations which must then be maintained. What was a convenience becomes a necessity.
Later in the Gospel, a young man comes to Jesus and asks, “Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?” The very fact that the man calls Jesus “teacher” tells us right of the bat that he is not approaching Jesus in faith, for no believer calls Jesus this in Matthew’s Gospel. When the man doesn’t get the kind of answer he wants and presses Jesus, our Lord says to him, “If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” When the young man heard this he went away sorrowful, and it is only then that we learn the reason: “for he had great possessions.” Mammon was his master and Jesus instruction was aimed specifically at his false god.
Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Truly, I say to you, only with difficulty will a rich person enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.”
Now we try to avoid these words of Jesus. Many of us will say, “Well, I’m not rich, so it doesn’t really apply to me.” To this I can only say, “Yes we are.” Granted, some are richer than others, but we are rich. One of the things I have really enjoyed about Facebook is that it has allowed me to get to know Lutherans from all over the world – especially in Africa. It has allowed me to see pictures of the world in which they live. And it has made me realize how rich we really are. We are so rich that have the luxury of confusing needs and wants.
And Jesus is not kidding when he says that this makes the spiritual life more difficult. Wealth – mammon – makes it more difficult because it sends us on the never ending quest to keep what we have and to get more. We worry about losing what we have because how can you live without air conditioning and wireless internet access and a smart phone? How can you live without going on vacations? And then we also covet and crave what others have – those are even richer than we are.
That is how mammon enslaves us – how it acts as our master. Jesus says that you can only have one master – that you can’t serve God and mammon. The challenge then is to repent of the ways we serve mammon. We are to have God as our God. And we do this by using mammon in the ways that are God pleasing. After all, it’s not yours. It’s his, and he is just letting you use it for awhile. He wants you to be a good steward of it by using it to support the work of the Gospel in this congregation and around the world. He wants you to use it to help those in need – to help those who actually do face the challenge of providing the true necessities of life like food and shelter.
Instead of the drive to acquire more mammon, Jesus calls us to trust our heavenly Father. He says, “Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?” He says, “And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?”
We often are people of little faith. We worry and fail to trust God to provide us with what we need, even as we seek forthings we don’t need. And so Jesus says in our text, “Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.”
He says, don’t worry about all that stuff – after all, those are the things unbelievers worry about – people who don’t even know the true God. He says, don’t worry about all that stuff – after all, your heavenly Father knows that you need them. And he is your heavenly Father – he is going to provide what you need.
Instead, what you need to do is first to seek his kingdom and his righteousness. To seek God’s kingdom and righteousness is to be focused upon Jesus Christ. Our Lord spoke these words as the One in whom the kingdom of God - the reign of God - had broken into this world. He spoke them as the One in whom the saving righteousness of God was present. He would make his way to the cross. There he would provide the answer to sin. And then on the third day he would defeat death in his resurrection.
Because he has done this – because the Father sent him to do this – we know that we can trust our heavenly Father to provide all that we really need. The old man in is will want to doubt. The world around us will seem threatening. And so we need to continue to seek his kingdom and his righteousness where he has promised that it is present for us. That’s what we are doing here right now.
And that is what we are about to do in a few moments as we go to the Sacrament of the Altar. For there in the body and blood of the crucified and risen Lord we receive God’s reign and his saving righteousness. We go there seeking it and then we can go away from this altar and this place confident in our Lord’s words: “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.”