You may have noticed that Amy and I purchased a mini-van about a month and a half ago. This is the third one we will have owned during the course of our marriage. I had desperately hoped that I could avoid mini-van number three. But alas, it was not to be. We have four children who for some reason just keep getting taller, and so they think they need more and more leg room. Amy and I had almost convinced ourselves that we could get by with something smaller and sportier, but in the end we knew that the first time our family went on a trip we would regret it.
However, when we purchased the mini-van, it turned out that our kids weren’t entirely satisfied either. They were appalled to learn that, get this … it does not have a built in DVD player. Now obviously you cannot travel any real distance without being able to sit in the vehicle and watch movies. It’s just not possible. You can’t watch the movie on your iPad, because what are you going to do if everyone wants to see the same movie at once? And if the screen isn’t nicely mounted there in the center of the ceiling, what’s the point? Who wants to watch something that mom and dad have rigged up to the back of a seat?
Of course, as parents are supposed to do, Amy and I enjoy responding by telling them about the way things used to be when we were their age. Those were the days when you had to entertain yourself by reading or by playing games like seeing how many different state license plates you could see. It was the era of the station wagon, and a big thrill was putting down the back seat and spreading out a blanket so that you could lie down in the back. And yet this conversation simply repeats the one our parents had with us when we complained about how long it took to drive somewhere, and they told us about how fortunate we were to have interstates to travel on rather than having to drive on state roads all the way like they had to do when they were our age.
It is the nature of modern life here in the western world that we see a continual advance in comfort and luxury. The bells and whistles increase in ways that are fun and make things easier. But along the way something gradually and almost imperceptibly happens. The things that used to be luxuries become essentials. I mean once you have experienced being able to find out instantly the score of the big game by looking at something in the palm of your hand – or even getting to watch it surreptitiously – how can you live without that?
It is this movement in our expectations about what is included in a “good life” that makes it so difficult for us to understand and accept what the Lord Jesus says in our Gospel lesson today. Yet God’s perspective on what we need is quite different from ours, and in turn his will for the way we use his abundant blessings also reflects a very different understanding of life. We learn in our text this morning that it is only Jesus Christ and the saving reign of God that he brought into the world that can transform both.
Our Lord says in today’s text, “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?” The statement translated “Therefore, I tell you…” can be translated more literally as, “because of this I say to you.” The “this” is the first sentence of our text
There Jesus 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.” Jesus says you can only serve one lord, one master. You can’t serve God and money – wealth and all that goes with it. There can only be one Lord.
When the question is framed this way, the answer is obvious. Of course God is supposed to be the master. And so Jesus goes on to the conclusion – the “because of this.” He 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?”
Jesus says, if God is the master of your life, then don’t worry. Food, drink and clothing are not life itself, they just support life. And besides, God takes care of all of these things. Christ points out that the birds don’t sow or reap yet your heavenly Father feeds them. And you are certainly for more valuable to him then they are! Jesus adds: “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?”
O you of little faith. Jesus kind of sticks you right in the gut there. Because the truth of the matter is that you do worry. And the things you worry about have nothing to do with food or drink or clothing or shelter. You worry about your credit card bill, which has been filled with the purchase of all kinds of fun stuff you just had to have; with the expenses for that summer vacation that you just had to take. You worry about saving enough for retirement so that you can live the life you want while also doing all that traveling that you are going to have time to do.
The problem is that none of those things are necessary for sustaining life. And so none of those are things God has promised to provide. When the financial crash occurred in 2008 and everyone’s investments went in the toilet we were all wringing our hands in disbelief. And it was then that it struck me that God was probably not concerned at all. You know why? Because for almost every single one of us, it did not change the fact that we had food and clothing and shelter. We had everything God has promised to support our life – and that in a way that went beyond the majority of the people on this planet.
Remember, Jesus spoke these words to people who could not imagine the wealth and comfort you possess.
The problem is that wealth – our money and our possessions – is the thing that gives us comfort and security. It gives us joy that we want in life and we love it. That is why we focus upon it. That is why we worry about it. But as the Small Catechism teaches us, when you fear, love and trust someone or something, you have just described a god. Our wealth is a false god and we bow down at its altar in a thousand ways.
The answer is to admit this – to name it for what it is: sin. The answer is to confess this sin, and listen to the words of our Lord in the text. For he says, “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.”
The only One who can provide forgiveness for this sin is Jesus. The only One who can transform the way we view the things of this world is Jesus. Our Lord says to seek the kingdom of God and his righteousness. When he says this, Jesus is directing us to himself.
Jesus speaks of the kingdom of God. But when he does so, he does not refer to a place like the kingdom of England or France. Instead he refers to an action – he refers to the reign of God that arrived in him in order to remove Satan, sin and death from our lives and creation itself. He refers to God’s righteousness which we learn in Isaiah and the Psalms is God’s saving action to put all things right.
In response to the sin in our lives and world, God did something dramatically new – yet something that he had announced long ago. God the Father sent his Son into the world as he was incarnate by the Holy Spirit and born of the virgin Mary. In his death on the cross Jesus Christ took all of your sins – all of the times you worry; all of the ways treat wealth as a god – and he received God’s judgment against them. And then by his resurrection from the dead he defeated sin’s detestable child – death. The saving reign of God present in Jesus has transformed things so that you are the forgiven child of God who is now living in the Last Days and who knows that you will share in Jesus’ resurrection. The righteousness of God has made you righteous – justified – so that already now you know the verdict of the Last Day. It will be innocent; not guilty.
You received the reign of God – the kingdom of God – in your baptism. There you were born again of water and the Spirit. There the Holy Spirit made you a new creation in Christ. Because of God’s work in Christ through the Spirit you are different than you were before. You have been renewed and reborn.
Because of Jesus, you are now called to view the things of this world differently. So begin to recalibrate. Consider the blessings God gives to you whereby he sustains your life and give thanks to him. Look at those things that are not truly necessary for sustaining life and recognize them as just that. Begin to ask yourself about the ways those things take a place before Jesus.
When you look at your life in this way, you will find that God has blessed you with means that go far beyond anything you need. And consider how, because of the saving reign you have received in Jesus, you can now use those blessings to support the work of Christ’s reign. God calls you through your offering to support the ministry of the proclamation of the word and the administration of the sacraments here in this place. He calls you through your gifts to support the work of the Church that that extends and supports the ministry of the Gospel around the world. He calls you to share with those in need – for there are indeed those who do not have the basic things needed to sustain life- who do not have food and clothing and shelter.
This is the way you deal with money and wealth when you are a new creation in Christ. However, you have not yet shared in Jesus’ resurrection. And so while you are a new creation in Christ, the fallen old Adam is still in you as well. He clings to the frills of life and calls them essential. He revolts against giving what he has.
And so we must return to our Lord’s words again and again. For he says, “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.”
Our Lord calls us to seek God’s reign and his saving righteousness where it is present for us now. He draws us to his Means of Grace – to his Word, to Holy Baptism, to Holy Absolution and to the Sacrament of the Altar. For through these means the saving reign of God is present for us, giving forgiveness for all the times we fail. And through these saving gifts the Spirit of God sustains and strengthens us so that we can view our money and wealth in God’s way as we then seek God’s kingdom and righteousness in the way we use it.