Our text is today’s Gospel (Matthew 6:24–34): 24 [Jesus said:] “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.
25 “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? 26 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? 27 And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? 28 And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, 29 yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. 30 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? 31 Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. 33 But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. 34 “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.” (ESV)
What a blessing it is when Christian husbands and wives encourage one another to trust in the Lord. Martin Luther and his wife, Katharina, had such a relationship. There is a story of how one day Luther was in a dark mood, full of anxious and despairing thoughts, and so Katharina decided to put on a black dress. Luther noticed this and he asked, “Katie, are you going to a funeral?” And Katie responded, “No, but since you’re acting as though God were dead, I wanted to join you in mourning!” And suddenly Luther realized that by giving himself over to despair, he was really living as though he no longer believed in God.
And of course, that is what you and I do every time we give ourselves over to anxiety—we act as though God were dead; we live as though we no longer believed in God.
Anxiety is an enemy of faith. Faith looks to God alone, even when we suffer misfortune and distress. Faith reaches out to God alone and holds on to Him, even in time of trouble. The key word here is “alone.” Like a newborn baby that is completely dependent on his or her parents, faith puts all its hope and trust in God alone. In times of prosperity or poverty, of peace or conflict, or health or sickness—in all times, faith clings to God alone, trusting in His great promises. But anxiety wants us to look to and hold on to the things of this world. Anxiety may allow us to pay lip service to God, but anxiety wants our hearts to be far from God, snuggled up to our money in the bank or some other source of worldly security. In short, anxiety wants us to act as though God were dead. Anxiety always seeks to destroy our wholehearted trust in God.
Anxiety is like the Brown-headed Cowbird. You see, Brown-headed Cowbirds never build nests or raise their own young. Rather, the female cowbird lays her eggs in another bird’s nest, often removing that bird’s eggs to make room for her own! And that is how anxiety works. Anxiety tosses out from our hearts faith in the one true God and replaces that God-pleasing faith with a wicked trust in the things of this world.
You either trust in the Holy Triune God or you trust in the things of this world. You cannot serve both God and the things of this world, for, as our Lord says, either [you] will hate the one and love the other, or [you] will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money. The King James Version translates this passage as You cannot serve God and mammon. Mammon is not just money and possessions but all the temporal things of this world, including worldly comforts and pleasures, even our fame, abilities, and achievements, the things for which we are honoured in this world. Mammon is everything that will not last for all eternity.
It is not necessarily wrong to use and enjoy the things of this world, but it is wrong to live for the things of this world. In the Gospel of Luke, our Lord says: Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions (Luke 12:15). And in the verses just before today’s Gospel, Jesus says: Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also (v. 21). Your real treasure—the focus of your heart—cannot be both on the eternal God and on temporal possessions; the centre of your life cannot be both the immortal Lord of heaven and earth and the mortal things of this passing world.
In today’s Gospel, our Lord Jesus comes to us like a heart surgeon who doesn’t waste any time with us but puts us immediately on the operating table. Jesus cuts us wide open and exposes our hearts. It is the kind of heart surgery we have been trying to avoid all our lives. But the time has come. Yes, the time has come for some radical open heart surgery. And so Surgeon Jesus reveals the heart disease we would rather not see. It is the root of all the rot and junk and filth in our life. And what is this heart disease? It is idolatry!
[You can’t] serve two masters—Jesus says it flat out. “If you love material things and worldly honour, then you will not love God. If you love your earthly toys, then you will hate God. There is no middle ground. It is one or the other.” You can not get any clearer than that! Leave it to Jesus to unmask our idolatry, to give us the unvarnished truth of our heart disease.
Every time we sin, we are showing that we love some aspect of this world more that we love God. Our misplaced loves and, of course, all of our anxieties show us to be people of little faith. We live as if God does not exist, as though God were dead. As if Jesus’ Good Friday dying is a nothing. As if our Baptism is a nothing. As if the precious word of Absolution is a nothing. As if the holy feast of our Lord’s body and blood is a nothing. We live as if we do not miss much when we do not take time to receive the holy things of God. And we live as if this world and our lives are everything. And so we fret and we worry about our lives, as if we were in total control. As if our lives and all the creaturely things that go with it—like our prosperity and peace—all depend on us. As if we are the Creator and not the creature. Is it any wonder that we are people of little faith?
We fret and worry as if God will not tend to us richly and daily provide for us in this life. There is only one Person in all of history who has wholehearted trusted in our heavenly Father in perfect love. That Person, of course, is our Lord Jesus, the eternal Son of God, God-come-in-the-flesh to save us! Jesus lived His life as one who trusted His Father for everything that He needed to support His life. Even when He was in great need, having fasted for forty days, Jesus refused to seek first the things of this world; rather, He confessed that Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God (Matthew 4:4). Jesus did not love Mammon; rather, He served and loved His Father in Heaven. And He took upon Himself our sins, our unbelief, our fears, and our worrying, all the way to the Cross and He died in our place, suffering our punishment. And then He rose as the Great Victor over the devil, the world, and our sinful nature, which do not want us to hallow God’s name or let His kingdom come (The Third Petition).
And now He comes in the waters of Holy Baptism to make us God’s dear children and members of the kingdom of God and He gives us a righteousness that is based not at all on our good works but on His righteousness alone. And this kingdom of God comes to us daily as through Word and Sacrament our heavenly Father gives us His Holy Spirit, so that by His grace we believe His holy Word and lead godly lives (The Third Petition).
Our dear Lord Jesus sought first the kingdom of God perfectly. And now, baptized into Christ, we who are so often anxious, we who so often struggle to serve and love God more than Mammon, we too seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness. Of course, our seeking of God’s kingdom is not perfect, as is our Lord’s. But because we have been covered with Christ in Baptism and because we are filled with Christ in the Holy Supper, we are empowered by God’s grace to be true seekers of the kingdom of God. Seeking the kingdom of God means simply seeking Jesus and the gifts which He ever desires to give us.
That is why you are here today, because our Lord Jesus comes among us with His kingdom and His righteousness. He comes in the victory of His Good Friday death to cover your sins and your idolatry with His holy precious blood. This blood of Jesus cleanses you from all sin. His blood cleanses your heart. Your heart disease is forgiven, for He went into death and damnation for you.
In Christ Jesus, you are worth more than birds and lilies. And so now, what shall you wear? Well, that is answered in your Baptism, when Jesus clothed you with the white robe of His righteousness won on the Cross. And what shall you eat? Well, He gives you His Body to eat and His Blood to drink for the remission of all your sins. Faith looks to what Christ did on the Cross as all the certainty we need in this world.
We are clothed and fed in Christ, and so the promise God made to Jeremiah echoes in our hearts, “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD. “Plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future” (Jeremiah 29:11).
This does NOT mean that we will never have troubles, but our Lord Jesus tells us that the only troubles we must deal with are the ones for today. The past is forgiven. The future rests in the hands of the Savior who lived and died and rose again to redeem us. All that remains is to face the challenges of the day, and we do not even face those alone. The Spirit of Christ, poured out upon us in Holy Baptism, abides with us each day of our lives.
Our Lord has promised to provide for every need of this body and life, and so we do not need to worry about the future. Now this is not a simplistic solution, like singing, “Don’t Worry, Be Happy…”; rather, the reason that we can let go of our worries is because our faith rests in the One True God. By grace, through faith in Christ, you believe that your Father in Heaven loves you. You believe that the Lord Jesus Christ has forgiven the sins of your past. You believe that He alone controls the future and has promised to bless you.
In Christ Jesus, you are worth more than birds and lilies. So, do not worry about tomorrow. Tomorrow will take care of itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own. Jesus has taken care of the big things—He has rescued you from sin, death, and the devil; He has given you forgiveness, life, and salvation. Now you can trust Jesus with even the little things, the things of this world.
You are now people of GREAT FAITH. Your faith is great because your hearts trust in Jesus, the Son of God. And Jesus is greater than any and all of your sins, including the idolatries of the heart. You are redeemed. You are His own and you live under Him in His kingdom. Just as He has risen from the dead, so He lives and reigns to all eternity FOR YOU.
Therefore, set your hearts not on what is passing but on what endures for all eternity. Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. In these uncertain times, do not worry, for the Lord is with you, to turn your fears into faith and to turn your worries into confident trust in your Father’s loving care. Cast all your care on God, for He cares for you. He will sustain you. In the Name of Jesus. Amen.