You Cannot Serve God and Mammon!

The Reading from Holy Scripture: Matthew 6:24–34 (ESV)

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.”

For whatever reason, some people hold two jobs. And sometimes, their loyalties to their jobs are put to the test, and they have to decide to whom they owe the greater loyalty. Now, many of the first Christians, who were among the original recipients of Matthew’s Gospel, would have been slaves. For them, there was no such thing as a divided loyalty. Yes, Jesus’ original audience would have been aware of the fact that no one can serve two masters. A slave was duty-bound to serve his one master with all of his time, strength, and ability, so that it would have been impossible for a slave to split his loyalty between two masters.

In a few verses before today’s text, our Lord gives us this warning about our use of earthly possessions: where your treasure is, there your heart will be also…If, therefore, the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness! (vv. 21, 23). You cannot serve God and money, or, as the older translations put it, You cannot serve God and mammon, which refers to possessions and wealth as though they were a god. We make the same point when we talk about “the Almighty Dollar” instead of God Almighty. If we attempt to divide our loyalty between God and mammon, then we will end up walking in deep darkness.

You cannot serve God and mammon. These words strike like a hammer on the conscienceof every believer, for at all times we need to examine our priorities, discern again how we have fallen short of the Lord’s calling for our lives, and turn to Him to be forgiven. How do we know we have fallen time and again? Because we have allowed our hearts to be filled with anxiety. Anxiety is a clear sign of divided loyalties. Whenever we are anxious, we commit two sins: the sin of worry and the sin of idolatry. You see, every god demands obedience. In the Catechism, Luther explains that as Christians, it is [our] duty to thank and praise, serve and obey [the one true God] (Creed, First Article). But the god of mammon also demands obedience. Mammon expects you to make the accumulation of riches your top priority and to make mammon your first and highest love. Whereas our service and obedience to God is accompanied by thanksgiving and praise, our service and obedience to mammon is always accompanied by fear and anxiety. We fear losing what we have and we are anxious for what the future holds. 

You and I are prone to think lightly of our sins, to come to confession on the Lord’s Day thinking that we have no grievous sins to confess. But our fearful, anxious thoughts betray us and reveal that we are idolaters, with divided loyalties between God and mammon. Of all the sins we have committed, the sin of idolatry is surely the most grievous. And idolatry is precisely the sin we commit every time we give into fear and anxiety. Indeed, whenever we fail to trust in God’s fatherly care, we are worshipping the false god of mammon. Thus, it is fitting for us to confess our idolatry and our divided loyalties, to confess that our hearts have so often been filled with fear and anxiety rather than thanksgiving and praise. But God is gracious to us, and He answers our confession with His holy absolution. The almighty and merciful Lord grants us pardon, forgiveness, the remission of all our sins. Yes, by the mercy of God we are redeemed by Jesus Christ, and in Him we are forgiven. We now rest in His peace and we rise afresh each day to serve and obey, thank and praise Him.    

As you and I struggle to remain loyal to God alone, our Lord and Saviour Jesus gives us this gracious invitation: come to Me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.Take My yoke upon you, and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.For My yoke is easy, and My burden is light (Matthew 11:28-30). The peace of forgiveness and the blessed deliverance from fear and anxiety—that is part of the rest which our Saviour promises to give to those who come to Him. To us of little faith, Jesus says: come to Me… I will give you rest. And in place of the heavy burden mammon lays upon us—the burden of seeking first the pleasures and riches of this fallen world—, our Saviour Jesus gives us His yoke, His burden, which is light and easy. He gives us the burden of seeking first the kingdom of God and His righteousness.

From our perspective, seeking first God’s kingdom seems at times like a great burden indeed. All this fuss about confessing our sins, attending church, preparing to receive the Lord’s Supper, giving a portion of our income to the church, and then also forgiving and serving our neighbour—all this fuss about spiritual matters does not at all seem to be such a easy and light burden. But it truly is! For starters, it is God [Himself] who is working in you, both to will and to work, for the sake of His good pleasure (Philippians 2:13). You may be be tempted to think that it is all up to you to fulfill God’s demands. But actually, it is the Holy Spirit [who] has called [you] by the Gospel, enlightened [you] with His gifts, sanctified and kept [you] in the true faith. In the same way [the Holy Spirit] calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian church on earth, and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith. In this Christian church He daily and richly forgives all [your] sins and the sins of all believers. On the Last Day He will raise [you] and all the dead, and give eternal life to [you] and all believers in Christ (Catechism: Creed, Third Article).

Two gods, both with demands, both with burdens to lay upon us. The one god demands that we become fixated on living a good, comfortable life in this world; this god lays upon us the heavy burden of living in fear and anxiety. The other God demands that we fear, love, and trust in Him above all things. Of course, being sinners, we fail miserably. But this God—the one true God, the God of grace and mercy—gives us the gift of His rest, as we rest and abide in His love and forgiveness. And what the true God demands, He also gives; yes, to the degree we do fear, love and trust in God above all things, 100 percent of the credit goes to God working in us for the sake of His good pleasure. And this God of grace and mercy also lays upon us the light and easy burden of seeking first His Kingdom, again a calling that we fulfill only as the Holy Spirit sanctifies us with the whole Christian church on earth and keeps us with Jesus in the one true faith.

As, by God’s grace, we seek first God’s Kingdom and righteousness, we realize we have nothing to fear, nothing over which we should be anxious. And in our text, our Lord Jesus gives us ample reasons for not being anxious. 

First, our Lord compares the greater to the lesser. 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? If God has given you life, which is far greater than any material possessions, will He not provide you with the lesser gifts of food, drink, clothing, and shelter? Would it make any sense at all for God to give us life and then to be unconcerned about sustaining that life? The obvious answer is No.

Our Lord also compares the lesser to the greater. 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? If God provides for the needs of birds, will not God also  provide for your needs? After all, you are far more valuable in God’s sight. He created you as the crown of His creation, and He has given you an immortal body and soul. Can you imagine that God will be less concerned about you than about the birds? Impossible.

As we run the race to our heavenly home, we should not at all be surprised that our path takes us through the valley of the shadow of death. And yet, are we not at times shocked and dismayed by the severity of our trials and tribulations? And we fear what lies ahead. We fear receiving a bad report at our next doctor’s visit. We fear that our investments will never recover from this year’s economic downturn. We fear the coming second wave of the COVID virus. We fear that the turmoil present in the world today will get worse and lead to greater instability. But our Lord gently reminds us that each day has enough trouble of its own, so why borrow more by worrying about the next day? Rather than being anxious, let us remember our Lord’s two comparisons.

Through your struggles, suffering, and sorrows, remember to compare the greater to the lesser. God has given you life, not only physical life but also eternal life in Christ Jesus. Will not God also provide you with the lesser gifts of food, drink, clothing, and shelter? And also remember to compare the lesser to the greater. If God provides for the needs of birds, will He not also provide for you, who are far more valuable in God’s sight? Yes, He most certainly will. Now, we may at times find ourselves in situations of physical deprivation and need. But even then, our Saviour invites us to remember that we are living our lives under the gracious care of our Father.

Baptized into Christ Jesus, you and I live in the joy and peace of our heavenly Father’s care. Our Father gives us the antidote to fear and worry; He gives us in Christ the light and easy burden of seeking first God’s Kingdom and righteousness. This Kingdom is not far off in the future. God’s Kingdom with all its blessings and calling has already come into the world in Jesus, the Son of God and our Saviour. The eternal Son of God took on human flesh and became Man for a very specific reason. As He declared to John the Baptizer, Jesus’ mission is to bring about God’s righteous deeds of salvation, to fulfill all righteousness (3:15). Thus, to seek first God’s Kingdom and righteousness is simply to receive the blessing and calling that Jesus has already brought into the world through His becoming Man and His living, dying, and rising again to save sinners for heaven. In Baptism, we are blessed with God’s gift of salvation and we receive the calling to seek first His Kingdom and His righteousness. Yes, we are called to go now to the places Jesus is ruling with His gracious presence, to seek Jesus as He comes to us in the Gospel, in Baptism, and the Lord’s Supper. As we seek first Jesus, we are blessed to live, not in fear and anxiety, but in thanksgiving and praise and in the joyful confidence that we have only one Master, our heavenly Father, who values us far more than birds and flowers, and who indeed knows our needs and will provide for them. Amen.