Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Epiphany 8 of Series A (Matthew 6:24-34)

“Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, Amen. The text for our sermon this morning comes from the Gospel lesson read a few moments ago from the sixth chapter of the Gospel according to Saint Matthew. Dear friends in Christ, the Sermon on the Mount has a certain intensity to it. Jesus rails against man’s self-righteousness attempts to keep the Law with fire and brimstone. You can hear His passion in exposing the false ideas of His hearers throughout the sermon, but in our text for today, the tone changes. We have a pause in the fire and brimstone, and here Jesus speaks much more softly. You can almost imagine Him preaching this text with His arm around your shoulder, gently chiding you for not trusting in the promises of God. The command ‘do not worry’ is stern Law, but Jesus bases it on the sweet words of the Gospel; you don’t have to worry because your heavenly Father is taking care of you. The theme statement of this little ‘sermon within the sermon’ is found at the end of our text: “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” What does it look like to seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness; how does this affect how we live? These are the questions we are going to investigate this morning, and to do so, we are going to look at three individuals who place their trust in the Lord: a farmer, a worker, and a retiree.

The farmer has plenty to worry about. God promised the Adam and Eve that the ground would yield its fruit only grudgingly, and even with all of the modern equipment and technology, that truth still remains. The farmer stands at the mercy of things completely out of his control. A drought could stifle his crops, a flood could drown them. Weeds could choke his corn, bugs could eat them, some new disease could cause them to waste away. A bad crop doesn’t stop the bills; the corn doesn’t care if you needed to put up a new building or buy a new tractor or simply had to repair what you had. Expenses continue to go up as the farmer coaxes the ground to support him and his family. Yet, on the other hand, not everything is bleak. He has visions of more land, better equipment, more money. He is tempted to go all out, to cash in on his opportunities like that superfarm down the road.

But yet the words of Jesus stick out in his mind: “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.” It’s simply a question of priorities, right? You cannot place both God and money first in your life. In Luke chapter ten, Martha hurried around thinking about the things of this world while Mary sat at the feet of Jesus. The farmer tries to model his life after that of Mary. Hearing the Word of God, and teaching it to his family, takes precedence over everything else. He has been tempted more than once to spend Sunday morning in the field, but then he remembers again the words of Jesus: “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” He knows all the excuses- if I don’t spray on Sunday morning, it’s going to rain on Sunday afternoon; if I don’t get the harvest done, it’s going to snow- but he doesn’t use them. He may squirm a bit and check his watch, but he is there on Sunday morning, seeking first God’s kingdom and His righteousness. He trusts that the Lord will take care of him, that the God who created and redeemed him will continue to provide.

How can the God who provided for the farmer’s salvation fail to provide his food, drink, and clothing? The same God who gave His own Son into death to forgive the sins of this farmer, along with you, me, and all people, is also concerned about the things that we need for our life in this world. Jesus said, “Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? 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?” The obvious answer is yes, you are more valuable than them! So valuable, in fact, that the same one who is speaking will go to the cross to pay for your sin, to provide for your greatest need, your need for salvation from sin and death. You are so valuable to Him that in His love He suffered the very anguish of hell so that you would never have to. Now heavenly treasures await you, treasures that are so far beyond anything in this world.

Like the farmer, the worker has plenty to worry about. She labors hard for every dollar that she earns, putting in long days to support her family’s needs. But things simply seem to be getting harder and harder. How can revolutions half a world away reach out and strike her wallet? Costs keep going up; rumors of five dollar gas are swirling about, and the newspapers are already talking about drastic markups at the grocery store. It was already tough making ends meet- what will it be like in a couple months? She’s lost faith in the government; she and her husband already work too much- where can she turn?

She turns to the only place that she has left: prayer. Saint Paul wrote in Philippians chapter four, “do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” She takes Paul’s advice and holds up her concerns to God. She asks Him to take them, to make them His own. She commends herself, her family, and all the worries of this life to her heavenly Father. Prayer becomes her constant companion; whenever worries and anxieties enter her life, she counters them with prayer. She doesn’t work any less hard, nor does she expect prosperity and wealth simply because she prays, but instead she places her life into the hands of God. She doesn’t put her trust in her work, but instead in Him. She, like the farmer, keeps her priorities straight, seeking first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, trusting that her loving Father in heaven will then provide all else.

Jesus said 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.” God will provide because He is our loving Father. That is the teaching of the Lord’s Prayer, which Jesus has given as a gift to His people earlier in the Sermon on the Mount. “Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name.” You are a beloved child of God only because of the One who gave this prayer. You are joined with Christ in baptism, for you were baptized into His death for your sin. His resurrection victory is yours through Baptism, and those connected with Jesus as brothers and sisters are then children of the heavenly Father. Through our brother Jesus we then have the confidence that our Father knows our needs, and He wants us to bring every request to Him. In the Lord’s Prayer, we are given the opportunity to ask for everything that we need. The worker prays the fourth petition most fervently: “Give us this day our daily bread.” This petition reminds her every day that all she needs in this life only comes from her Father in heaven. But she doesn’t pray the fourth petition first. Instead, the Lord has taught her to first ask that His Name would be holy, that His kingdom would come, and that His will would be done on earth as it is in heaven. In the Lord’s Prayer she is taught to seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness. The kingdom comes to her in the person and work of Jesus Christ, and it is His righteousness that clothes her. With the robe of Christ’s righteousness given in Baptism, she can boldly cry out to her Father in heaven in every trouble that she finds herself in this life, knowing that this robe will be her garment for all eternity.

The retiree has plenty of anxieties, too. He worries about his physical health, knowing that each test he takes could bring news that is terrifying to hear. He dreads words like cancer, diabetes, Parkinson’s, and Alzheimer’s. But he doesn’t only worry about himself, because the others around him provide plenty of opportunities for concern. He shares the anxiety of his children and grandchildren; their worries become his own. And if that isn’t bad enough, he worries even when they aren’t worried. When they are living openly sinful lives, he worries, even though it doesn’t seem to affect them at all. When he stops to think about all the concerns of his life he has only one question: wasn’t retirement supposed to be relaxing?

But then he remembers the words of Jesus in our text, once again gently chiding: “And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?” The answer, of course, is that worrying is much more likely to take away hours from a person’s life rather than add to them. He learns through this text to trust in the provision of the Lord, to depend on His care and protection. Jesus concluded our text in this way: “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.” Trusting in the Lord’s protection and provision is a daily task; it is trusting today that he will provide for tomorrow. In Exodus chapter sixteen, the people of Israel were given the miraculous provision of bread from heaven as they wandered in the wilderness. Moses told the people to simply gather what they needed for the day, but what happened? “They did not listen to Moses. Some left part of it till the morning, and it bred worms and stank.” They gathered too much because they didn’t trust that God would provide tomorrow what He had given today. The retiree seeks to learn from their example, entrusting today and tomorrow to his heavenly Father.

He cannot do this on his own; none of us can. The retiree falls into worry, just as the farmer and just as the worker- indeed just as you and I. But the same God who provides for all of our needs also provides forgiveness for that sin as He provides forgiveness for all of our sins. Through that forgiveness, we are promised an eternity where all the causes for worry are erased, as Isaiah declares in our Old Testament lesson for today. “They shall feed along the ways; and on all bare heights shall be their pasture; they shall not hunger or thirst, neither scorching wind nor sun shall strike them, for He who has pity on them will lead them, and by springs of water will guide them.” In the midst of the struggles of your life, the challenges that cause worry and anxiety, the message is clear from both Jesus and Isaiah: God has not forgotten you! “Behold, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands.” In the Name of the God who knows your needs, who provides for you out of His rich bounty, our Lord who provided for our greatest need through His Son Jesus Christ, Amen.

No comments: