Sermon preached at Our Savior Lutheran Church on February 27, 2011 for the 8th Sunday after Epiphany. Sermon text: Matthew 6:24-34
A few years ago the television game show “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire” was very popular. It was a quiz show where a contestant had to answer increasingly difficult multiple-choice questions on a wide variety of topics. What made this show different, though, were the “lifelines.”
Every contestant had 3 lifelines they could use. The first was to take a poll of the studio audience to see which answer they thought was correct. The second was called 50/50 and it took the 4 possible choices for the correct answer and narrowed it down to two. But my favorite lifeline was the last one: phone a friend. Here the contestant would actually get to call a friend on the phone who might be able to help answer the question. I think they got to pick three different friends to be available, though they’d only be able to choose one on the show.
If you went onto a show like that, which friends would you choose for your “phone a friend”? You’d have to think of who you know who knows a lot of facts, or who can think on their feet, or maybe who’s good at entering in questions into the computer and quickly finding the right information for the answer. But you can probably think of at least someone who might be a good go-to person for this.
And really, it’s not just going on a game show that you need “go-to” people to help you. In our lives, every time we have a problem, every time we’re met with a challenge, we instinctively look for that lifeline. We look for someone to help us. It might be someone in our family, it might be a friend, it might even be ourself as we rely on our own abilities to fix our problems.
But where is our God on that list of lifelines? Is he first as we constantly go to him in prayer? Do we always seek what he wants for us in our lives and trust him to take care of us with the rest? Or does our God fall much farther down the list? Has he become the last resort? Has our spiritual needs of faith and forgiveness become something we strive for, or are they just an afterthought?
Friends, our God and his love for us are the only true lifeline we need. Every worry and problem we have, God provides the solution. He gives us food and clothing and homes and all we need. He gives us his Son for forgiveness, life, and salvation. He has promised to give us all we need now and forever. Seek him first!
We’ve been looking at Jesus’ sermon on the mount for the past several weeks, and this is the last section we’re going to focus on. Of course we’ve only scratched the service of Jesus’ words here in Matthew. But this last section for today once again gets at something that is not limited to Jesus’ day. It’s not something that is somehow out-of-date today. In fact, if we didn’t know that Jesus spoke these words nearly 2,000 years ago, we’d probably suspect that he spoke them right to us now.
No one can serve two masters. 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 both God and Money. (Matt. 6:24-34) You cannot serve both God and Money. This sounds like kind of an impossible goal. Don’t we all need money? We still pass an offering plate here at church. Unless you’re retired or still in school you have to work to make money to live. Does Jesus mean that we all need to take a vow of poverty? Do we have to get rid of all our possessions and go out and beg in the street?
No! Jesus does not want us to renounce money or quit your job that makes money or anything like that. In fact, money is one of God’s blessings. He gives it to us to help us live our lives and help us live for him. But we don’t want to serve Money. We don’t want our lives to revolve around money. The primary goal in our life is not money. It’s our God. Seek him first.
But you probably know that a lot of people don’t live that way. For some, money is the primary thing in life. It is the main thing to seek and work for and live for and God, family, and everything else is just going to have to take a backseat. We can probably think of extreme examples of in the world of celebrities or sports. But we can probably also find a minor example of it right here in our hearts. Even just a little bit.
And it makes sense. Money can seem like a good lifeline in those times when we have a problem and we need help. Jesus talked about times like that. Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes? (Matt. 6:25)
What am I going to eat? What am I going to drink? What am I going to wear? Obviously if you were starving and hadn’t eaten in days or if your only set of clothes was literally tearing and falling apart around you; it’d be a big worry! Those are things that you couldn’t live without. But in our world, in our society, all you would need is a little bit of money, and you could solve this problem very fast. With just a few dollars you could get yourself a meal and some new (or gently used) clothes.
But here’s the thing. Most of us are not in that position where if we don’t eat in the next few hours we will literally die of starvation. God has taken care of us well enough that, whether we’re considered rich or poor in this country, we haven’t faced this. Same with clothes. Most of us are not down to a few dirty rags, most of us probably have closets full of clothes we usually don’t wear. Not everyone in history has had that blessing, but for the most part, most of us do. That’s a blessing from our God.
That should mean that none of us ever worry or complain about our food or clothes. But we know that’s not true. Jesus spoke to this. Why do you worry about clothes? See how the lilies of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? (Matt. 6:28-30)
Jesus tells us to look at some flowers! Just one wildflower in a field has the most beautiful “clothing” you could imagine. And it didn’t have to work for it. No one even carefully planted it if it’s a wildflower. It just grew. And if God takes care of wildflowers like that. Won’t he take care of you? Of course he will. And he has!
But we don’t always act like he has. I’m not just talking about clothes or even food. In our society, we tend to obsess about stuff. Clothes, technology, toys, cars, food, free time — you name it; we want it. And when we don’t have as much as we want, or we want something that we don’t or can’t have, it drives us crazy. We feel entitled to more. We wonder why someone hasn’t given it to us. We resent the situation we’re in that hasn’t allowed us to get as much stuff as this or that person. We wish we were in a situation where we could have more of this or that.
Maybe you have thoughts like that once in a great while. Maybe you have them almost constantly. However often these thoughts pop into your head, the gist is this: you don’t think God is treating you right. When you want more and more, you are saying that what God has actually given you isn’t good enough, and maybe he doesn’t care for you. Those thoughts are denying what Jesus says in our text. Your heavenly Father knows that you need [these things]. (Matt. 6:32)
What’s worse, when we are constantly worried about getting things and constantly consumed with getting more, we’re not seeking our life in the place we need to be. Jesus said, Seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. (Matt. 6:33)
When Jesus says to seek first his kingdom, he’s telling us that we need to put our spiritual needs as a bigger priority over our physical needs. Sure, we need to eat; we need clothes. But even more than that, we need the true God ruling over us. We need his righteousness and perfection. Because on our own we don’t have it.
So often we don’t put seeking God as a priority, or rather, receiving his gifts in Word and sacrament. I can’t imagine someone telling me that they hadn’t eaten anything for months just because “things have gotten really busy.” But people will tell me that about their spiritual food of God’s Word. Things have gotten busy, no time for God and his Word. Just like you’ll starve if you don’t eat physical food; your faith will starve and die if you don’t receive God’s spiritual food in Christ by Word and Sacrament!
It’s clear from what Jesus says here and from just looking around us that we have great blessings from God for all our physical needs. And it’s very clear from looking at ourselves and looking at Jesus says in this sermon on the mount, that we are in a world of hurt on our own spiritually. We sin. We tend not to trust God. We tend to look to ourselves and our abilities for our lifelines and not to God. For all this we deserve God’s punishment, both now and forever.
But the good news is, the good news has always been, that in Christ God never treats us like we deserve. He doesn’t destroy us in our sins. He forgives us. He doesn’t leave us without food and clothing, he blesses us. He doesn’t let us die forever, he gives us eternal life. Jesus gave up everything — he’s God after all — he came to earth, he lived with almost nothing, he obeyed God completely, he suffered and died for all of your sins, and he rose again to give you life. You didn’t deserve any of that. But Jesus did it for you. God gave that to you.
So seek him first! Put his kingdom first! Be filled with faith in him; rejoice in his righteousness! Only God can do that for you, but what a blessing that he gives you so many opportunities to let him do that for you. Here at church he feeds you with his Word, he gives you his body and blood with bread and wine in the Lord’s Supper, he reminds you of how he made you a part of his family in baptism. He builds up your faith and your confidence in him, in his righteousness, in his love for you.
This doesn’t mean things will always be easy for us in this life. Just the opposite, in fact. We’ll still struggle. We’ll still hurt. We’ll still find plenty of things that we want and we wish we could have. But we won’t need to worry about it. We won’t need to doubt. Jesus said, Do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own. (Matt. 6:34)
The troubles of this world don’t have to destroy us. They can’t really touch us. Because our Savior has already rescued us. Our eternity is secure. And when we continue to seek him first, when we are built up in our faith by Word and Sacrament. God promises to take care of everything else, too. Not because we’re so great. But because he is. Because he loves us so much. Seek him first!