Trinity 15, 2011 Sermon
Galatians 5:25 If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit. 26 Let us not be desirous of vain glory, provoking one another, envying one another. KJV Galatians 6:1 Brethren, if a man be overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual, restore such an one in the spirit of meekness; considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted. 2 Bear ye one another's burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ. 3 For if a man think himself to be something, when he is nothing, he deceiveth himself. 4 But let every man prove his own work, and then shall he have rejoicing in himself alone, and not in another. 5 For every man shall bear his own burden. 6 Let him that is taught in the word communicate unto him that teacheth in all good things. 7 Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap. 8 For he that soweth to his flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption; but he that soweth to the Spirit shall of the Spirit reap life everlasting. 9 And let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not. 10 As we have therefore opportunity, let us do good unto all men, especially unto them who are of the household of faith.
KJV Matthew 6:24 No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon. 25 Therefore I say unto you, Take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink; nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on. Is not the life more than meat, and the body than raiment? 26 Behold the fowls of the air: for they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feedeth them. Are ye not much better than they? 27 Which of you by taking thought can add one cubit unto his stature? 28 And why take ye thought for raiment? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin: 29 And yet I say unto you, That even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. 30 Wherefore, if God so clothe the grass of the field, which to day is, and to morrow is cast into the oven, shall he not much more clothe you, O ye of little faith? 31 Therefore take no thought, saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed? 32 (For after all these things do the Gentiles seek:) for your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things. 33 But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you. 34 Take therefore no thought for the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.
Creation Teaches Us
Thus far the contrasts are exclusive: either treasures on earth or treasures in heaven. The self-deception thus lies in choosing the one kind in place of the other. Now Jesus turns to the self-deception which would grasp at both. No one can be a slave to two masters. The proposition is again self-evident. The emphasis is on can-be-a-slave with which, as a matter of course, goes the idea of having a master. The matter is viewed exclusively from the standpoint of the slave; hence no one is the subject. How two masters would act in such a case is not touched upon. A slave’s person and his work belong wholly to his master. This excludes the possibility of devoting himself and his work to a second master. Two masters or even more might own a slave jointly and might even share in his service; but this would make the two one, and this thought is thus not a contradiction of the proposition. The thought that underlies this word of Jesus is the fact that no man is his own master; it is ingrained in our very nature that our heart, will, and work be governed by another. The only question is who this other shall be.
Lenski, R. C. H.: The Interpretation of St. Matthew's Gospel. Minneapolis, MN. : Augsburg Publishing House, 1961, S. 278.
Jesus often used illustrations from Creation, because He is the Lord of Creation, the creating Word who fashioned light before the sun and stars existed.
KJV John 1:1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 The same was in the beginning with God. 3 All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made. 4 In him was life; and the life was the light of men. 5 And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not. 6 There was a man sent from God, whose name was John.
KJV Genesis 1:1 In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. 2 And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters. 3 And God said, Let there be light: and there was light. 4 And God saw the light, that it was good: and God divided the light from the darkness.
This is a good text for all of us, whether in times of prosperity or recession. In the past there were crises in one currency or another, one part of the world or another. Now the crisis is world-wide and continuing to develop, like a storm that builds up after a flood, making people wonder, “How much more?”
This text requires faith, because anyone without faith will ignore its meaning. No one is against birds and flowers, but this text is about the Master. Jesus observed, “No one can be a slave to two Masters at once. He will love one and hate the other, or be loyal to one and disloyal to the other. That is often observed in human behavior, when someone pretends to be friendly when he is really serving another person, trying to get information or some kind of advantage.
Long ago I warned a well known editor, “Agent X is no longer your friend.” The editor denied this was happening. I said, “He is defending Bohlmann.” Later, Agent X went public with his animosity. He had switched sides and was serving the opposition. We are not capable of serving two sides at once. We pick one over against the other.
As Luther said, just as our relationships are with others in this life, so is our relationship with God. It is either God or mammon, not both.
Jesus warning is about the most important basics of life.
Matthew 6:24b Ye cannot serve God and mammon. 25 Therefore I say unto you, Take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink; nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on. Is not the life more than meat, and the body than raiment?
One way to understand mammon is “excess money.” Mammon is represented by desiring to have more and more, to be secure and yet wanting many times more, just to be sure. In many cases today, those who are wealthy are unhappy that they are not many times more wealthy. A millionaire wants to be a centi-millionaire, and and centi-millionarie wants to be a billionaire. Ted Turner was once worth $10 billion and now has to scrape by on $500 million. He had to give up some luxuries.
Here Jesus is reminding us, “God already takes care of the basic needs of life, for believers and unbelievers alike. Look at the plants and animals.”
Luther is quite severe on this topic, which is good to read over and study, because he puts this lesson in the context of faith rather than logic. Either we believe in God or we believe in mammon. If we love mammon, we hate God.
No believer will say, “I hate God,” but Luther’s observation is accurate. We say that and worry about a dollar left out in the open – someone might steal it. I was laughing to myself about this at the store, because I kept my eyes on our shopping basket after I paid for the goods. We were having some food at the WM Subway, and I did not want someone to leave with the paid-for goods. Luther’s comment stuck me many times, but I still kept my eyes on the cart.
This is the first time in my life where I have seen everyone threatened by financial meltdown. No one I know has been left untouched. Savings and retirement have suffered. Homes have lost 50% of their value overnight. Some things have a rolling effect. Endowments have lost value, so the benefits from those funds are gone. Times of prosperity seem to be a dream.
Matthew 6:26 Behold the fowls of the air: for they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feedeth them. Are ye not much better than they?
The birds fashioned by the Lord of Creation are an excellent example of how our heavenly Father cares for everything. Every single day they start with nothing, yet they sing merrily and look for food.
Blue jays hoard acorns, but for a purpose. God has designed them to nurture and spread oak trees, so they benefit from the food, shade and shelter of the oaks while making sure they have more. Someone said, “Given the concept that the animals themselves (the hardware) have evolved on their own, how does anyone explain the software coding?” (Hardware and software go together, so the question is ironic. Conceding one part of evolution, as a rhetorical trick, makes it clear that design permeates everything we see.)
Believing in Creation and observing it are great habits. Blue jays chose to build a nest outside our bedroom window, in the bush at eye level. Their software directed them to mate and produce a nest together, the female laying eggs, the pair bringing food to the hatchlings. Jays can be very aggressive in attacking those who threaten their young, but they never attacked me for bringing them piles of sunflower seed. Birds cannot live on donated food any more than we can live on Doritos, but it does help them to have some extra nutrition.
Their genetic code moved them to feed their young with great energy and care, so we saw the scrawny little things get bigger and more crowded in their nest.
LI noticed them trying their little wings in place. He said, “Look at that. They wave their wings and say – what are these? Maybe I can fly. And soon they are doing something they never imagined, second nature to them.” We watched them flutter in place a few days – then everyone was gone.
Their software told them to grow up, set up shop somewhere else, find a mate, and start over. I gave them sunflower seeds – for myself and our visitors. We wanted to enjoy their feathers, their military sharpness, their bell-like calls of happiness when food was near. We got to share a tiny bit in what God provided with such lavish bounty.
Now all kinds of birds stop by and peer in the window. Isn’t this where we get the sunflower seeds, crackers, and potato chips?
Clearly Jesus taught this so that birds would be a daily reminder of God’s care for all of us, a reminder of His care for each and every one of us. The birds are so small and insignificant, yet God cares for them. How much more valuable are we, created and redeemed by Him?
Matthew 6:27 Which of you by taking thought can add one cubit unto his stature?
This is interpreted as the span or length of one’s life. That is a real obsession today. In many cases, people have damaged their health by being so anxious and managing their food so severely. We saw a malnourished baby at the Cleveland Clinic, terribly sick because his parents had some weird hippy organic obsession.
We can see the richest and most powerful Americans dying of one malady or another, because mammon does not buy health. All the doctors and medicine that man can buy will not change that.
Of what help are his great treasures and riches to the Emperor when the hour of death arrives and he is called to die? They are a shameful, loathsome, powerless god, that cannot cure a sore, yea, it cannot keep and take care of itself, there it lies in the chest, and lets it's devotees wait, yea, one must watch it as a helpless, powerless, weak thing. The lord who has this god must watch day and night lest thieves steal it; this helpless god can aid no one. You should have contempt for this lifeless god that cannot help in the least, and is yet so scrupulous and precious; it lets its devotees wait in the grandest style and protects itself with strong chests and castles, its lord must wait and be in anxiety every hour, lest it perishes by fire or otherwise experiences some misfortune. Does this treasure or god consist in clothing, then one must be careful and on his guard against the smallest little insects, against the moth, lest they ruin or devour it.
Matthew 6: 28 And why take ye thought for raiment? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin: 29 And yet I say unto you, That even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.
No matter where people live, they can observe the glories of plant life. In Phoenix we had cacti blossoming, flowering trees, and even weeds with delicate flowers. I bought one plant because it would grow well in the blazing heat. A landscaper said, “Did you do that on purpose?” Another plant was $1.50 at the store, so I bought three. Later they were 7 feet tall and loaded with blossoms, orange flowers loved by humming birds. My neighbor finally talked to me after 10 years. He stopped at the front door and said, “Please prune those bushes. They are growing into my roses.”
In fact, weeds can be quite attractive – in small numbers. Their abundance is a blessing by itself, because they protect and improve the soil in places where delicate plants would not survive. God has designed a plant for every single habitat, one that will thrive in that climate.
As much as people fuss over clothes, no one can dress as delicately as a wild flower. No one can put together the same colors, no matter how many dyes and fabrics are designed to look good.
One of the ironies of history is the silk trade. China guarded it for centuries, the fabric coming from the tiny silk threads of a little worm. Constantinople finally stole some worms and developed their own industry, but it was an industry based on God’s Creation, not on man-made fabrics. What we prize today are the natural fabrics, made from wool, cotton, bamboo, and worms, not the chemical fibers that color so well and feel like plastic bags smothering our bodies.
Some roses will give up enough perfume from one blossom to fill an entire room with their aroma. Fragrant Cloud is one of the best for that. How much we spend to re-create the perfumes of nature – with little success.
Matthew 6: 30 Wherefore, if God so clothe the grass of the field, which to day is, and to morrow is cast into the oven, shall he not much more clothe you, O ye of little faith?
Here Jesus is emphasizing our lack of faith in God’s care and power. Either we trust in man’s wisdom and schemes or in God’s mercy and love. God serves us in the material and spiritual realms, but mammon is a god that must be served.
All the law salesmen serve their god Mammon, so we must be careful not to fall into their way of thinking. They are clever because their Old Adam talks to our Old Adam so well. Look at how prosperous that minister is! He must know the secrets. Look at his wealthy benefactors. He must know how to reach people.
Instead, these prosperity gurus should ask themselves, “Why does this criminal want to borrow my image to make himself look good?” That has happened many times. I had the files of one minister, who had a talking point paper on how to explain the criminal charges leveled by the government against his wealthy member. I thought, “So the price is being his mouthpiece?” So much for Law and Gospel. Being a finger-puppet pays well in the short run, but not in the long run. “The wages of sin is death.”
The little faith rebuke is aimed at all of us. John 16:8 – The Holy Spirit will convict us of sin, because we do not utterly rely on Him.
Luther used the example of our eyes. We have redundancy in almost everything, including our eyes. We take them for granted, even though we pity a person who is blind. We can do almost nothing for a blind person or for someone going blind from such disorders as macular degeneration.
But if we lost an eye through an accident, we would suddenly value that one remaining eye. What would we do without that? We should get up every morning and thank God for those eyes. Gerhard even has a beautiful German hymn, thanking God for all the senses and for God’s daily care.
When we get older, the eyes do not work so well. My eyes are healthy, but they are no longer good for reading a whole book in a day and grading homework. I think aging is a process of becoming grateful for what is left.
Matthew 6: 31 Therefore take no thought, saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed? 32 (For after all these things do the Gentiles seek:) for your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things. 33 But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you. 34 Take therefore no thought for the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.
Our sinful nature puts Mammon first, as if we need to serve that god, while dispensing with the real treasures of life in the Means of Grace. Many have sacrificed their families, too, in the name of being prosperous, important, or “serving the church.” I met one layman’s son who was utterly sick of church from growing up in the home of a father who was the ultimate church volunteer. In fact, another father neglected his own kids to do “youth work” and film all their activities.
The most important congregation is the home. The pastoral epistles teach that clearly.
“Seek first the Kingdom” means first, not second. First cannot be qualified, as in second or third, or at the end.
Jesus has abundant examples of how this righteousness is given to us lavishly through the Means of Grace.
In John 15:1-10, Jesus is the True Vine. We are fruitful through remaining with the Savior.
In John 10:1ff – Jesus is the Good Shepherd, who knows His sheep. His sheep listen to His voice alone and follow Him alone. They know He is as anxious for them as they are for Him.
Quotations from Luther’s Sermon
"In this Gospel we see how God distinguishes Christians from heathen. For the Lord does not deliver these teachings to the heathen, for they could not receive them, but to His Christians...Satan also hears the Gospel and the Word of God, yea, he knows it far better than we do, and he could preach it as well as we, if he only wanted to; but the Gospel is a doctrine that should become a living power and be put into practice; it should strengthen and comfort people, and make them courageous and aggressive."
Sermons of Martin Luther, 8 vols., ed. John Nicholas Lenker, Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1983, V, p. 103f. Trinity 15 Matthew 6:24‑34
"The Master uses here the Hebrew, which we do not. 'Mammon' means goods or riches, and such goods as one does not need, but holds as a treasure, and it is gold and possessions that one deposits as stock and storage provisions."
Sermons of Martin Luther, V, p. 107.
The Weak God: Riches
"They are a shameful, loathsome, powerless god, that cannot cure a sore, yea, it cannot keep and take care of itself, there it lies in the chest, and lets its devotees wait, yea, one must watch it as a helpless, powerless, weak thing. The lord who has this god must watch day and night lest thieves steal it; this helpless god can aid no one."
Sermons of Martin Luther, V, p. 107.
"The walls of our rooms should spit upon us in contempt that we trust more in the god the moth eat and the rust corrupt, than in the God, who creates and gives all things, yea, who holds in His hand heaven and earth, and all that is in them."
Sermons of Martin Luther, V, p. 108.
A Little Bird Shames Us
"Early in the morning it rises, sits upon a twig and sings a song it has learned, while it knows not where to obtain its food, and yet it is not worried as to where to get its breakfast. Later, when it is hungry, it flies away and seeks a grain of corn, where God stored one away for it, of which it never thought while singing, when it had cause enough to be anxious about its food. Ay, shame on you now, that the little birds are more pious and believing than you; they are happy and sing with joy and know not whether they have anything to eat."
Sermons of Martin Luther, V, p. 114.
Is Christ Our Treasure?
"Here are no learned, no rich, no mighty ones, for such people do not as a rule accept the Gospel. The Gospel is a heavenly treasure, which will not tolerate any other treasure, and will not agree with any earthly guest in the heart. Therefore whoever loves the one must let go the other, as Christ says, Matthew 6:24: 'You cannot serve God and mammon.'"
Sermons of Martin Luther, I, p. 154.