You can not serve God and money, says Jesus. It’s true. To serve God, you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind. You must also love your neighbor as yourself. That leaves little room for love of money.
No one sets out to serve money. Money exists as a convenient way to exchange goods and services – it was developed to help make it easier to acquire daily bread. Which is to say, money exists to serve and support you. But it’s easy to become enthralled – always after that next little bit of wealth. Until your stuff isn’t supporting this body and life, this body and life are spending their time supporting all the stuff. Idolatry to wealth is an easy entanglement to fall into, especially in a country as wealthy as ours. And it is difficult to stop idolatry to wealth once it starts.
That’s why scripture warns us so often against it. Jesus today points out how foolish it is to worry after money and other things. Look at the flowers – God provides for them, and they literally never move. Or the birds – they work to get their food for the day. But they don’t have a storage pantry. They just trust each day that food will be provided by God. And you know what? It is provided for them.
And what good does worrying after those things do? Does it improve your stuff? Does it lengthen your life? The Gentiles – Jesus means those outside of the church – chase after stuff. Why would you want to model your life on that? Last week we heard Paul talk about how, when we were of the world, we went after worldly pleasures. But now, directed by the Spirit, we look after the things of the spirit. As Jesus says today, “Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” What things will be added? The things we need to support this body and life. Don’t spend your life grasping at those things. Instead, trust that God will provide them, and spend your time seeking the things of God.
Luther instructs the children in his small catechism, telling them that God provides for all our needs of body and soul. When it comes to daily bread, he says, God provides it even without our prayer, even to all wicked people. And so we pray in this petition that we would receive our daily bread with thanksgiving. Giving thanks is something else we heard last week – the Samaritan leper that returned to give thanks to Jesus when he was cleansed. When we chase after wealth for wealth’s sake, it’s impossible to be grateful for what God has given. We are sure we will be thankful once we achieve more. But there is never quite enough for that thanks. We always need to be go after just a little more. And so, worry fills the heart of the greedy, instead of thanks. And it’s that worry that Jesus warns against. Because when we worry about the cares of life, it means we aren’t trusting in God to provide. And the first commandment requires that we trust in him above all things. It is trust that makes something a god. If our trust is in wealth, then that becomes our God, not Jesus and his work for us on the cross.
As one pastor put it, Jesus is risen from the grave, has ascended into heaven, and now reigns at the right hand of the Father. There is no such thing as an emergency in the life of the Christian. We hear that word of the Lord at Ascension Day. We’ve spent the last 17 weeks learning that lesson in its fullness. It’s easy to say, “Don’t worry. We’ve got the resurrection.” It’s harder to remember it when the cares of this world pile up on us. When health turns to sickness, when sickness turns to death. When we lose someone close to us. When our life’s work is consumed in a week of wildfires. When a job disappears. When friends abandon. When family is broken apart by sin. That’s why we must continually hear of the death and resurrection of our Lord. We preach Christ Crucified. Because this world rejects that truth utterly. The world wants nothing to do with the forgiveness life and salvation Jesus offers. And we live in this world of sin and death. We are weak and we stumble. We must be constantly reminded of the solid foundation we have in Jesus Christ. Of the wonderful salvation from sin he gives to all who believe on his name. We come here each week to receive that gift of forgiveness, to be reconciled through God to Christ.
And it’s why as we gather throughout the summer to hear the Word of God, we hear instruction for how to live according to God’s word of promise. And this Gospel lesson – which seems so simple – comes after we’ve covered a lot of other ground. Today’s Gospel reading isn’t easy – don’t worry about the cares of this world, focus on the things of God. It’s easy in theory. But to hear and learn it rightly is difficult. Because it is easy to start thinking that the point of Jesus work is to make us better people. As if somehow the goal of the Gospel is our obedience to the law. That’s not it. We no longer live according to the Law because we have been redeemed by Jesus from the Law. But that doesn’t mean that we now give in to the works of the flesh. Jesus work saves us. We now have the opportunity for joyful response to that loving work.
In the Old Testament lesson we heard about Elijah – when he went to live with the widow of Zerapheth and her son. The three survived on just enough flour and oil for one loaf of bread. Each day it was renewed so there was enough just for the day. A great miracle – but doled out in small daily sized portions. God takes care of them. He doesn’t give them so much that their pantry is overflowing. Just enough to have bread for today – just enough that they don’t die. They have enough to sustain them each day. That’s the prayer we pray in the Lord’s prayer – give us this day our daily bread – although the truth is that we have much more than just daily bread. We have all that we need to support this body and life for today, and tomorrow, and many days beyond. And yet, the more we get, the harder it is to be grateful. If you’re hungry, and you get a surprise meal, then you are thankful for the food you didn’t know you’d be eating. But if you’re pulling food out of the pantry, it’s just this thing you do. Thankfulness can get lost in the ordinariness of the moment.
In the Epistle reading Saint Paul instructs us regarding our life in the Spirit. What is that supposed to look like? We are to take care of each other. Bear one another’s burdens, he says. Then, in a verse that Luther quotes in the Table of Duties, he says, “One who is taught must share all good things with the one who teaches. Do not be deceived, God is not mocked.” Pastors are to be charity cases – living off of the offerings of the people of God. Why? So that they can follow the example of the Apostles and attend to the Word of God and prayer, and not be weighed down with the cares of this world. We are to set our minds on things above, not worldly things. We are told to sow in the spirit, and reap eternal rewards. And to do good to others – especially, he says, for those of the household of faith. That means other members of the church. Each Christian has a responsibility to make sure that our fellow members do not lack their daily bread.
This is a practical working out of the prayer we pray after receiving the Sacrament of the Altar – that we would grow in faith toward God, and in fervent love toward one another. That two—pronged approach is how we are to model our lives.
A few weeks ago we heard of the Pharisee, who didn’t believe that Jesus forgave his sins – mostly because he didn’t believe he had any sins to forgive. Even this non-believer was able to give generously from the bounty of the Lord. The tithe – 10% – was the standard in Jesus day. Jesus complains that they counted even down to ten percent of mint leaves, but did it without love in their hearts, and thereby violated the law of God.
What does that mean for us? Can we, in love do as well as the heathen and non-believer do out of obligation? Can we receive the gift of God with thanksgiving, while also supporting the work of the church and showing love to our neighbor? Is that too much to ask of those redeemed and given eternal salvation?
If you think, “By this act I am fulfilling my duty and therefore making sure God will have to love me”, you do it from obligation, not from a heart that is responding in love. Be careful – this is a hard one. Preachers struggle to get the right balance between Law and Gospel. It’s easy to make it seem as if we earn something, instead of receiving the grace and mercy of God freely for Christ’s sake. It’s easy to make it seem as if the grace and mercy of God are an end in themselves, and now that the law is fulfilled, we can continue to live according to the flesh. Both errors are to be rejected. We don’t earn our salvation. But, having been saved, we walk according to the spirit. As we confess in the Augsburg Confession, “For this is Christian perfection: that we fear God honestly with our whole hearts, and yet have sincere confidence, faith, and trust that for Christ’s sake we have a gracious, merciful God; that we may and should ask and pray God for those things of which we have need, and confidently expect help from him in every affiliation connected with our particular calling and station in life; and that meanwhile we do good works for others and diligently attend to our calling.”
And we must leave it at this, as we do each week in the liturgy – that we pray God would lead us to greater faith in him, and in greater love toward our neighbor. That he would grant this to us, not for our merits, but solely in mercy and love, for Jesus sake. Amen.