Second Sunday after Pentecost (May 25, 2008)
“Much More” (Matthew 6:24-34)
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
Recently I have been reading about the work that our synod and seminaries are doing in Africa. The living conditions of many of our brothers and sisters in Christ over there are quite different from our way of life over here.
Seminarian Jacob Corzine describes his trip to Madagascar, where he saw “the home of a seminary family of four, about the size of my dorm room ... The kitchen and bathroom are both outside.” (For the Life of the World, April 2008, p. 9)
The Rev. Dennis Meeker is pastor of Springs of Life Lutheran Church in Kibera, Kenya. His wife Lorna is a native Kenyan and a trained deaconess, serving the needs of women, orphans, widows, and people suffering with HIV/AIDS. Pastor Meeker tells what happened to his church during riots following elections in that country last December: “One of the elders called me ... and asked us to make phone calls to get people to the church because a large crowd was gathering on the street by the church. They pleaded with the mob not to burn the church. Sadly, they were overpowered and had to run for safety. Caleb, one of our elders, called and told us that the church was on fire. Lorna and I wept bitterly ... The gangs destroyed the pastor’s house, first looting it and then burning it.” (For the Life of the World, April 2008, p. 21)
The Rev. James May, former missionary in Burkina Faso and Togo, writes on his website about the poor water sanitation where he served: “...human waste is just drained into streets where pigs and children play together. Flies are attracted to these smells and carry bacteria into living and cooking areas, not to mention the children and pigs who are also playing in it. Inside the courtyard of a typical family, there is no running water. It is stored in whatever containers can be created. These containers are not connected to a water source. Typically this means that mom or the kids need to run out to the well each morning and wait their turn to get a few gallons of water with which to cook and clean each day.” (http://www.mayfamilyintogo.com/)
And you and I complain about gas prices. And rising food prices. And the housing market. If we have mutual funds, we worry about the condition of the stock market. And even if we don’t, news about the economy makes us uneasy. We worry about all kinds of things ... from safety in our city, to our status among our schoolmates, and the state of social security.
You of Little Faith
“O you of little faith.” That’s what Jesus calls us in today’s Gospel reading. We are so overly concerned and anxious about our life, that is, the needs of our body. Jesus said, “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?” When we worry, we directly disobey Jesus, who tells us not to worry.
“Oh, but Pastor,” I hear some of you saying. “I really don’t worry about those things.” But you do. You do fret about those things, asking “What shall we eat?” or “What shall we drink?” or “What shall we wear?” Sometimes we think we need filet mignon instead of tuna fish. Sometimes we think we need French champagne rather than Yakima chardonnay. Sometimes we think we need to buy all our clothes at the brand name stores at the mall rather than WalMart.
Jesus points us to the lessons we can learn from birds and flowers. Take a close look at how they live. Observe their habits closely. Birds don’t farm the land and store away their crops in barns. Yet they always have exactly what they need. Our heavenly Father feeds them.
The lilies of the field don’t make their own clothing. But all the robes and gold with which King Solomon was dressed don’t even begin to compare to the way in which God “clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven.”
Jesus also said, “And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?” As a matter of fact, worry is more likely to shorten your life than lengthen it. Anxiety causes stress, which many physicians say weakens our immune system and may contribute to an increased risk of strokes and heart attacks.
The problem is that we are enslaved to the wrong lord. 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” ... or mammon, as the original Greek puts it, which is an Aramaic word for “wealth” or “property.” We are enslaved to mammon, and it is a harsh taskmaster. It beats us senseless as we strive harder and harder to get more of it. But when more comes our way, even that never seems to be enough. And of course, we live in a consumer-driven society. We are bombarded with advertisements on TV and radio and the internet, on billboards and in magazines, all trying to get us to buy something. Even the government is giving us money this year so we can go out and spend it on things we don’t have.
But we dare not blame “society.” This whole business is our own creation, simply providing what the public says it wants. And what it wants is “more.”
What we get is “less.” Including the title “you of little faith” ... people who really don’t trust God to take care of them. And that’s a sin for which we must repent.
The God of Much More
But for us who have little faith, our God is “the God of much more.” After Jesus has us learn from the birds and the flowers, he says, “Are you not of more value than they? ... Will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?” God made the birds and provides for them. God made the lilies of the field and richly clothes them. But you are of much more value than anything else in God’s creation.
He cares for our physical needs, all the daily bread for which we pray in the Fourth Petition of the Lord’s Prayer: “food, drink, clothing, shoes, house, home, land, animals, money, goods,” and so forth. But he gives us much more. He also provides for all our spiritual needs, our eternal needs, all the things we for which we pray in the first three petitions. The blessing of God’s holy name is placed upon us in Holy Baptism. We have entrance into God’s kingdom “when our heavenly Father gives us his Holy Spirit, so that by his grace we believe his holy Word.” And God’s will is done in our lives as he “breaks and hinders every evil plan and purpose of the devil, the world, and our sinful nature, which do not want us to hallow God’s name or let his kingdom come; and when he strengthens and keeps us firm in his Word and faith until we die.”
Everyone in the world seeks to be fulfilled by earthly things. But Jesus said, “Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” Seek them. Be intent upon them. Eagerly desire them. And what God calls us to seek, he gives. In Luke 12, Jesus says, “it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” (Luke 12:32) In Romans 5, Paul uses some “much more” language about “righteousness.” After describing how death reigns in all of us through Adam’s sin, he goes on to say, “much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ.” (Rom. 5:17) Living in God’s kingdom, we can keep on seeking and receiving that which he gives ... forgiveness, eternal life, and salvation, the price of which was Christ’s own blood, shed at the cross, for you. Now, when we ask “What shall we eat?” ... we are fed with the Bread of Life (John 6:35), Christ himself ... not to mention his body and blood in the Lord’s Supper. When we ask, “What shall we drink?” ... rivers of living water flow from within us (John 7:37), the refreshing gifts of faith and life that the Holy Spirit produces in us. When we ask, “What shall we wear?” ... the Lord clothes us with the garments of salvation and with the robe of Christ’s righteousness (Is. 61:10; Gal. 3:27; Phil. 3:9; Rev. 7:14).
Through baptism we are connected to Christ, and “having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness.” (Rom. 6:18) We are enslaved to God alone. But instead of being a cruel taskmaster, he is a loving caretaker. We completely and totally belong to him, yet he gives us freedom in Christ ... freedom from our slavery to mammon ... freedom from our bondage to sin, death, and hell. He holds the rights of death and life over us, yet he mercifully provides for our life, both temporal and eternal. That’s why Jesus can say that “all these things will be added to you.” When we seek God’s Kingdom first, we can trust that God will provide for our physical needs ... and we don’t need to worry or be anxious about anything ... because he is “the God of Much More.” He gives much more than we ever expect or even ask for.
The Christians in Kibera, Kenya know this. Springs of Life Lutheran Church is still full on Sunday mornings. They worship at a charred altar. The children attend Sunday School in a burned out building. But in spite of all this, Pastor Meeker, who saw both his church and home burned before his own eyes, says: ‘The altar of God still brings us mercy and strength in order to march on in our daily vocations to love and bring mercy to the world.’” (For the Life of the World, April 2008, p. 21)
Pastor May and the Christians in Burkina Faso know this. After Pastor May was inexplicably pulled off the mission field earlier this month, he writes, “I was not sure how the church was going to react to the words of our departure. We have not been there long, only two years. We have just started to become one of the family. As it turns out, they refused to let this news dissuade them. We had three more baptisms and the number of worshippers doubled since the previous week.” (http://www.mayfamilyintogo.com/)
He continues: “It is not me who convinced anyone to believe in Christ, it was the Holy Spirit who called, gathered, and enlightened others to come to the knowledge of the truth. He is the one who will take care of what has been started. Part of the continued care will come from the leaders that He raised up here in Burkina Faso. Three men, Leopold, Joseph, and Espoir, have been training with me to continue the teachings of Christ. Joseph and Espoir will depart for the Lutheran Seminary in Togo starting in August. The studies last three years after which they will return to shepherd these new congregations. Leopold, the elder, will lead the congregations in their absence. It is very important that you keep these infant congregations and young leaders in your prayers. ‘So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth.’ 1 Corinthians 3:7.” (http://www.mayfamilyintogo.com/files/052008.doc)
And finally, listen to Seminarian Corzine who follows up the description of that African seminarian’s apartment with these words: “I do not mention this apartment to suggest that we try to be more frugal or because of a newfound appreciation for American luxuries; rather, because I met people, the source of whose hope, comfort, and joy is the Gospel. Less than two weeks before we were in his home, that student’s mother died suddenly. Of course, he was mourning, but his joy in the resurrection is the same as our own, grounded in the knowledge that since Jesus rose from the dead, we will also do the same. So I was reminded that hardships in this life are nothing compared with the joy set before us.” (For the Life of the World, April 2008, p. 9)
“The God of Much More” ... makes us “more than conquerors through him who loved us.” (Rom. 8:37) Amen.