Sunday, February 27, 2011

Sermon for the Eighth Sunday after the Epiphany (February 27, 2011)

Wordle: Untitled

“Much More” (Matthew 6:24-34)

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

During these last few weeks of the Epiphany season, the Gospel texts assigned for this cycle of readings have come from our Lord’s Sermon on the Mount. Here, Jesus describes what life in the kingdom of heaven looks like … living as God’s redeemed, forgiven, chosen people. It’s a blessed life. We may face opposition and persecution, but we have a gracious reward awaiting us in eternity. Living in God’s kingdom by faith, we are made to be salt and light in the world. Living in repentant trust, we are called to live in the kingdom by reconciling with one other, living with pure desires, keeping our promises, not seeking retaliation when we are insulted, being generous with our time and treasures, and loving and praying for our enemies. With hearts and lives made new by the Savior who died and rose for us and for our sins, this is the kind of life we can live as God’s kingdom people.

Our time in the Sermon on the Mount ends today. Next week we head to the Mount of Transfiguration before we head into Lent and toward Mount Calvary. Today, in Matthew 6, we hear more of Jesus’ teaching about life in the kingdom of heaven. He says, “seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” Life in the kingdom of God is a life that knows God will take care of us. He knows exactly what we need and provides for our well-being, although this may not always be what we expect. Lutheran theologian Herman Sasse wrote, “What human wisdom considers a good fortune and therefore strives for – health, success, affluence – these things God in His wisdom may see as harmful for a person’s good and so deny them. In God’s judgment sickness, failure, and poverty may be far better. And God’s judgment is not mistaken, even when it contradicts all human reason.” Everything God gives us, he gives because he knows it is best for us and drives us to him. He is the God of “much more.” He gives us “much more” than we ever expect or even ask for.

Boeing was awarded this week a new $35 billion contract to build the Air Force’s new tanker. 50,000 new jobs will be created for Everett; Wichita, Kansas; and other locations. That’s good news for our local economy and for our state as a whole. Just think what our economy would be like without Boeing providing so many jobs in our region. Or the Navy. Or Microsoft. Or any other number of employers for whom you work.

Even so, it seems like our economy is still so fragile. So many things factor in. Both national and global events affect what happens. Gas prices are high. Food prices are high. Unemployment is still an issue. The housing market hasn’t recovered yet from its recent bust. The stock market has its constant ups and downs. Our national debt of over $14 trillion certainly seems unsustainable in the long run. $14 trillion! How can you even begin to wrap your mind around a number like that? We’re still fighting a war that has been dragging on in Afghanistan. And nobody really knows what’s going to happen in all the countries in the Middle East and northern Africa that are experiencing unrest and outright rebellion.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t really understand much about economics. I can’t begin to tell you what the difference is between a stock and a bond. I know inflation is a bad thing, but I can’t tell you what causes it. Lower interest rates are a good thing, but I don’t know what makes them go up and down. All I know is, I listen to and read the news, and I get uneasy. Will I be able to afford the kind of life that I would like my family to have?

“O you of little faith.” That’s what Jesus calls me in today’s Gospel reading. That’s what he calls all of us who are 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. You ask “What shall we eat?” or “What shall we drink?” or “What shall we wear?” Sometimes we think we need filet mignon instead of “Filet O’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. 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.

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.

But for us who have little faith, the Triune 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 especially 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 the kingdom of heaven “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, who gives us 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 us ... 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.


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