St. Matthew 6:24-34
September 13, 2015
Trinity Lutheran Church—New Haven, MO
In the name of + Jesus.
There is no such thing as a true atheist. That is to say, everyone everywhere has a god. True, a person may not claim a personal god, or attend organized public worship (although atheists have their own churches!), but everyone has something on which they rely for every good thing. There is no such thing as a true atheist because everyone looks to something for his greatest good.
Of the impersonal gods set up in the hearts of men there are many. Reason and scientific knowledge, social acceptance, power, success. But by far the most common is what Jesus names in today’s Gospel, mammon.
Mammon is an Aramaic word that means “money or possessions.” Interestingly, it comes from a root word that means, “to put your trust in.” So it’s not the dollars in your billfold that constitute mammon, but the reliance on a fat billfold for good. I like the word mammon because it almost personifies money and wealth and possessions, as if it was something actively seeking after your heart. It’s not just dollar bills, but also land, house, cattle, cars, stock portfolios.
Jesus says in the middle of His Sermon on the Mount, No one is able to serve [be a slave to] two lords. For he will either hate the one and the other he will love, or he will hold fast to one and despise the other. You are not able to serve God and mammon (v 24). Jesus uses strong language to refer to relationships with both God and money. It’s not just service in the sense of willing and joyful obedience. He uses the word for slavery, or bonded service, or indentured servitude. He means that the master has bought and paid for your whole self. This is the power that money and possessions has over men’s hearts. It claims your heart like a cruel slave owner. You are bought and paid for and completely beholden to your stuff. It runs your life.
Now, at this point we also need to make a distinction. It’s not the stuff itself that is sinful, but how the stuff is used. There are two commandments dealing with possessions. The Seventh Commandment says, Thou shalt not steal, which shows us that God is concerned for personal property. Taking someone’s property is putting yourself in the place of God, who alone is the One who gives and takes away. Blessed be the name of the Lord (Job 1:21). Thus it’s not a sin in itself to have and to own property. But then the commandments conclude with two Thou shalt not covet’s. The thing itself is not sin, but its misuse is damning.
What does it mean to covet? Want or even desire doesn’t grasp the whole idea of what it means to covet. You can want a new pair of shoes without coveting them. Coveting is an intense desire, an anxious self-seeking. It’s setting your heart upon something. It’s wanting more and more. In this sense, St. Paul twice defines covetousness as idolatry (Eph 5:5; Col 3:5). Desiring stuff is put right up there with sexual immorality and uncleanness as far and things that prohibit you from the kingdom of heaven.
The Large Catechism teaches, He who has money and possessions feels secure [Luke 12:16–21] and is joyful and undismayed as though he were sitting in the midst of Paradise. On the other hand, he who has no money doubts and is despondent, as though he knew of no God. For very few people can be found who are of good cheer and who neither mourn nor complain if they lack Mammon. This care and desire for money sticks and clings to our nature, right up to the grave (LC I.7-9).
The irony of abundant wealth and possessions is that in the end you don’t end up owning it, it ends up owning you. It becomes your master and demands your full devotion. But even the vast wealth of the richest men in the world—the Bill Gates and the Donald Trumps and the Stan Kroenkes—even they could never amass enough wealth to equal the worth of one of the seven billion people in this world in God’s sight.
Therefore, this I am saying to you, “Stop worrying for your soul [whole life], what you may eat [or what you may drink], neither for your body, what you may put on. Is not the soul more than food and the body more than clothing? Look to the birds of the heavens, that they do not sow, neither do they harvest, neither do they gather into barns, and your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of greater worth than they? And which of you, being anxious, is able to add upon his stature one cubit? And concerning clothing, who is anxious? Observe well the lilies of the field, how they are growing. They do not toil, neither do they spin. I say to you that not even Solomon in all his glory was clothed as one of them. If the grass of the fields, which is here today and tomorrow is cast into the furnace, God clothes in such a way, will He not much more for you, O you of little faith! (vv 25-30).
According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, anxiety is the most common mental disorder afflicting our society. It can be treated in a variety of ways—cognitive and behavior therapies, medications, alternative medicines—but every therapy simply aims to mask the symptoms, to balance brain chemistry. But it doesn’t address the root problem. Therapy will never cure anxiety, only lessen its effect on your life.
Anxiety’s root cause is the corrupt nature, the covetous nature that is inclined to make a god out of everything except the true God. It’s the belief that your greatest good is found in money and possessions. The kernel of anxiety is a flesh that cannot by its own reason or strength believe that God will provide for it in the same way that He provides for the birds of the heavens and the lilies of the field.
In His speech on covetousness and anxiety, Jesus does not offer you therapy. He doesn’t go for the symptom. He attacks the root cause. He speaks to faith. Normally, telling an anxious person to be not anxious only serves to make that person more anxious. But the Word of Jesus is different than the words of mere men. When He speaks, He creates reality. So when He says, “Why are you anxious?” It’s not good advice from an expert. He speaks so that you would believe.
Look at the birds of the air. God created them and He still provides for them. They don’t have to store up in barns. Look at the fields. God separated the waters and made the dry land appear and clothed it with lilies and more. If He does such things for flowers and birds, what do you think He does for the part of creation that’s worth much more?
When mammon becomes the object of your heart’s desire, when you consider it your source of greatest good, Jesus says it becomes your master. It owns you. And so your worth is nothing more than your net worth. But there is a greater good for you that considers you a greater worth. Your Lord Jesus Christ came join you in the flesh to redeem you, a lost and condemned creature, to purchase and win you from all sins, from death, and from the power of the devil. He didn’t pay with gold or silver, but with His holy precious blood and His innocent suffering and death. So that you would be His own, and live under Him in His kingdom.
Your worth is much greater than lilies or birds, because the Son of God didn’t become a lily to save lilies, or a bird to save birds. He became human to save humans. Your worth is much greater than a vault of gold or silver because the price Jesus paid is infinitely more valuable—His suffering; His blood; His death.
The words of Jesus speak to faith and create a new heart and a new spirit within you. But the symptoms of the old self may yet remain. Like when you take your medicine, but it takes a while before you start to feel its relief. In the same way, Jesus works from the inside out. The new creation, the man of faith is hidden under the shell of a sinner, who still worries about having enough money to pay the bills and put food on the table and clothes on the kids, who piles tomorrow’s troubles on top of today’s.
But the good news is that the same One who purchased you with suffering, blood, and death also rose from the dead to begin a new creation. And the body He gave and the blood He shed, He offers to you today as pledges of your own resurrection from the dead, so that no matter what tomorrow brings, even if it should bring your own death, there will be a tomorrow after that. That is the treasure of heaven and your greatest good.
Therefore, do not be anxious, saying, ‘What might we eat?’ or, ‘What might we drink?’ or, ‘What might we put on?’ For the Gentiles are constantly seeking after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need all of them. But start seeking first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all of these will be added to you. Do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its troubles (vv 31-34). This is the gift of the one, true God. His kingdom and reign. His body and blood. His righteousness. Your greatest good.
God the Father Is an Eternal Fountain Who Gushes forth Nothing But What Is Good
In the name of + Jesus.
Jacob W Ehrhard