Seek First

Trinity 15
St. Matthew 6:24-34
September 4, 2016
Trinity Lutheran Church—New Haven, MO

In the name of + Jesus.

The Sermon on the Mount begins in 5:1 and continues through chapter 7. The sermon begins with the Beatitudes (5:2-11), which reinterpret what it means to be a recipient of God’s grace and blessing. With these, Jesus establishes the theology of the cross. Once that is established, He reinterprets the Law (5:17-48), applying it not only to outward deeds, but also to the sinful desires that reside in the heart. The Law applies to us not only by its letter, but by its spirit.

Charity, prayer, and fasting are the next themes. With all of these, Jesus points out that it is not the outward work that is pleasing to God, but when the work springs from a justified and reconciled heart. Doing great and pious works to show forth righteousness is the fast-track to hypocrisy. Each of these virtues also is in some way, emptying oneself. Charity is emptying of wealth; prayer is emptying of pride; fasting is emptying of sustenance.

Each of these disciplines are not to show forth righteousness, but to force the practitioner to look beyond himself for aid.

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.

Where Luke includes this saying at the end of the parable of the unjust steward, Matthew highlights it in the Sermon on the Mount. Here it functions as a segue from Jesus’ teaching on the distinction between earthly and heavenly treasures and the causes of anxiety.

Mammon is a lord, Jesus says, who is able to steal love and attention from God. It is not possible to partially love God and partially love money, or to partially give attention to God and money. But this is what Christians are ever so determined to do. We are convinced beyond a reasonable doubt that we can love God and love money.

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?

The way that Jesus issues this command is carries some additional weight. Not simply, “Eh, don’t worry,” but, Stop worrying! It indicates a repeated action in the past, which is commanded to cease.

The worrying that should cease is worry for the soul and the body. The implication is that our worry is in trying to gain advantage for our selves and our bodies through eating and drinking and clothing. Jesus underscores the frivolity of such worry by saying that it’s not worry about what one will eat, or will drink, or will wear, but what one may eat—there’s a hint of doubt that the actions will even happen in the future.

The rhetorical question Jesus asks demands a “Yes!” answer; the self is more than food and the body is 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?

Now Jesus points to one of the lower orders of the animal kingdom, the birds. Year after year the birds are supplied with food without their own industry. They merely receive and gather the gift of the Father. The birds of the heavens are not the crown of God’s creation, so would He not give as much, if not more, concern to man?

Not only does the Father provide physical food, but because the body is more than food, He also provides spiritual food and drink. You are of greater worth than the birds, and you receive the food of greatest worth—the Living Bread from Heaven. You drink from the living waters of Absolution. If you want to know the worth you have to the heavenly Father, look to the Sacrament and know that He gave His Son’s life and blood for your food and drink.

And which of you, being anxious, is able to add upon his stature one cubit?

The literal translation of this sentence is adding a measure to stature, but is also idiomatic for adding a span of time to life. Either way, the sense is that worry will not add what God gives freely as a gift. It may even subtract.

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.

Even lower than the birds of the heavens is plant life. Where the birds gather and build little nests and bring food to their young, the lilies and other plants do even less. They naturally do what God made them to do. They sprout, they grow, they bloom. A plant doesn’t plan to do these things, but does them because God made them to do it.

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!

Again the rhetorical question demands a “Yes!” answer. Yes, we are more than the grass of the fields, and yes, He will do much more for you. Not only does He provide you with clothes of fiber and leather, but He clothes you with Christ’s righteousness in Holy Baptism. He has given you the wedding dress that admits you to the kingdom.

Jesus now gets to the issue of worry. It’s not really worry, but it’s a weakness of faith (though not a complete lack of faith). The birds of the air exhibit faith, in a sense, by doing what they were made to do. Likewise, the fields exhibit faith by doing what they were made to do. The faith exhibited by them is receiving their gifts from God. Faith is gift received.

In Matthew’s Gospel, the disciples are similarly worried before Jesus calms the storm, and elsewhere they’re concerned about having no bread, and again they’re worried when they can’t heal of a demon-possessed boy. In every instance, the problem is that the disciples’ faith is place in something other than Christ.

Therefore, do not be anxious, saying, ‘What might we eat?’ or, ‘What might we drink?’ or, ‘What might we put on?’

Jesus’ Word both condemns the anxious for their anxiety and dispels the anxiety with the negative command, Do not be anxious. He calls us to repent for worrying about food, about drink, and about clothing, and simultaneously provides the cure.

For the Gentiles are [continually] seeking after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need all of them.

He also supplies us with the antidote to anxiety. It is tempting to jump too quickly to the next verse and concluding that seeking righteousness is the antidote for worry. But the antidote—the Gospel—is found here: for your heavenly Father knows that you need all of them. Your Father in heaven knows precisely what you need in order to do what He made you to do, just as He knows what the birds need and what the grass needs. You think you know what you need, but it might or might not happen. What the Father knows that you need, you will receive. No less.

But start seeking first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all of these will be added to you.

Now we have another imperative, to replace the negative one. Stop worrying, and Start seeking! It implies a continued action that commences when you have the promise of the Father, that He knows what you need and will provide it.

The things that matter in the long run are the kingdom of God and His righteousness—these are the treasures that endure. Just as the Father knows you need physical things, He knows that you need these spiritual things. He gives them freely just as He gives the birds their food and the fields their clothing. Faith receives these gifts.

The verb that is usually translated, “to seek,” has a wide range of meaning. One aspect of the verb is to consider, contemplate, meditate upon something. Jesus holds the kingdom of God and His righteousness before us, and He is the one who performs the imperative for us. He brings the kingdom to our attention, and warns us not to get distracted by pursuing the things that God already gives.

Do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its troubles.

Jesus concludes with this proverbial thought. There is more than enough trouble in each day to worry about. That means that tomorrow (and the next day and the next) will have troubles. You can count on it. But today, and tomorrow, and the next day and the next, will also have Jesus, you will still be in the kingdom of God, you will still have His righteousness as your own.

When you have the righteousness of God you have all that you could ever need, for He will also add to that righteousness the blessings of life and the body.

In the name of + Jesus.

Jacob W Ehrhard
VD+MA