The Fifteenth Sunday after Trinity

September 16, 2012

“Idolatry’s Cure”

St. Matthew 6:24-34


“No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon. Therefore I say to you, do not worry 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? Look at the birds of the air, for they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? Which of you by worrying can add one cubit to his stature? So why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; and yet I say to you that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. Now if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will He not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’  For after all these things the Gentiles seek. For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.” St. Matthew 6:24-34



The reason we worry about the future is because we don’t trust God.  The reason we don’t trust God is because we are by nature idolaters.  Idolatry is the worship of a false god.  All sin is idolatry.  All sinners are idolaters.


We are Christians.  We have been delivered from idolatry and ushered into the kingdom of God.  The kingdom of God is where our God rules over us by his grace.  He forgives us all our sins.  He makes us citizens of heaven.  He fills us with the Holy Spirit.  He works in us the confidence that we are his dear children for whom he will provide every need of body and soul.   


This kingdom is not something we win for ourselves.  It was won for us by the holy obedience of our Lord Jesus.  By taking our place under God’s law and by suffering for our sins he fulfilled all righteousness for us.  His obedience and suffering is our robe of righteousness that covers us and presents us spotless before God as pure saints.


That’s the kingdom of God and his righteousness.  That’s the foundation of our lives in this world.  Belonging to this kingdom and being covered with this righteousness make us rich.  Yet we worry.  We ignore our wealth and worry about being poor.  We worry about what we will eat, what we will drink, what we will wear.  We worry about all sorts of things, and our worrying is a form of worship.  It is a form of false worship.  It is a form of idolatry.


Idolatry is worshipping the creation instead of the Creator.  Do we trust in the things we need?  Or do we trust in the One who gives us the things we need?  We who have been delivered out of idolatry and have through the new birth of water and the Spirit entered into the kingdom of God are not in heaven yet.  The kingdom of God is here on earth wherever the gospel is proclaimed and the sacraments are administered.  These are the means of grace through which God gives us the righteousness of his kingdom.  These means of grace work faith in our hearts and we are born from above.  The Bible says that flesh and blood cannot inherit this kingdom, so we must be born from above.  But the sinful flesh clings to us.  God has delivered us from sin, but our sinful nature remains, hanging on until the day we die.  So we must do battle against idolatry within our own hearts.


We worry.  We look at what we need and we wonder how it will be provided.  We make only so much money.  What are we going to do?  What if we get sick?  What will insurance cover?  We know that we aren’t really in control and this means that we cannot know whether or not we’ll be provided for.  If we were in control we would be provided for.  Isn’t that right? 


That’s not right.  That’s wrong.  Not being in control puts someone else in control and that someone else is our heavenly Father.  Jesus teaches us to call him, “Our Father, who art in heaven.”  Jesus teaches us that our heavenly Father feeds the birds and clothes the grass of the field.  He rules over this world with fatherly care.  He provides every living creature with what it needs and he will provide for us as well.


The godlessness of the twentieth century has given way to the proliferation of false gods in the twenty first century.  Atheism was a powerful intellectual force a generation ago.  Atheism teaches that there is no god.  Atheists are materialists.  They believe that the material universe is all that exists.  There is no God, no devil, no spirit world, no heaven or hell.  Everything is here and now.  The pop singer, John Lennon, promoted atheistic materialism with his song, “Imagine.”  We are to imagine that there is no heaven, no hell, and no religion. 


But atheism doesn’t work.  People are by nature religious.  Even if they reject the true God they will inevitably come up with gods to worship.  It’s human nature.  Materialism doesn’t satisfy the soul.  People want religious satisfaction.  So they invent gods to give them what they want.  Idols rule by means of lies, false promises, manipulation, and every form of deceit.  That’s because they are invented by sinful men.  Since the devil is the father of lies as our Lord Jesus said, it is the devil and his demons that are behind the lure and power of idols.  And all idols are basically the same.  They are creatures claiming the status of the Creator. 


Jesus nails down the very essence of idolatry when he calls it mammon.  Mammon is wealth.  It is the stuff that people trust in.  They can see it, measure it, and control it.  They’ve got it.  When they have it, they are in charge of their lives.  Or so they think.  But they are not.  The mammon that they think puts them in control is what controls them.  It is their master.  They must serve their master.


God or mammon – you cannot serve both.  Love and loyalty cannot be divided between the two.  You worship one or the other.  This is the way it is.  When we worry about food and drink and clothing and everything else that pertains to the needs and wants of our bodies we are saying that our Father in heaven is not really who he says he is. 


Idolatry makes the jealous God angry, as God himself made clear in the words he gave to Moses from Sinai, “I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God.”  But see how gently he chides us.  Jesus doesn’t threaten us.  He speaks kindly to us.  Look at the birds and consider the flowers.  Use your God-given senses and think clearly.  Put two and two together.  If your Father in heaven takes care of the birds will he not take care of you?   You’re worth more than a bird, aren’t you?  And you worry about being clothed.  See how God clothes the fields.  How beautiful they are, yet their beauty is here today and gone tomorrow.  Won’t he clothe you?


You worry and it does no good.  The god called mammon is one big fat liar.  He teaches you to worry and yet your worrying can’t make you any taller, smarter, healthier, or prettier.  It does you no good at all.  You aren’t in charge of your life.  You never were and you never will be.  When you think you are you are deceiving yourself and bowing down before the meanest god in the word: mammon.  He does nothing but lays burden upon burden on you.  Listen to the inspired words of the Apostle Paul: 


Now godliness with contentment is great gain.  For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out.  And having food and clothing, with these we shall be content.  But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and harmful lusts which drown men in destruction and perdition.  For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, for which some have strayed from the faith in their greediness, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows. 1 Timothy 6:6-10  


The love of money cheapens life.  It measures it by a false measurement.  Jesus tells us that life is more than food.  The body is more than clothing.  True life is lived in fellowship with the One who created us.  Our true clothing is the robe of righteousness with which God has clothed us in our baptism. 


That righteousness is what defines the kingdom of God.  Everybody wants righteousness.  Folks want the righteousness that the world sees.  Look at me!  See how good I am.  See how well off I am.  See how successful I am.  See what status I have.  And look at all my stuff!  Why, having this stuff must mean I’m good.  Otherwise, why should I have it?


But the kingdom of God is invisible to the human eye.  Its righteousness is of infinitely greater worth than all of the stuff that folks parade around.  The righteousness of God’s kingdom is the righteousness of Christ’s obedience and suffering.  This righteousness covers our sins.  It is the righteousness of Jesus’ blood that washes away our sins and makes us righteous before God.  God looks at us and see the obedience and suffering of his Son.  He sees what the world cannot see but what faith sees and trusts.  He sees us as pure and holy and innocent.  And so we are because we have Christ and belong to his kingdom of grace.


Life is more than food.  The body is more than clothing.  And the future is in God’s hands.  God will not provide us with the greater gift and turn around and deny us the lesser gift.  The greater gift is his kingdom and righteousness.  The lesser gift is the food, drink, and clothing we need to get by.  It makes no sense for God to give us the greater and deprive us of the lesser.  Here is how St. Paul puts it in Romans 8:32, “He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things?”  It is foolish idolatry to worry about the lesser gift.  The only cure for this idolatry is the greater gift.


How few find it!  It is more precious than all the money in the world.  It shines with a beauty unknown in nature.  It lasts forever and never loses its value.  It is the pure love of God filling us and assuring us that all our sins are forgiven just as surely as Christ our dear Lord suffered and died for us.  It is the Holy Spirit comforting us with the knowledge that the world in which we live must submit to its Creator in service to God’s children – and we are God’s children.  It is Jesus protecting us from the accusations of the law and the temptations of the devil.  It is heaven itself, where we will no longer be tempted and we will no longer suffer want and we will never be dissatisfied ever again.  This is the kingdom of God and his righteousness. 


Seek it.  Seek it first.  Set it before all other things for it is your greatest treasure.  When you have it and you know you have it you know that you have nothing to worry about.  God has taken care of it, whatever it is.  And he has delivered you from idolatry.  Amen