The Fifteenth Sunday after Trinity

September 28, 2014

“Faith and Idolatry”

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


Idolatry comes naturally.  That’s because human nature is corrupted.  Nobody can understand the first thing about the true religion until he understands this.  People assume that we all naturally have a sense of God and the divine so that if we follow our religious instincts we will find the truth.  Oh, we might have to search for a while, but sooner or later we will find our way to God.


This is not true.  In fact, we are born spiritually blind and if left to our own devises we will remain so.  In the beginning, God created us in his own image.  We knew him and loved him and served him.  We desired him.  We sought him out and found our greatest pleasure in knowing him.  This is what we were like in the beginning.  This is the way God made us. 


This image was lost when Adam and Eve disobeyed God and ate of the fruit that God commanded them not to eat.  It used to be that Christians understood this.  But the doctrine of human evolution from the animals has been binding dogma upon the governing elites for quite some time now.  This dogma disallows accepting as historical the biblical account of our fall into sin.  Once the historicity of mankind’s fall into sin is denied, so is the doctrine of original sin, and so is the Christian teaching that we are by nature spiritually depraved, dead, and at enmity against God.


While we cannot prove original sin and the total spiritual depravity of the human race from nature, we can surely illustrate it.  That’s what our Lord does for us in our text for today. First, he identifies the primary form idolatry takes.  He says:


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.


Idolatry literally means the worship of idols.  To worship is to serve.  Mammon is a word that is usually translated as money.  It refers to all the stuff to which folks attach their attention, their affection, and their love – all of the stuff they are afraid to lose and upon which they rely for happiness in life.  To serve mammon is to serve the creation rather than the Creator.  It is to rely on the gifts instead of the Giver.  The worship of mammon is incompatible with the worship of God. 


And what form does mammon worship take?  How do you know if you are guilty of it?  Jesus makes it very simple for us.  He says:


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.


To worry about the things we need for our lives and our bodies here on earth is to worship mammon.  It is idolatry.  It is a sin against God.  To worry that God will not provide for us when he has promised to do so is to accuse God of lying, of being fickle and unreliable, of being insincere.  To worry whether God will clothe and feed the body he himself fashioned is to accuse God of sin – and that’s a sin.


This isn’t a weakness we can overcome by having more pious thoughts.  The problem is our thoughts.  We think we’re so smart.  So we subject God’s word to the authority of our own human reason.  But what we don’t see – because in our spiritual blindness we cannot see it – is that in fact, we are not subjecting God’s word to what is objectively reasonable, but to what only appears to be reasonable to people whose reason is under the sway of their fears, doubts, and denials.  In other words, our faithlessness becomes the standard for faith!  That’s just plain foolish!


Here is the irony of it.  We, who were given dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air when we were created in God’s image, must now learn from the birds of the air what this dominion means!  Dominion means lordship.  But we cannot have dominion over anything at all until the Lord God has dominion over us.  And this is where we are, in our fallen condition, so confused, so utterly at a loss to understand God, his ways, or the way back to him.


So we fear, love, and trust in the creation, instead of the Creator.  We worry about food as if we live to eat instead of eating to live.  We worry about clothes as if the body were made for clothes instead of clothes for the body.  We put what is subordinate to our lives and bodies in a position of authority over them and thereby ignore the authority of almighty God.  What fools we are.  Can’t we see?  The birds don’t fret over where they will get their food every day but our Father in heaven feeds them.  Are we not of more value than they?  There is no tailor or fashion designer in the world who can come close to reproducing the beauty of a single flower in the field.  Where did the food come from?  Where did the beauty come from?  And isn’t he the One who knows your every need?  He who feeds the birds of the air and clothes the fields with flowers is your Father.  He knows what you need.  He knows your need for food and he provides it.  He knows your need for clothing and he provides it.  Don’t think that by elevating doubt above faith you are being so smart.  A bird with a bird’s brain knows better than that!


You don’t get the stuff you need by working for it.  You get the stuff you need from the hand of your heavenly Father who knows what you need and loves you.  Just because you work, get a paycheck, and spend the money on stuff you need doesn’t mean that you are making a living.  That’s an arrogant presumption.  Life is more than food, the body is more than clothes, and you get neither food nor clothes except by the gracious provision of your Father in heaven who rules over all things for the benefit of those he loves.


Or don’t we know this?  We did.  When we walked with God we did.  Before we fell into sin and chose the deceit of the devil over the knowledge of God we did.  Now, look at us!  God invites us to know him, to receive him, to trust in him, to rely upon him in our every need and what do we do with his gracious invitation?  We have something more important to do!  We are so full of ourselves, our lives, our duties, our jobs, our families, our hobbies, and our busy-body infatuation with everything we see that is dying in front of our eyes.  And where is the font of life?  Where is God?  Oh, here’s there.  He’ll always be there, we piously assert, as we worry over this and fret over that and ignore what God has to say to us about what is truly valuable in life.


Listen to Jesus.  Listen to him who comes from heaven to earth to bring to us the treasures of heaven.  Listen to him who brings us from earth to heaven.  Listen to him, for his words will elevate your soul to heaven even as your body is living here below.  He says:


But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you.


He doesn’t say that first you must make sure that you can balance your budget, pay all your bills, secure a decent income, and provide for your retirement.  He says first you seek the kingdom of God and his righteousness.  This is first.  Everything else follows. 


The kingdom of God comes to us in God’s word.  We enter it by Holy Baptism where we are born from above by the power of the Holy Spirit.  Christ rules over us in this kingdom.  He lives an obedient life as our substitute all the way to his sacrificial death on the cross where he suffers and dies for the sin of the world, rises from the dead with righteousness to give, and then clothes us in this righteousness that renders us righteous before God.  The kingdom of God and his righteousness is Christ taking our sin upon himself and giving us his righteousness in return.  He rules over us by forgiving us our sins and by giving us his Spirit who moves us to love God.  This is how our lives obtain true value and purpose.


How senseless, how useless, how utterly vain it is for Christians to worry about tomorrow.  They are so busy doing God’s work for him that they don’t have time to study the Holy Scriptures.  They skip church.  They neglect God’s word and then wonder why they fret and worry about what God freely gives them without their work or worry.  They worry because they are idolaters.  Their first love is in what is perishing with the world.  Mammon won’t provide them with any peace or rest.  What they really need is not more stuff, a better job, a more secure financial future, or whatever else they imagine will enable them to rest. 


They need Christ’s righteousness and reign over them.  They need a broken and contrite heart.  As they acknowledge their idolatrous love of and trust in mammon to their heavenly Father, he will not cast them off for their sin.  He will receive them in love, forgive them for Christ’s sake, and replace their false faith in mammon with true and childlike faith in him.  As they seek his kingdom and his righteousness he makes them wealthier than they ever could have imagined with a wealth that no one can take away. 


Rolf D. Preus


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