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Seeking God's Kingdom

February 27th 2011 by Joel Schultz

Our sermon again is drawn from Jesus' Sermon on the Mount from Matthew's Gospel. Today Jesus addresses the issue of worry and how that reflects a lack of trust in our heavenly Father.

Epiphany 8A – Seeking God’s Kingdom – Matthew 6:24-34 – February 27, 2011

Today’s Gospel Reading is again taken from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount section of Matthew’s Gospel. Today, we skip ahead a few verses and hear Jesus call on His followers to cast aside any worry and anxiety about their life in this world. After all, the same Lord who provides for the birds of the air and clothes the lilies of the field will most certainly care for His beloved children. In fact, the Lord declares, “I will not forget you,” through the prophet Isaiah in our OT reading. “Behold, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands” (Is. 49:15,16).

As those crowds sat down on the mountainside and listened to Jesus, they undoubtedly had many worries. Imagine living the life of a peasant in ancient Palestine. Making do from one day to the next could not have been easy. Would that arid climate produce enough food? Would the sheep produce sufficient wool to clothe yet another child on the way? I am sure they had plenty to worry about. Jesus was very clearly addressing a matter of daily concern to His hearers when He spoke in our text:

“Therefore I tell you, 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? . . . And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? . . . Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things” (vv 25, 27, 31–32a).

But what about us? Do our Lord’s words give us any direction beyond the obvious advice not to worry? Or have we advanced so far, at least economically, that perhaps these are no longer issues that we have to concern ourselves with? You know the answer to that last question, because in truth, our lives are often filled with worry. We worry about everything—about the rising costs of gasoline and food, the bills that pile up each month, the increasing costs of health care, how to raise children in an increasingly secular world. We worry about the safety of our children and spouses.

What Jesus calls on you to do is to stop worrying about such things. But when He says that, what is He actually saying? Is He suggesting that maybe we don’t have to budget or that we shouldn’t try to save or, even better yet, that we shouldn’t be worried about going into debt? No, not at all. He desires us to be wise and to understand that part of the way He provides our daily bread is through the use of employment and intelligence as we live in this world.

What these words of Jesus are intended to do, more than simply telling us not to worry, is provide an opportunity for us to reexamine our lives? To ask that hard question: Who really is my God? Is it the God whose providential care is beyond question? Or is it the god of my own choosing?

As we ponder these questions, what we need to understand is that anyone who hears these words of Jesus cannot avoid the sting of the Law. At no other time in the history of mankind have we ever enjoyed the sumptuous lifestyle that we in the Western world enjoy right now. Sure, some have more than others, and right now, many more than usual are unemployed, but for most Americans we have a lot. We have so much stuff, in fact, that it’s very tempting to confuse our needs with our wants.

And so we come to the mistaken conclusion that we need things that we really don’t need. We convince ourselves that our lives would really stop without the latest gadget, new car, house, furniture. Now don’t hear me wrong… our family was just blessed with some extra money and bought a new couch. We have members who have new cars and are working on new homes. These can surely be gifts from God and are not inherently sinful.

But Jesus is asking where your heart truly is. “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” (v 24). For first-century Christians who lived in a world where slavery was commonplace, Jesus’ words made complete sense. A master demanded the total allegiance of his slave. With every fiber of his being, the slave was “duty-bound” to his master and to him alone. Similarly, God demands our total service. Luther succinctly puts it in his explanation of the First Commandment, “We should fear, love, and trust in God above all things” (Luther’s Small Catechism).

Jesus wasn’t joking. You cannot serve two masters. Yet Satan would tempt us to believe that we can. And the temptation that is ever before us to try to walk that tightrope of serving God, yet not wanting to serve Him alone. So we pray, “Lord, you’re always my master. I’ll love you with all my heart and soul and mind. But please don’t ask too much of me. Don’t make my life too uncomfortable.”

Note the solution to this dilemma that Jesus offers. He doesn’t give us easy answers. He doesn’t enumerate the needs we ought to have and then ask us to be satisfied. He doesn’t catalog the things that are within the parameters of what we should have in this life and tell us to not worry about the rest.

Instead, Jesus calls on us to reorder our lives completely: “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (v 33). In other words, we are to have just one master and to seek all good things from Him.

And where are you able to do that? Well, we go to those places where our Lord has promised to be – to His Means of Grace, by which He gives us His righteousness that becomes our righteousness. In other words, to have one master and to seek all good things from Him means that we will seek first the very life of God that was poured out for us on the cross for the salvation of the world. We seek first the one thing needful, the living and abiding Word of God, that Word by which He give to us His love and forgiveness and life. We seek first the Word made flesh – the very body and blood of Jesus given us in the Sacrament of this altar – for forgiveness, life, and salvation.

What Jesus intends for us is that our lives are so reordered that they are completely oriented toward Him, precisely so that we can be free from all the other worries of this life. What does Jesus say? Seek Him first and all these others things will be added to you—given to you. Certainly, that doesn’t solve in a magical way all of life’s challenges and troubles. There may be times when there isn’t enough at the end of the month to cover all of the bills. Decisions will have to be made whether something we want is what we really need.

But “look at the birds of the air . . . your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?” (v 26). When we seek first God’s kingdom and His righteousness, then what we will come to see is that all of the things that He’s talking about are the very daily bread for which He has invited us, and even commanded us, to pray. And that daily bread… we receive solely from His hand, given to us by a loving heavenly Father. Whether it is much or, at times, little, nevertheless, we learn to receive that daily bread with thanksgiving – Thanksgiving that is directed toward the Giver of those gifts.

In the final analysis, that is the very nature of the God whom we serve. He is the giver God, the one who gave His dearest treasure for us. He continues to give His life to you, with grace so overflowing that your cup will never be empty. So come, seek God’s kingdom and His righteousness, and then dwell in His peace, for He is a loving, giving God.

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