Text: Matthew 6:24-34
If you’re anything like me, you’re no stranger to a sleepless night. As a sleep apnea patient, I cannot remember a time when I have slept well on my own. In fact, I’ve had a terrible habit since I was a kid of listening to music or videos as I go to bed so that I can lull myself to sleep. Thank God for comfortable earbuds and a CPAP machine! But even if you don’t have my particular sleep problems, I think most everyone has the occasional (or not so occasional) sleepless night, usually because something’s on our minds. Something is worrying us. We are anxious. Maybe we’ve encountered an unexpected expense and we’re trying to figure out how we’re going fix the budget. Perhaps we’re worried over loved ones who have gone astray or are facing illness. Perhaps the various cares of our all-too-busy-lives keep on invading our thought lives. Whatever the specific case may be, today’s Gospel reading has both rebuke and encouragement for each of us.
Please open your bibles to the Gospel of Matthew, Chapter 6, beginning at Verse 24. This can also be found in your Prayer Books on page 211. Jesus says:
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 [“mammon” in the King James]. 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?
In my bible, verse 24 is the end of one pericope, one section of the text titled “Lay Up Treasures in Heaven,” and verse 25 begins a new pericope titled “Do Not Be Anxious.” I’ve mentioned this before, but remember that those groupings and titles are not part of the St. Matthew’s original writing. That said, I find it very interesting that the teaching against greed so smoothly transitions into a teaching against anxiety. So often it is the material aspects of life that cause us anxiety. That is, we’re worrying about money, provision, and things. We think that we’re the masters over our money and our stuff, but all-too-often we’re actually their slaves. We spend most of our time working to obtain or keep our material goods. And when we’re not working for or on them, we’re often obsessing over them in our thought life. I fancy myself to be a man who values simplicity. But deep down, I’m just as greedy or covetous as the next guy. I don’t want to think about how many hours I’ve spent going over vestment catalogs, or musical instrument websites, or menswear shops. The truth is, the last thing I need is more stuff; I have neither the space nor money for any of it!
I’m reminded of one of my favorite preachers, whose home and belongings were completely destroyed in Hurricane Andrew, back in 1992. In fact, he says he almost shot one of Billy Graham’s grandsons, mistaking him for a looter! But this preacher says that he was surprised by the feeling of relief and peace when he realized that he just didn’t have any more stuff to protect.
The Church Fathers had sharp words against materialism. St. John Chrysostom writes, “Now Jesus calls mammon here ‘a master,’ not because of its own nature but on account of the wretchedness of those who bow themselves beneath it. So also he calls the stomach a god [Phil 3:19], not from the dignity of such a mistress but from the wretchedness of those enslaved.” If this stings a bit, it’s meant to. Jesus is, after all, showing us the truth from God’s Law, and God’s Law always accuses us. But at the same time, we should see that Jesus is probably being a little kinder than Chrysostom. Consider the e t section, beginning at Verse 26:
Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?
The imagery is almost comical, or a least child-like. You could almost picture a toddler’s board book with sparrows working on a farm or flowers working at a spinning wheel and loom! The inherent silliness of those pictures is what we are like when we worry and are anxious. It reminds me of when Leah somehow learned the word “emergency” last week. She spent two days running around the house calling everything an emergency and a “big problem,” though she couldn’t actually identify anything that needed to be solved! She just thought it was fun to be in “emergency mode.” How often are we like that? We get an odd sort of satisfaction over worrying. It makes us feel somehow in control, like we’re taking life seriously. But it’s really just birds on a tractor or flowers at a loom. I imagine Jesus saying “O ye of little faith” with the same sort of mock exasperation that I say to Leah, “goodness, child!”
The truth is, God has got it under control. While we’re certainly called by God to be diligent in our various vocations, he is the one who provides. That’s a lesson I have to learn again and again. In my life as a real estate appraiser, I have been reliant on contract work for over 10 years now. Most of the time, I find myself annoyed that too much work is coming in. But when I actually have breathing room, I start to worry that I won’t get enough work! All-too-often I’m neither grateful for the work nor for the relief! And through it all, God reminds me that he’s the one who’s in charge. Chrysostom writes, “It is clear that it is not our diligence but the providence of God, even where we seem to be active, that finally accompanies everything. In the light of God’s providence, none of our cares, anxieties, toils or any other such things will ever come to anything, but all will utterly pass away.” I don’t know about you, but I need that reminder, and often.
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, and your heavenly father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.
One of the marks of following Christ is that we are called to relate to the material needs differently than the World. The World naturally obsesses over them, takes credit when they’re obtained, and cries foul when they’re not obtained. But as Christians, we are to recognize that every thing is ultimately a gift from God, sometimes for our comfort, and sometimes for our sanctification. We’re called to be a thankful people, content in all circumstances. The World cannot be content. The World cannot be at peace. But we have the “peace that passes understanding.” Our priorities are to be different. It’s not so much that we first seek God’s kingdom, and then seek food, drink, and clothing. Rather, it’s that we make God’s kingdom our highest priority, and realize that he will take care of the rest.
Sometimes we think seeking his kingdom means only the so-called “vocational ministry.” We sometimes think that if you’re not a missionary, clergyman, monk, nun, full-time evangelist, or at least spending all your spare time at Church, you’re not seeking God’s kingdom. Nothing could be further from the truth. We are called to different vocations, and most of us are called to those vocations in the midst of the World. But we are to remember that our vocations not an end to themselves. The point of our vocations is ultimately to glorify God, not to simply do our jobs. Sometimes that’s hard to remember. Sometimes it’s hard to see how these things can glorify God. But if you’re a Christian, united to Christ by faith and in Baptism, you bring Christ with you, and you represent him to your co-workers, family, customers, neighbors. When we think about that, the Holy Spirit will often show us how we can glorify God in our vocations.
And there is some incredible mercy in Jesus’ gentle admonition. “All these things will be added to you.” Even if we lack in this world, there is a promise of a world to come. It’s not just a recapitulation of Eden, but a consummation of it. God’s kingdom will be fully established on this earth with the Lord Jesus on the Throne, and we will be doing what we were always meant to do. We will be who we were always meant to be. When we have this in mind, we are freed from worry, and freed to live out our vocations for our neighbor’s sake and for God’s glory. We’re freed from the burden of anxiety and worry, because the success is ultimately not up to us. God is always in charge, always loves you, and is not going anywhere. I don’t know about you, but that helps me sleep better at night.
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.