Sunday, February 27, 2011

Epiphany 8A Sermon -- Matthew 6:24-34 (LSB Epiphany 8A)

February 27, 2011 at Calvary Evangelical Lutheran Church – Mechanicsburg, PA

[Jesus said:] “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.”

In the final portion of the Sermon on the Mount that the Church hears during this long Epiphany Season, Jesus speaks about divided loyalty. A person’s heart cannot be devoted to two masters, especially so when the two masters are in opposition with each other. Hearts do not stay divided, at least not equally. Instead, they will cleave to one object of devotion: “He will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other.”

This observation of Jesus is essential for those who are living in this worldly life. There are many objects of devotion available in this world. They seek to have their own disciples and servants. These objects include earthly possessions, as Jesus says: “You cannot serve God and money [Mammon].” That is why He also says: “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?” What Jesus includes are numerous items that can be objects of devotion, false gods. And if they become false gods, then they will prevent Jesus’ hearers from serving Him.

Devotion to false gods leads to a terrible end. That is the fate that Jesus is to deliver His people from. He takes their hearts away from things that provide no hope, no eternal good. So He says to His disciples: “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. . . .” The focus on the earthly, on the temporal is the concern of those who do not have knowledge of what is beyond this life. They are those who have made Mammon their deity. Their acts of piety are to be anxious about money or other earthly goods. Concern for them is an act of devotion.

But the false gods that attract humanity are not simply money or earthly goods. There are people who are concerned with what is beyond this life. To whom do they turn? To someone or something that promises good in the life of the world to come. Yet without knowledge of Jesus and what He provides, their desires are left unmet. The Psalmist describes such people and the gods they have devised: “Their idols are silver and gold, the work of human hands. They have mouths, but do not speak; eyes, but do not see. They have ears, but do not hear; noses, but do not smell. They have hands, but do not feel; feet, but do not walk; and they do not make a sound in their throat. Those who make them become like them; so do all who trust in them.” Even those who do not serve money but who serve other gods are left hopeless. Their trusted ones will not be able to provide what they desire.

Jesus’ work is to draw His people away from false hopes to the certainty that will be provided for them. That certainty is found in the Father whom Jesus makes known to His people. He speaks of the Father not as an impersonal or impotent deity, but God who knows His children and acts for them. Jesus desires that His disciples be completely devoted to the Father in heaven, trusting that He understands their needs and provide for them. So He speaks: “The Gentiles seek after [the concerns of this life], 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.” Seek after what is eternal, what is greater than this life, and your Father in heaven give you the minor things as well.

Such trust is what the Psalmist exhorted in the people of Israel. He instructs them to avoid the gods who are the product of human minds and to cleave to the Lord: “O Israel, trust in the Lord! He is their help and their shield. O house of Aaron, trust in the Lord! He is their help and their shield. You who fear the Lord, trust in the Lord! He is their help and their shield. The Lord has remembered us; He will bless us; He will bless the house of Israel; He will bless the house of Aaron; He will bless those who fear the Lord, both the small and the great.” They are not to chase after Baal or Molech or other deities of metal or stone who cannot hear or act for their adherents. Instead, they are to trust in the Lord who called their nation into existence, made covenant with them, and acted to fulfill His promises.

The Lord does not forget or neglect His people. He proves Himself to be a faithful and devout Master who is deserving of His believers’ devotion. Even when His people were exiled, the Lord showed His concern for them: “But Zion said, ‘The Lord has forsaken me; my Lord has forgotten me.’ ‘Can a woman forget her nursing child, that she should have no compassion on the son of her womb? Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you. Behold, I have engraved you on the palms of My hands.’” He answers their needs by raising up King Cyrus of Persia who set them free to go back to their homeland. The exile would end; the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob would again inhabit the Promised Land.

But even more, the Lord sends salvation and deliverance, provisions for what is eternal: “In a time of favor I have answered you; in a day of salvation I have helped you; I will keep you and give you as a covenant to the people, to establish the land, to apportion the desolate heritages, saying to the prisoners, ‘Come out,’ to those who are in darkness, ‘Appear.’ They shall feed along the ways; on all bare heights shall be their pasture; they shall not hunger or thirst, neither scorching wind nor sun shall strike them, for He who has pity on them will lead them, and by springs of water will guide them. And I will make all My mountains a road, and My highways shall be raised up. Behold, these shall come from afar, and behold, these from the north and from the west, and these from the land of Syene.” Restoration is promised, but not just for this life. What the Lord provides will be life in a new heaven and new earth where everything perfectly abides by His order.

The Lord who provides such help for His people is a Master who can be trusted. Those who hear and believe Jesus’ words that make known God the Father are led to true devotion to Him. Your Father in heaven institutes and orders His creation to provide for your earthly needs. When this takes place, as people and organizations fulfill their callings, the world receives its daily bread. You are both beneficiaries and benefactors in this grand scheme that He has established. Jesus has taught you to pray to the Father for what you need and the Father has promised to hear and answer.

However, Jesus’ teaching directs you to the greater things that your Father in heaven provides for you. Remember His statement: “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?” This reveals an important truth: your life is more than the span of days that you spend on earth and more than the concerns of that time span. No, you are much more than that. Your life includes days beyond the calendar. And your Father in heaven is involved in them, too.

So Jesus says: “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?” You are greater than the birds and your lifespan is longer than the grass. And your Father in heaven knows that fact about you.

Because He knows that truth about you, He has provided even for eternal things. It is what His Son Jesus was sent to accomplish, as your salvation is engraved in the palms of His nail-pierced hands. The Father has given new birth to you, so that you are born from above, born to live eternally. And to clothe you for this eternity, He has placed upon you the robes of His Son’s righteousness. To feed you for the days without end, He has provided the bread of heaven and the finest of wines that brings forgiveness, life, and salvation. To accomplish this, He has appointed faithful stewards of His mysteries. All this is the measure of the Father’s devotion and care for you, His servant people.

But without the work of His Son making this known, you would not have any understanding of it. So Jesus has revealed this great truth to you. But even worse, devotion to other gods, other concerns will cut you off from what your Father in heaven provides. So 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.” He speaks this to correct you, to turn your hearts and minds to what is eternally important. These are the things that your Father in heaven grants to you as you “seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness.” The Father who gives you a place in His eternal kingdom will grant you what you need for daily, earthly life.

The Lord God of Sabaoth is your Father, since He has engraved your names in the palms of His Risen Son and given you His Spirit as a guarantee of His eternal love. So as you hear these words of Jesus, reestablish your allegiance to your benevolent Master who provides all things necessary for your body and soul. Love Him. Be devoted to Him. Seek His kingdom and His righteousness, the life that He grants to you through His Son’s death and resurrection. In Him, the spans of your lives are increased by endless days. In Him, you are given clothes fitting for eternal festivities. In Him, you are fed the greatest banquet and satisfied. That is the type of Master that you have, a Master to be loved forever.

T In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

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