Sunday, September 13, 2015
Homily for The Fifteenth Sunday after Trinity (Trinity 15)
Matthew 6:24-34; Galatians 5:25 – 6:10; 1 Kings 17:8-16
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
“I’m about to prepare the evening meal for my family, so that we might eat it and die.” I think my wife has said something like that from time to time. But, do you hear the desperation in the widow’s remark? Do you hear the hopelessness and the despair in her words? “All I’ve got left is a handful of flour and a little oil, enough only for my son and I to eat tonight, and now you want me to bake you a little cake. Well, why not! It all ends the same way anyway. At least it will come a little quicker!”
We’ve all felt like that from time to time. The money is tight – no, the money is gone – but there’s still a pile of bills to be paid. Our little church is in that position right now! All you see and hear on the news and the internet is the continuing dissolution of values and morals in America, the uprising and advance of extremists and people who hate us and want to kill us, drugs and violence, graphic displays of pornography and sex in every thing from music awards ceremonies to fast food restaurant commercials. It’s easy to be become anxious and worried. It’s easy to become overcome by hopelessness and despair. It’s easy to want to throw in the towel, to give up, to let it all go to hell, to just let death come, the sooner the better.
You see, you cannot serve two masters. And, whether you realize it or not, that is exactly what you are doing. You are serving your master the devil. Well, you’re not serving God with your fretting, worrying, anxiety, and despair, so just who did you think you were serving? Jesus says that you cannot serve God and mammon. I know, our English translation says “money.” Sure, mammon is money, but it is much more than that. Mammon is all manner of material wealth, and fleeting and worldly things that we are tempted to possess and amass and put our fear, love, and trust in. Mammon includes money and possessions, but it also includes fame, power, popularity, respect, and honor. Understand, these things are not evil or sinful in themselves, but they are, in truth, God’s blessings upon you. However, what you do with them, what you make with them, and how you receive them is what makes the difference. It’s truly a spiritual matter: Do you receive the LORD’s blessings as gifts over which you have been given stewardship in your vocations, or do you believe them to be the fruits of your own labors for which you have merited money and possession, fame, power, popularity, respect, and honor before your fellow man and before God?
Satan tempts you towards the latter. Thus St. Paul exhorts you saying, “If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit.” This is to say, you must walk and think and choose and decide to use your gifts in the right way, in accordance with the purpose God entrusted you with them. But, if you give into the devil’s temptation, then you will become conceited, thinking too highly of yourself and your fruits, and envious of others and their gifts. Then, God’s gifts become your master instead of God who gave them to you. Then your fear, love, and trust is in mammon, and not in God above and before all things. You will be tempted to believe that you are free and independent, but mammon is no easy master, but it is a cruel tyrant and you are its slave. And, the fruits that your master mammon will produce in you are against the Spirit. Therefore, St. Paul exhorts you to test your own work to see if it is pure and in accord with God’s will and command.
In this regard, we are here to help each other. St. Paul also exhorts you saying, “Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.” You are your brother’s keeper; thus, St. Paul says, “So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.” They say, charity begins at home. Well, this place is your spiritual home, and these people are your spiritual brothers and sisters. Right here, in your family of faith, is where your walking in the Spirit begins and is honed and perfected so that you will be empowered and well-trained in guiding others to life in the Spirit.
Now, what does all this have to do with worry and anxiety? Everything! For, worry and anxiety are the worship you pay to a false god, to a tyrannical slave master, to mammon, and to Satan. In contrast, peace and contentment are the fruits of fear, love, and trust in God above all things, and, they are also the proper worship of God. In today’s Gospel, Jesus is not speaking something mysterious, but He is speaking plain old common sense, though in a profoundly perceptive and ontologically true way. Jesus says, “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? 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?” No one improves or extends their life in any way by being anxious and worried. In fact, you will most certainly shorten your life and make your living less enjoyable. So, why do it? Why give in to this temptation?
I know it’s hard. And, your Lord Jesus knows it’s hard too. That’s why He has gathered you into this family, His body, the Church. You are not alone. And, when you suffer the affliction of temptation, and even when you fall – especially when you fall – your brothers and sisters in Christ are supposed to be here to pick you up, to direct you to the healing oil of Baptism, Confession, and Absolution, and to the cleansing wine and nourishing food of the Lord’s Supper. And, your LORD promises you that, until He returns, “The jar of flour shall not be spent, and the jug of oil shall not be empty.”
Do not be afraid! Rather, in faith, reach out, go out, do the loving thing, the merciful thing, the compassionate thing, even if it seems the foolish thing, the thankless thing, or even the dangerous thing. When the widow expressed her despair and hopelessness that she was down to her last rations and was about to die, Elijah directed her to her faith in the LORD and in His promise, “The jar of flour shall not be spent, and the jug of oil shall not be empty, until the day that the LORD sends rain upon the earth.” Elijah said to her, “Do not fear; go and do as you have said. But first make me a little cake of it and bring it to me, and afterward make something for yourself and your son.”
Go and do. Those are words that, as Lutheran Christians, you have been somewhat conditioned to hear as Law and not as Gospel. I say to you, that is a good thing. You must always be on guard against legalism and the slavery to works and the works righteousness that it produces – a fear, love, and trust, not in God, but in yourself and your own faith, piety, and works. And, yet, the Holy Scriptures, even the Gospels, the Apostles, and Jesus Himself regularly command you to go and do. As I spoke to you two weeks ago concerning Jesus’ Parable of the Good Samaritan, how you hear and understand Jesus’ go and do has everything to do with what you believe about Jesus, His Father, and the Holy Spirit. For the baptized, for the regenerated, for the faithful, for you, Jesus’ go and do is not a commandment of the Law, but a fruit of the Gospel. The Holy Spirit equips you to perform these works of love and service for your brothers and sisters in Christ and for your neighbor, not for merit before God, but in love of God and the people He loves, and to His glory above all things. Jesus gives you what you need to go and do, and He works in you and through you as you go and do them.
However, if you are filled with anxiety, worry, and fear, then you will be unfruitful, but not fruitless. You will bear fruit, to be sure, but not the fruit of the True Vine Jesus, but the fruit of the evil one: pride, envy, jealousy, wrath, lust, sloth, greed, hatred, etc. Jesus would have you live by the Spirit. Jesus would have you live, not in slavery and its trappings – fear and bitterness and resentment –, but in true freedom and its fruits – love, mercy, compassion, charity, selflessness, etc. “Do not be deceived,” writes St. Paul, “God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life.”
The answer lies in Jesus’ words, “But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness.” You shall have no other gods. You shall fear, love, and trust in God above all things. “No one can serve two masters.” “You cannot serve God and mammon.” Do not let yourself be overcome with fear and anxiety, hopelessness and despair. These are the temptations of the evil one, and your flesh is weak to withstand them. But, instead, be filled with the gifts of Jesus – faith and forgiveness, life, now and for eternity – and serve Him by being served by Him and by serving others with what He has served you. Go and do this, not in fear, or out of coercion, with resentment or pride, but go and do them out of freedom and love.
“Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness.” Well, you’ve found it! The kingdom of God is right here with you now, before your very eyes, to clothe you and to comfort you and to empower you with His righteousness that you may live without fear, in love and freedom, all the days of your life, glorifying God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in service of your brother and sister and your neighbor in Jesus Christ. Here, “The jar of flour shall not be spent, and the jug of oil shall not be empty, until the day that the LORD sends rain upon the earth.”
In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.