The Nineteenth Sunday After Pentecost September 21, 2008
245 (1-4), 245 (5-6), 29, 395
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.
Dear fellow-redeemed in Christ Jesus:
As Jesus’ disciples, we can think of ourselves as being in the audience when Jesus proclaimed the opening words of His Sermon on the Mount—the words we call “the beatitudes.” These aren’t the sort thing that would send us on a power trip. When Jesus says, “blessed are the poor in spirit,” we know that He’s talking about us! In the same vein we are called “the meek,” “the hungering and thirsting,” “the persecuted” (Matthew 5:3ff), and so forth. Nothing in these words qualifies us for any gloating in the eyes of the world. Jesus reminds us that we are ultimately dependant on God’s largesse—His graciousness and generosity.
On the other hand, Jesus shows us all along the largeness of our God: His readiness to satisfy us and fill us with good and His willingness to forgive all that is amiss in our lives even though we daily sin much and indeed deserve His punishment.
In the words we are considering today, Jesus highlights the “smallness” of life as so many people live it—being caught up in the pursuit of the little worldly things and anxious about them. Jesus compares that to the greatness of a life that is lived by faith in this glorious God of whom Jesus is the only-begotten Son and chief representative. In the verses before us today Jesus tells us of the life that is more. I. Life is more than the vain pursuit of material security, II. Life is more for those who are known by their Father in Heaven, and III. Life is more when we set our hearts on the kingdom of God.
Right before the words we have just read, Jesus said, “You cannot serve God and mammon” (Matthew 6:24). It simply doesn’t work, Jesus says, to be devoted to two masters—one will always win out. That said, He continues: “therefore…do not worry about your life.” Here Jesus is talking about the things that sustain physical life and make it pleasant: “what you will eat and what you will drink.” He urges us not to worry about what we will wear. The issue is not whether we should wear anything, but whether we should be concerned about whether it measures up to the standards of those around us. “Is not life,” Jesus says, “more than food and the body more than clothing?” [v.25]
Life is more. It is more than the vain pursuit of material security. This has been a theme of Scripture all the way through. When the Lord met with the Israelites out in the wilderness—two million pilgrims finishing a forty-year journey to the Land of Promise—He reminded them that “Man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God” (Deuteronomy 8.3).
God created this material world and then created us to glorify Him by tending it and keeping it, by being fruitful and multiplying in it. The evil that intruded into that scheme was not that we could not live in this world and enjoy its fruits and riches. It was that we failed to give all glory to God in the process. It was not that this world couldn’t sustain and satisfy our needs. It was that we refused to trust in His daily care for us and assumed that it was up to us to determine for ourselves what we needed to be complete and content.
The error in this was already exposed earlier in the Sermon on the Mount when Jesus taught us to pray for all of our material needs with the simple petition:“Give us this day our daily bread” (Matthew 6:11). With those words, Jesus shows us that we need only be concerned about what we need today. What good, after all, do tomorrow’s provisions do for us today? Can we eat tomorrow’s chicken soup or apple pie? A lot of us go to the refrigerator looking for “leftovers,” but did you ever have any luck looking there for the “not-made-yets”?
Certainly, a great deal of our time and energy goes into providing for ourselves and our family. The Lord does not lead us to expect anyone else to do what we are able to do for ourselves. When some of the Thessalonians were sitting around and making a nuisance of themselves because they had the idea that with the Lord coming soon they didn’t need to work anymore, Paul set them straight: “If any would not work, neither should he eat!” (2 Thessalonians 3:10).
Like so many other things, the practical issues concerning material blessings come down to a heart issue: What is the intent, what is our motivation, why do we do the things we do, and do they fall in line with God’s ways? In this section, the real issue Jesus brings up is “worry.” A better term is “being anxious.”
Anxiety has to do with being burdened in the mind and heart about what may or may not happen in the future. Even Jesus speaks of looking ahead and considering possible outcomes: “…which of you, intending to build a tower, does not sit down first and count the cost, whether he has enough to finish it—lest, after he has laid the foundation, and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him…” (Luke 14:28-29). If you want to build a tower, you better count the cost before your begin, and make sure you have enough to finish it.”
It is also undeniable that the unexpected happens. That’s why insurance is sometimes a wise investment, even though you are paying money for something you hope you’ll never use!
It is also true that some anxiety and worry will arise, and some people are medically afflicted with an anxious condition. But life, as we have been given to live it, is more than being obsessed with accumulating material things or trying to gain material security. When we find ourselves worrying about these things, we should beware. Sin is around the corner and may already have occurred. It is like what Luther said about sinful thoughts: They’re like birds—you can’t help that they fly overhead now and then, but you don’t have to let them build a nest in your hair!
Speaking of birds, Jesus uses them, and all of God’s creation, as an excellent illustration of God’s providence. These creatures live in the moment. They do what is in their nature to do and face life as it comes. They live while they live and die when they die, but in so doing they fulfill the Creator’s grand scheme. Every created thing, right down to the smallest beetle, is part of a magnificent, complex cosmos that seems to sustain itself, but is in truth “upheld by the word of [the Lord’s] power” (Hebrews 1:4).
How amazing our Father’s creation is! Jesus reminds us that God’s creative genius is not merely functional, but also beautiful! “Look at the lilies of the field,” He says. This refers, not to the cultivated crops but to the grasses and flowers that grow wild in the field. “How they grow. They neither toil nor spin, yet…even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.” [v.28-29]
We have a good example of this in the marvelous Fall spectacle—probably something that the Israelites never imagined—as the various trees turn color with the seasons and lush green becomes fiery gold and rust and red. Those leaves soon serve their purpose and fall to the ground but are not wasted. They become the nutrients for leaves that will form in the spring, and for grasses and trees that will sprout in the future to feed the birds and deer which may eventually feed the foxes and ravens. If God is able to manage all of this, what right have we to worry about our food—all of it comes directly from this cycle of things! What right do we have to worry about our clothing. Note that Jesus didn’t criticize Solomon’s fine clothe, just our tendency to obsess about such things. What right doe we have to worry about our future, for we should know that life is more than the vain pursuit of material security.
Life, Jesus would have us know, is more for those who are known by their Father in Heaven.
It is worth noting that Jesus’ tendency to speak to the disciples about their “Father in Heaven” first occurs in the Sermon on the Mount. He really brings it home that those who believe in Him as their Savior, who follow Him in obedient faith, are to look to the Almighty God as their dear Father in Heaven who is eager to hear their prayers. This becomes supremely important in this section. In Christ Jesus, the Son of the Father, we are accepted. Through His redemptive blood and atoning work we are justified in the sight of God. Through Spirit-worked faith we have received “the adoption as sons” (cf. Galatians 4:5) being fully entitled and legitimate children of God. We—not the wicked and unbelieving—have a Father in Heaven who hears our prayers. We who know Christ—not those who practice false religions or embrace false notions about God—are known, recognized, and actively loved by our eternal Father in Heaven. We—not the lost world—look forward to eternal life with our Father in Heaven.
Life is more for us. It is more than a grab and a grind for the material and fleeting. “Your heavenly Father knows you need these things.” [v.32] You see, it’s not that somehow we’re supposed to survive this life or do what we were created to do without any material things. But by faith, we are content to live and move in our heavenly Father’s providence and care. That Father may determine that one of His children may live on Cabernet and filet mignon and move in an exclusive level of society, while another is to satisfy himself with hamburger and oatmeal and live among a very different set of people. They are both children of the King and heirs of His kingdom. He will provide for both. This heavenly Father may see two of his sons, young men, ready to marry and start a family. To one He gives a bride and to the other He will provide patience. Both can be busy in their place in life if they are content to live for their Father in Heaven. Life is more for those who are known by their Father in heaven.
Life is more when we set our hearts on the Kingdom of God.
The Kingdom of God is not an earthly institution. It is not a building or an organization, not political diplomacy, and certainly not military might. It is the bringing of God’s Word to sinful man in such a way that people are led to repent of their ignorance, unbelief, and rebellion against their Maker. It is sinners coming to know their heavenly Father and walking in His ways through faith in Christ. The kingdom of God is bringing little children to know Jesus. It is rebuking the proud and the wicked. It is comforting the dying in Christ.
When we, the children of God, employ our gifts and talents to serve the Lord as servants in His kingdom, our life becomes truly full and satisfying. We can use our intellect, our strengths, our resources. We can study and grow in His Word, becoming rich in its heavenly treasures. We can preach to the congregation, or we can type the bulletin. We can build the house of worship where His kingdom is built and sustained in many hearts. We can work to support the people who do all these things. But what a fullness of confidence and joy when our labors are labors of faith and love and when they serve the eternal purpose of our God. As He spoke, Jesus was obviously looking at His future Apostles—men who would devote their lives to preaching the Gospel to others. Now He’s looking at us with the same promise in mind: “Seek first the kingdom of God, and His righteousness,” and all the other things we “need” will follow” [v.33] Amen.
Ministry by Mail is a weekly publication of the Church of the Lutheran Confession. Subscription and staff information may be found online at www.clclutheran.org/ministrybymail.
All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.