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Fifteenth Sunday after Trinity
“Entrust Your Days and Burdens To God’s Most Loving Hand”
Rev. Philip G. Meyer, Pastor Emeritus
St. Matthew 6.24-34
12 September 2021
SOLI DEO GLORIA!
This is the second time in the Trinity season that we have heard our Lord’s words, “You cannot serve God and money.” It was the Ninth Sunday after Trinity and the context was the Parable of the Dishonest Manager [Luke 16.1-9]. Luke placed the words in a series of Kingdom parables.
The Evangelist Matthew placed these words within our Lord’s Sermon on the Mount. He placed them strategically before Jesus’ exhortation to us to not be anxious about earthly things. It seems particularly appropriate that we should focus on these words today in light of all that has gone on around us and especially in this congregation. A year ago Pastor Sutton scheduled me to preach on this Sunday with this same Gospel reading. I began by referring to a comic strip called Pearls Before Swine. It had to do with worry. Somewhere along the line I also saved another of Stephen Pastis’ Sunday strips. The two characters again are Rat and Pig. Rat has set up a booth where he dons a swami’s hat and calls himself The Great Boobini. Pig approaches and asks:
“What are you doing, Rat?”
“Predicting the future. Just five dollars.”
Pig asks, “Ooh, tell me what tomorrow will be like.”
“Tomorrow will be bad” replies The Great Boobini.
“Uh oh! What about the next day?” inquires Pig.
“Day af—” and Rat cuts him off.
“Bad! Bad! Bad! Bad! Bad! Bad! Bad! Bad! Bad!”
Pig looks dismayed as The Great Boobini answers,
“Predicting’s never been easier.”
Comic strips often give us more insight into ourselves than we realize.
We worry about the future, and why not? The Great Boobini seems to have summarized it quite well. There is so much “bad” that might happen to the world and to us even though it has not yet happened. We are sure that it will be the worst.
Most of our worry centers in worldly attachments. Our Lord strikes at the heart of our sin:
“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. [Matt. 6.24]
To serve is to give undivided allegiance. It’s First Commandment stuff. God alone. No one, no thing else. It is, as Luther teaches in the Small Catechism, “to fear, love, and trust in God above all things.” [SC Part 1, First Commandment]. To “be devoted” to one and “to despise,” or consider of little value, speaks about what we worship more than anything else.
Not all worship happens in a sanctuary. What you consider most important is what you worship. That is your god. All of that is summarized in that word from the Greek text, μαμωνᾶs. Mammon is a transliteration. One cannot worship God and mammon at the same time. One cannot have both.
“Therefore,” Jesus says here. Causal. It lays out the rationale for what he says next. If one has the true God then one has no reason to worry, to be anxious about one’s life because this God will see to all the necessary things of life. Our sin is that we worry about these things that are attached to our lives. They get between us and God, hence, our worship goes amok.
We Lutherans have never included the Apocrypha in the Canon of Holy Scripture. In other words, these books which were written between the last Old Testament prophet Malachi and the arrival of John the Baptizer, are not on a par with Holy Scripture. They are not inspired. We derive no doctrine from them. And yet, Luther himself deemed them worthy of reading and meditation. He included them in his translation of the Bible , writing a Preface for each one [AE 35]. These authors are not on a par with the inspired writers of the Bible but they have good things to say. For example, the Wisdom of Sirach, sometimes called Ecclesiasticus—not to be confused with the Old Testament book Ecclesiastes—is wisdom literature. It reads very much like Proverbs. For example, this passage from Sirach advises:
Jealousy and anger shorten life,
and anxiety brings on premature old age. NRSV (1989). (Sir 30:24).
Anxiety make us age faster. It’s obvious in those photos taken just five years ago.
Anxiety also robs us of sleep, which God intended to refresh us and help us relax. In Sirach, there is this passage about a father who worries about his daughter.
A daughter is a secret anxiety to her father,
and worry over her robs him of sleep;
when she is young, for fear she may not marry,
or if married, for fear she may be disliked;
10 while a virgin, for fear she may be seduced
and become pregnant in her father’s house;
or having a husband, for fear she may go astray,
or, though married, for fear she may be barren. NRSV. (1989). (Sir 42:9–10).
Did you hear that connection of worry and the lack of sleep? Judging from the endless TV ads for mattresses and pillows, for pills and fragrances, Americans have trouble sleeping.
This Jewish father worries. Everything that enters his mind about her causes him anxiety: Parents know how this is! One can’t control what happens but one certainly gives in to worry nonetheless.
While this is a “what if” situation, there are anxieties that are definitely real. What is my child being taught in school? Will it harm his Christian faith? Who are the big influences on her life? What about that spot on your skin? What about your long-term economic well-being? Will I have a job next week, next month, next year. And of course, there is the elephant in the room, the COVID. The media keep whipping up fear by playing the role of The Great Boobini. “Bad! Bad! Bad!”
We have anxieties about this congregation. No one was prepared for what has happened. The normal has changed into something for which none of us can yet see the end. Only God knows! You and I cannot see any farther than today. Three times in this reading Jesus says “Do not be anxious about your life, your clothing, your food.” [Matt. 6.25, 31, 34] Those are all imperatives and can be construed as Law, but they are also Gospel. You are worth more than anything on this earth. You belong to God because Christ Jesus has redeemed you body and soul! Body and soul! “Therefore,” Jesus says, you can stop worrying. It’s unnecessary. It merely makes your life more miserable.
The sin of Adam and Eve brought about a fallen Creation. This means natural disasters, wars, diseases, and other evidences that this Creation is winding down, yet our heavenly Father has not ceded control of it to any other. It is not spinning out of control and mankind certainly is not able to wrest it away from God, try as he may. That fact should comfort us, not make us afraid as so many Henny-Pennys shout, “The sky is falling! The sky is falling!” All things remain firmly in the hand of our heavenly Father, in spite of what the so-called experts blather. Throughout this reading Jesus underscores the role of your heavenly Father in managing all things for your good.
Perhaps you are already answering silently, “Well, that’s easier said that done.” Of course! Who would dare to dispute that? Anxieties simply do not disappear. They keep coming. You and I are assaulted by them constantly. Satan attacks us every day with those thoughts which creep into our brains, thoughts of doubt and unbelief. We’re like that father in Sirach. We ask, “What if?” — Some things will not turn out well for us.
But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.
Our final good is the kingdom God has prepared for us through Christ. We are to aim and fix our sights on Christ. So that we do not lose sight of this ultimate good Christ tells us not to be anxious. Don’t be distracted. He has everything in his hands.
“Look at the birds of the air! . . . Consider the lilies of the field!”
Look at the created order and see that it doesn’t worry about today or tomorrow but simply continues at God’s command. A couple of months ago we were told to stop feeding the birds because of some disease that was making them behave strangely. I said to myself, “Well, God will feed them. He always has!” Your loving heavenly Father knows what you need and has promised to provide it. If he does it for the birds, he’ll do it for you.
A centuries-old Latin expression is helpful: Ora et labora, “pray and work.” Perhaps it came from these words of the Apostle Paul:
The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. [Phil. 4.5-7]
You know those last words. They’re spoken at the end of every sermon.
We continue our Christian vocations in spite of what would otherwise disturb us. Let God be God! He will bring about a joyful end to all of our worries and anxieties when our lives are over and we are with him in glory. By praying we commend all our worries, anxieties— whatever you call them—into the hands of a faithful God who has never lied. Then look to the cross of Christ and see there God’s righteousness given to you as a gift, unearned by worry, his forgiveness for your sin of worry. Then look to Christ’s empty tomb! Christ is risen from the dead! His resurrection proves that he has won the victory over sin, death, and hell. You have been baptized into Christ’s death and resurrection.
The Holy Spirit’s work involves convicting us of sin. Worry needs to be confessed for the sin it is. Turn from your anxiety and receive Christ’s forgiveness. You are an heir of heaven! You belong to the Father in heaven! No sheep belonging to Christ can be torn from his hand.[John 10.29-30]
Believe what God the Holy Spirit speaks! Remember your Lord’s words spoken here! Look to your risen Lord Jesus! He will not abandon you even if there are anxious days and nights. Never forget that! Pray and do the work of a Christian!
“Entrust Your Days and Burdens To God’s Most Loving Hand” [LSB 754.5]
He cares for you while ruling
The sky, the sea, the land.
For He who guides the tempests
Along their thund’rous ways
Will find for you a pathway
And guide you all your days. [st. 1]
O blessèd heir of heaven,
You’ll hear the song resound
Of endless jubilation
When you with life are crowned.
In your right hand your maker
Will place the victor’s palm,
And you will thank Him gladly
With heaven’s joyful psalm. [st. 5]
In the Name of the Father and of the ✠ Son and of the Holy Spirit.