Fifteenth Sunday after Trinity

Readings: 1 Kings 17:8-16 | Galatians 5:25-6:10 | Matthew 6:24-34

Text: Matthew 6:24-34

Why do you suppose the Bible so often speaks of God providing for His people in times of wilderness, drought, and famine?  Abraham and Isaac were kept alive in famine.  Joseph went ahead into Egypt so that many would be kept alive according to God’s plan.  The sons of Israel were richly supplied in the wilderness with water, manna, and quail.  Ruth and Boaz, Gideon, this widow at Zarephath in the Old Testament lesson (1 Kings 17:8-16). It seems like God is always showing Himself in times of great need.

There is a rational side of us that recognizes that labor goes into producing the things we need for this life. There is a just result of labor in this ordered world.  Hard work yields a product.  Good choices result in good outcomes. By God’s grace, that is the great majority of the time.  But there are also times when it doesn’t work—droughts, floods, pestilence.

The effects of the fall are also like a shroud cast over the world: “the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption” (Rom. 8:20-21) and “all our days pass away under your wrath; we bring our years to an end like a sigh. The years of our life are seventy, or even by reason of strength eighty; yet their span is but toil and trouble; they are soon gone, and we fly away.” (Ps. 90:9-10)

While that rational part of us understands the order of the world, there is also a part of us that fails to acknowledge that the toil and fruitlessness of labor is the consequence of sin—our sin and the bondage of the world.  “By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” (Genesis 3:19)

Our wrong-headed sinful response to this is to say God is treating us unfairly.  How dare He cause us to suffer hunger!  Doesn’t he know the drought by which he was punishing Ahab was about the kill the widow at Zarephath and her son? “And now I am gathering a couple of sticks that I may go in and prepare it for myself and my son, that we may eat it and die.” (1 Kings 17:12)  That would be a valid argument if we actually deserved better.

What God provides or does not provide is based on His loving Fatherly wisdom.  “Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil?” faithful Job asks (Job 2:10)  God uses even privation to do His work.  He uses droughts and famines.  He even uses 9.1% inflation[1] to do His good and gracious will.  And what is His will?  Not just to keep us full, healthy, and happy.  That’s what our sinful nature lusts after.  Those are the bestial desires of animals, and they completely ignore the soul.

He has a higher purpose for us human beings, created in His image and likeness, of whom He desires to give His kingdom which has no end.  The privation is part of His eternal training of His children so that our faith would not be in the daily bread but in Our Father who Art in Heaven.

By taking away our “creature comforts” for a time, our heavenly Father is wanting us to wake up and repent of how we’ve been devoted to those things. And that is His will for us, who are His children.  He desires that we persevere in His Word and have true fellowship with Him, that we live this life in faith toward him.  He wants our hearts set on Him, who gives every good and necessary thing.

Anyone who has raised any kind of livestock or cared for a pet knows that there are certain instructions for how to care for this creature.  The needs of a turtle are different from a puppy, and the care for a cow differs from a pig.  Well, our Father who made us knows what care is necessary for us to thrive.  This is what our Lord means when He says, “I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” (John 10:10)  This abundant life includes a healthy soul, at peace with God, living before our neighbors in right vocations, keeping the Word of God in our hearts and “as the eyes of servants look to the hand of their master, as the eyes of a maidservant to the hand of her mistress, so our eyes look to the Lord our God, till he has mercy upon us.” (Psalm 123:2)

Because He knows that we are rational beings according to His image (corrupted as that may be), He appeals to us in this way:

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? 27 And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?
Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, 29 yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. 30 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?

Have you ever seen a bird worried about the weather?  Has a crane fly ever worried itself to death over the fact it only lives a few days?  And did it detract from the beauty of our gardens in spring that they become our fall burn piles?  The birds and the lilies are God’s messengers to us to repent of all our anxious bustling.  Plenty of money, a fully stocked pantry, and a plan for every disastrous scenario cannot and will not save you.  Only your God can do that!

What a good reminder, pastor!  Now everything is clear!  If only it were a matter of being reoriented once.  But we continually struggle against such temptations, between loving God and hating Mammon, or hating God and loving Mammon.  This is the sinful flesh God’s Spirit in us fights against (Gal. 5:17) that is with us until we breathe our last bit of poisoned air in this life.

“O you of little faith” our Lord calls us.  We need more than a rational argument to think rightly about our life from God.  We need God’s mercy.  We constantly need His forgiveness.  Even King David prayed in Psalm 119:109, “I hold my life in my hand continually, but I do not forget your law.”  And knowing this specific need of ours, He also richly provides that mercy. Right after teaching us to pray, “Give us this day our daily bread,” He bids us to ask, “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.”

Sometimes a person will ask why Christians, specifically Lutherans, focus so much on the forgiveness of sins?  As a follow up to that, they might wonder if I’ve been forgiven in the beginning of service, then why do I need the Lord’s Supper?  And it’s got to get really desperate before I’ll ask to see the pastor for private confession and absolution.

O you of little faith, don’t you see that the ways God pours out His grace are many! 

We will now return to the Gospel, which does not give us counsel and aid against sin in only one way. God is superabundantly generous in His grace: First, through the spoken Word, by which the forgiveness of sins is preached in the whole world [Luke 24:45-47]… Second, through Baptism. Third, through the holy Sacrament of the Altar. Fourth, through the Power of the Keys. Also through the mutual consolation of brethren, “Where two or three are gathered” (Matt. 18:20) and other such verses [Rom. 1:12]. (Smalcald Articles, Part III, Article IV)

Our heavenly Father knows we need His grace, applied to us in these manifold ways.  So, just as our daily life is adorned with such a variety of daily bread, He provides so many rich ways to receive His pardon and peace: Hearing the Word not just on Sunday, but throughout the week in personal and family devotions.  Making the sign of the cross on yourself is a reminder of God’s Name and His promises for you in Baptism.  The Bread of Heaven provided for you regularly at this altar.  And if that weren’t enough, He has given us the gift of our brothers and sisters in Christ, who share our burdens and the truths of His Kingdom with us.

We need much more than birds and lilies, and our Father in heaven knows all this.  But if we look around, we can see how disordered our priorities are.  Look at all the riches of our land, the way people spend money they have or don’t have, what dollars are poured into medical advancements.  All of these things are of passing worth—rust sets in, moths destroy, thieves break in and steal, death catches up to us.  Perhaps God will take it away, as He has in the past, and it won’t matter if it’s in land or cryptocurrency.  But if He does, it will be to teach us not to trust in Mammon, in these earthly things.  The Word of the Lord endures forever, when every other thing fails.

In such times, remember the widows, the times of drought, the wilderness wandering of Israel.  Remember the Lord in all of it.  Before we trouble ourselves about anything else, “seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.”  In the Name + of Jesus. Amen.


Fifteenth Sunday after Trinity (Matthew 6:24-34)

Bethlehem Lutheran & Bethel Lutheran Church, Lebanon & Sweet Home, OR

Fifteenth Sunday after Trinity + September 9, 2018

Text: Matthew 6:24-34

These are some of the most reassuring words in Scripture, especially in times of economic distress and danger to life.  And most of us have experienced that kind of distress in one way or another.  You have a young family and the breadwinner loses his or her job.  You’re a new college student ready to take on the world and you find out how much it costs to live on your own.  You’re retired and living on a fixed income, but what’s going out seems to keep growing.  But we also experience danger to our lives every day, whether it’s hurdling down the road in a metal box at 70 mph or going about our daily life while a deadly disease eats away on the inside.  Just regular life is enough to drive a person insane.

Our Lord pulls us out of our human tizzy and invites us to look around at the creation to the birds of the air and the lilies of the field.  They are content day to day, even though they don’t work and may be destroyed at a moment’s notice.

27  These all look to you,

to give them their food in due season.

28   When you give it to them, they gather it up;

when you open your hand, they are filled with good things.

29   When you hide your face, they are dismayed;

when you take away their breath, they die and return to their dust.” (Psalm 104:27-29)

If we look at the rest of creation, we can see that it’s not a problem with God providing and ordering things; it’s a problem with us believing that.  It’s we of little faith who are anxious and fret about the future, are displeased with the present, and work our fingers to the bone in an effort to shield ourselves from destitution.

It’s not that Jesus shuns “sowing, reaping, and storing away in barns.”  That is something which is given for people to do.  From the beginning of creation, God put man and woman in the garden to work the land.  So, by all means, if you have the ability, you should work and earn a living.  That part is good and God-pleasing, especially when it’s done to provide for family and others.  Incidentally, the New Testament has some pretty strong language for those can work and refuse to: “If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat” and “If anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.”[1]

While work is a good thing, we can do without the anxiety.  The anxiety springs from our feeble faith, which doesn’t fully trust God and doesn’t fully commend our lives into His fatherly care.  At times, we all have fears that God has either lost control of our lives or doesn’t know what He’s doing.  We’ve seen it happen that a person does his part and suffers instead of getting fruit from his labor. So, faith is trumped by our reason and the hard evidence of our experiences.

Our Lord sums His lesson up by saying, “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness and all these things will be added to you.”  As much and as often as we have the ability to put our faith in Him, that is the number one priority.  With a right faith in God—who gives daily bread even without our prayer and “causes His sun to rise alike on the righteous and the wickedp—we will experience what the birds and grass already know because they are not so blinded by sin. 

The struggle for dominance is not so cut and dry that we can easily identify it all the time.  Little faith can wear some very well-meaning, good-sounding costumes:

There’s the pragmatist who argues that God helps those who help themselves.  True as that may be for our responsibilities in the world, that’s not our Father’s primary goal.  He’s not our Heavenly Schoolmaster, but the God who created and still preserves His children, without any merit or worthiness in us.  Thus, His aim is that we believe in Him as that that kind of God, and not that we can prove ourselves to be harder workers than others.

There’s the pessimist, who looks at the figures and what he sees as the facts, and draws the conclusion that this is never going to work.  The pessimist makes one big assumption and also lacks something big.  With sophomoric zeal, they assume that their perspective is the full picture and that they know all the future holds.  Do those traits sound familiar?  They should because they should belong to God.  Because the pessimist is shouldering the weight of the world, they don’t go to God in prayer with trust.  The outward act of prayer may be there, but without truly entrusting one’s life to God, you might as well have not prayed.

Finally (this may be the result of the previous two), there’s the idolater who outright believes that God has forgotten His job.  Sure, He promises to provide, protect, and everything, but I can’t wait for him.  I better take matters into my own hands and start looking for more practical help.  Is it money you need?  It doesn’t matter how you get it, as long as your bank account keeps a high balance.  Is it the future you want a clue into?  Read the horoscopes.  Is it length of life you’re after? Put your faith in genetic engineering and stem cells harvested from aborted fetuses.  Since God doesn’t seem to be coming through, you’ve got options.  All of these echo with the hiss of the Ancient Serpent.

These outlooks are all ultimately dead-ends, because they take our little faith, and make it even smaller.

If we had perfect faith, we would be as content as the bird who flying through the air one minute and gets sucked into the jet engine the next.  We would delight in the fleeting beauty of our youth and the fruit of our labors, and no less content when it was taken away.  If we had perfect faith, we would be Jesus.  But we’re not, and for now we have to leave that perfect trust to the birds and the flowers.  Meanwhile, God is gracious to us and bears with us with our anxious and troubled hearts.  Joined to Christ, the Perfect Man, He forgives what is lacking in our little faith.

“All these things will be added to you.”  Here’s another place where we have room for improvement.  “These things” is equivalent to the “daily bread” of the Lord’s Prayer.  It’s everything that we need to support this body and life.  (Check your Small Catechism on the fourth petition of the Lord’s Prayer for the full list.)  What God is promising and what we expect is not always in synch.  Your heavenly Father promises to provide you’re your needs—“The eyes of all look to you and you give them their food in due season.” (Psalm 145:15).  He promises to protect you from danger—“He will command His angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways. On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.” (Ps. 91:11-12)  He heals you both in soul and body—“Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits, who forgives all your iniquity, who heals all your diseases…who satisfies you with good” (Psalm 103:2-5)

Is it really that God fails to keep HIs promises?  I think not.  Could it be, as it was with Israel in the wilderness, that He lets us hunger for a while so that we might learn “that man does not live by bread alone.”[2]  Often times when He lets us hunger and long for a while, it’s to expose and put to death our trust in that 2nd master, Mammon.  His desire for you is that you would have Him alone as your Lord and Master, because He does give you all that you need both for this life and a blessed eternity.

By grace, He has given us His Kingdom and clothed us in His righteousness to cover up all our doublemindedness.  Through the Holy Spirit’s work in our hearts, our little faith grows and dominates how we regard “these things.”  You have been called out of the futile ways of the nations, groping in the dark for what God freely gives!  Return to the Lord your God, for He is our help and your only salvation—not just in this life but for all eternity.  Let Him teach you anew every day that “Man does not live by bread alone, but by every Word that comes from the mouth of God.”

Brothers and sisters, live by these Words of your God:

31 Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. 33 But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.

34 “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.

Thanks and praise to God through Jesus our Savior! Amen.

[1] 2 Thessalonians 3:10; 1 Timothy 5:8

[2] See Deuteronomy 8:3-5

Lent 4 Midweek (Matthew 6:24-34)

Bethlehem Lutheran Church, Lebanon, OR
Lent 4 Midweek – March 29, 2017
Text: Matthew 6:24-34

The Fourth Petition
“Give us this day our daily bread”
What is meant by the phrase “daily bread”? The first thing that comes to mind is food, the stuff we need day in and day out to live. That’s why Jesus puts it this way, and so many other places in God’s Word associate bread with all the necessities of life.[1]
In a capitalist society, we may think it would be better to say, “our daily dough.” Our minds drift toward money, because if you have money, that opens the way to the rest of our needs. With money, you can buy clothing, food, house, land, animals, vehicle, healthcare.
But—as has been said so many times before, money isn’t everything—if you don’t have a devout spouse or children, devout workers, devout and faithful rulers, good friends, and neighbors, self-control, even good weather, you won’t be able to keep or enjoy your daily bread.[2] The reality is we need far more than money (and the stuff it procures) alone, and far more than can be secured by making right personal choices and having the right man or woman in office.
That’s why this is a prayer directed to God the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth. Without His governance over the world and His bountiful provision, all that we have would be lost to theft, disease, and decay—nevermind what the devil can throw against us (Job 1-2).
It may seem strange in the middle of a spiritual prayer to ask for such earthly things. It may even seem strange to pray for daily bread when Jesus tells us not to worry what we will eat, drink, or wear.  Yet, the earthly and the spiritual are intertwined.
Our hearts are tied up with the daily bread we have or don’t have.  When teaching on the 1st Commandment, Luther wrote, “He who has money and property feels secure, happy, fearless, as if he were sitting in the midst of paradise. On the other hand, he who has nothing doubts and despairs as if he never heard of God. Very few there are who are cheerful, who do not fret and complain, if they do not have mammon. This desire for wealth clings and cleaves to our nature all the way to the grave.”
The two vices of this petition are greed and worry. On the one hand, greed sees what we have as what we earned through our hard work or what we got away with cheating from another.
On the other hand is worry, that God doesn’t exist or God doesn’t care.  Another way to put it is to say that God’s existence and love depend on one’s perception of their life.  If money is plentiful, family is strong, and health is good, then God must be good.  If one or all of these things fall apart, it must be that God went on vacation.
The road between these two—and what Jesus commands us to pray for—is to acknowledge God as the giver of undeserved gifts.  “He makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.”  “The eyes of all look to you, and you give them their food in due season. You open your hand; you satisfy the desire of every living thing.”[3]  Such faith trusts His promise to provide, because He is a true Father—as He created our lives out of His goodness, so He will also sustain that life and supply whatever we need. “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?” (Mt. 6:26).
Where there is faith in our Father in heaven, there’s no room for greed or worry.  “The earth is the LORD’s and the fullness thereof, the world and those who dwell therein.”[4]  How can we cling to what has been entrusted to us for a time?  31 Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all.”  What place is there for worry when our lives and the lives of everyone we know are in the hands of a faithful, Almighty Creator?
All that’s left to do is thank and praise Him for these temporal benefits in light of the eternal, spiritual ones.  “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?”[5]  Because of God’s tremendous love, we  receive all that God gives—whether plenty or scarcity—knowing for sure that He will do good for us in this life and bring us at last to our eternal rest.  Amen.
[1] 1 Kings 13:9, Prov. 27:27, Prov. 31:14
[2] See the full list in the Small Catechism, Lord’s Prayer, 4th Petition
[3] Matthew 5:45, Psalm 145:15-16
[4] Psalm 24:1
[5] Romans 8:32