Monday, February 28, 2011

Sermon on Matthew 6:24-34, for Preschool Sunday, "Chains of the Heart"

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen. Today I want to welcome all of our preschool families and children, and thank the children for their excellent recitation of the Bible verses for today, and for their beautiful singing! The verses they recited for you are the focus of my message today, and that whole Gospel reading from Matthew 6 addresses us in a common area of our lives. That is anxiety and worry. While not everyone is a chronic “worrywart,” always anxious about something, I suspect that there are few of us who can avoid the trap of worrying altogether. Worry and anxiety rob us of confidence, sleep, peace, and even of health. How many of you have been stressed out or lost sleep over the family budget, especially in our current economic times? Or dealing with a crisis at work or in the family? Or facing difficult health concerns?

Jesus teaches us in this reading that we shouldn’t be weighed down by the worries and the concerns of this life. Don’t worry about tomorrow because today has enough troubles of its own. The concerns of life are so numerous that no one can handle more than a day’s share (Scaer, 225). But how does one get weighed down and anxious about everything in the first place? About what they will eat, or drink, or wear? Jesus leads into this teaching about worry by first saying that no one can serve two masters—you cannot serve both God and money. So what’s the connection between not serving both God and money, and anxiety and worry? The connection is that if we’re devoted to money and material things, then our heart will be chained to things that are passing away (Mahaney, 99). Temporary things. Jesus put it this way: “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

Probably most of us haven’t thought about our “stuff” in that way. Our money, our bank accounts, our home, our food, clothing, car, entertainment system, books—whatever it is that we accumulate for ourselves and consider our treasure. It all falls in the category of “material things.” Everything that money can buy. Our hearts are easily “chained” to these material things. How much time do we dedicate to them in comparison with other pursuits? If the pursuit of our lives is to accumulate “stuff”, then it isn’t hard to see how money can become our ‘god’ or idol, like Jesus said. We want more and newer, better, faster, larger things—and the way to get that is with more money. And so our hearts are chained to our “stuff.”

How does that create worry and anxiety, like Jesus said? For one thing it’s because we’re in the constant pursuit of accumulating more. But this is driven by greed. One author noted several insights from King Solomon, who authored of several books of wisdom found in the Bible, and is mentioned by Jesus in our reading (Jeremiah, 243). These are five points that King Solomon discovered in his own experience with money and greed:

1) The more we have, the more we want (Eccles. 5:10).
2) The more we have, the more we spend (Eccles. 5:11)
3) The more we have, the more we worry (Eccles. 5:12)
4) The more we have, the more we lose (Eccles. 5:13-14)
5) The more we have, the more we leave behind (Eccles. 5:14-17)

So contrary to what we’re naturally inclined to think, having more things won’t solve our problems, and having more money won’t make worry go away. Not that money troubles aren’t a major source of worry, but having more money and possessions creates new worries. You aren’t satisfied with having enough, or you increase your spending to match your increased income. You face the new worry of trying to protect your money and possessions for fear of losing them, and become a hoarder. And finally you cannot ultimately ensure that you won’t lose it all. People from the middle-class and the wealthy alike, have seen their savings or fortunes disappear. Overnight millionaires have lost their money through squandering it. Or as Solomon observed, when you die, someone else will enjoy your things. You can’t take it with you. All those points about money and greed taken together should show us that money can’t be our ultimate deliverance. Money makes a very poor god, because wealth sprouts wings and flies away. Ironically, our enjoyment of material things grows less with the more we get. Yet so many choose to make money and the material things it buys their ‘god’ or master.

This pursuit of material stuff produces so much worry and anxiety simply because those things are passing away and temporary. Since money and goods don’t last, it’s easy to become frantic about keeping them or getting them. Things break down, get lost or stolen. They become outdated and we become jealous of what others have. But Jesus presents a totally different alternative. He shows the blessing of worship and serving the true God, and having God alone as our pursuit and master. First He shows us that it isn’t necessary to worry about food, drink, or clothing. He argues from the greater to the lesser, showing that life is more important than food, and the body more important than clothing (Scaer, 218). Which is easier to produce? Are you worried or concerned about your life, or how your body came into existence? Isn’t that a far more difficult thing to make than food or clothing? And yet you aren’t concerned about that. So how much more can God take care of and supply the lesser things of food and clothing—if He has already given you life?

Then Jesus makes a second argument, this time from the lesser to the greater (Scaer, 218-19). Birds of the air and lilies of the field are worth much less than we are, and yet God provides for them too! If God cares for these little things of His creation, that have such a short lifespan, how much more is He going to provide for and care for you? Now that doesn’t mean that we should just sit back and not lift a finger while waiting for loaves of bread to rain down from heaven, without our work or effort. When we pray in the Lord’s Prayer, “give us this day our daily bread” we’re not expecting bread to fall down out of the sky. But we should realize that God works through human labor to produce and provide for those things, as He blesses the earth. The farmer, the harvesters, the truckers and millers and bakers and store-owners etc, are all involved in supplying us with food and daily bread. The same goes for our clothing and other goods. But God will see to it that we’re provided for and have enough. He even blesses many of us with a surplus of things, so that we can be a blessing to others by caring for the poor and the hungry. In this way, through understanding God’s love, we can care for our neighbor as well.

So what are we worried or concerned about? No one can completely safeguard their life against unexpected changes. So don’t worry about tomorrow, as Jesus says: “tomorrow will worry about itself. Today has enough trouble of its own.” So Jesus isn’t promising Christians a trouble-free existence in this life, or that we won’t experience the changes, chances, and troubles of life. But those things don’t have to control or dictate our lives. We don’t have to be consumed by worry about material things. Jesus comes to break those chains from our heart, and to liberate us from worry about things that are passing away. And here we come to the main point, that the preschoolers so beautifully emphasized for us today in their words and song: “seek first the kingdom of God, and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.”

If we worship and serve God, and His kingdom is our pursuit, then our hearts will be free of those earthly chains. And instead of having prison chains that bind us to things in life that simply won’t last—we can attach our heart to the kingdom of God that is eternal and will last. If you want to stretch the analogy a little further, we could say that instead of chains weighing our heart down, we can have our heart chained to the anchor of our souls, Jesus Christ. An anchor chain that extends upward to heaven, and buoys us upward on the troubled seas of life, and provides stability in times of transition and doubt. By attaching our heart to eternal things, we’re freed from the worry and anxiety that cloud our daily horizons, and we’re free to live at peace and with security, knowing that God greatly loves us and provides for us with gracious care.

But what does it mean to seek God’s kingdom first, and His righteousness? The kingdom of God is shorthand language for Jesus to refer to God’s saving work in the world. In other words, Jesus at work rescuing mankind from our sins. The kingdom of God is not an earthly kingdom like a nation with a King—as Jesus made clear when He said “my kingdom is not of this world.” Rather it is a spiritual kingdom—a heavenly one. And Jesus is our King. He’s the one to whom we owe all our allegiance. Not to money, not to earthly powers or political rulers, or any other commitment. This is why Jesus is so emphatic that we cannot serve both God and money—God does not allow divided allegiances. He will not share our loyalty with money. We must be devoted to one or the other.

This makes it clear that we cannot misuse Jesus’ words here to promise that seeking God’s kingdom is the way to “get rewarded with stuff.” It would turn Jesus’ words upside down to read them that way. He says “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” It’s a distortion of Christianity and Jesus’ teachings to use a passage like this to lure people into the church with the promise of future wealth (Scaer, 224). Rather, Jesus is assuring us that God will provide for our needs, and that if we pursue heavenly things, we don’t need to be concerned about lacking earthly things. God and His kingdom itself is the reward of seeking Him first. His kingdom means rescue and eternal life for us.

And that rescue and eternal life comes from the second thing Jesus told us to seek—“His righteousness.” We’re to seek the righteousness of Jesus Christ. Righteousness is the perfect, flawless innocence of Jesus—who lived a life of complete obedience to God. How does that help us? Because by faith in Jesus, by seeking His righteousness—His innocent life is credited to us by faith. Many people are familiar that the Bible teaches that Jesus died on the cross for our sins, and so took our guilt away. But more than just removing our sin so that we’re free of guilt, Jesus supplied something positive in our place. His life of perfect obedience—His innocence or righteousness is counted to our credit. That means when we appear before God to be judged after our life is over, we have the perfect innocence of Jesus to our credit, and will be clean of our sin because He has forgiven us. That’s a true and worthwhile treasure and pursuit, and it doesn’t cost us anything—only faith or trust in God. Seeking His kingdom and His righteousness. For that eternal treasure—a treasure that will always last and remain ours—we can gladly be free of the earthly worries and pursuits that chain our heart to the world. Those things can offer us no lasting peace or security—but the true peace and security is found in God’s kingdom. That is why the True God in heaven makes a far better master than the poor and helpless so-called ‘god’ of money. The True and living God provides for all people and gives us promises and treasure that doesn’t rust or fade away. Let us praise the True God of heaven and give thanks to Jesus Christ His Son. In His name, Amen.

Now the peace of God which passes all understanding, guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, unto life everlasting. Amen.

Sermon Talking Points:
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1. Why is worrying and anxiety such a problem? What effects does it have on us? What are the things that you personally worry about?
2. Why can’t we serve both God and money? What happens when we try to divide our loyalty? Why are money and material things a poor object for our trust and loyalty? What happens to them?
3. Review these five points that Solomon makes about money and greed: The more we have… the more we want (Ecclesiastes 5:10), the more we spend (Eccles. 5:11), the more we worry (Eccles. 5:12), the more we lose (Eccles. 5:13-14), the more we leave behind (Eccles. 5:14-17). How then is it an illusion that money will solve our worries and give us security?
4. How does Jesus argue from the “greater to the lesser” to show us that God can provide our food and clothing? Matt. 6:25
5. How does Jesus argue from the “lesser to the greater” to show that God cares for us? Matt. 6:26-30. So how is worrying shown to be unnecessary?
6. When we pray “give us this day our daily bread”—how does God provide for our physical needs, such as food, shelter, and clothing? How do we participate in that?
7. What is “God’s kingdom?” See Matthew 10:7, and parables in Matt. 13. Compare to John 18:36. What is “his righteousness?” Romans 5:18-20; Phil. 3:9; Why is that a true source of security, and a lasting treasure. Why then is the True God a far better God than money?

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