Monday, September 18, 2023

Fifteenth Sunday after Trinity, 17 September 2023 (with sermon transcription)


The Rev. Paul J Cain

No One Can Serve Two Lords

Matthew 6:24-34

Trinity XV, 17 September 2023

Immanuel Lutheran Church, Sheridan, Wyoming

(A gently edited transcription of a sermon preached without a written manuscript)


In the Name of Jesus. Amen.


What exactly are we supposed to get out of today's Holy Gospel from Matthew chapter 6?  A contemporary of Dr. Martin Luther, Johann Spangenberg, has this suggestion: Three things: First, no one can serve two Lords at the same time. Second, we should not be anxious about food and clothing. Third, we should seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all things will be added to us.


I like his outline, so I'll use it today.


First, no one can serve two Lords, two masters, two bosses at the same time and this should be obvious. If you like sports, if you have two favorite football teams, you will figure out (if they're playing in the same league) which one is really your favorite when they have to play one another. No one can serve two masters, Jesus says, for either he will hate the one and love the other or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You kind of have to pick, don't you? It does come down to it that there is only one true Lord, our Lord Jesus Christ.


I grew up with the dark blue catechism, the 1943 one. Some of you are already nodding your heads. You know what I'm talking about. Those of you who have grown up with other colors you know that Pastor Cain is older than you thought. We had “thou shalt” and “thou shalt not,” right? But the First Commandment ended with “before me.” And I'll never forget--it was one of my early eighth grade confirmation classes—where someone tried to pull a fast one on Pastor Cain, but he was not going to have any of it.

“Well, I figure I can have God as my main god, Pastor Cain, and then the Broncos can be my God after Him. See, the Broncos aren't ‘before me’ just like it says in the King James.”


No. That's not what that means at all, and I'll pay attention to where you are on Sunday, brother!


No man can serve to bosses at a time. There are times where we have to make choices where we spend our time, and I'm one of those strange fellows that believes we should miss other things for church because here we get to hear the very word of God and not despise it, not hate it.


Isn't it funny? “Despise” feels one way, but “hate” feels another way.


“Oh, Pastor, I'd never hate God's word.”


Okay, name everything in your life that on one occasion or another has come before Jesus. It gets really uncomfortable really fast, but there is a very specific idol, a specific Lord, and a specific master that Jesus has in mind just in verse 24: You cannot serve God and Mammon.


You've probably heard a lot of different translations for Mammon over the years. Money comes to mind, right? I prefer “stuff” because money is not just money anymore. There are digital currencies that may crash and burn. There are all kinds of stuff that we end up often having to find room in our garage while our car is parked outside, or room in a storage unit and then when we forget about it. We don't care as much about the stuff that we used to see day after day after day.


Yet, some people will give up family time, some people will give up time with God and His Word in order to get more Mammon, more stuff. You've heard it once, you've heard it a million times, you can't take it with you. And somebody left here is going to be left holding the bag trying to deal with your stuff. No one can serve two Lords at the one and same time.


Second, we should not be anxious about food and clothing. You've heard me talk about anxiety and worry, but one thing I really appreciated from the long write-up that Johan Spangenberg had on this particular text back during the time of Luther is his very pointed definition of anxious. It didn't mean what we moderns sometimes think it meant, like when we take something that's important to us, our family, our friends doing a good job too seriously.


No, he says what anxious means is this: Being anxious is nothing other than thinking only about this life and how to become rich here and collect money and property, increase one's earnings, as if we could stay here forever and, in the process, forget God and our neighbor. Such worry is worthy of rebuke.


Honestly, that helped me. There are things we should take seriously in this life: our loved ones, those we serve according to our vocations, but there are other things where it's just stuff. I'm repeating myself on purpose. The kind of anxiety that Pastor Spangenberg condemns here is the actual sinful stuff that Jesus condemns here, no more and no less.


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 in the body more than clothing? Yes. I thank God I live in Wyoming where I don't need to worry about fashion trends. 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? Depending on your translation, depending on your scholar, you’re going to get different but complementary translations here. Cubit. From the tip of the finger to the tip of the elbow. Think Noah and the Ark (some of you have been to Kentucky to see the life-size replica). Span of life is how we could also translate stature. We could translate this, “Who of You by worrying can make yourself taller?” I know I can't. “Who of You by worrying can extend your lifetime?” I know I can't.


Besides, when you worry you have anxiety according to Pastor Spangenberg’s definition. You're wasting time and maybe by worrying you're stooping yourself over so that you're shorter. So maybe by worrying you can make yourself shorter and live less time in this world.


What I love about Matthew chapter 6 is that Matthew chapter 6 includes a whole lot, not just that you cannot serve God and riches stuff and do not worry. It also includes Our Father Who Art in Heaven. When you worry what do you do? You spend a lot of time thinking, you spend a lot of time feeling, but neither your thinking nor your feeling is productive because you're not doing anything with it except stewing in your own juices and letting your heart and your mind run in circles.


What do we do when we pray? We feel about things deeply. We think about things deeply. Yet we present the things that we think and feel most deeply about to someone Who art in Heaven who can actually do something about it. Worrying wastes good prayer time.


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 so now if God 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?


Lutheran laypeople for about 500 years have had a saying, The Word of the Lord Endures Forever. The flowers fade, the grass withers, but the word of the Lord endures forever. And like your Christian loved ones, the Word of the Lord is what we can take with us into eternity.


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 these things.


We're taught to pray for daily bread and Luther reminds us that Daily Bread includes everything we need to support this body and life even into eternal life, and all these things. Well, the Gentiles seek them too. Jesus might as well have said pagans—those who literally have other gods of stone or wood or metal or sometimes paper in our wallets.


Third, we should seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to us.


For a Christian head of household there's a whole list of things that are job one: to make sure that you are in the Word and are regularly receiving the Lord's gifts; to make sure that your household is regularly in the word and regularly receiving the Lord's gifts; to make sure that your children are baptized and catechized so that they'll be in heaven with you as brothers.


A version of this idea has been circulating all week long on Facebook: If our children don't make it to heaven with us, all of that other stuff is just stuff and a waste of our time!


Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness and all these things shall be added to you.


If God knows that you need daily bread and you seek Him first, not only will God give daily bread to all the evil but also to us, so that we according to the Epistle lesson can be generous with the gifts that we have and take care of our neighbors in need, especially those of the household of faith.


Jesus ends like this: Do not worry about tomorrow for tomorrow will worry about its own things. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.


In this world we will have trouble.  We will have trials and tribulations and a load of pain. That's why we have a good friend in Jesus, and we take it to the Lord in prayer.


Let tomorrow worry about itself. Today, we rejoice in the Lord's good gifts, sing His praises, and go to Him in prayer.


In the Name of Jesus. Amen.