Preached September 16,2012
St. Matthew 6:24–34
+ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.
Let us begin this morning by listening again to the words of the Collect for the Day, focusing this time particularly on the content of the words:
Keep, O Lord, thy Church, we beseech thee, with thy perpetual mercy: and, because the frailty of man without thee cannot but fall, keep us ever by thy help from all things hurtful, and lead us to all things profitable to our salvation, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
There are only five Sunday Collects during the Church year that speak specifically about the Church, and it is always, “thy Church,” but never “our Church.” The Church is founded on the authority of Jesus Christ and guided and sanctified by the Holy Ghost. The Church is dependent on the words of Christ, Matthew 28:20b … and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world.
The “perpetual mercy” of God is needed because of the constant danger that threatens the Church. Later in the Mass, a few minutes from now, we will offer the Prayer for the whole state of Christ’s Church, wherein we pray particularly for the Church militant here on earth. It is the Church “militant” because it is engaged in continual warfare against the devil and his angels, the powers of evil in the world against whom the Church will continue to struggle until the end of time. The Church is not made strong by numbers, by wealth, or by political influence. Rather it is made strong when it bears in its body the marks of the Lord Jesus, as in the words of the Epistle lesson.
This brings us to the more personal matter of the development of Christian character, because the Church is comprised of the individual Christians within it. A key element that comes out in today’s lessons is that we live our lives in the Church, as members of the family of God. We do not live them in isolation, but rather we live them as members of the Church.
St. Paul’s letter to the Galatians was a letter of chastisement for a congregation that had fallen away. The whole letter is one of scolding. Our lesson for this morning is taken from the very end of the letter, as St. Paul is wrapping up his argument. The Judaizers had tried to persuade the people that they must first become Jews before they could become Christians, including having the men circumcised according to the law of Moses. St. Paul points out the emptiness of all of this, that the physical circumcision of the flesh is not the thing that matter at all. Rather, in Jesus Christ it is the rebirth in the Spirit that matters, which has nothing at all to do with being physically circumcised or uncircumcised.
He tells them that circumcision is being imposed on the Galatians in order that their leaders might maintain their own status among the Jews, not for the benefit of the people upon whom it is imposed. This is being imposed on the Galatian Christians for the glory of their leaders, with no spiritual benefit to the Galatians at all! The people are being used by their leaders, an abuse of authority. Lord, we beseech thee, protect thy Church.
As the Gospel lesson for the day begins, Jesus is talking about the problem of trying to serve two masters. Jesus tells us that every man will choose one over the other; he will love the one and hate the other. We cannot serve God and the world. We cannot love the things of this world, the luxury, the fine things, the power, the authority, the security, the sensuality, and still think that we are in pursuit of the kingdom of God. This was all really quite self evident in simpler days in the past. In our modern day, with our psychologizing of every thing, we think that people can in fact to do just this. We even have a word for it. It is called cognitive dissonance, the simultaneous holding of conflicting ideas. This term is used to explain all manner of strange behavior today, but the fact remains, as Jesus said, we cannot serve two masters. Anything that takes us away from God, ultimately leads us to despise the Cross and the kingdom of God. It is really just that simple.
Then Jesus says, Matthew 6:25 Therefore I say unto you, Take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink; nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on. Is not the life more than meat, and the body than raiment? This is Jesus, the Bread of Life who is speaking, the same Jesus who will shortly feed the multitude on the mountain side, Jesus who has worked many miracles, Jesus who can feed and cloth us all. He tells us not to be worried and careful about the temporalities of this life, but instead to trust in God. As a prime example of one who trusted in the Lord, consider the Virgin Mary. When the angle visitor told her of the Child she was to bear, she did not say, “Who will provide for this Child?” or “How will I find food for this Baby?” No, Mary simply trusted in the Lord to provide for that which He created in her. Let us take Mary as our example. If God has given us life, will He not provide the food and clothing that we need to sustain it? And we may add with St. Paul, Romans 8:32 He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things?
Moving on, Matthew 6:26 Behold the fowls of the air: for they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feedeth them. Are ye not much better than they? Jesus says, Look at the birds! They do not labor in the fields like you do, sowing and harvesting, and yet God the Father feeds every one of them. By their very nature, they know to trust in God, even though they are incapable of truly knowing Him. You, on the other hand, God created for Himself, to know Him and be with Him forever. You are able to know Him, and certainly should be able to trust Him. How can you not trust God for all of His gifts when the very birds are able to do so?
Matthew 6:27 Which of you by taking thought can add one cubit unto his stature? You think that by being so very careful you can be able to take care of yourself without God. If that is so, then can you add to your own height, as God so easily could do? The Lord makes all such cares completely unprofitable to us. Blessed be the goodness and mercy of God, who, to keep us from such anxious thoughts, has made them pointless, miserable cares, which end where they began, and cannot prosper, because they consist in a distrust of Him who is the giver and disposer of all good.
Matthew 6:28 And why take ye thought for raiment? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin: 29 And yet I say unto you, That even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. Think of the flowers that cover the earth. There is not a corner of the earth that does not have flowers of some kind or other. Some places, the places men most desire to dwell, usually have flowers in great profusion, with wonderful colors and scents. Why has God put the flowers on the earth? They are here, at least in part, so that we may be constantly reminded of the hand of God all around us, the flowers calling our attention to Him. The flowers are there to teach us that God is present everywhere, and that He can do wonders anywhere, anytime. Whenever we see a flower and realize that it has been dressed by God our Father, we are made richer than a man in a fine robe. It is a token of God’s love for us, something far better than silver or gold. There are many lessons we can draw from this regarding our future eternal salvation, but all that Jesus asks us to understand at this point is that we need not be concerned with the earthly need for clothing.
Matthew 6:30 Wherefore, if God so clothe the grass of the field, which today is, and tomorrow is cast into the oven, shall he not much more clothe you, O ye of little faith? This is again rather like the argument regarding the birds of the air. Look at the wonders of the flowers, marked in every way by the hand of God, and yet, so casually consumed to make bread or simply burnt up to clear the field. We have this inanimate wonder, the flower, that cannot possibly know and love God and yet is so directly evident of God’s care. Is it not self evident that God will care for you, whom He made for Himself, to know and to love? O ye of little faith is a bit of a dig directed at the hearers, meaning exactly what it says. Jesus is saying, “Why will you not trust me? I have left the riches and glories of Heaven; I have emptied Myself of all My majesty, and become poorer than any of you, in order that you may trust Me; and that trusting in Me all which I have may be yours.”
Matthew 6:31 Therefore take no thought, saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed? When you focus over much on these matters, you let your attention slip away from the more important matter of the pursuit of the kingdom of God. You fail to trust in divine Providence.
Matthew 6:32 (For after all these things do the Gentiles seek:) for your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things. 33 But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you. Jesus reminds us that the Father does indeed know before we ask what our needs are; they are the same as those of the people outside the Church. (Remember that Matthew is writing to Jewish Christians; hence the reference to Gentiles for those outside the Church.) But then Jesus adds the strong reminder of what is most important: seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness. Only then will the other things be added, but the pursuit of the kingdom of God must always be foremost in our hearts and minds. This will all sound really strange to modern people in 21st century America, but it remains true, irrespective of whether it sounds strange or not. This is the only way to the kingdom of God!
Matthew 6:34 Take therefore no thought for the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof. It is not the actual needs of the day that fill men with faithless care, rather it is the fear for the future that does this. The fear for the future is founded on a lack of trust in God, a failure to recognize that He still holds the world in His hand. If we are willing to live our lives a day at a time, humbly trusting in God to provide for each day as it comes, we will do well. The devil feeds our fears about what may happen tomorrow, encourages us to think that we must provide for ourselves, as if that were possible, and then makes us feel guilty when we fail. The devil brings our pride into this and tells us that if we don’t provide for ourselves, how can we expect anyone else to provide for us? This is, of course, false because none of us is self sufficient; all that we have comes from God. But we are easily manipulated if we allow ourselves to place our trust anywhere but in God.
Near the end of our Epistle lesson, St. Paul says, Galatians 6:17 From henceforth let no man trouble me: for I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus. Paul has been addressing the Galatians regarding their many failures to maintain the true doctrine that he had preached to them previously. He has re–explained the misunderstood doctrines at length, and now he says to them, “let this be an end of it; let no one bring it up again to cause trouble in the Church.” He goes on to cite his authority as an Apostle, mentioning the scars, the marks he has acquired from injuries during his travels for the Gospel. He wants to see the Church restored to orthodoxy, to right doctrine.
And now, let us consider that the Collect, the Epistle, and Gospel, all joined together by a golden cord which, extending from the throne of God to the Church, is none other than the protecting mercy of God in Christ. Therefore, let us pray again the Collect for the day:
Keep Thy Church, O Lord, we beseech Thee, with Thy perpetual mercy; and, because the frailty of man without thee cannot but fall, keep us ever by thy help from all things hurtful, and lead us to all things profitable to our salvation; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
+ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.