Video Service - Fifth Sunday in Lent
Rev. Charles Westby, Pastor
Matthew 6:24-34
March 29, 2020

Jesus Talks to Us about Worry

Often, Jesus talks to us about our relationship to money and the physical things of this world related to our physical existence. He does so again today in the Gospel reading from Matthew 6 (Mat. 6:24-34). He speaks to us about ultimate loyalty in this connection (Matthew 6:24). He tells us not to worry about having the things we need to support our physical lives.

He teaches us, as our Good Teacher. He reveals God’s love for us in a promise.

In a bigger perspective, however, it is significant to me to see how Christianity is different than many other religions and philosophies. Other religions and philosophies also have their teaching and practice on what it means to be spiritual or wise in relation to money and material things. They may tend to teach that true wisdom is to do away with money, wealth, and riches; to not have anything to do with material things. To be spiritual is to escape the material, because the material is evil in itself and drags down our true spiritual essence. So to escape things and the body and the material world is to find peace.

Christianity is different. Jesus says that “your heavenly Father knows that you need such things” (Matthew 6:32). In Christianity God created everything, even our bodies and the physical world. And God gave us the earth and our reason and work to produce and provide for our physical existence. Christianity embraces us entirely, both our souls and our bodies. In terms of our relationship to physical things, Jesus does not teach escape from physical reality.

The problem Jesus talks to us about then is not whether we have or do not have physical things per se, but our attachment to them, how highly we esteem them. The problem is not escape from physical things. The spiritual problem is that we set our hearts on them and then worry about them. Esteeming material things too highly is a matter of ultimate trust and loyalty. Worrying about them is a matter of faith and trust in God’s providence and love.

I think that people can sometimes find it heroic in a materialistic culture when they see people trying to practice a philosophy or religion dedicated to detachment from and escape from material things. But it is actually more heroic and a far deeper spiritual struggle to struggle for ultimate loyalty in God, deep peace, and trust in Him in the midst of having to work and take care of our physical existence, and the physical existence of the one’s entrusted by God to our care. We know this struggle quite well. It is in the midst of this struggle that Jesus meets us with Himself and His teaching. It is not in escape from the struggle. For in reality, we can’t escape from it. He meets us in the midst of it.

Jesus speaks to us about ultimate loyalty: “You cannot serve both God and mammon” (Matthew 6:24 ESV). The word “mammon” is probably a loan-word from the Aramaic language. Aramaic was spoken in Palestine of Jesus’s day. We take it to mean money, riches and wealth.

We could think of like this. You can’t have two absolutes, but only one. If one is absolute, the other has relative value, and vice versa. So, Jesus puts the question to us: is God or money absolute for us? If God is absolute, then money and physical things take a relative position. If money and things are absolute, then God becomes of relative value.

So here is the challenge. We are in the physical reality, not escaped from it. In our economic system, we need money to put a roof over our heads, buy food and clothing for ourselves and our families, and pay for other things that are not evil in themselves.

But our hearts are corrupted by a natural disposition to cling to something as an ultimate good, as absolute, which is not ultimate and absolute, like money and physical things, so that we serve that thing. Being anxious about material things is a way to examine how it goes for us here. Being anxious and worrying about not having; being anxious and worrying when we have that we are going to lose it; doing anything to anyone to get it and hang onto it would show how we make money and material things absolute. This is a struggle. Jesus is speaking to me as He is speaking to all of you.

The issue here is an issue of the heart, not whether we factually have or don’t have. Jesus is directing us and empowering us to find God as the ultimate loyalty; to find God as our refuge and trust; to find God as that One who defines for us what it means to be human; to follow His way of what is true and right, whether it gets us money and things or not; to find in God our highest good and security for our lives. Jesus instructs us here so that we find God in this way in the midst of the physical reality of our lives, not in escape from it.

But this is a challenge, not only because our corrupted sinful nature is always tending to cling to things that are not God as if they are God, but also because life can get difficult. Times of crisis can arise that put great strain and stress on whether we will have what we need to support ourselves and those in our care. In the midst of this kind of reality, worry about where the food, drink and clothing is going to come from, worry about whether there will be work, so that there can be money, so that we can pay the bills, is natural to us and can become acute and impose itself upon us. Fear wells up from within us and makes us worry.

What is wrong with fear and worry anyway? It is not because material things, and food and clothing, are evils in themselves. They could not be if our heavenly Father knows that we need them and gives them to us. God does not criminalize the possession of things, even great wealth, as if it were evil in itself. He does rebuke us spiritually with His word for placing our trust in it, and then not using it for the good of others out of a cheerful and giving heart where there is human need.

But what is wrong with fear and worry about these things anyway? We can say these things. Even reason knows that fear and worry are not healthy. They can also motivate us to do bad and selfish things. More deeply and spiritually, they rob us of joy. Fear and worry also deprive us of the comfort of faith that trusts that God has all things in His hand. They rob us of the direction that faith gives that God is the true and ultimate loyalty. Fear and worry also deprive us of the comfort that God is good and means good to us and will not desert us and can be trusted and relied upon, even in the strain and stress of these difficult times.

In this faith, our hearts are grounded on a rock that will never fail, even if this life fails. In this grounding, our hearts are able to cope with this life in a security that comes from outside it, so as to remain steadfast in it, and serve God and the good within it, for the good of ourselves, our loved ones, and our neighbor.

To strengthen us in this loyalty and faith, Jesus speaks truth and promise to us. The truth is this: “Your heavenly Father knows that you need all of these things.” All of these things that Jesus tells us not to worry about, He tells us that our Father knows that we need them. This truth can then become a powerful antidote to fear and worry. Your heavenly Father knows that you need these things. He cares for you. Look to Him. He is faithful to you to provide for you. We need this truth to ground our hearts in Him and His word.

And then He speaks a promise: “All these things will be added to you.” Now this promise is in connection with critical instruction: “Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness.” Jesus calls our hearts away from seeking first the glory and wealth and power of this world. No. That is second. Or rather, that is relative. So Jesus calls us to this: let your heart not be so disposed to regard the pursuit of the material things of this world as the be all and end all of your existence as a human being. Rather, let these things be your ultimate pursuit: God and faith in His good and benevolent reign over your life; the righteousness that God has prepared for you in Jesus as your righteousness and forgiveness before Him; the righteousness of God that defines what goodness and truth are; the reign of the Holy Spirit in your heart which the Father gives through His word and faith in Jesus.

Now let us avoid a misunderstanding here. It is not that Jesus is saying that if you seek first the kingdom of God, God promises to make you rich and wealthy. That would be using God’s kingdom as a means to an end. If we do that, then wealth and riches become the ultimate goal. Rather, Jesus is teaching us to pursue God’s kingdom as the ultimate end and goal, and all these things will be added as God wills, because He knows that we need them to support our physical existence here.

It is wonderful to see though how Jesus entices our hearts with the promise, in the midst of the strain and stress: “All these things will be added to you.” Do not fear. Trust in God’s goodness. Make His fellowship in Jesus and the truth of His word and what He is toward you your faith, your pursuit, your ultimate good, your ultimate loyalty, over against the things of this world, and these things will be added to you, because your good heavenly Father knows that you need them.

This is quite difficult to do. But Jesus speaks to us His Word. And the Spirit is in His word to strengthen your heart. His forgiveness and grace cover you, as you take refuge in Him. And He is strengthening you in the midst of the struggle. Your heavenly Father loves you, He knows what you need. As your faith pursues Him and His ways, He will add these things to you. He will not leave you nor forsake you. In Jesus, you are engraved on the palm of God’s hands (Isaiah 49:16a). Amen.