13 September 2015
Text: Matt 6:24-34 (1 Kings 17:8-16, Gal 5:25-6:10)
In the name of + Jesus. Amen.
“What is the first commandment? You shall have no other gods. What does this mean? We should fear, love, and trust in God above all things.”
Our Lord explains the problem with idolatry: it is contrary to the way things are designed to work. There is only one God. If one has more than one god, or vacillates between different gods, there is going to be a problem, a conflicting loyalty: “either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other.”
This is why, for example, corporations and governments have an organizational chart and a chain of command. If one person reports to multiple bosses, there will inevitably be conflicting orders and confusion. But if there is a clear chain of command, that confusion can be diminished. This is especially crucial in the military, where the rapid carrying out of specific and well-understood plans is necessary to save lives.
But our Lord is dealing with something even more important than life and death on the battlefield. For He is talking about eternal life and eternal death in a spiritual battlefield.
And so there is indeed a chain of command. There is a place for all of us creatures in God’s universe.
In the Old Testament, the children of Israel struggled with idolatry. There is a reason why this is the first commandment. When they weren’t carving golden calves, when lay people weren’t usurping the offices of priest and prophet, when they weren’t setting up unauthorized altars, when they weren’t worshiping the goddess symbolized by the asherah pole, when they weren’t offering animal sacrifices to Baal or even human sacrifices to Molech, the people who were redeemed by the living God were committing the more common kind of idolatry, the kind that is also our problem today: refusing to trust in God above all things.
Many times the princes put their trust in the armies they could raise and the chariots they could equip instead of trusting in the God who fought for them. Many times the people put their trust in princes instead of the God who is the Prince of Peace. And this is also our problem today.
Sometimes it is unreasonable, even outrageous to believe that God can deliver us from the perilous situations we find ourselves in. But this is precisely what it means to fear, love, and trust – trust – in God above all things. This is also called “faith.”
The widow of Zerephath had run out of food. There had been a severe drought, and there was just nothing left to eat. As for her and for her son, she was down to her final measly handful of flour and last scarce drops of oil. This was to be her last meal, and she was preparing to eat it and die with her son. However, the prophet came to her with an outrageous suggestion: “Make me a sandwich.” That’s not exactly what he said, but it’s close. Imagine, this prophet of God ordering her to feed him, even as she was watching her only son whom she loved condemned to a slow and agonizing death by starvation.
But notice what Elijah the prophet tells her on behalf of the living God: “Do not fear; go and do as I have said. But first make me a little cake of it and bring it to me, and afterward make something for yourself and your son.”
He tells the woman not to fear death, but to rather fear God – for no man can serve both death and God. He bids her to trust God enough to make an immediate offering to God through his prophet, trusting God, even in this outrageous situation, even though all seems so bleak. For indeed, “Thus says the Lord God of Israel, ‘The jar of flour shall not be spent, and the jug of oil shall not be empty, until the day that the Lord sends rain upon the earth.”
At this point, she could have feared death instead of fearing God; she could have loved her own life and that of her son before she loved God; she could have trusted in the time she could have bought by this one final meal instead of trusting in God above all things.
But hearing this Word of God preached by the prophet, the widow has faith. Her faith was reflected in her works. For “she went and did as Elijah said. And she and he and her household ate for many days. The jar of flour was not spent, neither did the jug of oil become empty, according to the Word of the Lord that He spoke by Elijah.”
“We should fear, love, and trust in God above all things.”
For “No one can serve two masters… You cannot serve God and money.”
Our Lord cautions that we are not to be anxious about our life, but rather to trust in God above all things. Because life – the life that is a gift from our Creator, the life that He has redeemed by the blood of Christ, the life that is sustained by the Holy Spirit – life is “more than food” and the body is “more than clothing.”
Our blessed Lord calls us to fear, love, and trust in God above all things. For even the birds of the air do a better job of this than we do.
This is indeed one of the great weaknesses we Americans have. We are a wealthy people. We may not feel like we are, but compared to the billions of people on the planet, we live like kings. We enjoy conveniences and technology and housing and medical care and leisure time and the choicest of food and clothing that the planet has to offer – and we are tempted to fear, love, and trust in them above all things.
For money is simply a trading device so that we can buy stuff: possessions, be they necessities or luxuries. Money is a convenient medium of trade, but it can give us the illusion that it is what creates wealth rather than the blessings of God. For crops grow only when God provides good weather. Our labor thrives only when God provides good health. Our commodities make it to market only when God provides peaceful commerce. And this is why, dear friends, it is a custom among Christians to say “grace” that is “gratias” – thank you – by offering a table prayer before every meal.
For we cannot and dare not serve two masters. Money is to be our servant, not our master. Money is a creature, not our Creator. We are to offer the first fruits of our labor, typically in the form of money, to God; we are not to sacrifice God and His worship upon the altar of work and leisure and money. For God has given us His Word and calls us to “fear, love, and trust” in Him above all things. This is what Christian stewardship is. He blesses us, and we return ten percent of our blessings in gratitude. We return a portion of our time (being here) our talent (our works) and our treasure (our money), to the God whom we fear, love, and trust above all things. And these love offerings and thank offerings keep our church going. They take care of those in need. They insure that the continuation of the proclamation of the prophetic Word of God in our community and around the world continues. They invest in the future by providing now for our children and descendants yet to come.
And like the widow of Zerephath, we are called to be faithful and to trust in God’s providence for us and for our children, in good times and in bad, in feasts and in famine, in the slums of India and in the suburbs of Indiana, among the poor widows and among the blessed comfortable.
For no matter who we are, how much we have or what we lack, we are called upon to “fear, love, and trust in God above all things.” For indeed, “no one can serve two masters” – be they pagan gods or pounds of gold. For we have a promise that God has made to us, to each one of us, dear brothers and sisters. He claimed us at baptism, forgiving us all of our sins, and receiving us under His chain of command, His divine organizational chart within His divine Church. He celebrated a last meal of bread and wine with us – a Eucharistic (thanksgiving) meal that continues until He returns, until the day that the Lord returns and sends his reign – His kingly reign – upon the entire new heavens and new earth in eternity.
He assures us that we matter more to Him than the carefree sparrows. For God did not become a sparrow, but a Man – a Man who went to the cross as the complete payment for our sins, our redemption and ransom, the One who also rose from death to defeat death once and for all, and to subdue Satan forever. Indeed, death is not to be feared, loved, or even trusted – as many in our culture of death seem to embrace it today.
Rather embracing a culture of life – eternal life - we are to joyfully serve Him who has served us, our Master who has become our Servant. For no one can serve two masters.
What does this mean? It means that by His grace and love and mercy, “We should fear, love, and trust in God above all things.” Amen.
In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.