"No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon." Mammon is money and possessions. Jesus is telling us that we cannot serve both God and material wealth.
God will not share your worship and adoration with any other god. God wants to be your one and only God. This means that you fear, love, and trust in him above all things. The largest false religion in the world, and this doesn't seem to change through the centuries, is the worship of material wealth. And this idol has followers in Muslim mosques, Jewish synagogues, and yes, Christian churches.
A god is whatever you fear, love, and trust in most. God wants you to fear, love, and trust in him. Yet people tend to fear, love, and trust in material wealth over God. This is breaking the very First Commandment. If you fear, love, and trust in material wealth you will despise God, because you will not devote yourself to him.
Jesus says, "Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on." Do you think Jesus is wrong? Most wouldn't want to admit that they think Jesus is wrong, but they disagree with our Lord nonetheless.
Jesus tells us not to worry and that God will provide us with everything we need. "But I have to work or I won't be able to pay my bills!", is often the reply, as if Jesus is unaware of your need to work. Jesus is God. It was God, who first gave Adam the command to work the Garden of Eden and after the fall into sin God told Adam that he would work the ground by the sweat of his brow. God commanded through St. Paul in 2 Thessalonians three, "If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat." Jesus knows full well that you need to work. He understands the laws of economics. Jesus knows more than you do about these things. And he says, "Do not be anxious. Your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness and the rest will be added unto you."
Yet these words don't satisfy us, do they? We argue with our Lord, or simply dismiss his words as overly religious sentimentality. They sound nice, but they don't actually pan out in the real world. Yes, we think we know better than Jesus. But God didn't command Adam to work, because otherwise he wouldn't be able to feed him. God fed the people of Israel with bread from heaven and quale from the wilderness. They didn't sow or reap for forty years in the wilderness, yet God did not let them go hungry. God commands us to work, because work is good and pleasing to him. And he blesses our work with good fruit: money, food, and possessions. Of course, God also provides for those who don't work, the flowers of the fields, and the birds of the air.
Many also fool themselves into thinking that they can serve both God and mammon. Or they remain painfully oblivious to the fact that they are serving mammon instead of God. But we must first understand what it means to serve God and what it means to serve mammon.
To serve God means first of all to put all trust in him and expect all good things from him. To serve God also means that you follow his commands. This means that you hear God's Word and believe it, that you pray, praise, and give thanks, that you love your neighbor, honor your parents and other authorities, take care of your children, and yes, work.
Serving God doesn't involve spending every day in church constantly singing hymns and listening to sermons. Serving God means that you do the work God has commanded you to do in this life. That means that children should obey their parents, wash the dishes and take out the trash. Wives should submit to their husbands as to the Lord and see to it that their children are raised in the fear of the Lord. Husbands should love their wives and sacrifice themselves for them at all times being even willing to lay down their lives for them, to teach them God's word and see to it that their children learn God's word as well. This also means that when you are at work earning your money, so that you can pay your bills, feed your family, and save up for retirement, you are serving God.
Well, if you can serve God even while gaining material wealth, then what does it mean to serve mammon? You serve mammon when you put off doing as God commands in order to obtain material wealth. God commands you to work and earn your money, so you can pay your bills and help those in need. God forbids you to trust in your own work, so that you neglect to do your more important duties.
Working is good and pleasing to God, but if you work so much so that you aren't teaching your children about Jesus, so that you're neglecting prayer, or not coming to church to worship God and receive his word and forgiveness, then you are worshiping mammon. "But didn't God command that I work?", many will doubtlessly say. Yes, but God has given you other commands. If a father tells his son to mow the lawn, but the kid goes and works on homework all day, he has disobeyed his father's command. Sure, doing homework is good. But there are plenty of hours in the day to do homework. The boy should obey his father and then get to his school work.
"But I must work to support my family!", others will say. It's amazing that in the richest country that has ever existed people have even less time to worship God and hear his word without falling into poverty. But what's more important is that this excuse shows a lack of trust in God. Do you think God will let you starve, because you took a couple hours to worship him?
These words of Jesus to not be anxious should be words of comfort to you. God is God. He's in control. He's not going to let you starve. He's going to clothe you. Don't be anxious about tomorrow. Let God worry about tomorrow. This isn't being reckless. This is trusting in the Lord. God is God. How comforting that is. Aren't you glad that you aren't God? Or that money isn't God? You'd surely mess it all up. And money can only buy things that fail. But God is in control!
God feeds the birds; he causes the grass to grow; even the little beetles and critters living under our feet that we don't even know are there, God is taking care of them. There are millions of things going on right now, completely out of your control from the revolution of the earth around the sun to the metabolism of each cell within your body to the nuclear warheads in North Korea, and if any one of them went wrong it would mean disaster for you. But don't worry, God has them all under control. And God hasn't forgotten about you or the few problems that you are aware that you have.
"Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness and the rest will be added unto you." What does it mean to seek the kingdom of God and his righteousness? This seems like a daunting task, doesn't it? God's kingdom seems like an impossible place to reach, like the center of the earth or the outermost parts of the universe. And when we think of God's righteousness, we think of God's righteous Law: Love God with all your heart, soul, strength, and mind. Love your neighbor. Do not lust. Do not covet. Do not steal. And perhaps you recall God's threat from Scripture, "the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth." (Rom. 1:18)
Perhaps this is why many don't seek God's kingdom or righteousness. It seems like such an impossible task. You're bound to fail. At least with material wealth you think you're in control. You can measure your success mathematically. But you do not find God's kingdom and righteousness by your own works. Then how does God's kingdom come to you? Your Small Catechism tells you, "God's kingdom comes when our heavenly Father gives us His Holy Spirit, so that by his grace we believe His holy Word and lead godly lives here in time and there in eternity."
God's kingdom is not some faraway place. Neither do you have to wait until you die to live in God's kingdom. God's kingdom is where our heavenly Father gives us his Holy Spirit. God gives his Holy Spirit through his Word and Sacraments. You were first brought into God's kingdom when you were baptized and the Holy Spirit came into your heart to give you faith in God's holy word. God's kingdom is not a physical location on earth. It can be anywhere, yet only where God's word is preached and heard. God's kingdom is here today, because here we have Jesus' word. Jesus said, "Wherever two or three are gathered in my name there am I in the midst of them." (Matthew 18:20) Jesus comes to us here in his very body and blood, which reveals to us the reality of heaven, Jesus has won your forgiveness and proclaims it to God the Father! To seek first the kingdom of God is to do no more than to find where God's Word is preached, to listen to it and believe it.
God's righteousness would certainly be impossible for you to obtain by yourself. No matter how well you obey God's commands, no matter how faithfully you go to church and shun mammon, you will never be certain that you have obtained God's righteousness. But God's righteousness is not something for you to win for yourself. God's righteousness is given to you freely to be received by faith! St. Paul writes:
But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it-- the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God's righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. (Romans 3:21-26)
You see God's righteousness on the cross where Jesus died for your sins and the sins of the whole world. There is where God's righteousness is won for all people. You receive God's righteousness through faith in Jesus. You receive God's righteousness at the Communion rale, where God justifies you through faith in Christ's body and blood. God's kingdom and righteousness are gifts from God to you.
No matter how much money you make, you will never be satisfied. If you save up 100 grand, you'll want a million. If you get the car of your dreams you'll soon discover one you want even more. Yet Jesus says, "Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied." (Matt. 5:6) Only God's righteousness can satisfy you. Mammon can't. And you can only receive God's righteousness through faith in Jesus Christ.
The greatest way you can serve God, the only way you can make God your one and only God is through faith in Jesus Christ. This means that you hear Jesus' words and believe them. You find satisfaction in Christ's forgiveness, life, and salvation. Only Jesus can dethrone every one of your false idols. Only his blood can forgive your debt for serving the creation rather than the creator. Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness is not like the demand material wealth makes on you, which demands that you labor until you die. Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness means the same as when Jesus said, "Come to me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light." (Matthew 11:28-30)
Repent of your worship of material wealth. God will forgive you for the sake of Jesus' suffering and death. He will give you peace and rest that the world cannot give you. And do not worry, God will take care of all your physical needs as well. Amen.