Pastor James Preus
Trinity Lutheran Church
September 17, 2023
The First Commandment is, “You shall have no other gods.” Our Small Catechism explains the First Commandment, “We should fear, love, and trust in God above all things. Martin Luther explains in the Large Catechism that whatever you fear, love, and trust in most is your God. So, if you fear, love, and trust in money, your job, your family and friends, or sports more than you fear, love, and trust in God, then money, your job, your family and friends, or sports is your false god. A false god is an idol.
Jesus explains this by saying that whatever you serve is your God. He says that you cannot serve two masters, or you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. So, you cannot serve both God and mammon. Mammon is earthly wealth, often translated as money. So, if you serve money or any other earthly wealth, then money and wealth are your false gods. You can identify your false gods by observing what you serve rather than the true God.
Yet, what does Jesus mean by serve? He certainly isn’t forbidding us from working. Rather, Scripture frequently commands us to work (Genesis 2:15; Prov. 6:6-11; 2 Thessalonians 3:10). He isn’t forbidding us from using money. Rather, Jesus tells us to make friends with our money, who will welcome us into our eternal dwellings when that money fails (Luke 16:9). So, how can you examine yourself to see if you have made mammon into a false god?
Do you worry? Yes, worry is one of the tell-tale signs that you are serving mammon as your idol. Worry is the noxious odor of idolatry. Anxiety is the putrid stench of worshipping the false god of mammon. When you serve money, possessions, and all types of mammon, worry rises from your heart like a foul fume, that disturbs all your senses. And why does worshipping mammon make you worry? Why does serving the god of money cause a noxious stench to trouble all your senses? Because mammon is a cruel god. It is disloyal. It doesn’t promise you anything for certain. Everything money does give you can be taken away and destroyed. Mammon will make you its slave, but it will abandon you for another at the drop of a hat. So, those who worship the god of money will worry. They will be anxious that they won’t have enough. They will worry that they will lose what they have. And the more they worry, the more securely they will be enslaved to this cruel god as the noxious odor of idolatry overpowers all their senses.
So, Jesus seeks to free us from our slavery to this false god by getting us to stop worrying. That seems like an easy enough task. Who wants to be a slave to a false god? Who wants to suffer from anxiety and worry all the time? Yet, surprisingly, this is a near impossible task. Although worrying stinks, although serving mammon leads to bitterness, hatred, and eventually hell, people refuse to be convinced to stop worshipping that awful false god and sniffing its poison-fumes.
Jesus seeks to convince us to stop worrying by pointing out how God takes care of his creation, even though it does not worry or slave away. He points first to the birds of the air, who neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet our heavenly Father feeds them. “Are you not of more value than they?” Jesus concludes. Birds don’t toil for their food. They simply gather what God produces for them. And in a very real sense, so do we. We are commanded to work by God, but it is God who provides for us. Even with the great labor, and study of science, and more labor that goes into growing crops and producing food, we are simply gathering from creation what God has put into it for our sake. We can’t make seeds grow or crops succeed. God is the one who grants the growth and provides the bounty.
So, if God provides for the birds of the air, over which he has granted us dominion and for whom He has provided no savior, how much more will He care for us? “He who did not spare His own Son but gave Him up for us all, how will He not also with Him graciously give us all things?” (Romans 8:32)
And this brings us to a Seed, which none of us planted, but which produced a harvest greater than any. This Seed is the Seed of the Woman, Jesus Christ, whom God sowed in the ground after sending Him to be crucified for our sins. We did not prepare the soil for this Seed except by our sins which required such a sacrifice. We did not raise Him up either! Yet, by God’s sowing and reaping, we receive the gift of eternal life through faith. So, why do we worry about such little things as what we will eat?
Then Jesus points us to the flowers of the field, who again, neither toil nor spin, yet are arrayed in finer garments than even King Solomon, the richest and most splendid of kings on earth. If God so clothes the grass, which will be burned tomorrow, how much more will He clothe you for whom He sent His Son to die? And indeed, God does clothe you with an even more beautiful raiment than all the flowers of the earth. He has clothed you in the very garments of salvation, in a robe of righteousness (Isaiah 61:10), yes in Christ Himself (Galatians 3:27), when He baptized you into Christ’s name. And that garment washed in the blood of Christ will grant you access into the very gates of paradise, where you will live with Christ forever! So, why are you worried about what you will wear?
In the end your worrying doesn’t do you any good. It doesn’t make you richer or make you live longer. Life is much more than what you worry about anyway. It is the unbelieving pagans who are anxious for these things, but it should not be so for the children of God. God already knows all the things you need before you know you need them, and has planned how He will provide them for you. As mentioned before, if God did not spare His own Son, but gave Him up to death in order to save your soul from hell, why would He fail at this much smaller thing of carrying for your body? If he has made sure to supply you with eternal life, why do you think He will fail to supply you for your temporal life?
Jesus’ reasoning is impeccable. You cannot argue against it. Worrying is a waist of time, even worse, it is harmful to your soul. Worrying is the putrid stench of breaking the First Commandment by fearing, loving, and trusting in the creation rather than the creator. Stop worrying. Stop worshipping mammon. Rid yourself of this putrid stench.
But how? The more you worry, the more you worry. The more you smell the stench of idolatry, the more it captivates your senses to make you a total slave. Jesus tells you how to escape from worry and flee from the bondage of worshipping money. “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” The Kingdom of God is the reign of God. God reigns over us by sending His Son into human flesh to suffer and die for our sins. God reigns over you by sending His Holy Spirit through His Word and Sacraments to bring you to repentance and create faith in your heart, so that you may receive Christ and all the benefits of His sacrifice for you. Jesus and His disciples prepared people for the coming of God’s kingdom by preaching, “Repent and believe in the Gospel, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!” (Mark 1:15; Luke 24:47) So, when Jesus tells you to flee idolatry by seeking first His kingdom, He is telling you to repent of your sins, believe the Gospel, and immerse yourself in His Word, receive His body and blood in the Sacrament, and live as a citizen of heaven here on earth. St. Paul declares, “For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.” (Romans 14:17)
If you refuse to feed or clothe your children, you are rightly accused of child abuse. It is your responsibility to give your children proper food and drink. But the kingdom of God is not a matter of food and drink. How much more guilty are you of child abuse if you refuse to provide your children with the things of the kingdom of God? Christ does not accept any excuse for putting other things before His kingdom. Buying a field or five yoke of oxen or getting married is not a reason to delay seeking Christ’s kingdom (Luke 14:15-24). Cooking and cleaning as Martha did is not better than sitting at Jesus’ feet and listing to His teaching (Luke 10:38-42). Burying one’s father isn’t even a good reason to delay seeking the kingdom (Matthew 8:21-22)! Because none of these things will grant you eternal life. Yet, slaving and worrying over these things certainly can prevent you from entering eternal life!
Seek first the kingdom of God, and His righteousness. St. Paul tells us that the righteousness of God has been manifested to us through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe (Romans 3:21-22). God’s righteousness is Christ’s righteousness. And Christ gives us His righteousness through faith (Philippians 3:9). Christ Jesus made us right with God by bearing our sins for us. His righteousness gives us access to eternal life. And He gives us this righteousness in His Church, which is the Kingdom of God, where His Gospel is proclaimed and His Sacraments are given.
Outside of God’s Kingdom, that is, outside of Christ’s Church there is no true peace and joy, no righteousness or eternal life. But within this Community of Saints, where Christ tends to His sheep, we find a refuge from anxiety and worry. We find peace, which the world cannot give. We learn that all our physical needs are cared for by our Creator, and He has supplied us with an eternal kingdom for our home. Where the Gospel of Christ is preached, the putrid stench of idolatry is cleared from the senses of those who believe, and worry is put to flight. The Gospel causes you to see clearly that God cares for you now and forever.
While we toil on this earth the stench of idolatry will always linger close by. Satan will throw all he has at us, whether riches or poverty, to cause the stench of worry to return. And as sinners, we will struggle. Yet, consider the saints of old, who battled worry before us and how they cast their anxieties on the God, who cares for them. Jeremiah, after King Nebuchadnezzar sacked Jerusalem and destroyed the temple, wrote these beautiful words in Lamentations chapter 3, “The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; His mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness. ‘The LORD is my portion,’ says my soul, ‘Therefore I will hope in Him.” (vss. 22-24) And the Psalmist shouts to God, “Whom have I in heaven but You? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides You. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.” (Psalm 73:25-26)
Do not despair when you worry. Rather, seek first God’s kingdom and righteousness. Run to the Gospel of Christ. Nothing else on earth can clear the noxious odor of idolatry from your senses and give you peace from your worry. Amen.