In the name of the Father and of the ✠ Son and of the Holy Spirit
As Lutherans we don’t often use the language of “choosing” when it comes to matters of faith. For we know that our conversion to the faith was not our choice or decision. God is the One who turned our cold and unbelieving hearts to faith by His Word and Spirit. Jesus said to the disciples, “You did not choose Me, but I chose you” (John 15:16).
And yet, we dare not forget that once we are brought to the faith by the Holy Spirit, we do make choices about how we will live, whether it’s according to the Spirit as God’s redeemed people or according to our old fallen nature. We can and do choose either to honor God or to bow down to the world’s idols. Joshua said to Israel of old, “Choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods which your fathers served that were on the other side of the River, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord” (Joshua 24:15).
Just like OT Israel, we also are surrounded by false gods, the things that vie for the primary devotion of your heart, things that consume your time and attention, things that call you to look to them for happiness, to trust in them for protection. And so it’s important that you choose actively and intentionally to serve the true God. Failing to do that is actually to default to serving the idols of the world. Jesus lays this all out in the Gospel when He says, “No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.” Either you’ll be devoted to the Creator above all or to some aspect of this created life above all. But it can’t be both. A choice has to be made.
It’s jarring sometimes when you read the OT to see how frequently the Israelites had household idols that they didn’t give up; or how they would worship the gods and goddesses of the pagan nations around them while still paying lip service to the Lord. And yet it’s really not all that different today. People still like to think that they can have multiple gods, multiple spiritual masters, that they can love God and be friends with the pagan world, too. But the truth is, only one thing can hold the #1 spot in your heart and run the show.
Here’s a way to test how it is with you. What is something in your life that you would consider refusing to give up if God asked you to? What things cause you to put God in second place when there’s a conflict between the two? If it’s a choice between God’s approval or your family or friend’s approval, which relationship comes first? If it’s a choice between holding to God’s Word and potentially harming your job situation, or compromising God’s Word and getting ahead financially, what do you do? If it’s a choice between divine service or some extracurricular event; if it’s a choice between honoring God or honoring your own desires–where does He rank in the actual day to day practice of your choices? When it comes right down to it, our hearts are often more strongly attached to people or politics or the praise of our peers or possessions than they are to the Lord.
Jesus revealed this one day to a rich young man, who wanted to know what he must to do inherit eternal life. He had done his best to keep the commandments. Scripture says, “Then Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, ‘One thing you lack: Go your way, sell whatever you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, take up the cross, and follow Me’” (Mark 10:21). The idol of mammon had to be dethroned from the rich young man’s heart before he could serve the true God. And at least at first, he couldn’t do it. He went away sad. The good news is, according to tradition, that rich young man was Mark, the writer of the second Gospel, who was eventually brought back by the power of Jesus’ words to repentance and faith and a new life.
That is where we find hope for ourselves, that even in spite of our idolatries, the Lord looks at us and loves us, and He says to us, “Get rid of your idols. Put your time and resources to their proper use, and come, take up the cross, and follow Me.” The Lord doesn’t give up on us, in spite of our divided hearts. He loves us enough to call us to repentance and away from those idols that would destroy our souls. He calls us back to who we truly are as His chosen, baptized people. He calls us to serve and follow Him so that we might have real and eternal life with Him. You know, you’re going to serve some god or idol no matter what; might as well be the only One whose benefits endure. Jesus is the only Master where, by serving Him, you are made truly free.
In today’s Gospel we see that one of the things Jesus came to free you from is anxiety and fear. He calls you to stand where there is solid footing and certainty, trusting in Him and in His Father’s care. With mammon there is no certainty; it is undependable, and so there is worry. There’s always the fear that bad weather or economic downturns or rust or mold or thieves or hackers or scammers will threaten our money and possessions. Like all the hype leading up to Aaron Rodgers becoming quarterback of the NY Jets, and then the sad reality of it all evaporating in a moment, we know that mammon is only temporary, here today, gone tomorrow.
Our Lord Jesus seeks to free you from all that by saying, “Do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink; nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing? . . . The [pagans] seek after all these things. Your heavenly Father knows that you need them.” Take heart in those words, “Your heavenly Father knows. . .” He knows what you’re dealing with. He knows what you need. So don’t be afraid. And don’t think that the Lord has forgotten you. For if He is your Father, then you are His children. And He does not forsake His own family. He is working all things together for your eternal good. If he feeds the birds and clothes the flowers, will He not also take care of you who are of much greater value?
And if you sometimes doubt whether or not you have much worth or value, consider this: What other creature can say that they share in the same nature as the Son of God? Not even the angels can say that! Jesus has given you the greatest worth by becoming your blood brother, a real human being. He sanctified your humanity by taking it into His divinity. You have infinitely greater value than any animal or anything else in this world. Next time you’re feeling like you’re not worth much, don’t go down the path of the self-love advice of the world, “I’m beautiful just the way I am.” No, go down the path of the love of God: He gave His only Son to redeem you and to restore the image of God to you. It is written in Romans 8, “ He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things?” That’s where your worth is, in Jesus, who paid the highest price of His own blood in order to redeem you and have you as His own beloved treasure. You are beautiful in Christ, forgiven and holy. And if that is the case, if your Father in heaven has taken care of the big stuff for you–forgiveness of sins and eternal life–well, then certainly you can trust Him with the smaller, temporal stuff, too, right? Don’t worry; just pray. It’s in the Father’s hands.
Though this world is falling apart and winding down to its end, still the eternal Son of God entered into it to claim you and buy you back. He became like you so that you would become children of the heavenly Father in Him. Jesus took upon Himself the curse that our sin has brought on creation. He endured all of its devastation and its corruptness and its death for you on the cross. In so doing Jesus caused death itself to die and the curse to be broken. He destroyed the sin that makes everything only momentary. He proved that by coming forth from the grave in power, the beginning of a new creation that will never perish, for death no longer has dominion over Him.
Trusting in Jesus, knowing all that He has done and prepared for you, your worries and fears are calmed. You are freed from the anxiety that causes you to want to turn to the idols of this world to give you what you want. For if God has provided so bountifully for your eternal needs, certainly He will care for you in all the necessities of this temporal life. And even when the hard times come, even if it’s all taken away and God’s care seems to have vanished, we know that we who are His baptized people are not forsaken. We believe that even when terror and tragedy, sickness and death come, He who created us can and will also recreate us in the resurrection of the body on the Last Day. So literally nothing in all creation can separate you from the love of God in Christ Jesus. Not a thing. In Him all things hold together.
What is it going to be, then? What’s your choice, the everlasting Father in heaven or the passing idols of mother earth? Scripture teaches that you become like what you worship. Serve mammon and you will eventually pass away; serve the living God and you will have real and enduring life.
For the true God first serves you. The Father gives you clothing, and much more than that, He has robed you in Christ’s righteousness. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. The Father gives you daily bread, and much more than that, He gives you the Bread of Life, feeding you the very flesh and blood of Christ here in the Holy Supper for the forgiveness of sins. The Father gives you a place to live, and much more than that, He gives you an eternal dwelling place in His own household, as royal children of God in Christ.
So ponder where the idols are in your life. And then, “Choose this day whom you will serve.” Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things that you need will be added to you.
In the name of the Father and of the ✠ Son and of the Holy Spirit