✠ In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit ✠
In today’s Gospel we hear these words from Jesus, “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness...” Don’t be obsessing and worrying about all the other stuff; seek Him first. This is similar to the first commandment where the Lord says, “You shall have no other gods.” Perhaps some of you remember learning it as it is recorded in Exodus 20, “You shall have no other gods before Me.” Or more literally in Hebrew, “You shall have no other gods in My face. Get them out of here. I alone am the true God who rescued you from your slavery. I am Your Lord and Redeemer. I don’t want to see any other gods or have you bowing down to them. They are no good for you. You belong to Me. I love you. You are My own precious and beloved people.”
Too often, though, we hear the “seek first” words of Jesus or the “before Me” part of the first commandment, and we take it to mean simply that we should put God first. We can have other things that we love and trust in, other small-g gods, as long as we don’t let them become more important than the true God. So we wrongly hear the first commandment as saying, “You shall have no other gods before Me; they need to be after Me. As long as I’m first, we’re OK.” But that’s not what the commandment means.
The falseness and the silliness of that understanding is revealed when we think of our relationship to God in marital terms. The Lord often referred to Himself as the husband of His people. Jesus, we know, is the Groom of His beloved Bride, the Church. So imagine how ridiculous it would be for a husband to say to his wife, “I don’t want any other guys coming before Me. But as long as I’m first, you can love and be with other guys.” No spouses who truly love each other would say that. It’s not just a matter of being first. It’s a matter of being the only one. That’s what the first commandment is about, “You shall have no other gods before Me. I alone am your God; you are My people.” The Lord is a jealous God, in the best sense of that word. He wants to protect you from the lies of the false gods who try to entice you. He wants what is best for you. He defends you. He wants you to be His own and to live under Him in His kingdom in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness.
But still we act as if just putting God first is enough. As long as I go to church each week, then I can devote myself to my other pet idols during the week. As long as I give my 10% tithe in the offering plate, then I can use my other money to serve and worship the various other gods that I love. We think that as long as we do things which try to demonstrate that the Lord is #1 for us, then we’ve kept this commandment. But the Lord doesn’t just want to be first on a long list. He wants to be the heart and center of the whole list–your family, your work, your recreation, your food and clothing, and yes, your money. He wants you to receive all those things as good gifts from Him to be used and managed for His glory and the good of others. The notion that we can serve Him on a part-time basis while serving other things the rest of the time is a lie. Jesus 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.” You cannot serve both the Lord and money.
It is written, “The love of money is a root of all kinds of evil.” Love of money causes us to compromise our principles and beliefs, to do things we shouldn’t do in order to fulfill our desires. Love of money, for instance, causes us to see children as a burden to our finances rather than a divine blessing. This is a big problem in our culture, with the average age of the population going up and family sizes going down. God says, “Be fruitful and multiply,” but we listen to the culture and severely limit the children that God would give so that we can purchase and do all the things we want. You cannot serve God and mammon.
Your security and comfort is either going to be in Him or in your finances and your stuff. Martin Luther comments in the Large Catechism how we tend to choose the latter: “He who has money and possessions feels secure and is joyful and undismayed as though he were sitting in the midst of Paradise. On the other hand, he who has no money doubts and is despondent, as though he knew of no God. For very few people can be found who are of good cheer and who neither mourn nor complain if they lack mammon. This care and desire for money sticks and clings to our nature, right up to the grave.” We think that there is security in mammon; we think that it will give us what we want. But that is a lie. To serve mammon means eventually to pierce yourselves through with many sorrows. It is to have a life that may look good but at its heart is full of worry and anxiety.
Repent, then, of your misplaced trust in undependable mammon and depend on Him who is the sure Rock of our salvation. Learn from God’s Word to turn away from worldly loves to the source of real Love. “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Let your heart trust not in temporary created things but in the eternal Creator. Turn from your anxieties and doubts to your Father in heaven, who will provide for you.
Don’t ever forget that the Lord has power to supply whatever we need in ways that we can’t always understand or that we don’t expect. Just consider the Old Testament reading. I’m sure the last thing that the widow thought she needed was the prophet Elijah coming to her house in the midst of a famine, another mouth to feed. And yet she trusted in the Lord’s word that the jar of oil and the bin of flour would not run out. And they never lacked for bread. And who would’ve expected that it would be a poor widow, of all people, that the Lord would make use of to provide for Elijah?
Let us trust, then, that our lives are in the Lord’s hands and that He will care for us according to His good and gracious will, even when it seems like we’re getting to the breaking point. Let us not engage in worry but in prayer. Worry produces stress, but prayer produces peace. For it dwells upon the sure words and promises of God, like those in today’s Gospel.
Prayer says such things as, “Father in heaven, you know all the things I need, even before I ask for them. You feed the birds of the air, and not one of them falls to the ground apart from your will. Help me to trust that I am more valuable in your sight than the birds and that you will feed and sustain me even in the midst of my troubles. And dear Father, you splendidly clothe the lilies of the field, even though they are little more than the grass. Give me to believe that you will also clothe me and take care of me. Keep me from worrying about tomorrow, and give me a thankful heart for the gifts you give day by day, my daily bread, and everything that is necessary to support this body and life. The world is passing away, but your Word of mercy and life will never pass away. It will save and sustain me forever.”
Faith can only pray in this way because of what Jesus has done. For He is the One who has made you children of the heavenly Father and has given you a place in the family. Jesus calls you to seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness because He Himself is the Righteous One who seeks first your salvation. God has made you His first priority. The King seeks after you and pursues you to rescue you. The Eternal Son of God took on your perishable flesh and blood so that you would be redeemed. Jesus bore in His own body all the corruption and the decay and the mortality that your sin brings, and He put it all to death on the cross. In Christ the old undependable, perishable order of things has passed away and all things have become new in the power of His bodily resurrection. In Him all of the false loves of your old self are forgiven and done away with, and you are given a new love and faith toward Him. This is how the Lord seeks after you and demonstrates His love toward you first, in that while we were still sinners, He died for us. We love and seek Him first because He first loved and sought us. And He hasn’t stopped seeking you out. Christ continues to come to you in the ministry of His Word to bless and keep you. Surely His goodness and mercy shall pursue you all the days of your life, and you will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.
Trusting in Jesus, knowing all that He has done and prepared for us, our worries and fears are calmed. For if God has provided so bountifully for our eternal needs, certainly He will care for us in all the necessities of this temporal life. And even when the hard times do 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 can separate us from the love of God in Christ. It is as Romans 8 says, “If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but gave Him up for us all, how will He not also along with Him graciously give us all things?” If you have Jesus, you have it all, for in Him all things hold together.
That’s how Job could say in His suffering, in the loss of his property and his loved ones, “The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away. Blessed be the name of the Lord.” “Though he giveth or he taketh, God His children ne’er forsaketh.”
Living in that confidence, we are freed to use our money and possessions for the good of all, especially those of the household of faith, as the Epistle directs us. We don’t have to cling tightly to our mammon. We can give it away, because it’s not our god; it’s a gift of God and an instrument to be put to His use. Let loose of your mammon. Give away the security and power you think it gives you. Turn the idol of mammon on its head; make it bow down to the true God and put it to a godly use, not only here but also out in the world.
“Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness,” which is to say, “Seek Christ the King, the Righteous One, and all the things you need will be added to you in Him.” By faith we see that it’s not just a matter of putting the Lord first. It’s a matter of seeing that Jesus is your first and middle and last. He is the Alpha and the Omega, your all in all. He is your entire salvation and life, from beginning to end. Not only does God promise to feed you your daily bread, but here and now He feeds you with His very body and blood under the bread and the wine for the forgiveness of your sins. Not only has God promised to clothe you, but He has already robed you in the white garment of Christ’s righteousness in your baptism.
And on the Last day you will forever be rid of your mortal clothing, this perishable flesh and blood, and you will put on your new and everlasting clothing in the resurrection of the body, as it is written, “The perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality. . . Then the saying that is written will come true: ‘Death has been swallowed up in victory.’ . . . Thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” It is because of this certainty that we take to heart the words of St. Paul, “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.”
✠ In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit ✠