“And Jesus said to His disciples, “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat, nor about your body, what you will put on. For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing.”
On last Sunday’s stop on the journey with Jesus to Jerusalem, “Someone in the crowd said, ‘teacher, tell my brother to share the inheritance with me.” That prompted Jesus to lecture the crowd about the meaning of life. He told to a parable about a rich man whose farm produced a bumper crop, which to him meant, ‘early retirement’ with enough ‘social security’ to “relax, eat, drink and be merry” – in other words, a life with no worries. The great surprise however was the fact that this “rich fool” had less than 24 hours to live. “Fool, this night your soul is required of you…”
The moral of the story is, “one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions,” but rather in “being rich towards God.”
It’s always first things first for the Christian. First you must know just how rich you are towards God, and how we got so “rich towards God,” and the price that was paid to make you so “rich towards God.” Then, and only then, will you be able to handle and “abundance of possessions” rightly and keep them in their proper place.
What follows today is NOT addressed to the “trampling crowd” who do not know how rich towards God and who do not have ears to hear. Rather, Jesus is speaking here solely to His disciples, to whom the Kingdom of God has come. It is through them and the Word that they will preach and teach that the “trampling crowd” will come to know how “rich towards God” Jesus Christ has made them.
“And he said to his disciples, ‘Therefore I tell you do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat, nor about your body, what you will put on. For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing.”
If last Sunday’s gospel was a correction to the rich, that “life does not consist in the ABUNDANCE of possessions,” then this Sunday’s gospel is a correction to the poor, that life also does not consist in the LACK of possessions – even the basic necessities of ‘food’ and ‘clothing.’ “Life is more than food, and the body more than clothing.”
If the NEGATIVE example in last Sunday’s gospel was a ‘rich fool,’ then the POSITIVE example in this Sunday’s gospel are birds and flowers.
“Consider the ravens: they neither sow nor reap, they have neither storehouse nor barn, and yet God feeds them. Of how much more value are you than the birds! And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? If then you are not able to do as small a thing as that, why are you anxious about the rest? Consider the lilies, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. For if God so clothes the grass, which is alive in the field today, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, how much more will he clothe you, O you of little faith!”
When preaching on this text, Luther hands it over to the ravens and lets them do the preaching.
“Thus, our dear Lord holds before us the example of birds, as if to say, birds do not have a care in the world; for they know that they have an excellent chef and generous butler whose name is the heavenly father. This is the reason they say, “Don’t worry! Haven’t you heard what kind of cuisine and cellar we have, namely, as wide as the world? That’s the reason we fly wherever we wish. We find our table and the table is well-prepared. The same heavenly Father wants to be your chef and butler, if you would only believe it or want to have him.” He proves it by what he does; he gives you abundance much more than he gives the birds. Why then won’t you trust in him? Do like the birds – learn to believe, sing, be happy, and let your heavenly Father do the caring for you. You are surely the unhappiest people when you worry and do not choose to trust in God. These are, indeed, comforting words and beautiful examples which ought to move us deep within.” (“Complete Sermons of Martin Luther. 15th Sunday after Trinity (1534). P.19)
After pointing to the birds and the lilies as examples, Jesus comes to the primary point He wants to make with His disciples. “For all the nations of the world seek after these things, and your Father knows that you need them. Instead, seek his kingdom, and these things will be added to you. “Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.”
Neither ravens nor wild-flowers are examples of great faith. They simply do what they have been created to do. But in them, we see how God takes care of all that He has created. So if He takes care of these things JUST BECAUSE HE CREATED THEM, how much more will He take care of you, WHOM HE CREATED AND FOR WHOM HE WAS CRUCIFIED, DIED AND BURIED AND RAISED FROM THE DEAD?
• You He feeds with His body and blood for the forgiveness of all of your sins and the strengthening of your ‘little faith.’ How will He not also feed your body?
• You He clothes with His own righteousness and you are glorious in His eyes. How will He not also put clothes on your back?
• You He calls, ‘my child’ and gives you the inheritance of His glorious riches in the Saints. How will He not also give you and eternal home in His Father’s house?
• As St. Paul puts it, “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?” (Rom 8:32).
As Luther has us say, “All this He does, only out of fatherly divine goodness and mercy without any merit or worthiness in us…” Which is to say, “all this He does…” not because of our ‘faith’ whether it be great or small or non-existent. That’s right! He even gives all unbelievers their daily bread.
So, it’s not our ‘faith’ that moves God but His boundless love for us, whom He has both created and even recreated in our baptism. But it is our ‘little faith’ that fails to trust that God will indeed provide even for our basic necessities let alone His entire Kingdom, that is the cause for our worry and anxiety.
We cry out to God, praying that He would give us more THINGS so that we would not worry or be anxious; that He would heal us of our diseases so that we do not die; when what we should pray for is an increase in our faith so that we would not worry and be anxious about such things but, as prayed in our Psalmody, “our soul waits for the Lord; he is our help and or shield. For our heart is glad in him, because we trust in his holy name.” (Ps. 33:20-21).
Better to pray like the father of a demon possessed child, “Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief.” (Mark 9:24). Better to pray like the disciples, “Lord, increase our faith.” (Luke 17:5)
This call to “faith” is the focus of our Epistle reading from Hebrews 11 today. “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. For by it, the people of old received their commendation.”
Trusting in God’s Word and promise to you even though you can’t see it, pleases God because it shows that you trust Him at His Word. Even when all the visible evidence points to the contrary, you trust in God solely because of His Word and promise to you which cannot fail.
This is what the ancients, Abel, Enoch, Noah and Abraham were commended for.
Paul writes to the Corinthians encouraging them and us to follow their example. “We do not lose heart… We look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.” (2 Cor. 4:18).
We SEE “lowly bodies” that feel real pain and experience real suffering and disease and death. What we do NOT SEE is the ‘transformation of our lowly bodies to be like His glorious body by the power that enables Him to subject all things to himself.” (Phil. 3:21) It is only by faith that we have the “assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”
We SEE our sin, and our captivity to sin in the daily experience of our failure to do the good that we will to do and in our doing the evil that we hate. What we DO NOT see is, “that our old self was crucified with Christ… so that we would no longer be slaves to sin.” (Rom.6:6). But by faith, we have the “assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”
We SEE the creation coming apart at the seams, earthquakes and famines and floods. We SEE society coming apart at the seams, violence and murders and every form of depravity. But what we do NOT SEE is the “new heavens and the new earth…” We do NOT SEE that “the former things shall not be remembered or come to mind.” (Rev. 21:1; Is. 65:17). But by faith, we have the “assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”
We SEE plain water. What we do NOT SEE is our union to Christ and that our death and burial and resurrection have already been accomplished in Him.
What we SEE is bread and wine. What we DO NOT SEE is the body and blood of Christ, given and shed for you. But by faith, we have the “assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”
The Word of God and His Holy Sacraments are the “moneybags that do not grow old,” that “contain a treasure in the heavens that does not fail.”
God knows what we need for this body and life. And has given it all to us – AND THE KINGDOM OF HEAVEN TO BOOT.
Faith that trust in God’s Word and promise not only sets you free from worry and anxiety about your life, it also sets you free to be generous to others, even to “sell your possessions, and give to the needy.”
• Trust in God to provide sets the children of God free to be generous with all that God has given them and support the work of the congregation.
• And congregations that are not ‘anxious about tomorrow’ but who trust in God to provide, sets congregations free to be generous with those who do mission and outreach work all over the world – even in Cambodia and South East Asia.
• And when missionaries and their wives trust in the God to provide all that they need, they are free to take huge risks and give their very lives away to build Christians schools and train Lutheran pastors to proclaim the gospel, even to the ends of the earth.
The God who created you and who redeemed you, not with gold or silver but with His own holy and precious blood, KNOWS WHAT YOU NEED. “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat, nor about your body, what you will put on… Seek His Kingdom and these things will be added to you.”