Pastor James Hopkins preached this sermon on the fifteenth Sunday after Trinity 9/12/2021. The service was broadcast live on Facebook at 11:00am, and is now available on the FLC youtube channel. To follow along from home, the bulletin is available as a PDF: Trinity15 Bulletin
The texts for the sermon were the day’s gospel and Old Testament lessons. To read the Bible texts for the Fifteenth Sunday after Trinity, click here.
Twenty years ago today, most of us were dealing with a relatively high level of anxiety. We had made it through the previous 24 hours, but we were also trying to assess and come to terms with what had happened, as our minds raced through problem-sets we’d never considered before.
We would have been glad to be worried about wallets and wardrobes, but how could we when we were being introduced to a whole new world? A world seen and experienced through a kaleidoscope of fresh anxieties:
Who will live?
Who will not?
Where will we be safe?
When will this happen again?
Will we go to war?
Will this devastate our economy?
Will I have a job?
Add to all that your own list of concerns, the new and the normal alike.
Jesus knows that all these things matter to you, just as you individually matter to Him. That’s why He teaches the lesson you just heard in the Gospel.
As it was for the widow of Zarephath, so it was for those who first heard Jesus speak. The specter of death haunted them daily. A bad rain season could mean death and disaster. Simple sicknesses could be a death sentence for young and old alike. Two sparrows might be sold for a penny, but that only helps if you have a penny.
Speaking of those birds, they’re not worried about what they’ll eat any more than flowers worry about what to wear. They’re not anxious about when they’ll fall to the ground or be sold as cheap meat to the poor. Your heavenly Father feeds them and clothes them day by day. And so, they live day by day.
Someone might point out that this isn’t a universal trait among flora and fauna. Moles hoard food and cacti store water, but Jesus points us to birds and flowers, which we usually agree are far more attractive and welcome. Regardless, what matters is that the birds and flowers are part of God’s creation, and so, God cares for them. It doesn’t mean nothing bad or harmful can ever happen, of course. This is a fallen, sinful world, after all; and the wages of sin really is death.
Still, they don’t worry about the million things beyond their horizon and immediate control. But you’re not birds. You are made in the image of God. You are the crown of His creation. You are more valuable to Him than sparrows and bees and flowers and trees. And if they don’t have to worry, then you don’t have to worry.
The great risk, of course, is that this teaching comes off like a secular proverb – something like, “If you worry you suffer twice.” There’s truth to that idea, but that’s not the point.
The point is tucked into verse 33:
But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness and all these things will be added to you.
When Jesus says “first,” He does not only mean that these things are the most important. That is supposed to be obvious. But “first” also means… first. The kingdom of God and His righteousness is to be sought before all other things – now, today, and not put off to tomorrow.
You are to seek a place in God’s Kingdom, i.e., where He is King, and you are to seek it now. Jesus is to be your Master now. You are to live under Him in His Kingdom now.
In the incarnation, God did not take on the flesh of birds or the petals of flowers. He took on your flesh. He wore your clothes. He suffered your sins, and He bore your cross.
As for everything else, the many and various needs of your body, Jesus says that they will be added to you, taken care of, provided. This teaching is repeated by St. Paul in his letter to the church in Rome, when he writes:
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
Still, there seems to be a loose end. The widow of Zarephath eventually died, as did her child. So did everyone who heard Jesus’ teaching about the birds and flowers. So did 3,000 people on 9/11.
How can we say that those who fell to the ground from planes and towers, are still of more value than the birds that fall to the ground and flowers tossed into the oven? How can Jesus say to those who died, along with their widows and orphans, not to be anxious, and that all of their needs will be provided for?
This is where our friends in the Reformed churches have the advantage of a 45-minute sermon; time enough to more thoroughly treat the problem of evil, love, free will, and its consequences. And we can take up this theme in Bible Study after John’s Epistles.
But for this moment, let’s stay where we are. Jesus has sought you and found you, His greatest treasure; and He has given you His Holy Spirit, that you would daily seek Him and His righteousness. This has been won for you on the cross, and delivered to you in Holy Baptism, the proclamation of the Gospel, and in His Holy Supper.
Because He has given you these things today, all your tomorrows are secure. If tomorrow you were to fall from a collapsing building, you would land in Abraham’s bosom. If tomorrow you were to die naked and hungry, then tomorrow you would be alive, clothed in the white robe of Christ’s righteousness and dining at the marriage feast of the Lamb in His Kingdom that has no end.
This alone frees you from anxieties. This alone enables you to entrust your daily life to God’s loving care.
We live under the cross in this world, and not as an idea or a theory. We feel it. It hurts. Sickness and death; hunger and thirst; wars and rumors of wars.
Do not be anxious about your life. You are of more value than anything else in creation. The highest price was paid for you. And Jesus will get what He paid for.