Pastor James Hopkins preached this sermon on the Fifteenth Sunday after Trinity, 9/25/2022. The bulletin is available as a PDF: Trinity15 Bulletin
The text for the sermon was the day’s gospel lesson. To read the Bible texts for the Fifteenth Sunday after Trinity, click here.
In Bible Study last week, we learned that Jesus has no fear of touching a leper. And in this morning’s Gospel, we learn that Jesus has no fear of touching a nerve. Anxiety is a sensitive subject, especially now; as the last few years have brought our individual and collective worries to a head, and more and more people find themselves overwhelmed by them.
So, there is every chance that when you hear Jesus’ admonition this morning, “Do not be anxious about the necessities of your life,” that you will add to your worries one more: That… not only am I anxious about my life and my health and my food and my clothes, but that my anxiety is also sinful. So, I have not only worry, but also guilt as a sort of cherry-on-top.
If you hear Jesus’ command to not be anxious this way, you are not exactly wrong. The anxiety Jesus speaks of here is, in fact, a sin; which means that in a way this sermon is going to get worse before it gets better. But please don’t hear this command from Jesus as shouting or wagging His finger; which is always a temptation when being given a command.
Long ago I was teaching crowd control tactics to the Columbian Marine Corps. And in one of our exercises, a man in the crowd was getting really agitated. He was stressed, upset, and beside himself. And when it seemed like he was about to explode, One of the Columbian Marines put him in an arm bar, and threw him to the ground, screaming at him to, “Relax!”
When, to no one’s surprise, he did not relax, the Marine tightened the grip and yelled at him to “Relax harder!”
Jesus is not telling you to “Relax harder.” He’s telling you why this particular anxiety you suffer is so unnecessary and unhelpful. Like all sin, it’s just not good for you. Please notice that anxiety, in this text, while sinful, is also symptomatic. Our text began with these words: Jesus said,
No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.
That opening, declarative statement, shows us the illness that is behind the symptom. You can only have one master. You cannot serve God and money. You will be devoted to one and despise the other, or you will hate the one and love the other.
This brings us quickly to the heart of the matter. In striving after these things, in the relentless yearning for more money, you are deceived into thinking that you are serving yourself and those you love. And that’s the big trick.
The truth is that you are serving an idol. And since an idol can never actually be pleased with you, nor would an idol’s hypothetical pleasure ever benefit you, you will never be satisfied, and always be anxious.
Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious 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?
In telling you not to be anxious, Jesus is expanding on what He just said. Do not let mammon, wealth, be your master.
Because if money is your master, then you are done for. Money is sterile, inert, and lifeless. It does not and cannot care for you.
The illustration that follows can easily be lost on us. So, let’s not overlook the humor behind it.
The idea of birds putting on overalls, planting seeds, harvesting crops, and storing them in barns: the thought of flowers working at a sewing machine, is supposed to be not only whimsical, but absurd. You might imagine the story illustrated like one of those weird 1950s Disney shorts. And when you’re done laughing, you begin to see what it’s really about.
The perfect, clear spiritual logic of Jesus, with a bit of divine humor, cuts through our defenses. What could be more ridiculous than birds and flowers anxiously toiling, biting their nails in fear of where their next meal will come from, or if they will bloom in spring? What could be more ridiculous than that?
One thing could be more ridiculous than that: you anxiously toiling in service to a false master; you fearfully gathering without giving thought to the fact that you are more valuable than these, and that you live under the Father’s care and providence.
So, Jesus is telling you not only to not be anxious, but WHY you should not be anxious. You have a Master and Father who loves you and cares for you.
This is a fact to cling to even when things are truly difficult and not just feeling difficult. Because God could, in His Wisdom, see it fit to strip us of just about everything, as he did with Job. This teaching from Jesus has a sort of proverbial character to it. It’s not a guarantee that His disciples will never be in situations of severe physical need.
Jesus’ disciples, then and now, have seen birds eaten by predators, and lilies drying up in the heat of drought. Jesus’ disciples, then and now, have seen Christians truly suffer severe deprivation; something especially common among Jesus’ missionary disciples.
The call to be free from senseless worry flows from the truth that Jesus’ disciples are royal servants of the Father, and that He will see fit to provide what they need; whether it be plenteousness and health or suffering and death, God will give what He knows to be best. And there may be no better meditation on this than the hymn we just sang. (What God Ordains is Always Good)
It certainly is difficult to comprehend how suffering and hunger and death can be good. Except when we consider the cost at which Jesus gives us this lesson.
Jesus will not worry about food, even as He fasts and prays. Jesus will not worry about His clothing, even as He is stripped. Jesus will not worry about what He will drink, even as He gulps the Cup of Wrath. He is worth more than the lilies and the birds; He trusts His Father to do what is best. What was best was for Jesus to suffer the greatest need and deprivation in our place.
On the cross, the greatest injustice of man was the justice of God, it was of His ordaining, and it was good. It was good for you.
So, what do we do now with sinful anxiety? The good news of finding out that something is sin is that you can repent. If the anxieties you suffer come from trying to have two masters or serving mammon; if you are worrying, fretting, and anxiously fixated on your basic needs; if your anxiety is tied to not trusting your Father, who cares for you, the call to repentance is also a call to relief, and a casting out of fear.
You are called to stand next to Jesus’ disciples who hear His teaching, and see how fruitless their worry was, and how unnecessary it was, when they remember they have a Father who loves them. God will provide you with what is good, come what may; even when that seems to the world cannot see any good in it, as is eternally the case when they look at Christ crucified.
The disciplines God calls you to are meant to sharpen this awareness, and even to free you from anxiety. Since money was in the forefront of the Gospel text, and very much tied to anxiety, it’s worth noting that St. Paul alludes to faithful giving in today’s Epistle when he mentions sharing all good things with one who teaches.
If you want to boil that down and simplify it to faithful giving, which you can, the end of this is not only enabling the proclamation of the Word by paying a Pastor, it is also a way of protecting you.
By faithful giving, as a faithful discipline, at least 10% of what you have is free. It is an acknowledgement and declaration that your needs are met, and that you refuse to withhold anything from God because of your wants. Thus, you trust God to provide what is best, and to use your tithe as He sees fit. As the widow of Zarephath provides in faith even in the midst of deprivation, even so, we are called to faithful and sacrificial giving – in times of plenty and of want.
Dear Christian, have no more anxiety over what you will wear or eat or drink. Christ has clothed you with His righteousness, and feeds you now with His own body and blood, to eat and drink for your salvation.