One of the ways advertising works is to create a need or desire for a product. It the product is a luxury, like an expensive car, or the latest technological toy, the advertiser just needs to make the viewer feel as if they need it to be more successful, more powerful, more attractive. But there is one product that practically sells itself. And that is gold and silver. These precious metals have been desired products for all of human history, desired for their beauty, their durability, their malleability making them easy to form into jewelry or to hammer fine to overlay wood. Gold and silver are rare metals. Like real estate, they are a limited commodity. They have been used for trade and coins for thousands of years. A little gold can be worth a lot. And its value goes up in times of anxiety, doubt, turmoil, war. That is probably why gold tv spots are on all the time these days. After watching the evening news about the latest terrorist threat, or looming epidemic, the rising cost of food, the ever increasing belligerence of hostile powers, along comes William DeVane on a horse or on the golf course talking about Rosland Capital Gold. It’s nice to see a smiling William DeVane, who has so often played a bad guy on tv and movies, as a regular guy smiling and enjoying life. He seems genuinely to want us to share in his enjoyment of gold. “I even like the feel of it.”, he says. And after all the anxiety of the news, he seems to offer us relief for that anxiety. Buy gold or silver.
Now there’s nothing wrong in being financially responsible with God’s gifts of wealth, or to work to provide for ourselves and our families. But when we are attacked by anxiety about our future, should we look first to gold or serve silver, or money? Jesus says no, that we cannot serve two masters. For we will hate one and love the other, or cling to one and push away the other. We can’t serve both God and wealth at the same time.
Jesus knows why we cling to wealth. It’s because it offers to relieve our anxieties and worries about the future, even while we are enjoying plenty, for we never seem to be content with what we have. We can finish a nutritious meal, and then we read on the internet about rising food costs, so we get anxious about how we will feed ourselves and our families in the next year. But if we were wealthy, we wouldn’t have to worry.
But Jesus tells us to think differently. Jesus tells His disciples to look at the birds in the air. They don’t have jobs that pay them anything. They don’t plant crops or harvest them. As Martin Luther said in the children’s sermon, the bird wakes up in the morning and sings a joyful song to God, not knowing where his food will come from, but goes about his day, finding the morsel of grain that God has put for him. Jesus says, “Are you not or more value than they?” The birds?
You may have good health right now, with access to good doctors and dentists, but you may still worry about what lays in store for you in the years ahead. You may wonder If you get sick, will that experimental drug be approved before it’s too late to be of any use to you? What if you were to have a debilitating stroke? Would your insurance cover your care? Questions like these raise your anxiety levels. Jesus says being worried or anxious about your health won’t add even an hour to your life, much less months or years. And we know that anxiety can actually shorten life.
And then Jesus talks about anxiety about clothing. In the time of Jesus’ ministry, clothing was more than a fashion statement. It was what what you slept in, worked in, socialized in. For those who worked outdoors, like shepherds, and travellers like Jesus and His disciples, clothing was shelter and protection. If an article of clothing was torn or lost, you couldn’t go your closet and pick something else out. You couldn’t go to the local department store to buy something new. The people of Jesus’ day worried about clothing because what little they owned was essential for survival
Clothing is, of course, still a necessity today, but it can also become an obsession. It’s strange to watch a real estate show on tv where a buyer insists a house must have a walk-in shoe closet bigger than a house in some parts of the world, It seems having a lot of clothes soothes some deep anxiety, a craving of some sort in us. Jesus tells his disciples, who are worried about clothes, to look at the wild flowers of the field. They don’t work or spin cloth, yet their beauty is greater that the clothing of the richest and most glorious king of Israel, King Solomon. If these flowers, like grass that grows up one day and is eaten by cows or cut down and used for fuel for fires the next day, are clothed like this, will not God take care to see that you are clothed, too?
I think that we would all agree that God provides for us, and therefore we shouldn’t be anxious about these things. But when anxiety attacks us, we need something stronger than intellectual assent. We need faith, strong faith, the stronger, the better. This is where God’s promises in His Word and Sacraments, and His promise to hear our prayer comes in. The strongest, healthiest person in the world will weaken and die without food and water. In the same way, a Christian, whose faith is vibrant and strong at the beginning, will see that faith gradually wither and weaken, and perhaps die out altogether if it is not feed regularly with the Word of God.
For the devil, the world and our sinful nature constantly, daily attack our Christian faith through fear and anxiety about the future, hoping to make us look to ourselves and our possessions and not to God for all good. The devil wants us to look to ourselves, our ideologies, our politics, our wealth, our possessions, our talents, our virtues for assurance. The world likes people to be anxious so it can manipulate their anxieties for its ends. Our sinful nature, inherited from Adam and Eve, our first parents, drives us to want to be little gods ourselves, independent, self-sufficient, powerful, serving no one. Our sinful nature doesn’t trust God to take care of us. We want to be in control, just to be sure, to beat down the anxiety that attacks us, just as we would feel better if we could see what the pilot sees when we fly, just in case he might need our help. We would like to control events. But deep down we know we aren’t in control. And that just makes us more worried, more anxious, so we seek more relief from anxiety: more distraction, more diversions, more gadgets, more gold, more gadgets, more of everything except God. How do we get off this endless merry-go-round?
Jesus tells the apostles and us how. Seek first the Kingdom of God and its righteousness. That means put the Kingdom of God first in your lives. Don’t act like unbelievers, like Gentiles, who only seek the things of the world, because that’s all they have. God knows what you need and He will provide for you, as He does the birds and the flowers. Seek me, He says, abide in Me, stay with my Word, seek my white robe of righteousness. I offer it to you. Take it in faith, and I will take your filthy rags of sin and pride, and your anxiety for your futures and I will take them to the cross, where I will pay the wages of sin for you and the whole world, so that whoever believes in me should not perish, but have eternal life. I promise you that, Jesus says to them and us. Believe that promise And pray for what you need.
A few verses before today’s text Jesus told the disciples how to pray. He told them not to make up lengthy prayers like the Gentiles prayed to their false gods, for God knows what they needed before they prayed. So Jesus taught them a short prayer, His prayer. And in that prayer is this request, “Give us this day our daily bread.” God already knows that we need bread daily, bread meaning everything that we need to support our bodies and lives. But Jesus says we are to ask for it anyway. Jesus wants us to remember that just as God provided for the Israelites in the desert their daily bread, the manna from heaven, so He too will continue to provide for His people. Jesus knows that praying this prayer will calm our anxieties, will comfort us, will remind us from Whom all good things come, will turn our focus away from the creation, and turn it to the Creator.
So should we then pray, kick back, and wait for God to put the food in our mouths? No. We still labor, for the sake of our neighbors and ourselves. In the story of the widow of Zarephath in today’s Old Testament reading, the woman shows her faith in God’s Word of promise spoken by His prophet Elijah. She and her son are on the brink of starvation, but she labors to prepare something for Elijah to eat first before laboring to prepare the meal for her son and herself. In the same way, God has given us labor to do in our lives. Just as the bird starts the new day without anxiety, singing a song, then flies and seeks out its food, and the flower greets the sun and opens up its leaves and petals to receive its rays, so we have things to do in this life, to support ourselves and our neighbor in our callings, our vocations, as wives, husbands, parents, children, students, teachers, workers, managers, pastors, church members, citizens, and sometimes our vocations are to suffer patiently the cross of helplessness and pain as a powerful witness to faith.
God does not want us to concern ourselves about how He will provide for us, but to concern ourselves with how we will use His gifts to provide for our neighbors. He has already promised that He will take care of us, like the promise He made to the widow of Zarephath. Trusting in that promise we can give to the church first from what we have received from God, as the widow did, giving the firstfruits of what she had received from God. We can strive to follow her example of trust and that of the faithful in the Old Testament who gave a tenth of their income to God. For we have even more proof of God’s faithfulness and greater promises than they had. We have the appearance and testimony of Jesus Christ, the promised Savior, who took on our flesh, and lived a life of obedience and trust in His Father’s promises. Jesus, so trusted His Father’s promises to clothe Him in glory that He let His clothes and all His earthly possessions be taken from Him as He was lifted up on the cross to die. And His trust was not misplaced, for three days later He was raised from the dead, given a glorious resurrection body that will never die again. And this He has promised you and me, who have been joined to Him in the faith, who wear the robe of righteousness we received from Him in our Baptisms.
We have our crosses to bear, too. But we are not anxious about them, the way people are without the promises of God. The future is in God’s hands. We are in His hands, too. We have plenty enough to keep us busy in our daily work, without fretting about the future, too. Instead we will labor in our vocations, pray to God for our daily bread, serve those God has put before us to serve, trust in the Word that has never lied, receive His blessings, and look forward to the day of His return. That is enough to keep us busy, don’t you think? . Amen.