Epiphany 8a

Preached: February 27, 2011

Your heavenly Father Takes Care of You, So Place First Things First
Matthew 6:24-34

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Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen. The Word from God through which Jesus speaks to us is Matthew 6.

No one can serve two masters. 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 Mammon.

Therefore, I say to you, stop worrying about your life, what you shall eat or what you shall drink, and about your body, what you shall wear. Isn't life more than food and the body more than clothing?

Notice the birds in the sky, how they don't plant or harvest or store up in barns. And your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more important than they are? Who of you can add a moment to your life by worrying?

Why worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow. They don't labor or spin. But I say to you that not even Solomon in all his glory was robed as one of these. If God so arrays the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, doesn't he do much more for you, O you of little faith?

So don't worry saying, “What am I going to eat? What am I going to drink? What am I going to wear?” For the unbelievers pursue these things, and your heavenly Father knows your need for all these. But seek first God's kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be added for you. Therefore, don't worry into tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. The troubles of each day are enough by itself.

(Matthew 6:25-34)

This is the word of our Lord.

Dear friends in Christ, fellow saints washed clean in the blood of our risen Savior:

A bird driving a John Deer tractor. How ridiculous! A flower wearing Tommy Hilfiger jeans. How absurd! A Christian worrying. How real! And yet just as ridiculous.

We are all too familiar with worry. And we know its wrong. I don't have to convince you of that. How often haven't you said, “I know I shouldn't be worrying, but ...”? Our own consciences accuse us. We feel the' gentle rebuke in Jesus' word: “O you of little faith”(Matthew 6:30 NIV). How worry expose my lack of trust in God's mighty and merciful care for me!

It also exposes my divided heart, my split loyalties. For worry runs after the stuff of this world, serving Mammon. What am I going to eat or drink or wear? Do I have enough for tomorrow, for next months bills, for my retirement years? It makes me a slave, driving me under worry's whip. And I cannot serve two masters. Will I chase after those things I worry about, or will I seek God's kingdom and his righteousness? I can't do both.

You know how worry leads us away from God. I don't need to spend more time convicting your heart. Rather come with me into Jesus' words. He drives away our worries showing us our heavenly Father's care. Then we can place first things first. Keep that theme in mind: Your heavenly Father takes care of you, so place first things first.

A. How great his care for you!

1. Since God gave us our body and life, what can we also count on him for?

First of all, where did your life and body come from? Aren't you a creation of God? Isn't your life a gift from him, and didn't he knit your body knit together in your mother's womb? (Psalm 139:13). He's not a careless child who makes something and throws it under his bed, neglected and forgotten. He's already given you the greater gifts of body and life. Don't you think that he'll see to it that you have food to sustain your life and clothes to cover your body? Of course he will. “Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes?” (Matthew 6:25 NIV1984). Since he has already given you those greater gifts, count on him for your food and clothes as well. How great his care is!

2. Since your heavenly Father feeds the birds, why can you be even more sure that he will provide for you?

Take the example from one of God's creatures. Did you notice on some of the warmer, sunny days a week or two ago -- even with the snow still covering the ground -- the birds were singing in the morning. They didn't know the forecast for the week. Each day is a new gift from their Creator. And I can't imagine how hard it is to forage food with the snow cover we've had. But there they are, singing. “[T]hey do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them” (Matthew 6:26 NIV1984).

Did you notice Jesus didn't say that God feeds them in that quote. He didn't say, “Their heavenly Father,” either. For to the birds, God is only the Creator and Provider, not their Father. But you, dear Christian, you have been reborn through Baptism into the family of the Triune God. He's placed his family name on you through the water and word. He's your Father, yes yours. Now if your Father takes care of even the birds, how much more doesn't he care for you, his baptized child, redeemed by the blood of his Son in whom you believe?

And don't doubt his ability to provide all that you need and much more. For he is your Father in heaven. He reigns over all on this earth below. He is not some bag lady sitting on a park bench who feeds the birds because that's all she can do. He is able to open his hand and satisfy the desire of every living thing (Psalm 145:16). What can we do compared to that? Even with all your work and worrying, can you add a single hour to your life? Our times are in his hands. He is your heavenly Father. How great his cares for us is!

3. What clothes does our heavenly Father give us that never wear out?

Likewise, look at the lilies of the field. Think of the beauty of the wild flowers on the open prairie. They're here today and gone tomorrow. When wood is scarce, the dried grasses along with those flowers fuel the cooking fire. But God had clothed them with such beauty that no fashion designer could ever match. Won't he also clothe you and me? How easily our faith and trust waver with worry!

And if you need any further evidence of his gracious care, ponder how he gave you the greatest gift of all, his most precious treasure, his own dear Son. He gave him up into death on the cross for you, to clothe you with his Son's righteousness. Those clothes never wear out. The Son presents you as his bride washed clean, beautifully dressed in his white gown. Every time you come to the Lord's Supper, you receive the evidence of your heavenly Father's love. You remember how he gave his Son into death for you. For in the Supper the Son, Jesus Christ, gives you his body to eat and his blood to drink. His body was sacrificed on the cross to clothe you with his righteousness. His blood was shed to wash you clean and present you as his bride. How he has dressed you and me! What a wedding gown! Your heavenly Father 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? (Romans 8:32). So why worry? Your heavenly Father takes care of you.

B. Seek his kingdom and his righteousness

1. Describe God's kingdom and his righteousness.

So don't imagine you need to serve two masters or need to divide your heart between God and the stuff of this world. All that we could ever need comes from our heavenly Father.

The unbeliever doesn't see that. They run after the things of this world. They pursue its happiness. They chase the American dream, because that's as close to heaven as they'll get. They worry about the economy, Social Security, the debt, political unrest, the environment, law and order, personal freedoms, civil rights, and the future we're handing down to our children. For this world is all they know. They worry about providing safety and security for themselves and those they care about. “What shall we eat? What shall we drink? What shall we wear?”

Sometimes, we fall into that sinful worry as well. But you and I know how foolish that is. Yes, that's the life of the unbeliever. But you have your heavenly Father. He knows what you need.

So “seek first his kingdom and his righteousness” (Matthew 6:33 NIV). And you know where they are. You don't need to go searching high and low or running after all the spiritual messages that claim to solve life's problems. “Seek first his kingdom and his righteousness” (Matthew 6:33 NIV). You know where they are. They're found only in Jesus.

“I have installed my King on Zion, my holy hill” (Psalm 2:6 NIV1984) the Lord God declares in Psalm 2. Jesus is that King. See his resurrection and ascension declare his royal reign. See him come again as the King of kings and Lord of lords to judge the living and the dead on the Last Day.

Listen as he stands bloodied and beaten before Pontius Pilate, “My kingdom is not of this world … You are right in saying I am a king. In fact, for this reason I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me” (John 18:36, 37 NIV1984).

You, dear friend, have heard the truth from Jesus' lips. For the Bible is his word of truth. His truth has convinced your heart that he has conquered sin, Satan, and death for you. He has given you the victory and has prepared the crown of life in heaven for you. For he has clothed you with his righteousness, not a righteousness from inside yourself or based on what you try to do. He has clothed you with his righteousness, the righteousness from outside yourself, based on his perfect record of keeping God's law for you.

2. How do we keep on seeking his kingdom and righteousness?

Yes, you know where God's kingdom and his righteousness are found. Only in Jesus. And you know where Jesus is found. Only in his word and sacraments. So “seek first his kingdom and his righteousness” (Matthew 6:33 NIV1984).

This is not a one time or occasional activity. It's not as if Jesus is saying, “Seek first God's kingdom, and then after you find that, you can go back to chasing the things this world worries about.” Don't think you are putting these words into practice if you're performing your religious duties so that you can get back to your real work of making a living. For in this life, do we ever find the fullness of God's kingdom? Do we ever fully cherish the righteousness that comes from him? No. We've tasted it, but we hunger and thirst for more. We drank in the spiritual milk that nourished us as infants in the faith, but we want to keep on growing and maturing and receiving solid food as well. That's the seeking that goes on throughout our life, every day of our life. Seeking God's kingdom and his righteousness with an undivided heart, devoted to his Word, gladly hearing and learning it.

3. How does his promise to give us what we need as we seek his kingdom change our heart and attitude toward this life?

For you see, as we seek first his kingdom and righteousness, our heavenly Father promises that all these other things that we need for this earthly life -- food, drink, and clothing -- will be added to us as well. “Seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” (Matthew 6:33 NIV1984), Jesus says. How does our Father do that? By giving us the time, the ability, the energy to provide for ourselves and our families, as well as those in need. Seeking first his kingdom and his righteousness does not mean abandoning or neglecting the earthly roles he has given us. But it does change our heart and attitude about them.

I don't work to get ahead of the Jones. I don't work to prove my self-worth. I don't work to make my life on earth comfortable. I don't work, driven by worry. Rather I work because that's what my heavenly Father has given me to do. I don't need to worry about whether I'll have enough. Rather I go to him and pray, “Give us this day our daily bread.” And whether we have much or little, as the Apostle Paul said in the reading from Philippians, we can be content. For we have Jesus and his kingdom and his righteousness. All those other things will be given to us as we need them.

So let tomorrow worry about itself. For you know, tomorrow and its worries will never get here. By that time, it will be today. And no matter how many troubles this day brings, my heavenly Father can take care of me. He takes care of you, dear Christian. So place first things first. Amen.

The peace of God that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Pastor Gregg Bitter

St. John's Evangelical Lutheran Church
859 5th Street
Hancock, MN 56244
(320) 392-5313