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Two Masters

Matthew 6:24-34

Pastor Robin Fish

15th Sunday after Trinity
Shaped by the Cross Lutheran Church  
Laurie, MO

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Sun, Oct 2, 2011 

Matthew 6:24-34

"No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will hold to one and despise the other.  You cannot serve God and mammon.  For this reason I say to you, do not be anxious for your life, as to what you shall eat, or what you shall drink; nor for your body, as to what you shall put on. Is not life more than food, and the body than clothing?  Look at the birds of the air, that they do not sow, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them.  Are you not worth much more than they?  And which of you by being anxious can add a single cubit to his life's span?  And why are you anxious about clothing?  Observe how the lilies of the field grow; they do not toil nor do they spin, yet I say to you that even Solomon in all his glory did not clothe himself like one of these.  But if God so arrays the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the furnace, will He not much more do so for you, O men of little faith?  Do not be anxious then, saying, 'What shall we eat?' or 'What shall we drink?' or 'With what shall we clothe ourselves?' For all these things the Gentiles eagerly seek; for your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things.  But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness; and all these things shall be added to you.  Therefore do not be anxious for tomorrow; for tomorrow will care for itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own."

Two Masters

My Brothers and Sisters in Christ:

Some Bible texts are challenging for the modern mind.  It is not that we cannot make sense of the words, it is simply that the words communicate something different to us than they did to the people who spoke them, or who first heard them.  For an example of how language does that, take the word, "conversation," in the King James Version.  Several passages speak of keeping your "conversation" holy, or as befits the gospel of Jesus Christ.  Many people had taken that to mean "don't talk dirty" or "talk about good things."  But the modern translations, understanding how the language changes, correctly translate the Greek word translated as "conversation" in the King James Version as "manner of life" or "conduct."

Another instance of language changing on us is where Jesus says, in the King James Version of the Words of Institution, "Drink ye all of it."  I asked in a Bible class once, and discovered that many people actually thought that those words meant that we should drain the cup.  What Jesus actually said, when translated into modern English, is, "Each of you, drink some of it."  Our text offers the same sort of confusion for some people, only the confusion is cultural as much as it is linguistic.  What did Jesus mean by "No man can serve two masters"?  How does it sound to us?  And is our understanding of it what Jesus was actually saying?  These questions, and more, are our focus this morning, under the theme, "Two Masters."

Jesus said it.  "No man can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will hold to one and despise the other."  A modern reading of that might suggest that someone cannot hold two jobs without some inner conflict.  That is simply not true - but what Jesus said is true.  The difference is in what the word "serve" means.

Jesus was not talking about a job, or serving as we generally think of it in terms of modern work.  Jesus was speaking about the dedication of your life.  The key is in the term "master".  In that day, serving a master was the meaning of one's life.  It meant slavery, or something very much like slavery.  The service of one's master was the meaning and substance of their lives and daily existence.  How and when, and even whether or not you ate, or slept, or where you would stand, or what you would do with your time was determined by the master and your service.  There was no time 'off' in these master / servant relationships.  There was no 'free' time, necessarily.  The servant lived for the service of the master.

That is why they could not serve two masters.  It would mean that the meaning of life and the rationale behind each action and decision would be divided by the 'service' of two masters, and those needs, demands, and duties would often be in conflict, and sometimes be utterly contradictory.  In such a situation, you simply would have to choose - do I help my master 'A' or do I serve the interests of my master 'B'?  And either you hate the first one, and love the other - by your actions and decisions - or you hold to the first master, and you despise the other by not serving him but doing rather for the first master.  The closest modern analog to this might be the double-agent in the intelligence community.  Either he is fundamentally interested in serving the first nation, or he is sincerely working his double-agent scam for the welfare and well-being of the other country.  He cannot be genuinely devoted to the best interests of both.  One takes precedence in his heart and mind and actions, ultimately.

This principle applies to you.  Either you are with Christ, or against Him.  Jesus actually said precisely that once, in Matthew 12:30.  There is no neutral territory, and there is no 'splitting the vote.' Your heart and mind and life are with Christ, and serve Him in the same sense as the ancient "servant" in the time of Jesus, or your real allegiance is with someone or something else.  Either you are a Christian, or you are not, for example.  Jesus said it is either one or the other - and if you try to juggle both you are doomed to fail and even the attempt is completely rejected by God.  Either you love God, trust God, and serve the true God, or your "god" is someone or something other.  Jesus was always a very black and white kind of guy - there aren't many "grey areas" when it comes to Him, and He proclaims the truth of God as He speaks - in part, because He is God.

Next, in our text, Jesus drops the hammer, so to speak.  He says that "You cannot serve both God and mammon."  Now "mammon" is an Aramaic word which literally means "confidence", but it was used to refer to riches, or one's confidence in riches.  Mammon, for us, refers to "stuff," the things of this world and of this life.  Jesus is referring to a devotion to such things - He mentions clothing, food, and drink.  His list was not exhaustive, but more in the way of examples, the most common and powerful distractions - or types of mammon.  Mammon would include toys, cars, boats, houses, travel-trailers, pleasures, friendships, and anything else of this world on which people might focus themselves and their lives and their goods.  Jesus chose the universal and most frequent focus of human concern to make His point.

And His point is that to focus first and foremost on "stuff" is idolatry.  It is unbelief toward God and a form of worship, or "service", toward the mammon of choice.  Now, by the term, "unbelief", I not mean that you doubt God's existence, or any specific doctrine about God.  I mean a lack of trust, because that is what Jesus was talking about.  He draws our attention to the birds, and tells us to notice how God supplies their need.  He invites us to consider the glorious wildflowers and how beautifully God dresses them in their variety and color.  Then He offers us a simple, reasonable comparison between their value and permanence and our own, as we experience it.  Surely, Jesus says, we are of greater value to God than these cheap, abundant, and oh-so-temporary creatures.  Surely God will care for us far better and more reliably. That is the content of Jesus' message.

Then He bids us not to fret or worry.  "Do not be anxious", He says.  Don't fret about what you will eat, or what you will drink, or what you will wear for clothing.  We might add, don't fret about your home, your toys, your pleasures, or any other things.  They are not the substance of your life, and they should not consume your attention.  "Your heavenly Father know that you need all these things."  God knows, and God cares, and God will take care - so, trust God, and make Him and His will and His service the sum and substance of your life.  And what is the will of God toward you?  (Our salvation.)

So, Jesus continues, "Seek first His kingdom and His righteousness; and all these things shall be added to you."  Focus on what really matters - and what really matters is the Gospel.  The Gospel tells us of the love of God for us, and His marvelous gifts to us.  It speaks about the Son of God taking on our flesh and blood to do for us what we could not and would not do for ourselves.  He kept the whole will and Law of God for us and did it without flaw or mistake.  He earned life everlasting by living absolutely righteously.  Then He died.  He died while deserving life without death.  He died deliberately, to take our place, to die our death, and to face the wrath of God against our sins, in our stead.  He died to give us His righteousness - the same righteousness He instructed us to make our focus of life.  He gives us that righteousness by grace through faith.  We call it "the forgiveness of sins."

His kingdom, on the other hand, is the Church.  It is where Christ rules by grace - by forgiving, and so creating a new order for the lives of His people.  It is where they love each other and forgive each other, and live in - and live out - the love and forgiveness of God.  The Church is where the people of God love one another - but not because they like one another, or because we are such loveable folk.  The truth is that we are not - none of us are!  We are to love one another because He first loved us - and the other guy or gal sitting across the way in the church. 

We are to forgive each other because this kingdom is a kingdom marked by forgiveness.  It is where Christ rules by grace - that is, by the forgiveness of sins.  If we do not forgive, both in our hearts and in our words and actions, we exclude ourselves from the kingdom which is marked in particular by forgiveness.  Hold a grudge, carry anger around in you toward someone else here - or anywhere really - and you say in effect, "I don't want to be part of this forgiveness thing!  Take me out of the Church and forget my salvation, because I want to be angry, hateful, spiteful, hurt, or self-worshiping."

Doubting God's good will toward you, which is the primary cause of worrying about mammon, is unbelief and idolatry.  You are not believing His love for you and you are placing yourself above even taking God at His Word.  Rejecting the kingdom of forgiveness, and therefore the forgiveness of your own sins is idolatry as well.  Seek His kingdom!  Seek His righteousness! Seek it first!  Seek it with your whole will, and with your entire intellect, and with all your energy, and with your every affection.  Let nothing stand between you and Christ.  There is nothing worth it, for what will it profit a man to gain the whole world and lose his own soul? Trust God, He loves you and He knows where you are, and what you face, and what you need.

Does it really make sense that our heavenly Father would send His Son to become One of us, much less die the horrible death He died for you, and then that He is not going to pay attention?  Can you imagine a love that great and then honestly think it stops there?  He has promised to bless you and keep you, and to make your paths straight.  Trust God.  To set anything else as more urgent or important in your life or more dependable than Him is idolatry.

Now, we all sin.  We are weak and frail as regards holiness.  What holiness we have is from Him and what holiness we do is Jesus working through us, giving us both the power and the will to do it.  We fail, and sometimes we sin.  "We daily sin much and indeed deserve nothing but punishment" - or so says the Catechism.  But if we confess our sins, God is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness! Your sins are forgiven!  Rejoice, give thanks, and live in the light of that forgiveness.

That is why Jesus says "Seek".  This frame of mind isn't automatic, and it isn't natural, and it isn't comfortable.  We must seek it.  We need to work at it.  Even though such faith is by His power, God would have us act as though it all depended on us - while we know it is His gift.  The truth is that we serve either the Lord, or we serve that little "god" we call "ourselves" - our emotions, or our egos, or our desires. 

Since this faith and confidence is His gift, we do that seeking of His kingdom and His righteousness in the Word, and in the Sacraments, and in the fellowship of believers in our congregation.  We seek it by being deliberately "Christian", and exercising Christian self-discipline.  But mostly we seek it by living out what the forgiveness of sins means, and "casting all our anxieties on Him, because He cares for us."  We seek it by trusting God, no matter what our situation looks like, or what it appears to mean.  You are the forgiven people of God!  He loves you and He will care for you and bless you in every circumstance, even when it is not evident to you that He is there, or caring, or blessing.  Trust God, He is there, and fulfilling every promise He has spoken.  Be faithful, and patient, and believe!

Trust in the LORD with all your heart, And do not lean on your own understanding.  In all your ways acknowledge Him, And He will make your paths straight. (Prov. 3:5-6)

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.

(Let the people say Amen)

These sermons are for the Church. If you find it useful, go ahead and use it -- but give credit where credit is due. Shaped by the Cross Lutheran Church's Website can be found by clicking here.

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