"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."
One Master . . . Which One?
My Brothers and Sisters in Christ:
No one can serve two masters. It is one of those really famous, well-known lines of Scripture. It is so simple, so clear, and so obviously true, that no one seems to argue the point. You can appear to serve two masters, but one will be uppermost in your mind and heart. Serving one will serve the serving of the other. Familiar stuff.
You cannot serve God and mammon. Also very familiar. Mammon is stuff. It can be money. It can be possessions. It can be worldly respect and power or popularity or success, or whatever. You cannot serve both it and God. You must choose whom you will serve.
Seems pretty simple and straight-forward, doesn't it? Of course, everyone who sits in church is prepared to answer the question, I will serve God! We are ready to answer. Problem is, aside from in a sermon, no one ever really asks us that question - at least not in such a simple and straight-forward way. And they want the answer in some way more substantial than a theoretical verbal reply. The 'out-loud' answer is good, too, but it is not the real answer, and it is not the answer the Lord looks to for information. We all want to serve just one master, the real question is, which one? Which one do we want to serve? And, which one do we actually serve? That is a much tougher question. Our theme, this morning, is, "One Master . . . Which One?".
Obviously, the answer to this question is not as simple as it seems. If it were, there would not be much of a sermon here. But then again, the Gospel text would have been a lot shorter, too. All of the other statements in the Gospel lesson relate to which master you choose to serve. If you serve God, then your thoughts, your choices, your values and your worries will tend to reflect your service and commitment to God. If you choose to serve mammon, or serve yourself, you will be handling life differently.
For example, when one belongs to a slave master, the clothing they wear, the food they eat, where they sleep and how they must live is not their choice or their concern. It belongs to the slave master. Whether they live or die actually belongs to the slave master. Either you serve the master, or you serve yourself. Some Masters have been evil and difficult and have required their servants to wear embarrassingly little, to sleep like animals, and to eat very little and very poorly. As a slave, you don't have a lot to say about that. A good and kind master will take better care of their servants. But the servant doesn't get to choose. If he or she is faithful, they live according to the provision of the master.
So, if you are the servant - understand that word means "slave" - of the Lord, you must then accept your life's conditions from God without complaint. After all, He is Master, and you are slave, and not the other way around. What He gives and how He provides is what you get to deal with. So Jesus says, "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." These concerns belong to the Master. The slave's concern is serving his - or her - Master faithfully. Again, Is not life more than food, and the body than clothing?
None of this is easy. It is easy to talk about, but not easy to live out. So the question of 'which master' is not easy. To serve God means to take from His hand that with which He blesses you, and to do what He gives you to do without complaint. Serving Mammon - or serving yourself - is precisely to be concerned about these sorts of things. Can you live with what the Lord has given you - and will give you? Are you committed to being content with what your Master gives you, or do you need something else, do you need more?
Fundamentally, this is really a question of trust. What sort of Master do you think you are serving? Again, the answer seems easy. Everyone wants to think that they could answer, "God is good!" The problem is that when we want more than we possess, or demand circumstances different than the ones in which we live, we are saying that we cannot trust God to provide for us - or provide appropriately. We need or we deserve something more than God has elected to give to us, that is, to give to His slaves. We want mammon!
Jesus illustrates what sort of Master God is: "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." Clearly God is a can-do kind of Master, and One who does not wait for you to figure it all out or make it work. Then He asks a reasonable question, "Are you not worth much more than they?" What kind of master do you have?! And we want to answer Jesus' question, "We certainly would like to think we are worth more than those little, insignificant birds! "And which of you by being anxious can add a single cubit to his life's span?" More to the point, can you actually do better by yourself than God has done and is doing? By changing masters and serving mammon, are you really going to be able to improve on what God has in store for you, or the care that He has and will lavish upon you? After all, you cannot even make your own life longer. I don't know how long 18 inches [a cubit] are in terms of the length of your life, but I suspect a cubit is not a big stretch in terms of how long you might live. And yet, you can't even make yourself live that little bit longer.
Then Jesus adds another example of God's provision, "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?" This example raises a number of interesting questions. Why do we worry about clothing? Back in the days of Jesus, people had just one set of clothes, generally. Having enough clothing was a legitimate concern. Today we have closets full of clothes, and storage bags full of clothes and containers full of clothes, and sometimes we have to give old stuff away to make room for the newer stuff that we have accumulated. Why would we worry about clothing?
Not only that, but God gives clothing away! Look at the weeds - the lilies of the field. God dresses them up with beautiful flowers, and they are just weeds, plants destined to die and turn brown and fall over in a couple of days. Jesus mentions Solomon, a rich king of ancient Israel, famous for his pomp and glory. Jesus says that the lilies of the field are more glorious in their attire than Solomon was. God gives clothing away. Actually, if we go back all the way to Adam and Eve, God provided clothing for them right at the start. So why would we be anxious about that? Wouldn't God be likely to do more for us - His people - than He does for weeds?
Jesus spells the answer out. He calls the disciples - and us - men of little faith. That's the problem. We just don't trust God. We need the pantry full of food, the closets full of clothing, the bank accounts full of money and a clear view of how we can maintain our abundance before we can settle back and "trust" God. God is good only as far as we can see His provision. When it comes to taking it one day at a time, and receiving from His hand what it is that He chooses to give us, we just naturally tend to fall a little bit short. We don't like it. We get insecure. We want to hold back for ourselves just a bit more. We would rather have what we think is a clear view of how we are going to make it, and that means make it comfortably with a little to spare, than face life without any certainties, except the certainty that God loves us and He is our Master, so how we do and what we have is His choice, not ours.
Faith is the problem here. Right at this point, the old sermon illustration about the man with the wheelbarrow at the grand canyon suggests itself. You know the one, about the guy who said, "I can wheel this wheelbarrow across the grand canyon on this high-wire with someone sitting in it." His friend says, "I'm not sure about that, but I will take your word for it." His friend proceeds to put two hundred pounds of sand in the wheelbarrow and wheels it across the gorge and back. His friend is impressed. The man says, "Now do you believe I could do this with someone sitting in the wheelbarrow?" His friend says, "Yes. I believe that you could." At this point the man says to his friend, "Get in."
We "believe" that God will care for us. We "believe" that our lives are in His hands. We "believe" that God loves us. We believe that God works all things together for good to those who love Him, to those who are called according to His purposes. We "believe" that God will provide in every need. We just don't trust Him much.
But if you don't trust Him for food and clothing and stuff like that, do you really trust Him for forgiveness of sins, resurrection from the grave, and everlasting life? Look at the cross! There is the certain sign of God's abiding love and concern for you! He gave His Son to die for you, to bear the sin which condemns you - and take that condemnation off of your back. Your sins are forgiven. Even the sin of not quite trusting God as your might. Your sins are forgiven, and God promises that You will rise from your grave, and you will live - body and soul - before Him for all eternity.
If He has done that - and He has - what can you imagine He will refuse to do that you need done here and now? Your are His beloved, and He has claimed you by name in baptism, and He feeds you with this marvelous holy Supper to cleanse you and strengthen you and bless you. You are His and He is yours - your Friend, your Savior, your Master, and your God!
Jesus said, "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." That is Jesus, holding the handles of the proverbial wheelbarrow, saying, "Get in!"
Do not be anxious, then. Don't worry. Trust God. God knows what you need, and you can depend on Him to supply it. Of first importance is the Gospel - that you know it, and that you trust in it. If you have that, you have everything you really need. And God will provide the rest of what you need - and a bunch of stuff you simply desire - because you are His and He is good, and kind, and abundant. But the Master comes first.
Either God is the Master, and you receive from His hand whatever He gives you, and however He chooses for you to live - and you do it with thanksgiving, or you make yourself and your stuff, your mammon, your God. Trust God, and you don't have to worry about anything. You know, "The coward dies a thousand death, the brave man dies but once." That's Shakespeare, by the way. When we trust in God, we don't have a lot to worry about because God will take care of us - and whatever we have, and however our lies are going at the moment - everything is just as it should be. That is, it is just as our Master has chosen for us, His slaves, to have it.
If you cannot find peace with the blessings of God for you - and thanksgiving - then the question is not whether or not you have one master. The question for you is, Which one?
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.
(Let the people say Amen)
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