First Things First
St. Matthew 6:24-34
In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
St. Matthew 6:33 [Jesus said] “But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you.”
Dear fellow redeemed in Christ our Lord… If you have ever bought a new computer, you know that when you first start it up it seems to run programs with blazing speed. However, gradually, over time, it seems to run slower and slower. You can add more memory, add an external hard drive, store more stuff in “the cloud,” all of which helps for a little while, but then the same thing happens; it keeps getting slower.
When the computer slows down, the problem is not that the processor is slowing down. The problem is all those little programs that we add for convenience: Instant Messenger, Real Audio Player, Adobe Photo Studio, a heavy-laden anti-virus program, and others. If you have a computer, go home later and check to see just how many programs are running in the background. I know a pastor who once admitted that he had 27 programs running on his laptop computer. None of them mattered very much by themselves, but when they were combined they burden the computer; they slowed it down. The convenience of having a cool computer with so many programs ultimately has its cost.
Whether or not you have those problems with your computer, you may experience a similar concern with a car. On many of our family vacations we filled the van with as much stuff as possible. The car-top carrier was full, the back was full, and we had everything we needed. But with that with all the extra weight and drag, the miles-per-gallon was lower than usual. Convenience has its price.
And you can see the same thing happening with people. Children, it seems, live life with gusto. Their eyes sparkle, they play hard, they sleep sound, they wow us with their energy. Then, as people get older, the energy seems to go away. As my father likes to say, “My get-up-and-go got up and went.” We begin to suffer from AAADD – Age-activated attention deficit disorder. Run errands, pay bills, write letters, make meals, clean house, and plan for the future. What will I do next year? How will I put my kids through college? What if Mom or Dad become disabled? How will I support my retirement? Should I get nursing home insurance? All these things – and more – clutter up our mind and exact a toll. The older we get, the more our mind resembles a cluttered closet: too many things and not enough room to deal with them.
In today’s Gospel reading Doctor Jesus diagnoses our problem. “No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.”
Did you catch it? We’re anxious because we’re trying to serve two masters. We’re anxious because we’re trying to do and have it all. On the one hand, we try to serve God. So we come to church, we pray, and maybe we even read our Bible. We try to love others as God in Christ has loved us. We’re troubled when we do things we know we shouldn’t do.
On the other hand, we try to serve mammon, which is money. “God helps those who help themselves,” we’re told. “There’s no such thing as a free lunch,” we’re told. “Make sure you take care of yourself first,” we’re told. And so we bind ourselves to jobs we dislike, and we work ourselves to death for a paycheck. And while our outward treasures may grow, our hearts begin to wither and die, and our spiritual life weakens.
When we hear our Lord’s rebuke in today’s Gospel we must hang our heads in shame. What did those people worry about? Food and clothing, basic necessities of life. And what do we worry and fret about? Not necessities, but luxuries! We want more and more stuff, and pretty soon our lives become cluttered and cramped with all of it. The more things we have, the greater our cares and worries. An old poem says it well:
“Said the robin to the sparrow, ‘I would really like to know,
why these anxious human beings rush about and worry so.’
Said the sparrow to the robin, ‘Friend, I think that it must be
that they have no heavenly Father such as cares for you and me.’”
Yes folks, our problem is clear. Because we divide our hearts between God and mammon, we suffer from a lack of faith. And Jesus offers a simple but radical cure: “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you.”
When Jesus says, “Seek first,” He doesn’t just mean for us to re-order our priorities – to put God first and then the mammon, the things of this world. For if we did that, you see, then we would still have two masters; only the order would have changed. No, Jesus means Seek ONLY God’s kingdom and righteousness, and all these things will be added.
We seek God’s kingdom and righteousness in prayer. In the next chapter, Jesus says, “Ask, and you will receive; seek, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened to you.” And St. Paul says, “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.”
What are God’s kingdom and His righteousness? Clearly, God’s kingdom and God’s righteousness is His Son, as St. Paul says (2 Cor. 5:21), “For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.”
So, when Jesus says, “seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you,” what He means is to keep calling on God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in prayer, keep coming to the Divine Service to receive God’s Word and Sacraments, and then simply trust God and not yourself to give you all that you need to serve Him. God doesn’t want ten percent of your money or an hour of your time. He wants your whole heart, your whole soul, your whole mind, your whole strength – and your whole body too.
But better yet, He wants you to understand and believe that you cannot give Him any of those things; He wants you to understand that He has already taken care of that for you. He has already given His whole heart, soul, mind, strength and body for you. When He saw you lost in sin and death, when He saw you lost in the cares and worries of this world, He was moved with compassion. God the Father sent His one and only Son, Jesus Christ, into the flesh. Jesus served His Father fully, completely, and only. Jesus suffered the death that you deserved.
And when He rose from the dead and ascended into heaven, even then He did not leave you. For, having received the promise of the Spirit from the Father, He poured Him out upon His Church. Ours isn’t a half-way Lord – one who when we do our part He will do His. No, no, no. He has given Himself to You and for you fully, freely and completely!
And here is where and when He does it – in this holy meal we celebrate today. Here at the altar your Jesus gives Himself freely and graciously, for we of little faith certainly do not deserve Him. But in His name and by His command you are invited to come and receive His body and blood for the forgiveness of your sins, life, salvation, and the strengthening of your faith.
Here is where we lay aside our earthly cares, our guilt, our anxiety, and receive Him who comes to us in His true, life-giving body and blood. Here is where we celebrate “with angels and arch-angels and with all the company of heaven” the glorious victory of our Lord Jesus Christ over all sin, death, and hell.
And in and from this holy meal your Jesus will be with you to continue to seek Him and His righteousness first and only. In and from this holy meal we are anxious for nothing. In and from this holy meal we have everything for which we seek.
Come, dear people of God, for your heavenly Father knows what you need. Come and be given to by your Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Come and be served by Him so that your worries about what you will eat and drink are all met in this food and drink. First things first, dear friends. First things first.
In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.