The Fifteenth Sunday after Holy Trinity – Matthew 6:24-34
I have good news for you today!
Everything you own…
your family heirlooms…
your work accomplishments…
these will all come to nothing in 100 years or less.
Your house may or may not be demolished in 100 years, but I’m pretty sure it won’t be in your family.
Your car will be in a junk heap or recycled for other things.
Your clothes will be in a junk heap or disintegrated.
Your family heirlooms will be sold or trashed.
Your work accomplishments won’t really matter.
And you’ll be lucky if your great grandchild remembers you, let alone your great-great-grandchild.
Maybe there’s a Plato or Luther or Napoleon or Babe Ruth in our midst… but I doubt it.
Solomon puts it this way:
“2 Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher, vanity of vanities! All is vanity.
3 What does man gain by all the toil at which he toils under the sun?
4 A generation comes, and a generation comes, but the earth remains forever…
8 All things are full of weariness; a man cannot utter it;
The eye is not satisfied with seeing, nor the ear with hearing…
11 There is no remembrance of former things, nor will there be any remembrance
of later things yet to be among those who come after.” (Ecclesiastes 1)
And Solomon would know. His wealth makes Jeff Bezos and Bill Gates and Elon Musk look mediocre. He tried out everything under the sun… literally. He tried it all, accomplishment, comedy, rich food, and sex. Nothing was withheld from his hands. And His conclusion was that all is vanity or a chasing after the wind.
This doesn’t sound like good news, does it?
But there is someone who’s wealth makes Solomon look mediocre, or even laughable. Jesus is God and owns everything. This is how Jesus says the same thing as Solomon, but with hope.
“Do not lay up for yourselves treasure on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matthew 6:19-21)
If the earthly realm is all there is, treasures on earth, including a good reputation, are bad news because they fade away. Moth and rust and thieves do destroy. But there is a place where moth and rust and thieves hold no sway… heaven. St. Lawrence is helpful in teaching us what these heavenly treasures are.
St. Lawrence was a priest who lived in the third century. He was put in charge of the property and finances of the western church. The emperor at the time wanted to confiscate the riches of the church and ordered St. Lawrence to produce the “treasures of the church.” “Lawrence brought before the emperor the poor whose lives had been touched by Christian charity.”1 He was jailed for his cheekiness and martyred in AD 258. But he teaches us something valuable.
The treasure of the church is Christians. That’s why parents are instructed to raise up their children in the fear and admonition of the Lord. In other words, you want to make Christians out of your children. You want them with you in the heavenly places. But God also puts other neighbors in your life so that you may share Christ and Christian charity with them. I’m sure when you get to heaven, you’ll be amazed at the people you influenced without realizing it. And think of it the other way as well. How many of you are Christian because of your parents or other relatives or even other people whom God put in your path? These eternal relationships with people are the real heavenly treasure. This is why both Solomon and Jesus warn us today of the temptation of mammon.
Mammon is the Arabic word for wealth. Wealth is just a tool to get possessions like food and clothing. And food and clothing are something we actually need. Now you don’t need the richest food or the latest fashions, but you do need food and clothing. And food and clothing are not, in and of themselves, evil. When God said on the sixth day that creation was “very good,” He meant all of creation. God made us as physical creatures who can enjoy physical things. But since the fall, these physical things have become a snare for us. Here’s how Paul puts it:
“But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving hat some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs.” (1 Timothy 6:9-10)
Paul warns us about earthly things robbing us of eternal joy. But Jesus gives us a wonderful promise:
“For the Gentiles seek after all these things, [that is, food and clothing,] and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” (v. 32-33)
Just as God provided for the children of Israel in their wilderness wanderings with manna and clothes that did not wear out, He will provide for you. As I said before, God doesn’t promise to provide the richest food or latest fashions, but He promises to take care of you, who are His children. And He gives you a gift beyond measure… contentment.
Right before Paul warns us about the love of money being the root of all evil, he says, “If we have food and clothing, with these we will be content.” (1 Timothy 6:8) And this comes from a guy who probably only had one cloak, had very little to eat, and seemed to be routinely beaten. Solomon says, “Better is a dinner of herbs where love is than a fattened ox and hatred with it.” (Proverbs 15:17) and “Better is a dry morsel with quiet than a house full of feasting with strife.” (Proverbs 17:1)
This contentment is a gift from God. I believe it really comes from knowing that your sins are forgiven and that your eternal salvation is secure. This too is a gift of God. If we look at our lives with brutal honesty, we see a lot of insecurity. We see sin plaguing our everyday existence. We see our pursuit of earthly pleasure or distraction, even to the point of harming ourselves or others. We see a pile of useless junk in our homes we spent so much time and effort to acquire. Our houses are bigger than ever before, but the self-storage industry makes 39.5 billion dollars annually. We see how our pursuit of food has cost us even our health, generally speaking, at least in America. We see an unstable government, and unstable economy, and rising costs in pretty much every aspect of our earthly life. There is, indeed, earthly speaking, much cause for insecurity.
But Jesus came into the flesh not to establish an earthly kingdom, but an eternal one. Earthly kingdoms come and go. The United States has come, and at some point, will go the way of the earthly kingdoms before it. But Jesus established an eternal kingdom, “not with gold or silver, but with His holy, precious blood and with His innocent suffering and death.” (SC)
Jesus could have established an earthly kingdom. He could have accumulated wealth and prestige that would make Solomon and Elon Musk look really poor. His apostles, in fact, were expecting Jesus to establish such a kingdom. (Acts 1:6) It would have been a kingdom unlike any other before it or after it. But that would not have solved our heavenly problem. It would not have given us, through grace alone by faith alone, a heavenly kingdom. Jesus, as soon as He was conceived, was solely focused on establishing a heavenly kingdom through His own suffering. He was solely dedicated to making this happen regardless of His earthly comforts.
Jesus said, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” (Matthew 8:20) When Jesus was revealing Himself to the woman at the well, He didn’t even think of food. “[His] disciples were urging [Jesus,] ‘Rabbi, eat.’ But He said to them, ‘I have food to eat that you do not know about.’ So the disciples said to one another, ‘Has anyone brought Him something to eat?’ Jesus said to them, ‘My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me and to accomplish His work.” (John 4:31-34) And accomplish His work, He did. He created a heavenly kingdom where moth and rust and thieves have no power to destroy.
You are brought into this heavenly kingdom, and kept in His kingdom, through His Word and forgiveness. When we are told by Jesus to seek first His Kingdom and His righteousness, we are told to pursue God’s Word and forgiveness. God knows that we live in an insecure world filled with sin and greed. He knows that we are tempted left and right to forsake His Word and Sacraments. He knows that we have real enemies that want to see us destroyed, both temporally and eternally. That’s why God is so rich with His Promises and forgiveness.
Romans 8 is one of the most beloved chapters in the Bible and for good reason. Paul starts off this way, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh could not do. By sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh.” (vv. 1-3) By being baptized into Christ, you are set free from the law of sin and death. God is no longer your judge, but your advocate! And God bases this not on any work you do or fail to do, but on the work of Jesus! God has taken off His robe of righteous judgment and become your dear Father. Near the end of Romans 8, we hear this wonderful rhetorical question, “If God is for us, who can be against us?” (v. 31)
And this is the key to contentment. To true living. If you boil down western classical tradition, that is, Greek and Latin tradition, into 5 questions, you get: 1) What is life?, 2) What is death?, 3) How may I secure the future?, 4) What’s worth dying for?, and 5) What’s worth living for? Natural knowledge, or natural law, can answer the first two questions. Science can give us pretty decent answers for what life is and death is. Christianity is the only thing that can give us an answer to the third question. We secure our future by placing our trust in Christ who rose from the dead. The order of the fourth and fifth questions reveal startling wisdom by the ancients. Only after you know what’s worth dying for are you qualified to know what’s worth living for.
And that’s the good news of my original point. Earthly possessions will pass away. Are they really worth dying for? Solomon and Jesus and Paul have made clear that pursuing earthly things can only lead to vanity. They warn us because there is something worth dying for: Jesus! You don’t love Jesus because you are such great people, but because He first loved you! (1 John 4:10) And He is worthy of your love. He proved it by living, dying, and being raised again. He proves it by creating and sustaining you. Is that not worth dying for? And you live for the same thing that Jesus lived for… other people. You show your love to God by loving other people. And you cannot even do this on your own. But God doesn’t leave you as orphans. He gives you His own Spirit so that you are empowered to love. And, even more, the Holy Spirit, through His Word and Sacraments, creates more heavenly treasure when and where He wills.
Let me leave you with another verse from Romans 8: “He who did not spare His own Son but gave Him up for us all, how will He not also with Him graciously give us all things?” (v. 32) Amen.