Seek first the kingdom of God, that is, the way of faith in Christ

Sermon for Trinity 15

1 Kings 17:8-16 + Galatians 5:25 – 6:10 + Matthew 6:24-34

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It was April, 1987, just a week or two before my confirmation.  The pastor handed out a list of Bible passages—confirmation verses—to the confirmands and randomly assigned numbers to us to set up the order for choosing verses.  There must have been over 20 options—we had over 20 students in my class.  But I knew immediately which one I wanted, the only one, Matthew 6:33. I had my eyes set on it for weeks.  I knew it was one of the choices. Unfortunately, someone picked that one ahead of me and wasn’t willing to trade it with me when my turn to pick came along.  But I stayed after class and talked with the pastor and stubbornly insisted (believe it or not) that I had to have that verse.  He didn’t understand why.  He said, “Of all the kids in the class, I don’t think you need that verse to be a special reminder for you.”  I said, “Yes, I do.  You have no idea.  I need this word of Jesus.  I need this direction, and this promise. I want to be guided by this verse.”  He gave in.  That was probably the only year, before or since, that the church had to place a special order for two confirmation certificates with the same verse imprinted on each.

Why do I tell you this?  Simply to illustrate the Lord’s faithfulness.  Working in His own mysterious ways, He knew that I would benefit from this particular word of Jesus, this direction to seek God’s kingdom and God’s righteousness ahead of all worldly concerns, and this promise of Fatherly care and providence and protection for those who do.  And since He has brought you here today to hear this Gospel and has placed me in front of you to preach it, He knows that you can benefit from it, too. 

Jesus presents us with two paths in this Gospel.  One, he warns us away from.  The other, He draws us toward and urges us to seek.  The one is the path of the Law and unbelief.  The other is the path of the Gospel and faith in Christ.

No one can serve two masters, for 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 money.  Whatever or whomever you fear, love and trust in above all things is your god.  You can serve money as a god by loving money, by being greedy, by living to get more and more and by being infatuated with the things money can buy. But you also serve money as your god when you put your trust, your confidence, your certainty, in money.  The more money you have in your wallet, in the bank, the more confident you are that there will be bread on the table tomorrow.  The less money, the less confident, and the more worried you become.

You see the people surrounding Jesus, worried about so many things, because money was tight—even tighter than it is today in our economy, in a society like ours where there are such things as social welfare programs.  There was always a jobs shortage in the Judean market, and for many people, there was no such thing as a career.  There was only a get up every morning and look for a day job. So they were anxious all the time.  They were asking, “What will we eat?  What will we drink?  What will we wear?”  They had put their confidence in money. They looked to money to provide these things, and money was proving to be a fickle god.

You can relate to them, can’t you?  The more money you have in the bank, the more security you have on the job, the better you feel.  The less money, the less job security you have, the worse you feel, the bigger the pit in the stomach when you wake up in the morning. What will we eat?  What will we drink?  What will we wear?  Or even more pathetic, How will we maintain the lifestyle we’ve grown accustomed to? 

It’s almost understandable, though not at all excusable, that unbelievers would put their trust in their own hands, their own brains, their own skills, that they should chase after money and things and put their confidence there.  After all, whom else do they have to rely on?

But that believers in Christ should be deceived in this way?  That we should rest our confidence on ourselves, our doings, our jobs, our skills, our money?  Or that we should chase after certainty and security in other places—in our friends or family, in a pastor, in a church building, in a church body? Oh, the devil is a wicked enemy and a powerful deceiver that he should convince us to turn our eyes away from our heavenly Father and turn again to the path of things, the path of the Law and unbelief. And our sinful flesh is a wicked and powerful ally of the devil, that we should be so easily deceived, so easily shaken in our faith, so easily worried. And when I say “we,” I mean “we.”  You and me. 

Jesus scolds us, in love, for this self-reliance, for this confidence we place in ourselves and our works.  “O you of little faith!”  He shows us the other path, the other path where there is just God and His Word, God and His promises.  And nothing else.  It doesn’t look like much.  But it’s actually more than enough.  Jesus shows us His Father, the good and faithful God who feeds the birds of the air and provides for them without any of their worry or care, without any merit or worthiness on their part.  He provides for the lilies of the field and clothes them with beauty, even though they are here today and gone tomorrow.  Are you not of more value than they? 

The answer is yes, you are.  You have eternal souls.  You were made in the image of God, although that image is distorted now by sin.  But you believers in Christ—you’re being remade in the image of Christ.  He gave Himself as a ransom for many.  He has redeemed you, a lost and condemned creature, purchased and won you from all sin, from death and from the power of the devil, not with gold or silver, but with His holy precious blood and with His innocent sufferings and death.  Of course you’re worth more than the birds, more than the grass.

Do you worry?  Of course you worry!  Does that make you a sinner?  No, it doesn’t make you a sinner.  You worry because you are a sinner.  But Jesus came to save sinners.  And so Jesus urges you to repentance and faith.  He pulls you back from the brink of despair and destruction in unbelief and He shows you that the other path, the other way is better.  The other way is the only saving way, the way of faith in a heavenly Father who has adopted you as His child through Holy Baptism, a heavenly Father who has already not spared His only Son but has given Him up for us all.  How will He not, along with Jesus, graciously give us all things?  You’re right to trust in this Father for forgiveness and life and salvation through Jesus Christ our Lord.  And if you trust in Him for that, then of course you can trust in Him to provide your daily bread.

And so Jesus says, “Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.”  You’re wrong if you think you need to focus first on food, first on income, if you think you need to pursue worldly wealth or worldly happiness.  In fact, the more you chase after those things, the more elusive they will become, because that’s the path of unbelief.  That’s the path of you fixing things, you making things right, you controlling the world around you, you doing things for yourself.  The path of faith is the path, not of doing, but of receiving the good things that God has promised to those who love Him.  To seek first God’s kingdom and righteousness is to seek Christ—nothing more and nothing less.

So, seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, not your little kingdom, not your righteousness.  Do not seek first financial security.  Seek first His kingdom.  Do not seek first your pastor.  Seek first His kingdom.  Do not seek first a synod or a church body.  Seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all the things you need, every last one, will be added to you.  Because it doesn’t come from you.  It comes from your Father in heaven, who is your gracious Father through faith in Jesus His perfect Son.  As Paul says to the Ephesians, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places.”

And do not be anxious about tomorrow.  Well, that’s easy for you to say, Pastor, your tomorrow is certain.  Is it, now?  No.  No, it isn’t at all easy for me to say, and tomorrow is not certain. What is certain is the Word of God.  What is certain is the atoning sacrifice of Christ.  What is certain is the all-sufficient righteousness of Christ, the righteousness that is yours by faith alone, the forgiveness of sins that is held out to you in the Sacrament.  What is certain is the love of a Father, and that those who seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness will be provided for by that Father, without their worry, without their anxiety, and God will do it miraculously, if necessary, as He did for Elijah, as He has done for countless others.

Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. Matthew 6:33.  I wanted that verse as a confirmation verse, because, by the grace of God, I want to be guided by that verse until my dying day.  And whether or not it’s your confirmation verse, God wants you to be guided by it, too.  Amen.

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