“Do Not Be Anxious, Your Heavenly Father Will Take Care of You” (Matthew 6:24-34)

Eighth Sunday after the Epiphany
February 27, 2011

“Do Not Be Anxious, Your Heavenly Father Will Take Care of You” (Matthew 6:24-34)

Today we conclude five weeks of Gospel readings from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. The theme of today’s reading, if you had to sum it up, would be something like this: “Do Not Be Anxious, Your Heavenly Father Will Take Care of You.”

“Do not be anxious, your heavenly Father will take care of you.” “Do not be anxious about your life,” Jesus says, “what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on.” “Do not be anxious about tomorrow.”

Well, easier said than done, I suppose some of you are thinking. Jesus, aren’t you being a little idealistic there? Isn’t this a little over-simplistic? I mean, I suppose if you’re a first-century hippie, you can talk like that. But Jesus, this is the twenty-first century now, and we’re no hippies! We’ve got adjustable-rate mortgages to think about. 401Ks. Roth IRAs. Health insurance. Tax-sheltered annuities. Savings accounts. Credit-card debt. We’re on fixed incomes. We’re on low incomes. Our income comes and goes–mostly goes. And the price of gasoline! My goodness! No, the only thing that matters in life is my own personal finances. It’s the economy, stupid. I’m afraid Jesus is sadly out of touch with reality.

How we want to dismiss Jesus’ teaching for his disciples! “That was then, this is now.” “Jesus is being overly dramatic, isn’t he? We can’t take what he says literally! I mean, come on!” He says, “Do not be anxious about your life.” Yeah, but does this mean we’re not supposed to budget for food and clothing? “Do not be anxious about tomorrow.” Yeah, but, so now we’re not supposed to have savings accounts, money stored away for retirement or for emergencies? Whatever happened to personal responsibility, prudence, foresight, a little planning ahead? Aren’t those wise things to do?

But do you see what happens here, when we begin to insert all those “Yeah buts”? We lose sight of what Jesus is teaching, and we effectively come to dismiss it, push it aside, as far as changing the way we think and we live. I call this, “death by a thousand disclaimers,” “death by a thousand qualifications.” We put all these little footnotes on Jesus’ teaching, all these “yeah buts,” and in so doing we lose the radical-ness and the impact of what our Lord is teaching us, his disciples.

We saw this last week with Jesus’ teaching on not being vengeful and stingy but instead to be forgiving and generous. We want to explain all that away, say that we’re not to take it literally, that there are some people we just can’t love. Death by a thousand disclaimers. Same thing today. Don’t be anxious, trust God to take care of you. “Yeah, but. . . .” Death by a thousand disclaimers.

But Jesus really means for his followers to not be anxious. He really means for us to trust our heavenly Father to take care of us in the basic necessities of life. Jesus’ teaching is really meant to change the way we think and live. These are not just some hippie platitudes, and Jesus is by no means out of touch with reality. Indeed, the Son of God, by whom all things were made, who came down from heaven to reveal God to us, and who walked more than a mile or two in our shoes–indeed, he walked the way of the cross for us–this man Jesus knows our reality even better than we do. He knows his Father in heaven, and he knows us. And therefore when Jesus says, “Do not be anxious, your heavenly Father will take care of you,” he really does know what he’s talking about.

“Do not be anxious.” If that was all Jesus said to us, like some sort of Stoic philosopher, like the Buddha, like some ascetic monk trying to escape reality and withdraw from life–if all he had to tell us was to try real hard to not get attached to material things–well, he wouldn’t be much of a Savior, would he? No, he’d be just another moral teacher with good advice that doesn’t work real well, because of either our failure of will or the hard circumstances of life.

But this is not all that Jesus has to tell us. He gives us the reason we do not need to be anxious for our life. And that is, that we have a kind and loving heavenly Father watching out for us and taking care of us. Now you and I wouldn’t know this, except that Jesus has revealed the Father to us. Otherwise, we might think that the gods up in the sky maybe like us, when the crops are good and the creek don’t rise. But when disaster or sickness strikes, or our income goes down–well, maybe the gods are displeased with me for some reason. We just don’t know. I guess I’ve got to try harder. It’s up to me.

But Jesus reveals the Father to us. A kind and loving heavenly Father, no matter what. He cares for us, he loves us, in any and every circumstance. Here is the God we can count on. We may not know how he’s going to provide for us tomorrow, but he will provide.

Jesus makes the point with illustrations from nature. About food: “Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?” And again: “And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?”

Birds and flowers God takes care of, feeds and clothes. Don’t you think your heavenly Father cares even more for you, you the highest of God’s creatures? Yes, he does! Your heavenly Father will take care of you. Turn your anxieties over to him.

You are of more value than birds or flowers. And there is something even more important than food and clothing. And your heavenly Father will provide that for you also. Jesus gets at it when he says, “Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?” Yes, there is something more, much more, than even these basic necessities of life. If you set your mind only on acquiring the stuff of this life, then you have made an idol out of money. No, there is something more, much more, to take into account, and that is, your standing before God, the whole matter of life and death, and where you will spend eternity. These matters far outweigh how much money you have in your bank account and investment portfolio.

And so Jesus would direct our attention to what is more important than food and clothing. He says: “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” There it is! The kingdom of God. His righteousness. These are the things that God wants to give you first and foremost, and therefore, they should be at the forefront of our attention. His kingdom, his righteousness, given to you as a gift from your kind and loving heavenly Father. And if he gives you these greater gifts, which last for an eternity, will he not also give you the things you need for life in the here and now? Yes, of course he will!

“The kingdom of God and his righteousness.” That is the main teaching of Jesus here in his Sermon on the Mount. Remember? “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.” And so Jesus came to bring the kingdom of heaven here to earth, to poor ones, who know their spiritual need. And Jesus promises righteousness to those who lack it, who realize they have no righteousness of their own. This is what Jesus comes to do, this is our greatest need, and Jesus therefore directs our top attention to how God will provide this gift.

God does this in and through Christ himself. Our greatest need is forgiveness, which Christ has won for us by his death on the cross. This removes the barrier between us and the Father, namely, our sins and the death that comes as a consequence of our sins. God, in Christ, takes care of his children in the greatest possible way. In Baptism, he has brought us into his family, into his kingdom. Our sins are washed away, for Christ’s sake. We have new life now in the Spirit, so that now we know a kind and loving Father who cares for us day by day. And our eternal future is taken care of by Christ’s resurrection, in which we will share because we have been joined to him.

So the big picture has been taken care of. Therefore, don’t sweat the small stuff. Yeah, you can still have your Roth IRAs and your 401Ks. But don’t turn them into an idol, OK?

And so now we have new answers to the questions, “What shall we eat?” and “What shall we drink?” We shall eat and drink the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, given and shed for us for the forgiveness of sins. “What shall we wear?” We shall wear the robe of Christ’s perfect righteousness, placed on us in our baptism. And with these, we shall be satisfied.

“Do not be anxious, your heavenly Father will take care of you.” Let us close now by turning to page 322 in your hymnal, and, from the Small Catechism, let’s read together the First Article of the Creed, with its meaning. . . .

The First Article, Creation:

I believe in God, the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth.

What does this mean?

I believe that God has made me and all creatures; that He has given me my body and soul, eyes, ears, and all my members, my reason and all my senses, and still takes care of them.

He also gives me clothing and shoes, food and drink, house and home, wife and children, land, animals, and all I have. He richly and daily provides me with all that I need to support this body and life.

He defends me against all danger and guards and protects me from all evil. All this He does only out of fatherly, divine goodness and mercy, without any merit or worthiness in me. For all this it is my duty to thank and praise, serve and obey Him.

This is most certainly true.

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Published in: on February 26, 2011 at 8:21 pm  Leave a Comment  
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