Sunday, May 25, 2008

Between God and Mammon

St. Matthew 6:24-34

St. Paul tells the Romans, “do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God”(Romans 12:2). What we have received from St. Paul in the New Testament is not only responsible for elaborating the Trinity and the doctrine of the sacraments. St. Paul’s writings are also an elaboration of what the Christian life looks like.

St. Paul writes to the various churches in an effort to help them grow in the faith. He wants them to be on guard because being a Christian in this world encompasses a unique vantage point. You may look at yourself as not being any different from the other people that you work with or who live in your neighborhood. On the outside we are flesh and blood just like everyone else. We put on our shoes the same way—we may even share similar interests with the heathen.

They might even see the world in a similar fashion as we do. They might see the political and social disparity that seems to be growing in our country. They may even observe the moral decay in our society, but you still have a different vantage point because you are baptized. St. Paul, in telling the Romans not to be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, is stressing that the Christians had been given something that was precious and needed constant renewing.

St. Paul was warning them that this world has the capability of changing who you are. It can change you. Raising children is proof enough that the world always threatens to change people. The young, especially, are influenced greatly by what they experience in this world. St. Paul is saying to watch that closely, not just for children but for all people.

St. Paul’s words run parallel to the words of our gospel, which record Jesus saying that no one can serve two masters…You cannot serve God and mammon. What is mammon? Riches and worldly treasures. Just before our text Jesus says “the lamp of the body is the eye. If your eye is good, your whole body will be full of light. If your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. Jesus is talking about our spiritual eye which either sees things clearly or is easily misled by this world.

As I was saying a moment ago, you are different from the unbeliever because you have been given something that the unbeliever has not received. It is the Holy Spirit through Holy Baptism. St. Paul tells the Corinthians that “the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned. But he who is spiritual judges all things, yet he himself is rightly judged by no one.”(1 Corinthians 2:14-15).

The spiritual eye of the soul that is healthy will discern the difference between serving God and mammon. Because you are baptized you know that it is wrong for you to serve the flesh, whether it be serving sexual lust, giving in to your appetite for money, or your desire to serve and improve your reputation or position by worldly standards.

Martin Luther makes a good point when he compares money to the Holy Scriptures. A person can miss several weeks of church, not receiving the sacrament or hearing God’s word and that isn’t considered robbery to the soul, but cut the same man’s wages ever so slightly and watch him come unglued. The truth is the world causes us to worry about what we will eat, what we will wear, how we can plan for our own future. Yet, Jesus is reminding us that we have no control over what happens tomorrow.

Faith is supposed to be such that we trust in God for everything. What will our financial status be next year? What will it be when we retire? Society has flung that worry into every home. Today, the world tries to get us to shift our focus to worldly riches and worldly comfort, when we need to be more concerned about investing in the future of our souls through God’s holy and precious word.

The psalmist says it well: “Do not trust in oppression, nor vainly hope in robbery; if riches increase, do not set your heart on them. God has spoken once, twice have I heard this: that power belongs to God”(Psalm 62:10-11). King David knows and communicates to us his own understanding that the riches and treasures of this world threaten to drag our souls away from God, and he is warning us not to set our hearts on them.

We are to set our hearts and minds on the scriptures which reveal to us our Lord and God. We are to do this through prayer and prayerful study of God’s word. We are to train our children in like manner, and then look to God for all things, knowing that each day is a new day, bringing blessings and challenges along the way.

So where do you fit into all this? Well, you may find yourself worrying too much about the things of this world at the expense of our spiritual growth and well-being. This is due to our sin. How do we rectify this problem? Jesus gives us the answer at the end of the gospel—“seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you.”

The baptized Christian confesses his or her sins to God, and seeks God’s forgiveness and His guiding hand to lead us in the right direction—to Him. This, to use St. Paul’s language that I quoted at the start, is the baptized Christian’s “being transformed through the renewing of the mind.” This is that cyclical pattern of confessing sins and receiving God’s holy absolution. The fact that we are able to make a distinction between the world’s ways and God’s ways is due to our new life in Christ through holy baptism.

I proclaim to you the forgiveness of sins that Jesus won for you on the cross, and through it all the Holy Spirit makes you wiser as you live our your life of faith in this world. It is the Holy Spirit’s purpose to make you wiser through the Holy Scriptures and the blessed sacrament.

Regardless of what you face, Jesus is with you. The gospel ends interestingly enough: “Therefore, do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.” No matter what your today or tomorrow looks like, you are amazingly special and like a star that shines in the darkness because the spiritually eye of your soul is illumined through the Holy Spirit and by the merits of Christ. Amen.

+Fr. Chadius