Note: there was a baptism at the Divine Service at which this sermon was preached.

Gospel: Mt. 6.24-34

When Jesus says, “You cannot serve God and mammon,” He is not accusing you of being devoted to money. (Mammon, by the way, means money, income, earnings, savings.) If you are a servant of mammon, that means money is the most important thing in your life and you’ll do anything to get it.

But I seriously doubt that’s your problem. Unless somebody compelled you to come to church by force this morning, there is a part of you that wishes to serve God. And that’s the problem: it’s only part of you. You’d like to do precisely what Jesus says “No” to today: serve God and mammon. God is good, but money’s good too. We’d like to do both: place our trust in God, and that will be quite a bit easier with plenty of money in the bank. So if it comes down to living without money or living without God, which choice would you make?

Would you pray that day, that choice would never come? And if so, what kind of prayer would that be?

So what does this mean? Some received a radical therapy from Jesus: “Sell everything you have, give it to the poor, and come, follow Me.” This is what Jesus said to the Rich Young Ruler, and he went away sad, for he was very rich. Zaccheus, who had accumulated great wealth through fraud, gave away half of what he owned after Jesus visited his home. And yet there are other wealthy men in Holy Scripture who are praised as faithful men of God who nevertheless did not give away half or all of what they owned.

{The preceding paragraphs were adapted from Bo Giertz}

The real issue is not the mammon, but the service of it. Is it your master, even in part? The great Swedish bishop Bo Giertz put it this way:

The decision is not how much mammon we’re willing to give away because everything should be given into the hand of Christ. Once and for all we have to stop thinking that what we earn is ours and all we have to do is strike a bargain with God regarding His percentage. There are two ways to form your life. Either you take everything from the hand of God and manage it well, content and happy for what He gives, or you take it all and call it your own, the money as well as all the plans and everything you own and will come to own. We have to choose between these two life processes. You cannot try to combine them. [To Live with Christ, p593]

Trying to combine them is what Jesus warns against when He says, “You cannot serve God and mammon.” When we are servants of mammon, we can easily disregard God when things are going well, like the rich fool who tore down his barns to build bigger ones, then retired early, feeling he had secured his future. He was unprepared for the judgment, which came that night, when God demanded his soul unexpectedly.

The other response, and I think far more common, is that the service of mammon leads us to worry. When does it satisfy? When do we have enough? What will I do if the economy causes me to lose my job, or prevents me from finding another?

When we worry, we are really saying to God, “You cannot handle my problem. It’s too big for you. I do not think that You will help me.” Or, our worries declare, “You are at best a capricious God. You shower blessings on some and wrath on others – but whatever it is, You do not really seem to care. You do not love for me. You will not work out all things for good, and therefore I must look out for myself. No one else is going to do it.”

Saying, “Our Father, who art in heaven,” we are convinced that heaven is someplace far, far away, and the God who wishes to be known as “Our Father” is a distant father, an absent father, or an abusive father, and not a loving father who cares for his children whatever the cost. “Our Father, You are in heaven, but here on earth Your name is not kept holy and Your kingdom is not coming. Therefore my will must be done so that I can get my daily bread.”

To all of this Jesus says, “O you little child! O you of little faith! Haven’t you noticed that you are the only thing in God’s creation that is so full of worry and anxiety? Look at the birds! They do not worry. Every morning they do what God has made them to do: they gather food for that day. They don’t build big barns for their worms, they just eat the worms that God gives. If God takes care of birds looking for worms, won’t He take care of you? Are you not of greater importance than a little bird?

“And what about the flowers in the field? They are not very important. Every spring they grow, and every autumn they die. And yet, look at them! They are more beautiful than the most glamorous person, dressed in finery more radiant than the stars of this age. If that is how God takes care of a little tiny flower, do you not think He will take care of you, O you of little faith?”

What happened this morning with little Jason is the declaration of God, “I will take care of you. I, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, will be your God, and you will be My child. I have washed away the stain of sin you inherited from your father Adam, by the cross I atoned for your sins, and I will never leave you nor forsake you, but be your shepherd even through the valley of the shadow of death, and at the last bring you even from the grave into the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come. Trust Me, for you need not worry.”

And that’s what He says to you when you come to confession, and again when He feeds you from His own table. So we don’t come to church to try to figure out the right balance between serving God and serving mammon. We come to drive away once again the encroaching service of mammon that our heart keeps returning to, and be reminded again: “I am your God; therefore be not anxious!”