11 August 2013

The Lifestyle of the Truly Rich and Famous

The Lord has taught you that your life is not in your own hands.  Accumulating possessions, and building bigger barns to keep them in, won’t save you; nor will it preserve your life one minute more than God permits you.  You could die at any time, on any given night; perhaps on this day.

So, if you take that to heart, you may be tempted to despair of any point or purpose to your life, or else to become frantic with worry and anxiety over what little time and opportunity you have.

It would seem a shame for you to die before you have a chance to enjoy all your nice stuff.  But, what happens if your stuff runs out before you die?  And you’re left hungry, homeless, and alone?

Have you saved enough?  Have you invested wisely?  Are your insurance and retirement adequate?  Are you the grasshopper or the ant?  When the days get dark and the cold comes, will you be okay?

If wealth and riches cannot save you, the lack of food and clothing may do you in.  You do have to eat and drink in order to live, and you do have to wear something, leastwise in the wintertime.

With food and clothing, you are to be content, the Scripture teaches.  But you may find that food and clothing are not so easy to come by, and that your life is consumed and spent in getting even that much.  Just keeping up with the meals and the laundry can be a full-time, never-ending job!

It may be that you are living hand-to-mouth, and having to make do with less than ideal means.

Or, maybe you actually have a more-than-adequate wardrobe, and better-than-average meals, and really more than enough to survive; and yet, you’re not content, but restless and hungry for more.  You may not understand why, but you find that you are still driven to acquire and accumulate, to accomplish and achieve; that you are never satisfied, but insatiable in your appetite.

You’d be inclined to agree with Jesus, that “life is more than food, the body more than clothing.”  But you’re hard pressed to say what the “more” might be, which will finally put your heart and mind at ease.  Far less are you able to find it or lay hold of it for yourself.

Learn, then, from your Lord, what your life is, and where it is found, and how you may have it.

Jesus teaches you, first of all, what not to do with your life, your time and energy: Do not worry, He says, nor spend yourself seeking the temporal wants and needs of this body and life on earth.  Rather, live like a carefree child in your Father’s home.  You know how that is.  Young children don’t worry about where their clean clothes or their next meal are going to come from; they simply trust and take for granted that their Mom and Dad are going to provide whatever they need.  That is how it is for you, too, and that is how you are to live: without stressing about your basic needs.

That doesn’t mean that you should be lazy or negligent in your duties.  As children grow, they are given chores to do, by which they are able to contribute to the life of their household and family.  So, too, God has given you the labors and responsibilities of your particular place and position; just as the birds and the flowers do exactly as much and as little as God has given them to do.

There’s a difference between using your God-given intelligence, knowledge, and wisdom to plan and prepare for your day and the days ahead, and falling into the anxious worry that Jesus here warns you against.  It’s a matter of doing your own job, whatever it may be, in peace and quiet, and of not attempting to do what isn’t your job, and not agonizing over that which you can’t do.

It’s a bit like the difference between driving a car and riding in a plane: Your life is in the Lord’s hands, either way, but, as a driver, you’re responsible for operating the vehicle safely and with due caution, whereas, if you are an airline passenger, there’s nothing for it but to sit back and ride.

So, then, stop fretting and fussing about your body and life, about your meals and your wardrobe.  First of all, because there is far more to real life than food and clothing; and, by that, Jesus doesn’t mean the wealth and riches that you covet and the world chases after, but the forgiveness of your sins, the resurrection of your body, and the life everlasting of your body and soul with the Lord.

The second reason not to be anxious and worry, is that it doesn’t do any good: It’s actually another case and example of your self-idolatry, by which you suppose that you can make life for yourself.  But you can’t.  You can only live the life that God, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, has given you.  So, live that life; do what you’re given to do, as you can; and don’t worry about what you can’t.

The third reason Jesus gives for not being anxious and afraid about your life, is that the Lord your God is taking care of you: He knows your needs and well provides them.  For He is your Father, and you are His dear child.  And He is your Good Shepherd, who loves you, His own little lamb.  He’s not going to forget about you, nor lose track of you, nor leave you without what you need.

Therefore, instead of seeking after temporal, perishable things, which is a waste of your life, and a waste of your time and energy, Jesus teaches you to seek the Kingdom of His God and Father, in which you have life forever, and all good things are yours, by His grace.

This “seeking” of which the Lord speaks is not like playing “hide and seek,” but it is the setting of your heart and mind on that which is most important to you, and the investing of yourself with single-minded purpose in that which you value more than anything else: Like a man in love, whose every breath, every thought, and every action is ruled by his passion for that one girl.  Except that such devotion belongs, by rights, only to the Holy Triune God: In every other case, it is idolatry.

But how do you go about seeking the Kingdom of God?  It is by faith, and not by sight; and faith is by the preaching of Christ.  You cannot find it on your own, but the Word of the Lord comes to you: God the Father speaks to you by His Son, and thereby gives to you His Holy Spirit, so that, by His grace, you believe His Holy Word, and you begin to live a godly life according to it.

The Kingdom of God is not something you can see or experience with your outward senses in this fallen world.  You hear it and know it, and you have it, by faith in the Word and promises of God: under the Cross, in apparent contradiction, in foolishness and weakness.  Sin and death continue, in yourself and in your neighbor.  So, it may seem as though God’s promises were null and void, or as though He had forgotten all about them.  Or, they may simply seem so impossible and contrary to fact, that they couldn’t be true, as sometimes seemed to be the case with Abram.

Consider the ravens and the lilies, for example, as the Lord Jesus urges you to do.  He tells you that God cares far more for you than for those birds and flowers, and that He will therefore feed you and clothe you, as He does them.  And yet, if even the great King Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these, then neither are you clothed as beautifully as the lilies are; not in this life.  And, whereas the ravens neither sow nor reap, concerning people God has said, “by the sweat of your brow shall you eat from the ground,” and again, “if anyone will not work, let him not eat.”

Besides all that, it is also the case that birds fall to the ground; the grass withers; the flower dies.  And surely the people are like grass, which burns, all their glory like the flower that fades away.

There is a need to distinguish the good life which God gives to you here and now — for it, too, is from His hand, and by His grace; and it is good, to be received with thanksgiving, and sanctified by His Word and prayer — but this temporary earthly life must be distinguished from the divine, eternal Life that God gives to you forever, by the Cross, through Jesus Christ, His Son, our Lord.  It is not your life and your experience on earth, but the Word of the Lord, which endures forever.

Seek first His Kingdom and His Righteousness, therefore, by hearing and heeding His Word, as He comes to you in the preaching of His Gospel.  Listen to it, cling to it, and live according to it.  Use the Law rightly by letting it curb your sin and guide your behavior, and, above all, by using it to examine yourself, your heart and mind, your thoughts, words, and actions, and by confessing your sin and seeking the forgiveness of the Gospel.  So also, then, receive and trust the Gospel.

You seek the Kingdom of God, and you find that it is yours, by receiving it from His open hand; for He has chosen gladly to give it to you, and He does.  Whatever you have in this body and life is by His grace, in, with, and under the Cross.  And by the Gospel is the promise and the foretaste of the resurrection of your body and the life everlasting of your body and soul.

The Lord your God has gladly given you His Kingdom, by clothing you with the righteousness of Christ, and with Christ Himself, in the washing of the water with His Word in Holy Baptism.  And He has chosen gladly to give you His Kingdom, by feeding you with the Body and Blood of Christ in the Holy Communion.  Such are the garments that do not wear out or get eaten by moths.  Such is the Food that does not perish, but which bestows eternal Life with God.  And if God so covers you and fills you with His own dear Son, shall He not also provide you with every good thing?

That is why you are free to let go of your possessions, and free to love and serve your neighbor with whatever God has given you: with steady confidence, and without fear, anxiety, or worry.

This is what the Lord Jesus Christ has done for you, that you might have everlasting life in Him:  He has sought the Kingdom of His God and Father, in order to bestow it upon you in peace.  His clothing is the Holy Spirit, and His food and drink are the doing of His Father’s will: He has lived by every Word that His Father has spoken to Him, in order to fulfill the Father’s Word for you.

It was for Him, in the flesh, as it is for you under the Cross; that is, by faith in the promise, and not by sight.  He trusted that His Father would feed Him, even while He fasted in the wilderness and suffered the assaults and accusations of the devil.  By faith, He took the Cup that His Father gave Him to drink, in the Garden of Gethsemane, although He knew that it was filled with wrath and judgment, and with the curse of sin and death.  He entrusted His body and life to His God, in the confidence of the resurrection.  When He was stripped naked and hung up to die in public shame, He trusted that His Father would raise Him up in glory, vindicate Him openly, and clothe Him in the beauty of His own divine holiness.  When the Hour came, He was found ready and waiting.

This is how the Kingdom of God has come, and how it is now given to you: In the flesh and blood of the Son of God, crucified and risen from the dead; given and poured out for you at His Table.

When He teaches you to seek the Kingdom, He is not sending you on some great impossible quest to the ends of the earth, to infinity and beyond.  No, He is simply calling your attention to what is already here for you, to what is spoken into your ear, to what is given into your mouth and body.  He teaches you to seek the very thing that He and His Father and His Spirit delight to give you!

Oh, how blessed you are, dear child of God!  For here you are found in the House of your Father.  You need not worry about what you will eat and drink, nor about what you will wear.  For all you need has been provided.  Your Father has sacrificed the Passover Lamb: See, His Blood now marks your door.  Death shall not rob you of your life, nor snatch you from this Sanctuary.  But, rather, behold, the Lamb who was slain, He lives!  He who has departed, has returned and entered in.

Now He girds Himself to serve you.  Now He bids you to recline and be at peace.  Have no fear!  Now He cleanses you with His Word of forgiveness.  Now He anoints your head with the Oil of His Spirit.  Now His Cup is overflowing, no longer with the wrath of God, but with His blessing and His free and full Salvation.  Now His Flesh and Blood are your Meat and Drink indeed.  Now are you clothed and fed.  Come, beloved little lamb of Christ: Enter into the joy of your Master!

In the Name + of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

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