Summary: In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus calls us to have complete and unfailing trust in God for our every need all the time.
[Sermon preached on 9 September 2018, 16th Sunday after Pentecost / 3rd year, ELCF Lectionary]
Today, we look at the topic: Trusting in God’s care.
Last week, we already touched upon this theme when we reflected on the words from Paul in his first letter to the Thessalonians:
Rejoice always, pray constantly, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.
A constant attitude of prayer, of connection and communication with God, changes the way we look at ourselves, our neighbors, and our circumstances. It opens the eyes of our heart to see them the way God sees them. Moreover, prayer helps us to see the hand of God in much that happens. And where we cannot yet see his hand, it helps us at least to trust that God’s hand is at work in everything. That trust, that conviction, makes it possible—perhaps even natural—to look back at what God has done in our lives with thanksgiving, and to look forward to what he will do in the future with joy.
The words from Matthew 6 that we just read build on the findings from last week. At a first glance, we may be put off by the demanding tone: “Don’t do this! Do that!”
“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth! – – Instead, store up for yourselves treasures in heaven.”
There is no doubt about it: Jesus is very radical and demanding in his teaching. But Jesus is not being legalistic, replacing the 600 dos and don’ts from the Old Testament with new ones that are even more demanding. Jesus is being helpful. His purpose in the Sermon on the Mount, from which we read this passage, is to equip those who want to follow him and be citizens of the kingdom of heaven. Those who were here last week must remember the words that Jesus said elsewhere:
Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
What Jesus said in that context is that we should not try to know God through human wisdom or secure our salvation through efforts of our own. Rather, we should turn to Jesus who said of himself:
“I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”
Therefore, coming to him is the key to knowing God and to getting connected and reconciled with God.
In order to understand the words of Jesus about the dos and don’ts of storing up treasures, we must look at the words that immediately follow today’s Gospel lesson:
Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life… Do not worry about tomorrow… Your heavenly Father will take care of you… Your heavenly Father will provide your needs… But you, seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.
Perhaps, you can see the pattern and the logic emerge from this context. What Jesus is saying is this: On the one hand, because we can trust in God to provide for us every day, we need not provide for ourselves, for our tomorrow, but, instead, we can focus on the mission that every Christian has received: the mission of making the kingdom of God come true. And on the other hand, in order to learn to trust in God for all our needs, we must eliminate from our lives everything that makes us trust ourselves—what we are and what we own—more than God.
The Old Testament reading from Exodus gives us a marvelous case study of how this worked or did not work among the people of Israel, when they wandered through the wilderness from Egypt to the Promised Land. They had constantly been complaining about Moses and about God. They felt that they were not being taken care of well enough. Especially, the divine catering service was not up to their standard.
So, God decided to provide them with a special kind of food that they had never seen or tasted before. They could not identify it, so they called it “manna”, which means “What is it?” And to tease them a little bit, God offered them that same breakfast for forty years, seven days a week. And God told them to go out and gather fresh manna every morning except on the Sabbath day. They should gather just what they needed for breakfast that morning, nothing more. They should not collect some extra for tomorrow just in case God’s catering service broke down. They should trust that, tomorrow again, God would faithfully provide them with fresh manna. The only exception was the Sabbath. On Friday, they should collect food for two days so that they would not need to go out on the Sabbath to collect food.