Sermon audio here.
The First Commandment isn’t very complicated at all. “You shall have no other gods.” We should fear, love, and trust in God above all things. You don’t need a PhD in theology to understand this. If only it were as easy to do as it is to understand! If you could only do that one thing—fear, love, and trust in God above all things—you would have nothing but peace and joy.
If you’ve ever felt like all hell has broken loose, then Psalm 46 is for you. It describes the crumbling of mountains, the raging of nations, and the roaring and foaming of seas—and even with all of that going on, absolute peace. To paraphrase the psalm:
“Even when everything’s falling apart, God is still in the midst of His Church. She will not be moved; God will help Her when morning dawns… Until then, be still, and know that I am God.”
Or, as Luther put it in his hymn on Psalm 46, in a very Job-like confession of faith:
“And take they our life, goods, fame, child, and wife, though these all be gone, our vict’ry has been won; the Kingdom ours remaineth,” (A Mighty Fortress, st. 4).
This is the big secret to life, and it’s so easy to understand that even a 3 year old can get it. God doesn’t want to be a part of your life; He wants to be your life. Then you can receive everything—your joys as well as your sorrows—with thanksgiving from God’s Fatherly Hand.
When I was at seminary I used to see this TV commercial for one of those goofy, happy-clappy megachurches. It was about this guy who seemingly had it all: good job, great family, and a nice, white smile. During the commercial they showed a picture of him with his family, and the picture was cut like a puzzle. The puzzle was almost complete, but sure enough, there was one piece missing. The voice-over said, “Something missing from your life? Give Jesus a try.”
This is exactly what the First Commandment is trying to prevent. God wants all of you, and He isn’t good at sharing. He’s a jealous God, and this is for your own good. If only part of you belongs to God, to whom does the rest of you belong? Apart from Christ, there is nothing but heartache and worry.
Jesus can’t be an extra, or just one piece of the puzzle. When it comes to Christ, it’s all or nothing: there is no middle ground. As He says, “Whoever is not with Me is against Me, and whoever does not gather with Me scatters,” (Matt. 12:30). When God is not your God alone, you will be consumed by money, your relationships will be dominated by conflict, and thousands of anxieties will harass you from the time you wake up until the time you go to bed, and then rob you of sleep on top of that.[i]
This is not what Christ wants for you, so He bids you to sit at the feet of the birds and be instructed by the lilies. They’re some of the best catechists you’ll ever have. Christ would use them to give you an education that’s invaluable, one that you can even get without taking out student loans.
Look around at God’s creation and see how splendidly He provides! Birds neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not worth much more than they? The lilies neither toil nor spin, and yet God clothes them in splendor greater than Solomon. If God is so attentive to the needs of birds and flowers, will He not much more attend to you, the crown jewel of His creation?
God has endowed you with abilities far beyond that of the birds and flowers. God will Himself give you the strength to accomplish whatever He wants you to accomplish. When you work toward something—as Christians ought to do—but you don’t earn or achieve it, you can take comfort in knowing that you’re better off without it, or God would have given it to you.
God is the Father Almighty. The cross shows you His unequivocal love for you. He will not always do things your way, but having no other gods means recognizing that God’s will is always best, not yours. Biblical faith is not merely believing that God exists. It’s entrusting Him with your life and knowing that He works all things to your good, even when you feel like your life is a bad dream from which you aren’t waking up.
Whatever you’re worrying about is an idol. When God is your God, you have no reason to worry.
It’s a simple commandment, one that even the birds and flowers keep. But for us, there’s nothing more difficult in the world. You can’t satisfy your soul with that which is not Christ.
If anyone has reason to worry, it’s the flowers! They can’t do a thing for themselves! They depend on God to provide for their every need. We, on the other hand, couldn’t stop worrying even if we had all the wealth in the world. If anything, the more we have, the more we worry.
““The traveler with an empty purse can sing in the presence of a robber.” But the rich man is frightened by every bramble bush, and at the height of his happiness he is as miserable as possible… He thinks of nothing, wonders at nothing, yearns for nothing–except money… such people do not enjoy the good [things] that are present now. Thus the wicked begin their hell in this life… they do not rejoice in the gifts of God but are always looking for something else,” (AE 15:96–97).
Not only has God endowed you with abilities far beyond that of the birds and flowers, He has provided for your redemption even though you have less faith than they. No amount of worry can ever change the fact that Christ died and rose again for you. What is there to worry about when you have a Lord who has overcome the grave? You can’t undo the resurrection by worry.
Christ lives, and His mercies are new every morning. You are His baptized child. Your sin is forgiven you. He preaches faith into your ears and nourishes that faith in the Sacrament. Nothing can separate you from His love, not even death.
God doesn’t provide for your greatest need only to neglect your lesser needs. Not even a sparrow falls to the ground apart from your Father. As attentive as God is to the birds and lilies, He is that much more attentive to you: even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.
Soli Deo Gloria
+Rev. Eric Andersen
St. Matthew 6:24–34
The Fifteenth Sunday after Trinity, 2015: “God Doesn’t Want to Be a Part of Your Life”
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[i] Giertz, “Preaching from the Whole Bible”, 100.