I Literally Can't Even 4

May 21, 2017 Speaker: Matt Benton Series: I Literally Can't Even

Passage: Matthew 6:24–6:34

The single greatest cause of atheism in the world today is Christians who acknowledge Jesus with their lips and walk out the door and deny Him by their lifestyle. This is what an unbelieving world simply finds unbelievable.

That’s a quote from Brennan Manning.

The single greatest cause of atheism in the world today is Christians who acknowledge Jesus with their lips and walk out the door and deny Him by their lifestyle. This is what an unbelieving world simply finds unbelievable.

This sermon is going to come hard and fast this morning because our Scripture comes at us hard and fast this morning. Over the last few weeks we have been reading through Jesus’ sermon on the mount. We’ve been through it in the context of a sermon series called “I literally can’t even.” Many of the instructions, many of the commands, the bulk of the teachings that Jesus gives in this sermon are incredibly hard for us to live out in real life. Jesus is laying down a gauntlet in here that is next to impossible, if not outright impossible, for us. And yet, Jesus makes possible the impossible and we approach these teachings with the hope that we can live them out.

And these teachings have gotten harder and harder. We started out looking at what it means to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world. Then we were called to not get angry, to not lust, and to be trustworthy. Last week we saw we are called to not resist an evildoer, to give to all who ask, and to love our enemies. Each week the teachings have gotten harder and harder. But within them we can see a certain logic, we can see how they are good advice. Yes, these things are hard to consistently put into practice, but if we could we can see how it would benefit us. After all, being exemplars of goodness, being calm and peaceful, being charitable, being loving, these are virtues. And the more we can lean into and live into these virtues, the more we can lean into and live into the things Jesus tells us to do in these teachings, the better our lives and our souls will be. This is fairly self-evident and it’s why this part of the Gospel is often looked to as Jesus being a good moral leader. Even those who do not profess the divinity of Jesus, who do not see him as their Lord and Savior, can find something to like and agree with in the Sermon on the Mount.

But this week our Scripture is pretty bad advice. This week, our Scripture is not helpful in trying to live a better life. Now I know it's wrong, even blasphemous, to say that words of Jesus are bad advice. Let’s take a look at the text and then I’ll let you decide.

Matthew 6:24-34

“No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money. “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life? “And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

So all along the approach I have taken with the Sermon on the Mount is to take Jesus at his word. I feel like oftentimes when some of Jesus’ words in the sermon confront us or challenge us or seem impossible we say, “I get Jesus said this, but what he really meant was.” And then we couch the words of Jesus into something that seems more palatable and plausible, into terms that more easily fit life as we know it. I get that Jesus said be perfect as God is perfect, but what he really means is try your best. I get that Jesus said love your enemies, but what he really means is be nice to the people that annoy you. Rather than do that, what I’ve tried to do in these last few sermons is to let the words of Jesus really stand out, setting aside our ability to follow them, and tried to imagine what would it look like for us to really do this. And I want to take that same approach this morning.

Jesus begins by saying that we cannot serve two masters. And while that is the introduction to the bulk of our text this morning, I want to set it aside for the moment because I believe it is much more the conclusion. So instead I want to begin with what follows.

“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life? “And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them.”

On the surface this seems like really good advice. Don’t worry. God will take care of everything. And frankly we could all stand to worry about things way less than we do. But this tack seems to not grasp the full meaning of what Jesus is saying.

You see, when a group of middle class Americans read this text and think, you’re right Jesus, we shouldn’t worry nearly as much as we do about the basic necessities of life we totally miss the point. Our context as hearers of this text is vastly different from that of the original hearers. Most of us will, for the most part, have a great deal of control over procuring the basic necessities in life. For most of us, worry over finances, worry over life comes from wanting to be able to do all the things we want to do rather than existential worries over how to provide for our basic needs. For most of us, the worries are about resource management rather than resource scarcity.

But our context as hearers is unintelligible to those that would have sat upon the mount that day and listened to the first instance of this sermon. And our response, our application might well be offensive to those who sat upon the hill at the foot of the teacher. Jesus was speaking to peasants, to rural poor, to the oppressed. Jesus was speaking to day laborers and backwater tradesman. Jesus was speaking to people who had no idea where their next meal would come from. Jesus was speaking to people who lived hand to mouth, not in the way that we use the term, but literally money that came into their hands for a days labor or for selling something went directly into food. Directly into clothing. Directly into providing for the immediate needs of their families. For them not worrying about food didn’t involve a .1% catastrophic outcome at some point in the future, it involved 1 hour from now. And its this context, its this situation that is much more consistent with Jesus’ allegories.

Jesus says look at the birds. They don’t sow. They don’t reap. And yet they eat. And then tells his listeners not to worry as a bird doesn’t worry.

Every day that I leave for work I say goodbye to Patrick who asks me where I’m going. I say to work. And he says…why. And oftentimes he’ll keep asking why until we have arrived at the basic reason for why I have a job. To which I’ll tell my son that he likes toys and he likes having food and he likes the house so daddy has to go to work. Don’t worry, much later I’ll explain things like vocation and calling to him. I have a job. That’s my plan for feeding my family. That’s my preparation. Many of us feel the same way about our jobs, we work so that we can provide for our families and for ourselves. But Jesus says we should consider the birds of the air. They don’t think like us, they don’t think like that. They make no preparation for their food. They make no plans for eating. And yet they eat all the same.

What would it look like to not work, to not have a plan for how we are to feed our families, to not have any idea where our next meal would come from and yet have full faith that we will eat. I mean that’s what Jesus is saying here.

If you’re still on the fence about whether I’m hitting the mark in my read of Jesus’ teachings, consider what he says about flowers. Jesus says that they don’t labor or spin, but God has naturally made them beautiful. So we don’t need to worry about what we are to wear because just as God has made the flowers naturally beautiful, God will make us naturally beautiful. And think about the clothing that Jesus is talking about that make flowers beautiful. Flowers are naked. They don’t have clothing. Now I’m not saying Jesus is telling us we should walk around naked. But flowers do nothing to make themselves beautiful. And when Jesus is telling us to not worry about what we wear, or what we are to eat, it’s really clear to me that Jesus is saying we aren’t to worry even if and especially if we have done nothing, done absolutely nothing, to acquire food or clothing.

I can’t tell you how opposite this teaching is to the advice I have been given by my parents and in-laws. And mentors. Instead, what I have heard is Matt, you’re young. Save everything you can, as much as you can, now. Start saving as early as you can. Diversify. Make sure you have retirement through you’re employer, make sure you have an individual account through your employer, and make sure you have a ROTH. Make sure you have life insurance. And make sure it’s whole life. Your child was just born yesterday, it’s time to start saving for college! Have you seen what college costs are expected to do?! You have to be ready, you have to be prepared, and you have to start now!

Jesus is telling us not to prepare. Jesus is telling us not to do all the things that our parents tell us to do. Or if you’re a parent, Jesus is telling us not to do the things you would tell your kids to do. Which is crazy, right? I mean, how could Jesus be against good, solid, prudent advice? This just doesn’t sound ok.

And in reality, how can we not prepare, how can we not do all we can to ensure that we have something to eat? How could we just basically be freeloaders, because that’s what birds are, and not contribute something to ensure our families are ok?

It’s at this point that I want to bring in the parts of this passage that up until now we have not dealt with. And then I can tell you why I gave you that quote at the beginning of the sermon that you’ve been thinking about this whole time.

At the start of this text Jesus said: “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.” And then at the end Jesus says: “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”

I’m convinced these two are connected. And I’m convinced they’re intimately related to what comes in between. You can’t serve both God and money. Because if you are worried about how to ensure that your meals will be steady, if you are worried about how you can have the best clothes, if you are constantly worried about how you can keep up with technology, keep up with the joneses, keep up with things, you can’t seek God’s Kingdom first.

Seeking the Kingdom of God first means caring more about the least of these than it does myself. Seeking the Kingdom of God first means caring about those that have nothing before I care about myself having even a little more than I need. And when I say I need I mean what I need today.

You can’t seek the Kingdom of God first and care about money. You just can’t. Jesus tells us you can’t serve God and money and that’s because Jesus knows what it means to serve God first. Jesus suffered and died because that’s what it meant to inaugurate the Kingdom of God, it’s what it meant to renew and restore and heal the creation that feeds the birds and clothe the flowers. If you are seeking the Kingdom of God first there is no 1B. If you are serving God there is no second priority. If Jesus is Lord, literally no one and nothing else is.

I literally can’t even. I have savings. I have retirement. I have insurance. And in doing so I worry about what I will eat, both today and years into the future. I worry about what I’ll wear both today and years into the future. I’ll worry about my family both now and years into the future. And because I do so, I know that I am not seeking God’s kingdom first. I’m trying to serve two masters. The problem is both masters are all consuming.

I began the sermon with a quote that has always made me stop short, a quote that has always confronted me and challenged me. The single greatest cause of atheism in the world is Christians who acknowledge Jesus with their lips and walk out the door and deny him by their lifestyle. And no where is the extent of that, no where is the score of that, no where is the depth of that quote made clear than in Jesus’ words here. Seek ye first the Kingdom of God. You cannot serve two masters. We come in here, we come to church and say yes Jesus we want to serve you and your kingdom, we want to follow you, we want to seek ye first. And then we walk out the door and live exactly the same as everyone else.

And at this point I can kinda guess what’s happening in your mind right now. I can kinda guess what's happening in your gut right now. Because its what's happening in my mind and my gut as I wrote this and as I say this. It’s this: come on Pastor Matt, I try my best. I try to live as a follower of Jesus. I try as best I can to live differently, to live the life Jesus wants me to live. But if I don’t save a little bit, if I don’t work to make sure my family has food, then what will happen to me, what will happen to my family?

And I get that, I totally do. It’s where I am. But here’s the thing, if all of us, if a small group of people devoted their lives to God’s Kingdom, a Kingdom in which everyone has enough to eat, then we wouldn’t have to worry about where our next meal would come from. Those working for the Kingdom would see to it that we ate. If we devoted our lives to God’s Kingdom, a Kingdom in which everyone is clothed and has shelter and has their basic needs met, we wouldn’t have to worry about our basic needs. Those working for the Kingdom would see to it that we are clothed and have shelter and have our basic needs. We wouldn’t need to worry about everything because we would be working for and living in a Kingdom where God would give us everything we need.

Now that doesn’t mean we wouldn’t have jobs. That doesn’t mean we’d remove ourselves from society and become mooches. But it would mean we don’t take jobs simply because we need money. It would mean that we base our jobs and our vocational choices not on what salary, benefits and compensation they offer, but on how they contribute to furthering the Kingdom of God in our midst. It wouldn’t mean that we’d be frivolous and a spendthrift. It would mean that we give our all to things that further God’s Kingdom.

There are two errors that are made in interpreting this text. The first is what I have already highlighted, that we water down Jesus’ words so they fit into upper-middle class anxieties. The second is that we turn them into a formula that says if you have faith, God will make you rich. Don’t worry about savings or retirement; God will ensure that you are successful. That turns Jesus teachings on being part of a communal movement into a deeply individual distortion. Those who are serving God fully, those who are seeking God’s Kingdom first, those who renounce the selfish drive for wealth, they are the ones whom God will take care of. They have no need to worry.

So what are we to do with this? What are we to do in response to this challenging text? I know for me this text will induce some painful pondering. Because on some level this text confronts us with a simple choice: if Jesus is Lord, then nothing else is. If God is God, then wealth is not. And we have to choose. We can’t serve two masters. We can’t seek God’s Kingdom second. We can’t be about following Christ just as soon as we get some other things taken care of. Jesus paints this as an all or nothing choice and what am I to do if I’m not willing to choose all?

But I believe we can also do this. I believe we can confess our inability to give all, or inability to not strive for a little bit of wealth, safety, and security for ourselves and our family. I believe we can ask God for grace to cover our weakness and to transform us to be people who can one day seek God’s Kingdom first. And in the meantime, I believe we can make small steps of faith that will be the first fruits of a greater transformation? Can we give something up, like a daily trip to Starbucks or a weeknight dinner out or bring our lunch from home, in order to give a bit more? Can we clip coupons or buy some generic brands or have slightly slower internet speed in order to save a bit more? Can we find ways to save a little bit more and in turn give a bit more to our church that transforms lives and helps people encounter Jesus or to other non-profits in our area that seek to build God’s Kingdom like ACTS or Streetlight? Can we take a small step and can we keep taking small steps to show that we are becoming more concerned about God’s Kingdom and less concerned about ourselves? And can we let God give us grace as we make those small steps so that we journey with God into the fullness of His Kingdom?

Let us pray.

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