[I preached this sermon without a manuscript and without detailed notes, only one blue index card with some key phrases written down to keep me on track. So instead of a sermon, you get some of my preparatory notes and thoughts.]
How would your day-to-day life be different if you really really trusted God? What would it look like if you put God at the front and center of your daily routine?
Sermon on the Mount: concerned with faithful living; blessed are statements, teaching how to pray, etc.; today’s Gospel is part of a long series of guidelines for righteous living (a clear law element)
I find it interesting that the lectionary begins this passage with verse 24, setting a particular context for what is being said. I wonder how "wealth" might differ from "having enough to get by" or "having enough to take care of basic needs." Somehow, for me, wealth is connected to hoarding extra. Wealth and saving up extra stuff are the means by which we try to plan our futures. They are the means by which we try to control our worrying (though they often create more worries than they alleviate!)
Wealth – mammon – as idol of prosperity, concern with the image of prosperity, the money and stuff and luxury we have above and beyond what we need. Wealth has to do with self-indulgence and self-sufficiency and security for the future. Wealth is less about money and more about self-interest.
I guess this is all to say that when I read about God's provision for the creation (even or especially for humans!), seeking and serving God means taking each day as it comes and trusting that the future is God's. Remember the birds and the lilies! Instead of serving wealth and storing up for future days, we are called to trust God's provision for today, and to trust that this same God will be faithful to us tomorrow. It makes me think about the manna in the desert - trusting that God would provide it each day and not collecting extra "just in case."
The passage from Isaiah reminds us that God is holding onto us, even as he asks us to let go. This passage is an extended image reminding us that we needn’t worry because our God is a faithful God. He does not abandon us or desert us. We are told that God is no more likely to abandon us than a mother would abandon her nursing child. Like a protective parent, God takes care of our needs and sustains us!
Jesus encourages us to “strive for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all of these things will be given to you as well.” I’m struck by the phrase “as well.” This means that if we strive for nothing but God’s will and his service, we will not only receive God’s kingdom and righteousness (exactly what we were striving for), but we will also receive our basic needs.
Kierkegaard – concerned with what it means to truly live by faith, recognizing that faith requires transcending the rational. What does it look like to resign yourself to the outcome of putting God first? And what does it mean to take the leap of faith to expect to regain all you might have lost? God asks us to be absurd in our faith here: to not only resign ourselves the potential outcomes of putting him first, but also to expect that we will receive something better than we could ever have hoped for.
On an individual level, we in America, in any first world country, really, are defined by stuff. By “needs” that are really luxuries. By self-determination and self-interest and self-motivation. Along with this come worries and burdens, and these worries and burdens often overshadow our faith/devotion/discipleship. We fool ourselves into thinking that once we have our lives together, we’ll devote the rest to God, except that we never end up having as much left over as we should.
God asks us to put him first, and to trust that we will receive yet more in return for our faith; that if we put him first, and reframe our lives around his will, we will be more than taken care of.
Tragedies force us to come face to face with our needs and our faith – China, Myanmar, etc. The people rebuilding aren’t thinking in terms of wealth, they are thinking in terms of survival. God knows we need food and clothing and shelter, but God wants us to need him first and foremost, not to the exclusion of our physical human needs, but to their benefit.
What would your life look like if you put your faith ahead of your needs and desires? Would you talk more about your faith with friends and neighbors? Would you start your day with Bible study instead of Starbucks? Would you cut back on luxuries and give more to the church? Would you put worship ahead of brunch? Would you pray more often, or thank God for his blessings more than you ask for them?
Think of 3 concrete ways that you could put God first in your life. Pick one, and commit to doing it this week.
In our church context, it's easy to connect this line of thought to talking about how we've stored up memories and traditions and history to the point where we are trying to control our future by relying on our "wealth" - our old methods of thinking and being church. This Gospel is therefore an imperative to seek God's kingdom and purposes above our own desire to honor tradition, trusting that God's plans for our congregation far exceed what we could craft for ourselves. Instead of worrying about our future and trying to resurrect the past, we need to serve God first and trust that the future of this congregation is squarely in God's hands.
Living in Hope Process: Trinity’s own process of revitalization based on God’s mission
Our new purpose statement: God calls us together and sends us to serve through word and deed in daily life.
We live out this purpose in the following ways (our guiding principles):
1. We regularly gather to grow through worship, Bible study, fellowship and prayer.
2. We humbly invite others to join us as followers of Jesus.
3. We gladly share our resources in the community and around the world.
4. We joyfully serve to make a difference.
Last week’s gospel: go make disciples! That’s the “only” thing God asks us, as a church, to do. All else is fluff.
And what would Trinity look like if we put God’s church ahead of our church? If we put God’s interests ahead of our own? Would we have less pews but a bigger table? Would we do more Bible study? Would we do more evangelism than outreach? Would we be more hospitable toward newcomers and children in worship? Would our conversations center around faith rather than around coffee? Would we focus more on gathering, inviting, sharing, and serving instead of worrying about attendance? Would we focus more on new members than old ones? Would we focus on spiritual needs instead of personal preferences? Would we honor our history by handing it over to God instead of clinging to it?
Good news! The same God who gave manna in the desert, who is pictured as a mother nursing a child, who asks us to seek the kingdom and who promises to give us the kingdom – this same God is the God we love and serve today. God has not changed. This is the God who made an ultimate demonstration of saving love by sending Jesus.
The Gospel is present in our gospel text: God takes care of the creation, and promises to take care of us. God has already saved us, so we know that God hasn’t let us down. We don’t need to worry, because God is in control.
Baptism: infants come with nothing to the font and receive everything – forgiveness, life, God
Lord’s Supper: we come empty handed, seeking only Jesus, and we receive him! We come to the table hungry and are fed, not by our own efforts, but by the God who promises to care for us.
We are free to seek the kingdom because God first sought us. We are free to trust God with our basic needs because this is the God who created the universe. We are free to have faith that God will keep us inscribed in the palm of his hand because we have a God who is faithful.