Listen to it:
“God’s Reign and Righteousness”
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
“No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money” (Matthew 6:24, ESV). Jesus’ words are not hard to understand. You cannot be the slave of two different lords at the same time. If you are under the authority of one master, you cannot also be under the authority of another one. If you are in the army of one country, you cannot simultaneously be in the army of another country, especially if the two countries are at war! There are two important points behind what Jesus says: first, as Bob Dylan put it, “You gotta serve somebody. It may be the devil or it may be the Lord, but you gotta serve somebody” (“Gotta Serve Somebody,” Slow Train Coming). And, second, if you try to serve two masters, you will be destroyed. So if what you do and are is determined by something other than Jesus Christ, you can’t say “Jesus is my Lord,” because that means that everything you do and are is under the rule of the Triune God. It’s not difficult; Jesus is not oversimplifying when He tells us that it is one lord or the other. But simplicity is not our strong suit, is it? I have my complicating idols, just like you have yours. An idol is one of those other lords that we try to serve. Some are obvious, like wealth. There is a reason why Jesus said it’s harder for rich people to be under the reign of God than it is for a camel to go through the eye of a needle (Matthew 19:24). Not impossible, because God can make even big, slobbery, hump-backed creatures go through tiny spaces; but let’s just say that if you have sworn your allegiance to stuff and things, it’s not going to be any use going home and trying to get your camel through the eye of your knitting needle. Some of our idols are less obvious, but there’s an easy way to tell if some other lord has taken the place of the only true Lord in your life: if push comes to shove, does God win the tug-of-war? Does the pursuit of more stuff keep you from giving to the work of God through His Church? Do unbelieving friends or family members give you an excuse to neglect the services of God’s House? When you get right down to it, and I mean when you get right down to the bottom of your heart, what person, place, or thing wins the battles over your time, money, and energy? What person, place, or thing consumes you to the extent that you pay only lip-service to the lordship of the God whose creation and blood-bought possession you are? Do you say things like, “I’m a Christian” or “I’m a member of Trinity/St. Paul’s Lutheran Church” but everything you say and do either ignores that fact or directly contradicts it? And I’m asking myself a similar question: do I call myself a pastor in Christ’s Church but keep part of myself back so that I’m someone else when I’m not standing up here in front of you?
Now, I could tell you to get your priorities straight, to put God first by giving Him at least ten percent of your income, to not only have Jesus as your Savior but to make Him Lord of your life. I could tell you to stop worrying, to believe that your heavenly Father knows what’s best for you and that He will give you what you need (He does), to dress like a flower and eat like a bird. I could tell you to seek the Kingdom of God first, to be the Church instead of just going to church, to spread the Gospel and to tell more people about Jesus. And if those things are true of you, then I give thanks to God. But, of course, if I have to tell you, or if I have to tell myself, to do or be those things, then the obvious implication is that we do not or are not. And while Jesus is calling you to be the Christian whom He made you in your baptism, in these verses recorded by St. Matthew He is not saying that your priorities are backwards so you had better get them right and put the Kingdom of God and His righteousness first, or else… Yes, your priorities are backwards and, yes, the reign of God should be absolute in your life, but that doesn’t exactly take away any anxiety. It doesn’t really help if I say, “Don’t be anxious about all these things that you are anxious about; just put God before everything else and you’ll be okay.” Which is to say, keep the First Commandment and you’ll be keeping all the others. It’s as simple as that. What are you worried about?
The reason we have trouble finding comfort in these words of Jesus is because we so easily forget what God’s reign is and what it means that God is righteous. The instruction in verse 33, “Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness,” does not mean that you need to blindly stumble around, trying to find out where God’s Kingdom is and when it’s coming. If God is playing hide-and-seek (and He’d be pretty good at it, since He’s invisible), you could never be sure that you had found Him and His Kingdom, that is, where God reigns. Doubt-uncertainty-is the enemy of Christian faith. Neither is Jesus telling you to find God’s righteousness, do it, and then you’ll have nothing to worry about. That is clearly out of the question, especially since you have all those other lords making claims on your unrighteousness. And, by the way, He’s certainly not saying that if you find where God is reigning and act righteously enough He’ll add to you a nicer car and a new boat and enough cash to spare. The Kingdom of God, the reign of God, is not something you do. It is not something I do. Which should be obvious, since it is God’s reign. And God’s reign does not come when you get your priorities straight, or when you make God your lord, or when you stop worrying, let go and let God. In fact, God’s reign comes precisely because we can’t get our priorities straight. Have you ever tried to stop worrying? We can’t let go. We need the righteousness of God because we are unrighteous. We need a Lord who will pry our cold, dead fingers from the worthless lords to which we so tightly cling. We need a God whose reign destroys the tyranny of our flesh and the reign of terror imposed upon us by sin and death. And we have such a Lord and God. We do not have a Lord who commands us to seek Him and then sits back, waiting for us to find Him, but a Lord who comes to us and seeks us out, inviting us to see in Him the kingdom of heaven come upon us (Matthew 4:17). We have a Lord who was baptized in our place to fulfill all righteousness, once in the Jordan River among sinners and once on the cross between sinners (Matthew 3:15; Mark 10:38-40). We have a Lord who gives us His righteousness at the cost of His precious blood so that we may enter the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 5:20). “Thy Kingdom come,” we pray, and our prayer is answered as the only Lord of heaven and earth comes to us and clothes us in the only righteousness that is worth seeking and finding: His righteousness.
You, dear Christian, are clothed in Christ’s pure righteousness; He sought you when you sought Him not. Is not your body, which was created through Him, worth more than physical clothing? You, dear Christian, are fed today with Christ’s pure righteousness; He feeds you with His flesh and blood, as the first Adam of the new creation, where God reigns forever in the midst of His people. And is not your life, born twice out of nothingness, worth more than physical food? In such eternal food and such righteous clothing is the peace and holy comfort of the Christian. There is a gravestone in the cemetery in Fisher [and maybe some of you know which one it is] that has these words from the hymn: “Jesus, Thy blood and righteousness/My beauty are, my glorious dress” (LSB 563, st. 1). In no other way than by Jesus’ blood and righteousness can we be prepared to go to our graves. “For in this tent we groan, longing to put on our heavenly dwelling, if indeed by putting it on we may not be found naked. For while we are still in this tent, we groan, being burdened-not that we would be unclothed, but that we would be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who has given us the Spirit as a guarantee” (2 Corinthians 5:2-5, ESV). “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is being revealed from faith to faith, as it is written, ‘The righteous shall live by faith‘” (Romans 1:16-17, ESV). The righteous shall live by faith, not by sight. Righteous ones!: hear the words of your righteous Lord: “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on” (Matthew 6:25, ESV). “All these things,” whether you have much or little, pale in comparison with the clothing of God’s reign and the food of His righteousness. As the prophet Isaiah says, “I will greatly rejoice in [Yahweh]; my soul shall exult in my God, for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation; he has covered me with the robe of righteousness” (Isaiah 61:10, ESV). And thus He clothes and covers you. Depart in His peace.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus,” (Philippians 4:7, ESV).
— Pr. Timothy Winterstein, 5/21/08