Ye cannot serve God and mammon.
St. Matthew vi:24
Our Gospel lesson appointed for today comes to us from the Sermon on the Mount. And like all the lections of Trinity tide, it provides us with crucial teaching regarding our sanctification in holiness. It is full of hard sayings, not the least because it involves our relationship with two necessities for life, food and clothing. But our anxiety and worry over the acquisition of these essentials are treated by Our Lord with abrupt contempt. He appears far more concerned with the spiritual food and raiment that will nourish and clothe us in the life of the spirit. He warns us: you cannot serve God and mammon. (St. Matthew vi. 24) Simply put: we are not to pursue simultaneously both God and earthly ends. And while he does not, to be sure, deny the importance of the one, he does insist that its provision should follow the pursuit of the other.
Perhaps we can better understand all of this if we recall that Christ comes into our human world in order to bring us back to true union and fellowship with the one true God. The frailty of the human condition is such that we, by fallen nature, tend to worship more than one god at any given time. We are spiritually schitzophrenic. The frailty of man without [God] cannot but fall, we read in today’s Collect. And indeed it is precisely man’s habitual tendency, on the best of days, to fall into a rut between God and the world, that Christ comes to correct. Christ comes to set us back onto the path of true life, which is true worship of one God, namely our Father who is in heaven. As Romano Guardini puts it, From the abundance otherwise reserved for heaven, Jesus brings divine reality to earth. He is the stream of living water from the eternal source of the Father’s love to a thirsting world. From ‘above’ he establishes the new existence that is impossible to establish from below, existence which, seen only from the natural and earthly level, must seem subversive and incoherent. Christ comes to bring us into right relation with the one true God, and this is offered to us through faith in him. He wants to lead and carry us once again into true relation with all of reality, both uncreated and created, both invisible and visible. So he insists on bringing us back first to the origin and source of all true living and being, true knowing and seeing, true loving and willing. From the Father alone flows that water which quenches man’s true inner thirst. From the Father alone can be grown and harvested that desire and passion which reach into his kingdom.
Four hundred years before the coming of Christ Aristotle taught his students that all men by nature desire to know (980 a21), and that man naturally seeks happiness. (NE) Man indeed hungers and thirsts, desires to see, hear and touch, no doubt. But essentially these qualities reveal a deeper desire for a more lasting satisfaction. Christians believe that God enables man to fulfill this innate passion. And so in faith with sure confidence they follow Christ as the way and means to the discovery of its provision. His way is entirely practical, if only we can begin to see that this world is no end in itself, but indeed the created reflection of God’s goodness and love. The things of this world are but signs and marks made to move and stir the spirit and heart back to the source and cause of all. As Wordsworth remarks, in his Prelude, Oh, there is blessing in this gentle breeze,/That blows from the green fields and from the clouds/And from the sky; it beats against my cheek,/And seems half conscious of the joy it gives./O welcome messenger! O welcome friend!
And yet this morning, we run into a problem- as we usually do, and should, when we are confronted by Jesus, and wonder where we are in relation to him. Aristotle says that men by nature seek to know, and yet observes that most men don’t ever get around to realizing it. Or, more accurately, men seek to know the wrong things and in the wrong way. They seek to know how to rescue the economy or how to infuse moral integrity into a godless people. In and of themselves, not entirely insincere or malevolent, but, as Aristotle knew, not likely to produce much success if pursued as gods in themselves. For Aristotle grasped that what man seeks truly is the knowledge of God, and that he will remain sadly incomplete and unfulfilled should he be consumed with and anxious over lesser gods. Jesus echoes the same sentiment in this morning’s Gospel. Consider the birds of the air and the lilies of the field. Stop, he urges, if you are indeed consumed with this world. Look at nature, look at the flowers, the animals, the fowl of the air. All of nature is held in my Father’s caring hand. Nature is providentially ordered by my Father. He feeds it, sustains it, colors and beatifies it. Each individual being’s unique nature is generated and preserved by my Father’s constant attention and love. And none of these creatures is anxious about anything. The birds neither sow nor reap and my Father feeds them. The lilies neither toil nor spin, and Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed by my Father like one of these. (St. Matthew vi. 26-29) Jesus brings before us the created things of this world, and sees in them a dependence upon God’s love and concern. He reveals to us that all forms of life, in addition to our own, are cared for and loved by the Father. He shows us that all of nature is subject to the God’s providential order. He refers the created world back to God, and shows that it would neither live nor thrive without Him. He reminds us that the birds neither sew seed nor grow crops order to be fed. And they are anxious over nothing. Similarly, the lilies of the field need exert no effort to reveal the beauty of their natures. They are anxious over nothing. God provides for them, and would do for us, if only we would have faith in Him.
See and believe, Christ urges us today. Faith in God begins with openness to what confronts you. See and believe that God is at work in his world. He tells us seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness and all other things shall be added to you. (St. Matthew vi. 33) Faith in Christ means following him, through nature and into his truth. It sounds so beautiful and appealing, and yet we find it so difficult to do. Why? We pursue ends in this world for the sake of limited and impermanent happiness. Think about our never-ending conversations via email, facebook, text-messaging and phone calls. The more we talk the more deeply immersed are we in this world, and the less likely to stop, in silence, to behold the fowls of the air and the lilies of the field. The more we talk, move and pursue the mammon of this world, the less likely are we to hear the still small voice of God speaking to us. And mammon is, as one author puts it, a false God, and the service of Mammon is idolatry. And it is the essence of idolatry to trust the things of the world as though they were a final and ultimate significance. Idolatry is the worship of worldly things, and it is a subtle, but constant, ever-present danger to the spiritual lives of all of us. (Parochial Sermons: RC) If we wish to find our way out of the worship of mammon, and away from the anxiety that fusses over its acquisition, we must tend first to our spiritual lives. We must see and understand all things only in so far as they stand to help or hinder our journey to God’s kingdom. This is what St. Paul is talking about when he addresses the Galatians in this morning’s Epistle. But God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world. (Gal. vi. 14) The greatest treasure of bountiful richness that a man could ever be given is the priceless death and resurrection of God’s own Son. This is the treasure, herein are the riches that the Christian must seek. All other things pale in significance, comparison, and value. And the creation and its bountiful provision should only ever lead us to a deeper desire for it. Again, with Wordsworth, nature seems half-conscious of the joy it gives. Full consciousness comes with the discovery of the soul’s good and the spirit’s desire. That is the manna that comes down from on high, as God’s Word, the food for men wayfaring, the sustenance of those who hunger and thirst for the righteousness of God’s kingdom. The true food and clothing that we should seek is the holiness and mercy that carries us forward, the perpetual mercy, the help that keeps us from all things hurtful, and leads us into all things profitable to our salvation, as our Collect reads this morning.
My friends, this morning let begin to hunger and thirst for the food of the soul. In another place Jesus himself rebukes Satan and says man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God. (St. Matthew iv. 4) Nature from her largess silently urges us to recognize her limitations in the spiritual end she serves. I am not the god you seek, she cries. Nay, rather, she says, look into your souls, and from the ground of your hearts, see that the same hand that lovingly cares for me, will do the same for you. Only have faith, and hear his voice, hope in his providence, and feed on his love. Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness, and all these things and more shall be added unto you. Amen.
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