MARTIN CHEMNITZ PRESS
A MIGHTY FORTRESS LUTHERAN CHURCH
Pastor Gregory L. Jackson, Ph.D.
6421 W. Poinsettia Drive
Glendale, Arizona 85304-2419
Matthew 6:24 No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon. 25 Therefore I say unto you, Take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink; nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on. Is not the life more than meat, and the body than raiment? 26 Behold the fowls of the air: for they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feedeth them. Are ye not much better than they? 27 Which of you by taking thought can add one cubit unto his stature? 28 And why take ye thought for raiment? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin: 29 And yet I say unto you, That even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. 30 Wherefore, if God so clothe the grass of the field, which to day is, and to morrow is cast into the oven, shall he not much more clothe you, O ye of little faith? 31 Therefore take no thought, saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed? 32 (For after all these things do the Gentiles seek:) for your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things. 33 But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you. 34 Take therefore no thought for the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.
I was forever changed by Luther’s words on this lesson. He pointed out what a weak God mammon is. Mammon means an accumulation of wealth beyond one’s needs. We will never see an article on a couple because they paid their bills and set something aside for their retirement. The media splashes are reserved for someone like Versace who accumulated vast wealth and lived like one of the Twelve Caesars, doing more than Sutonius could imagine.
The world loves imagine, having more than anyone could ever need, even with luxurious living. But mammon is a weak god. Mammon is so weak that he cannot take care of himself. One must hire some people to protect this weak god, so he doesn’t get stolen away.
Mammon will not hear our prayers. He cannot even cure someone of a fever. One wealthy man arrived at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester in his own railroad car. He came on a Sunday and demanded an examination from one of the top doctors there. Mammon gets frightened at the sign of ill health. But mammon could not summon a doctor on Sunday, so the wealthy man left in a huff. The doctor said, “Good, I don’t need more work.”
The church always fails when it worships mammon instead of Christ. Being impressed with wealth is not so surprising. But isn’t it sad to hear people say they trust that money will help the church, but the Word won’t? Money is more powerful and effective than God’s Word?
Jesus, knowing our need for specific examples, pointed to the birds of the air as examples of trust in God. Luther, who used to feed the birds outside his office, and watch them, observed that birds sing their praise to God each day, without knowing where the next meal will come from. Birds are not anxious and worried. They trust their Creator will provide for them.
Birds are inherently cheerful, so people enjoy watching them. Instead of fighting over food, they patiently peck at whatever is near them. Thirty of them may be on the ground at one time. I have seen dozens waiting in line to take a bath in the middle of a Minnesota winter. Did they stop to ask why a bowl of clean water was sitting on the step when it was so cold outside? Not at all. They took their turn, two at a time, and enjoyed a winter bath.
I never thought very hard about how birds ate all winter until I found a book on hand-feeding birds. The point it made was that birds are more likely to eat from your hand after an ice storm. The reason? Ice coats tree bark, covering up the insect larvae that sustains so many bird species. They immediately become very hungry and willing to take food from human hands. Piles of branches and stacks of wood also provide a safe harbor for insects and therefore for birds. Each rotting log on the ground is a birdfeeder all winter. The rotting log attracts the insects that live on rot, attracting the birds that love insects. The log rots and feeds the insects and birds, while earthworms pull the remains into the soil, to build the earth up for another tree to grow. The future tree will harbor insects, birds, squirrels, and continue the cycle of life established by God’s Creation.
Jesus gave us another example – the wild flowers. I just bought a book called Weeds of the West. Wildflowers sound better. They are almost the same, except for punctureweed. When we dress, the first question is – Does this match? Does this look good with that? But when we gather flowers, we can put all the flowers together and they never clash. I have gathered a dozen roses from six bushes, yellow, red, orange, bi-color, and yet they all look beautiful together. No one will ever be as beautifully dressed as a flower. Yet flowers do not labor. They do not spin. They never worry.
Some will say, “Of course animals and plants never worry. They can’t think the way we do.” But that is not the point of this lesson. The existence of so many complexities within other complexities, all living in perfect harmony, shows us that God rules over all of Creation. If He cares for each living thing and provides for them all, then surely He must care for each and every living soul.
The believer has a special relationship to God, which must be recognized. He has been created by God, given life by God, but also redeemed by God’s Son. Jesus died for the sins of the world, but most do not realize it. Anyone who calls himself a Christian must remind himself that Christ is in him and that he is in Christ.
In Christ we have the forgiveness of sins. That is the greatest possible blessing. The peace that passes all understanding is forgiveness. We know it from the objective Word of God. We also experience it in the joy of being forgiven and in being forgiving. One can certainly say with Luther that wherever the Gospel is, forgiveness and eternal life can also be found. In contrast, where there is no forgiveness, there is no Gospel.
I have been very troubled by the willingness of conservative Lutherans to turn on each other and devour each other. It answers the question of why so few people want to leave their liberal synods and join other, more conservative groups. If anything, people tend to be pushed into liberal groups because of conservative backbiting. If liberals join a more conservative synod, they are likely to find that they are blackballed, shunned, or at best treated as second-class members. As one Church Growth guru said, with a self-satisfied smirk on his face, “It will take years before you fit in with us.”
How strange for a convert to conservative Lutheranism, to join the conservative group and find them imitating the liberal Lutherans he just left. No longer do they shudder at the horrors of liberalism: open communion, women in authority over men, Masonic lodge membership, Reformed doctrine, and so forth. No, they say, “Thank God we are Ev – van – geli – cal!” And they say, “You are a legalist, a troublemaker.”
How strange to find the conservative Lutherans meeting with the radical left wing ELCA leaders! Even stranger to find WELS and LCMS leaders coveting the ELCA! And why? Mammon. They have more mammon than we have.
That war will always wage within our hearts. No one is so pure that he never covets money, power, or even the acclaim of the unbelieving world. Our Old Adam does not like the cross that always comes with the Word. So the temptation will always be there to throw in the towel and do what is easy for us.
There is a second matter to consider, and this always comes up. We become disappointed with church leaders. For many pastors, the problem is two-fold, not only with synod leaders above them, but also with lay leaders in the congregation. It is easy to list pastors who have fallen into gross, obvious sin. Other pastors are disappointing because they are backbiters, treacherous, unreliable.
Luther said it is good when religious leaders fail us, because it teaches us to rely on the Word of God alone. He was a good example. Almost all of his colleagues betrayed the Reformation. Soon after he was dead they were turning the Lutheran Reformation into a branch of Calvinism, and they were sending good Lutheran pastors into exile. If Luther had thought about the weakness of his friends and colleagues, he would have given up. He felt it coming and talked about it. But he had no institutional goals. He trusted only in the Word.
“Seek first the Kingdom and its righteousness, and all these things will be yours.” God is so patient with us that He will let us pursue mammon and have it. I doubt whether anyone has ever been kept from having a large pile of money if that is what he covets. But he will have nothing else. He will fret over his pile. He will not feel grateful but fearful.
In contrast, if we seek the Kingdom and the righteousness of the Gospel, God will shower blessings upon us. We will receive the spiritual blessings of the Gospel but we will also enjoy the material needs provided by God alone, whether we think about it or not. The advantage of a believer is that he is grateful for God’s material and spiritual blessings while the unbeliever tends to congratulate himself alone.
Then too, when we go through times of loss, pain, suffering, and abandonment, we can learn to see these experiences with the eyes of faith. If people abandon and shun you for doing what is right according to God’s Word, good! It is not a loss but a blessing. Please don’t slam the door when you leave. Thank you.
Abundance does not make us grateful. Just the opposite. One man spent a summer trying to yank a weed out of his yard. He finally learned that it was a trailing arbutus, a difficult plant to grow anywhere. When he realized it was rare, he was stricken with sorrow at his foolishness.
Many people look at violets, dandelions, mullein, and other prolific flowers and despise them for their ease of care and hardiness. Many parents take their children for granted and think of how time-consuming their children are - until they are grown up and moved away. Many husbands and wives take each other for granted.
When I was ordained, the Lutheran churches said they had too many pastors and that pastors should get another vocation on the side, just in case. Only a few years later the synods are all short of pastors and don’t know where to find them.
Shortages and loss can make us thankful to God for what we have. I often think of a picture I took. I stopped at the seminary at Notre Dame and took a picture for my sister-in-law. She wanted a photo as a remembrance of the school. I thought, “If this doesn’t work out, I will take another.” I never took another photo at that spot again. Many moments with our families are just like that. They happen once. We can be there and enjoy them, or we can worry about trying to make Mammon happy. We can worry about work, or rehash the past, or dwell on problems instead of blessings.
We should start and end each day like the bird who rests upon the branch and sings his heart out. When our hearts are heavy, we should strive to trust God as much as the bird who does not know where his next meal will come from.
We are clothed more beautifully than all the wildflowers. They enjoy the colors of the rainbow, but we have the righteousness of Christ.
God looks upon us sinners and sees the wedding garment given to us by the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world. God sees the righteousness of Christ.