(08-09-07) Things and the Kingdom - Matthew 6.24-34
Matthew 6:24-34 “No-one can serve two masters. 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 both God and Money. 25Therefore 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 important than food, and the body more important than clothes? 26Look 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? 27Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life? 28And why do you worry about clothes? See how the lilies of the field grow. They do not labour or spin. 29Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendour was dressed like one of these. 30If 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, O you of little faith? 31So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. 33But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. 34Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”
Hurricane Katrina dominated the news nearly two years ago with the devastation it caused in New Orleans. Now Gustav, Hanna and Ike have made and are making similar threats in Haiti, Cuba and Florida. Thousands have already been made homeless, and hundreds have lost their lives as a result of the ferocity of these storms. We have been able to see tragedy unfolding before our very eyes, relatively unable to help as people see their homes and lives washed away from them.
It’s absolutely heartbreaking to see people who believe that they have lost absolutely everything as a result of a storm like these or any other kind of natural disaster. It reminds us of the fragility of all that we have and hold dear. It encourages us to protect that which we value from a similar fate, and in doing so, can highlight to us what it is that we treasure most. I wonder, what would be the first thing that I would look for if my home was washed away? I’m sure that for most people, the thing that we care about most isn’t actually a thing at all – it would be a person or people; family, friends. And, quite rightly, the sense of grief and loss that we are having reported to us from Central America and the southern United States is centred on the loss of loved ones, not things. Because people matter more than things, and very, very few people are likely to disagree with that. It’s a part of our God-given nature that very few have lost – the valuing of human life above all the trappings of the world.
And yet things still matter to us. We try to protect people from tragedy and disaster, but we also try to protect our things, because we put value on them, too. Our Gospel reading today has led some to shun, as much as is possible, the stuff, the things of the world. And yet Jesus ate fine food and drank wine. As a carpenter he made things; things that people probably ended up owning and valuing. He wore clothes of a quality which meant that the soldiers who stripped him gambled for them rather than tear them. He didn’t try to escape ‘things’. Jesus certainly didn’t remove all value from ‘things’, nor did he suggest that we sit back and wait for sustenance to fall from the sky. Indeed, even in this same reading he says that ‘all these things shall be yours as well.’ If... Something has to come first, in both senses. We are to receive all that we need, even some things that we want or would like if something else comes first. We are to ‘seek first his kingdom and his righteousness.’
That phrase has more meaning crammed into it than one short sermon can address. It is a lifetime of sermons, because it, in many ways, completely encapsulates the call on the life of every single human being. It is the Gospel, it is the Church. We are to choose which has mastery over us; God, His Kingdom and His righteousness, or things, stuff. And God’s Kingdom is all about Him and His creation, His people; which is why people matter. It’s why you matter and I matter. We matter to God, so we should matter to one another. More than our things and our stuff, good as it may be. It must all come a very clear second. Again, this is a high calling; difficult choices to make each moment of each day. Little wonder that Jesus says each day has enough trouble of its own.