Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
For the last few weeks, we’ve been back in Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, listening to what He has to say, and learning how He would have us live. That’s what His entire sermon is all about- What does it mean to be a Christian? Or, as Jesus might put it, what does it mean to live in the Kingdom of God? Over the last three weeks, we’ve been hearing Jesus give examples of one point- the Christian life is one that involves the heart, not just the body. If you’re just going through the motions, following all the rules, agreeing about certain doctrinal positions, or doing all the right things, but don’t really believe it, care about it, or if your actions are more important than your God, then you’re not really a follower of Jesus. You may give away everything you have, pray the loudest and longest, and fast for everyone to see, but unless faith in God undergirds those actions, they’re worth nothing. People might see you and praise you, but that’s all the reward you’re going to get. The Christian life is one of faith, of the heart, not just actions.
What does it mean to be a Christian? Jesus continues in His answer with another angle in today’s reading. For Christians, all of life is lived in service to God alone. To put it another way, Christians see everything they do in life as acts of service to God. As Jesus says, “no one can serve two masters, for he will either hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other.” The prime example that Jesus uses is money- You cannot serve both God and money. Your whole life cannot be in total service to both God and money- it just doesn’t work. Eventually, the two butt heads and there’s a problem. One will win out over the other. Christians must be sure that God wins out over all else.
Over money, yes, but also over service to your particular country, over the feel-good but nonsensical “follow your dreams,” over any sense of individuality and personal aspiration. If any of these things gets in the way of serving God, we’ve got a problem.
And that’s the kicker. We encounter these things all the time. We run into problems left and right. Between God and (fill in the blank), there is conflict. And though we may acknowledge the conflict (or we may not), often times, we choose the priority of our own making. So often we turn away and let God lose. We turn anything and everything into an idol and kick God to the curb in order to serve it.
Jesus uses money as an example, so let’s start there. You cannot serve both God and money. Which is the highest priority for you in life? To be of service to God or to get the most money? It may be that you’re here today just because it’s mother’s day and you’re here because Mom is making you, but every other Sunday in your life, you’re out working, taking absolutely zero time to pray, to study God’s Word, to gather for worship where we receive God’s gifts. You may acknowledge Jesus, but it’s lip service more than anything, since your actions clearly aren’t in line with any of his teachings. For you, money is an idol. Repent.
Though Jesus gives just the one example, we can add many, many more. You cannot serve both God and family. I know I’m treading on dangerous ground, especially today on Mother’s Day. But if your family comes before your God, then you have a problem. If you stop coming to worship because your kid has a sports game, if you refuse to come to church on Christmas or Easter because those are days for family, if you would rather let your child choose his or her own religion rather than proclaim Jesus crucified and risen to them, you have made your family into an idol. Repent.
You cannot serve both God and sexuality. There are so many different aspects to this one, we could be here all day talking about it. This means when your version of having sex runs into conflict with God’s intention for a sexual relationship, you’ve got a problem. Do you going to say, “I’m not attracted to that other gender, so I’m going to go after people with my own,” or even, “It’s not my place to judge, so let them do what they want.” Is having more sex so important that you’re more willing to go online and watch pornography than to wait until your spouse comes home? If you’re doing these things and all those which go against God’s clear purpose and intent for sex, then you’ve made it into an idol. Repent.
You cannot serve both God and a career. It may be that you have a five-year plan, a ten-year plan, and a retirement plan for your work. You’ve got it all figured out how you can rise up and up the food chain and get the very best job in your career. And when that comes into conflict with honest business practices, conflict with time for worship, conflict with the seventh commandment- “you shall not steal,” then you have a problem. Or maybe your problem is not as pronounced. Maybe it’s just a single-minded drive to get ahead and serving Jesus through that career path never enters your mind. In that case, you’ve made your job an idol. Repent.
You cannot serve both God and relaxation. So maybe you’ve got the opposite problem from the first group of people. You’re working for the weekend. You don’t care what else goes on in life as long as you’ve got time to rest and relax and practice woodworking or doing puzzles or knitting. Sometimes for you, getting up early on a Sunday is just too hard. You’ve had to set your alarm every day of the week to get to work, this is your one day to sleep in some- church is just going to have to wait. Maybe instead of staying for Bible study, you decide you just need some alone time while your kids are in Sunday School. For you, relaxing is an idol. Repent.
We could go on and on all day with example after example of how we turn God’s good gifts into idols. Because we go on and on all day turning God’s good gifts into idols. We decide that our way of thinking, our way of speaking, our way of acting is better than God’s, so we just do our own thing. All of a sudden, we’re serving a different master. Instead of worshiping our Triune God, we’re worshiping something trite and meaningless. Money gets spent. Relationships change. Sex lasts for a few minutes and is over. Careers fall apart. No matter how much you relax, it always feels like you could use more. These things are nothing more than a flash in the pan- they’re here and they’re gone. None of these things lasts. None brings permanent happiness. Not one of these things took your place, took your punishment for sin, died, and rose again from the dead so that you might life and one day rise from the dead yourself.
There’s only one person who’s done that. There’s only one thing that saves you from yourself. There’s only one God who is worthy of your entire life. That’s Jesus Himself. He is the one who lived, died, and rose again for your forgiveness, for your salvation, for your eternal life. And it’s through Him and for Him that you can now live your life. To be a Christian means to reject all else and live your life as one big act of service to God. All that you do is seen through the lens of service to Christ.
This means making money, saving and spending it, and giving it away, not for money’s own sake, but for the sake of rightfully managing what God has given you, supporting the work of the church, and helping your neighbor. It means having, loving, supporting, and caring for a family to the very best of your ability, not for the sake of having a family, but for the sake of Christ- passing the faith along to the next generation and raising godly children. It means in our culture restricting the act of sex to within a marriage between one man and one woman for life, not because we’re stuck in the past, but because our right practice and proclamation in this area glorifies God. It means getting a job and having a career, but not for its own sake. Instead, we work and have a career to provide for our family, to be productive members of society, and to give God the glory for even the ability to work. And it means resting and relaxing when we need to, but not for the sake for neglecting obligations and responsibilities. Rather, we rest and relax because God gave us the command and the example of taking time off to care for ourselves and nurture our relationship with Him.
Everything that a Christian does is in service to God. Everything. Because your life does not belong to you. It is not yours to command or control. Your life is now hidden in Christ. You are not your own- you were bought for a price. So now don’t go back to serving any old masters. Christians serve one master- God- because He is the only one worth serving. You cannot serve two masters, for you will either hate the one and love the other, or you’ll be devoted to one and despise the other. For Christians, all of life is lived in service to God alone. Amen.
The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, our Lord. Amen.
Lobe den Herrn
B. A. Woell