October 2, 2011

Monday after the Fifteenth Sunday after Trinity

Monday after the Fifteenth Sunday after Trinity

Lectionary

Morning - Ps. 75, 2 Sam. 19:24-39, 2 Cor. 10
Evening - Ps. 71, Mt. 7:1-12

Commentary
2 Corinthians 10

Paul now returns to the problems caused by the false apostles who troubled the Corinthian Church. These men had done much damage, and, though the church had taken vigorous steps to drive them and their followers out, some of their influence remained. Consequently, some of the Corinthians still derided Paul and his teaching. Paul begins the chapter beseeching the church by the meekness and gentleness of Christ (10:1) and by addressing a charge that he writes bold letters but is weak in person (10:1, 10). He says his weapons are not after the flesh (10:2-6). Paul means it is not by personal power, the force of his personality, or his skill as an orator that the issue will be decided (10:10). It is the power of God that is mighty to pull down strongholds, cast down imaginations (delusions of grandeur), and bring the thoughts of human beings under the obedience of Christ. Therefore, the Corinthians should not look on the outward appearance of Paul, for he belongs to Christ, who has given him authority to build up the Corinthians (10:8).

Paul makes two important points in the remainder of the chapter. First, he will not compare himself to the false apostles who measure themselves by themselves rather than by Christ (10:12-13). Second, unlike the false apostles, he does not boast "of things without our measure" (10:15). This means he does not try to take over a church founded by another Apostle. The false apostles are doing just that in Corinth. They are not brave enough to go into unevangelised areas and found churches. They prefer to take over another man's work. But Paul, a true Apostle, brought the Gospel to Corinth, and intends to take it further northward and westward where other evangelists have not been. He will glory in the Lord, not another man's labours. He closes with the telling remark that an apostle who commends himself is not "approved" (accepted by God). It is the man God commends who is accepted. The idea of this verse is that the Corinthians, and all Christians, should approve and accept those as teachers and spiritual leaders whom God commends, not those who commend themselves.

Sermon for Fifteenth Sunday after Trinity

Profitable Things
Matthew 6:24-34
Fifteenth Sunday after Trinity
October 2, 2011

Those who preach from Matthew 6:24-34 often go straight to verse 33, "seek ye first the kingdom of God and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you." There is good reason for this, for the verse is the heart of this passage. It is the conclusion towards which our Lord has been leading us in this part of the Sermon on the Mount. The logic of the passage goes like this; you cannot serve two gods, God, and mammon. Therefore, seek first the Kingdom of God, and trust Him so supply mammon as He sees fit. But I am going to do something a little different today. We have prayed in this morning's Collect that God will keep us in His perpetual mercy and lead us into all things profitable. Then we read in Galatians 6 that our glory is in Christ, "by whom the world is crucified to me, and I unto the world," and we read in Matthew 6 that we cannot serve both God and mammon. "Mammon is often thought to mean "money," but it really includes the whole range of the world's goods. So, it is easy to grasp what it means to become the servant of mammon. It is easy to grasp, but, I'm going to talk about it anyway.

Serving Mammon

To serve mammon is to find your meaning in life in things rather than God. What identifies you to yourself? Is it your car, your house, your clothes your job your hobbies? What defines who and what you are? What says to you, "this is who I am?"

To serve mammon is to find your comfort in life in the things of this world, rather than in God. Where do you turn in time of trouble? What comforts your soul in time of stress and trial? Some turn to the television set. Some turn to drugs and alcohol. Some turn to the refrigerator (that's one of my own personal favourites). Some turn to the mall. Some turn to sports and amusements. And some turn to God.

To serve mammon is to devote your life to gaining things. It is important to know that the Bible does not teach us to expect God to drop money out of the sky like manna in the wilderness. The Bible teaches us to work for a living. So, we should expect to labour for our wages. Labour isn't always fun. In our industrial society, most of us work for someone else, and bosses aren't always nice and jobs aren't always fun. The Bible addresses this in other places, such as Ephesians 6:5-9. The point today is not our relations with people on the job, but that God expects us to work. The Bible even says those who are able to work, and have jobs available to them, but won't work, don't have a right to the goods and property of those who do work.

Seeking God First

As I said, I think we all know what it means to serve mammon, so I want to turn to the other side of this which is seeking God first. And seeking God first means to trust God rather than be overly concerned about the things of the world. When our Lord said in Matthew 6:31, "take no thought saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed?" He didn't mean we should not work or try to improve our situation in life. He didn't mean we should not plan and work and prepare for the future. All of these things are commended in other parts of Scripture, and they are just as much the word of God as these words of Christ. Our Lord meant we are not to spend our time and energy worrying about the future. He meant we are to do our best, and trust God with the rest. Trust the One who feeds the birds and cares for the lilies. You are more valuable to God than the birds, and if He cares for the flowers, "shall he not much more clothe you, O ye of little faith?" So we make it a priority to trust Him to provide for us as He deems best. Today He may deem it best that we enjoy prosperity and health. Tomorrow He may give us poverty and sickness. In either and all situations we will strive to trust in Him and be content.

To seek God first is to see the world's goods, "mammon," as tools by which we do good and serve God rather than as toys for our amusement. I think this is part of what St. Paul was teaching in the eighth and ninth chapters of Second Corinthians, which we have been reading together over the past couple of days. The Corinthians' abundance can supply the needs of the people in Jerusalem, according to 2 Corinthians 8:14. Their gift will cause many to give thanks unto God according to 2 Corinthians 9:12. In so doing, mammon becomes a tool for serving God. But giving also helps the giver. Giving develops Godliness in the giver. That is part of what St Paul meant in 2 Corinthians 8:12 when he wrote, "their abundance" meaning, the faith and steadfast Godliness of the Church in Jerusalem, "also may be a supply for your want." In giving the gift, the Corinthians supplied a need in the Church in Jerusalem, and they supplied a need in their own lives, the need to grow in their faith and obedience to Christ. This is one way that mammon can become a tool in our hands. One pastor, preaching on this passage expressed this well when he said:

"We are so easily seduced into regarding [the world's goods] as ends in themselves. That is what it means to serve Mammon. Today's Gospel would remind us that the things of this world, however good, are not ends--but means: means towards an end which is spiritual and eternal--the knowledge and love of God, God's kingdom and his righteousness."

Finally, to seek God first is to... seek God first. The things of earth are not our first priority. We realise that life is more than meat and raiment. Therefore, we go first for the higher things of life. We go first for God. He is our priority. Pleasing Him is our first goal. Knowing that our souls are safe and clean in Christ is more important to us than gold. His will is more valuable to us than silver. Living quiet holy lives is more valuable to us than riches, and sweeter to us than honey. In short, we seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and we trust that perpetual mercy we prayed for a while ago to lead us into all things profitable.

Let us pray.

"Keep, we beseech thee O Lord, thy Church with thy perpetual mercy; and, because the frailty of man without thee cannot but fall, keep us ever by thy help from all things hurtful, and lead us into all things profitable to our salvation; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen."