Wednesday, March 19, 2014

What are you seeking? - Wednesday in 2 Lent

Wednesday in Lent 2 – 19 March 2014 – Pr. Maurice Frontz
Matthew 6:19-34

Where is your treasure?
What is your focus?
Whom do you serve?
What are you seeking?

In four different but similar ways
our Lord Jesus makes clear
how we ought to live
and for what we should pray.
In asking these questions, our Lord directs us back
to the prayer which he taught us.

He has taught us how not to pray,
for attention from others or from God.
For what should we pray?
In his prayer,
Jesus has taught us to pray for the coming kingdom of God
and for our daily needs until that day comes:
sustenance, forgiveness, and protection.

But there would be no need for us to be taught to pray in this way
if we prayed in this way already.
All people some of the time
and some people all of the time
are praying and living in the wrong way
and for the wrong reasons.
They are living for selfish reasons,
for their own personal reasons,
and they are praying for the same reasons,
as if God was some sort of gumball machine
into which we insert our quarter
and receive the right gumball.
People expect God to dispense material and spiritual blessings to them,
and they become disturbed when they do not receive them.
In such ways, they show where their treasure is,
what their focus is, and who their master is.

Where is your treasure?
Where is your focus?
Who is your master?
In other words, what is your highest good,
for which you ought to pray?

Do we consider your comfort or your happiness
the fundamental aspect of your existence,
what we ought to seek, what we live for?
Or is there something more?

Where is your treasure, your chief good?
Is it the goods of this world,
or the goods of God,
the coming kingdom?
Jesus points out that everything that is good in this world
can easily be taken away.
In fact, it will be taken away.
‘You can’t take it with you,’
is a cliché, but it’s probably misinterpreted.
‘You can’t take it with you’ is sometimes meant to say,
‘We ought to spend our money here and not live without spending it.’
But to store up treasures in heaven is to recognize the relative good
of the things that are in the world,
and to recognize the perfect good of heavenly treasure;
therefore the things of the world not only are no good for the next life,
they’re only relatively good for this life.
In a certain sense, they’re not important at all,
except for maintaining our health and our ability to serve others.

Where is your focus,
the place the eye of the mind looks?
Here Jesus uses an interesting image,
that the eye is the lamp of the body.
We’re used to the idea of light shining into the eye,
that the eye shows us the world.
But what Jesus actually seems to mean
is that what is seen by the eye
shows us not what is outside of us,
but what is inside of us.
What our eyes focus on,
what our imagination focuses on,
reveals to us our spiritual condition.
If we are focused on what we have,
or jealous of what we do not have,
then our focus is wrong; our god is the wrong god.
As Martin Luther says in the Large Catechism,
the most common idol in the world is money and property,
to which I might add a third category in this day and age:
the luxury to be constantly entertained.
But Jesus calls us to a focus on God, and to see God in the world.
And if our inner light is right, we will indeed see God in the world.

Whom do you serve?
Jesus says, ‘You cannot serve two masters.’
On the face of it, this seems to be obvious.
A soldier has one allegiance, a worker has one employer,
a citizen has one nation, a married person has one spouse, etc.
However, as we have already said,
Jesus never teaches us anything that we already know.
We are constantly trying to have two masters.
We have to be reminded that we cannot serve God and wealth
because we always try to serve God and wealth.
We always say things like, ‘This is for God, and this is for me,’
refusing to recognize that ALL things are God’s,
that what we so blithely call ‘our’ money and property
belong to another, and we are merely stewards of what has been entrusted to us.
If we looked at each dollar bill that crossed our path,
if every time we received a check or looked at a bank statement
and said, ‘This belongs to God,’ what would change in our life?
What would we spend ‘our’ money on?
Might we try to get to live with less debt so that we could be free
to let go of more money, to entrust it to others to do God’s work?

‘Do not worry about your life,’ Jesus says.
This is not some sort of hippie appeal to a relaxed and mellow lifestyle.
Neither is it a criticism of those who sometimes feel crippled with anxiety,
which can be of course not simply a learned trait but a physical condition.
Rather, this saying, ‘Do not worry’ is a call to our ultimate concern.
For all of us some of the time and some of us all of the time
life becomes a burden because our treasure is in the wrong place,
our focus is wrong, and we are trying to serve two masters.
When we put things in their place,
we understand that God will indeed give us everything we need,
and we occupy ourselves with seeking for God to be king over us
and over all the world.

For some of you, this may lead to a question.
Are we not to pray for such things as employment,
a reduction in stress or a recovery of health,
or for our needs and the needs of our family members and friends?
Jesus does not reject this,
for earlier in the sixth chapter of Matthew
he teaches us to pray for our daily bread.
Martin Luther, following St Augustine,
teaches what our daily bread is:

‘Everything our bodies need such as food, drink,
clothing, shoes, house, home, fields, livestock,
money, property, an upright spouse, upright children,
upright members of the household, upright and faithful rulers,
good government, good weather, peace, health, decency, honor,
good friends, faithful neighbors, and the like.’
Any prayer that includes these is a good prayer,
as long as we are also and first praying for the kingdom.
For all of these things can be taken away,
but as we confess with blessed Martin Luther,
‘Were they to take our house,
goods, honor, child or spouse;
though life be wrenched away,
they cannot win the day.
The kingdom’s ours forever!’