At the beginning of World War II, the man who was our pastor said to us one Sunday morning, shortly after the war began that during the course of the war he did not plan to make commentary of the events from the events from the pulpit, that is, he would not preach on the war. He said that by way of explanation of something very important, that he as our pastor who responsibility it is to preach the gospel was not a commentator of the world situation. No preacher ought to be, but when world events, the world itself, threatens to undo us as Christians then we must defend the faith and ourselves by making a clear and unmistakable restatement of the faith.
The whole issue of our relationship as Christians to world events has been raised anew by much talk of war. Someone said the other day that the most tragic thing about the whole situation is the lack of any voice raised in opposition to preparations for war, from Congress on down. But the place where this threat meets us comes from the threat of Atomic war and the announced need for Civil Defense preparations, the chief example being the whole matter of backyard bomb shelters. Seeing that the events of the world menace us in new and diabolical ways, how ought we behave as Christians?
First of all, it must be said, that we live in the world and that we cannot ignore the world, hoping that while our backs are turned it will go away. It never has and it probably never will. But what is the real issue involved in all this business? Is it survival? It would seem that from the debates that have been carried on in the letters to the editor section of Time magazine recently that is the chief problem. But for the Christian mere survival is never the highest good. Now I say, for the Christian, for a man it may be, but not for the Christian, not if I read the New Testament correctly. Then what is the issue in this matter of the threats of Atomic war and bomb shelters? If the lesson that we read from the Gospel for this morning has anything to say to us, and I think that it definitely does, then the issue is the issue that is always at stake whenever you talk about being a Christian, the issue of faith, Do you trust God? Jesus said to his disciples, “Take no thought for tomorrow.” Whether you and I agree or not, it seems to be very plain that these are specific instructions about what it means to be a Christian in times like these.
Matthew 6:24-34 – 24 “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.25 “Therefore 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 than food, and the body more than clothes? 26 Look 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? 27 Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life? 28 “And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. 29 Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. 30 If 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—you of little faith? 31 So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. 33 But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. 34 Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.
Jesus’ prohibition against his disciples being anxious about their physical needs is very plain, and it cannot be softened. Sometimes we read these verses, Be not anxious about what you shall eat or drink or put on. In our time which has come to be called the age of anxiety we know what that means. The problem in tense situations, whatever they may be, is not always our concern for what we are to do, it is the anxiety that often accompanies the decisions we have to make. No matter what the decision, sometimes for one reason or another , anxiety creeps in and clouds our good judgment and paralyzes about ability to do the reasonable and proper thing. The problem of anxiety is not simply concern, but the problem of panic. And at the very least it can be said that Christians above all people ought to have reasons not to panic, not to be paralyzed by anxiety. But such subtle distinctions do not prohibit our doing something about the tomorrow that threatens, if we do it calmly and in the assurance that finally God is in charge of his world. This is the difference between anxiety and concern.
But if we make such distinctions then we have misunderstood the words of Jesus, for his words are more radical than that. He said to his disciples, “Do not seek after these things, what you shall eat or what you shall drink or what you shall put on.” And in the most radical way, “Do not concern your selves with making provisions for these things.” To be sure, there is no proper way for us to make comparisons between the time in which we live and the first century, but the Christian issues at stake have not changed and we cannot make any changes in the radical nature of the demands of Jesus, “Take not thought for your physical needs.”
Jesus did not make radical demands of his disciples for not reason at all, neither did he want them to ignore their physical needs because they were unreal or unworthy, but he said, “Take not thought because your heavenly father will take care of your needs.” Jesus’ illustration was the birds of the air, who neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, but the Father feeds them. And the lilies which do not toil or spin, but are arrayed in the finest clothing.” And the meaning of these illustrations cannot be pressed, but like all parables, these illustrations have only one point and the one point is that those who are disciples are absolutely secure in the hands of God. Take not thought for tomorrow, for the Father who is ultimately concerned about you knows your needs better than you know yourself and in the hands of the Father you are absolutely secure.
But the second reason for Christians being prohibited from being anxious about tomorrow is that they have more important things to do for today. Do not seek after what you shall eat or what you shall drink or what you shall put on, but seek after the kingdom of God.
Let it not be said, that Jesus intended for his disciples to understand that they were to dismiss themselves from the responsibility for their physical needs, that they were to cast away all care for themselves as if to test whether God really will care for their day to day needs as he does for the birds of the air or lilies of the field. Jesus himself rejected such foolishness when at the time of the temptation Satan took him up to the pinnacle of the temple and suggested, quoting scripture, that he throw himself off the roof of the temple, that the angels would bear him up lest he dash his foot against a stone. Jesus answered by saying, you shall not put God to the test, you must trust him, but you must not seek out an opportunity to put him to the test.
Rather Jesus said to his disciples, take no thought for tomorrow for you have more important work to do, the work of proclaiming the kingdom. At the time that he sent his disciples out to all the regions of Judea to preach the coming of the kingdom, Jesus instructed them, do not take with you two coats, do not carry with you any provisions. Your needs will be provided for, and you have more important things to do. Yours is the business of proclaiming that God is giving you the kingdom, he is at this very moment assuming the authority as absolute ruler of his world, he is giving you absolute security. That is the kingdom that you must proclaim, and because there is so little time and so much to do, take not thought for tomorrow, and the needs of it, lest you be delayed in this most important business of all.
The summary of these verses which constitute a single lesson which we read this morning comes not at the end of them, but at the beginning. Jesus introduced this radical statement about being absolutely secure in the hands of God in these words “No man can serve two masters, for he will hate one and serve the other or he will cling to one and despise the other.” To seek after the things which fulfill or physical needs is to become the servant of those needs, to become the servant of the things of the world. To be anxious about tomorrow is to seek after the things which will fill tomorrow’s needs, but Jesus elsewhere taught his disciples to pray, and to pray believing, Give us this day our daily bread, our bread for tomorrow. To seek after the things of tomorrow is seek be secure tomorrow by our own efforts. For to serve the world, to be anxious and concerned about these things is to ignore the absolute security that God offers, is to fail to serve God. No man can serve two masters. You cannot be bound to your own daily needs and serve God. In the end unless you trust God you will despise him, and spurn the absolute security that he offers. Take no thought for tomorrow, is the ever present radical demand to trust God absolutely.
The issue, finally, then is not our survival, but is, “Do you trust in God?” The illustration of that issue writ large in this sixth chapter of Matthew, a hard saying, and writ large before our very eyes in this instruction that we take no thought for things that make for our physical life. Not because Jesus despised this life. But because in this world also in the hands of God you are absolutely secure. You as a Christian, as a disciple, have much m,ore important things to attend to, things which ought to consume all your effort and all your resources.
You may think that such instruction is unrealistic and naive, and that it has nothing to say to you. Let me agree with you. It is a hard saying. I am just as accustomed to think in terms of security as you are. I have insurance policies and am involved in retirement plans just as you are, to make the future secure. Neither do I think that we can simply ignore the very real possibility that all of our civil defense will be put to the extreme test. Nevertheless, what you and I think does not change the gospel one bit. Hard as it may be to accept, the gospel is God’s announcement in Christ, through his death and resurrection, and made plain beforehand in his preaching, that the kingdom of God is at hand, and the meaning oif the kingdom is that in the hands of the Father we are absolutely secure.
As hard a saying as it is, we dare not soften it, lest we pervert this word which is called not the bad news , but the good news. No man can serve two masters. The issue is as always when it comes to being a Christian, do you trust God? I say this to you with all humility, but with all firmness…. Hear this good news and believe!
This sermon was preached by Bill Crouch at Trinity Methodist Church in Stony Point, New York on October 7,1962. This was in the midst of the Cuban Missile Crisis, a time that is considered to be the closest that we have ever come to nuclear war. If you would like to receive Rumors of Angels posting by e-mail you can subscribe for free in the upper right corner of this blog.