Tale of Two Liturgies
1 Kings 17:8-16; Galatians 5:25-6:10; Matthew 6:24-34
Our Lord Jesus gives us a strong contrast between two kinds of worship. He tells us: “No one can serve two masters, for 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 God and money.” Two different kinds of service and worship for two different kinds of gods. Let’s call it a “Tale of Two Liturgies.” One liturgy serves the true God; the other liturgy serves the “god” mammon, that is, money.
Just as God’s liturgy has an invocation, so does the liturgy of mammon. Mammon’s liturgy begins in the name of the money and of the stuff and of the loads of possessions. But it does not conclude with a comforting, confident “Amen.” No, invoking mammon concludes with anxious worry. Consider the widow at Zarephath. She had “only a handful of flour in a jar and a little oil in a jug.” And what did she plan to do with that flour and oil? She was going to fix one last meal for her and her son, and then they were prepared to starve and die. How anxious and worried she was!
God’s liturgy has an opening prayer called the Kyrie. Mammon’s liturgy has its own kind of opening prayer too. It says, “In worry let us long for more goods. Lord, give more stuff.” “For the peace of this world and for our prosperity, let us long for more goods. Lord, give money.” Of course, the lord of this liturgy is not the ever-present Triune God, but the ever elusive god mammon who must be served with nothing but anxiety and worry. The prayer continues: “For the things of the world, for the happiness of having things, and for the security of funds, let us long for more goods. Lord, give good things.” “For our retirement needs and for all stocks and bonds and 401ks, let us long for more cash. Lord, give money.” “Make us rich and prosper us, O lord.” But the prayer to mammon cannot end with a trusting “Amen.” No, it ends with an anxious “Let us worry!”
The liturgy of mammon also has its scriptures – a whole collection of writings designed to give us information, very detailed information, but this collection also inspires us to all sorts of worries and frustrations, and even despair. What are these scriptures used in the liturgy of mammon? Checkbook registers and bank statements, investment prospectus books and those dreaded bills that come due each month like clockwork. We use them for records to be sure, and that’s fine, but these writings so often have another affect on us—they cause us to worry and fret as we wonder how to pay the bills or will it ever be enough.
The liturgy of mammon is a liturgy of anxiety. When we offer our worship to mammon, like the widow at Zarephath, we constantly run back to our jars and jugs, our bank accounts and portfolios, to see if we have enough. And what happens then? We see that we don’t have enough. It really doesn’t matter how much we have or don’t have in those jars and jugs, those accounts and portfolios. It’s never enough. It’s certainly never enough to share with others, because, well, we’re afraid we won’t have enough for – you guessed it – ourselves.
That’s why Jesus must remind us yet again: “Do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Oh, we’d like to think that we can certainly abide by Jesus’ words. “Of course, Lord, I go to church. Of course, Lord, I hear the Bible readings, the sermon, and even take Communion. But, Lord, I do live in the ‘real world,’ and I do need to be concerned about my bank accounts and portfolio and bills.” So Jesus gives a shot between the eyes to humble us: “And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his life?” It’s not the size of our bank accounts that matters. It’s not the number of bills we have that matters. The problem is our anxiety, our worry, our habit of wringing our hands in worry instead of folding them in faith and prayer.
You see, we cannot be curved in on ourselves in fear and anxiety in the liturgy of mammon and at the same time be set free, turned away from ourselves in faith toward God and in love toward our neighbor. So Jesus invites us to leave the liturgy of mammon, the liturgy of anxiety, behind us. In fact, He wants us to die to it. He invites us to His liturgy, the liturgy of faith in the Father. Why, even the world around us lives in this liturgy. The little bird in the air does not worry about her food. No, first thing in the morning she gets up and sings her little heart out as she praises her Creator. Then she flies off to find whatever He has given for food for that day. And the little flowers in the fields and along the roads? They don’t worry either. They’re clothed in those bright, joyous colors. They’re here today and gone tomorrow. And yet they live without any anxiety, because God takes care of them. He gives them all they need to be the flowers He created them to be. “Will He not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?”
St. Paul reminds us: “the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit” (Rom. 14:17). That righteousness, peace, and joy come from our Lord Jesus who did not worry even as He had no place to lay His head. That righteousness, peace, and joy come from our Lord Jesus who went to the cross to free us from our liturgy of anxiety. As He suffered the blows and insults, He did not worry. As the nails pierced His hands and feet, He was not anxious about what would happen to Him next. As He breathed His last, He entrusted Himself into the caring hands of His Father. And then, as He rose again from the dead, He revealed the righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit for all to trust and enjoy. You see, our Lord Jesus sought first the kingdom of God and His righteousness for us, and now all of His good things are added to us. That’s God’s liturgy—the liturgy of faith, the liturgy of receiving life from Jesus, the liturgy of forgiveness for our worry and anxiety, the liturgy of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.
So the liturgy is truly and literally our best antidote for fearful anxiety and worry. It teaches us to trust our heavenly Father for daily bread. After all, He gave us our true daily bread in His Son Jesus, the bread of life. And He continues to give us our daily bread in the Body and Blood on the Altar. He also clothes us with the garment that can never wear out, that is, the righteousness of Jesus Christ in our Baptism. [And we get to see that garment put on Kiera here this morning.] So, if our Lord Jesus gives our true daily bread of forgiveness and life and our true clothing of righteousness, don’t you think that He will also give us the food and clothing that we need for our pilgrimage through this world? Yes, He will, and that sets us free to focus on the one thing needful: Him and His kingdom.
With that freedom, St. Paul can exhort us: “Let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.” Let’s go back to the widow at Zarephath. As long as she looked only at her jar and jug, she despaired. But once Elijah exhorted her to look out from herself, to help meet the need of her neighbor, then she had enough. And notice the pattern there. God did not give her a mound of flour or a river of oil. No, He simply gave enough to fit in her jar and jug. But it was enough, and even more than enough, as she poured it out and gave it away.
That’s the liturgy of faith. Since God has promised to provide for our every need, we are freed from focusing on ourselves. Faith gives birth to love, and we get to focus on our neighbors instead of ourselves. Of course, we do good to all people, but, as St. Paul says, we especially do good to our fellow Christians. Their need is our need. Their hurt is our hurt. Let our joy become their joy. That’s why God blesses us with money and stuff—not to serve ourselves, but to serve and be a blessing to those around us.
That’s the liturgy of faith, the liturgy of receiving God’s kingdom, and His righteousness, and other good things. And to all of that, the best and proper response is a hearty, “Amen”— the word spoken with hands open for receiving from Jesus, with hands folded in faith and prayer, and with hands extended to give to our neighbor. Amen. This is most certainly true.