The Fifteenth Sunday after Trinity: Do Not Be Anxious

Readings: 1 Kings 17:8-16, Galatians 5:25-6:10, Matthew 6:24-34
Hymns: 719, 760, 828, 636, 895

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

I’ve heard many people talk about how important today’s Gospel is to them. They find themselves worrying—worrying a lot—and so they want to follow our Lord’s words here. They don’t want to be so anxious and they know, based on what Jesus says in this reading, that they should not be so filled with worry. It’s good that they want to take this Gospel to heart.

These words of Jesus are perhaps more fitting now than during any of my previous 15 years as a pastor. Many are filled with anxious concerns and their worries are certainly affecting their lives.

There have been times in the past where people have been filled with great anxiety. September 11, 2001. The Cuban Missile Crisis. Fears of nuclear wars or World War III. The huge number of casualties during the two world wars.

Today, we are dealing with a novel virus that produces a lot of uncertainty. As the number of active COVID-19 cases are making record highs here in our county, many are concerned about this trend. When will it hit our own homes? When will our closest friends or relatives contract it? How will it affect them? Hearing the large numbers of those infected in the Good Shepherd Home in Concordia causes much alarm.

Clearly, many are concerned. But many go far beyond this concern and caution to anxiety and worry. That, dear Christians, is what our Lord is teaching us not to do.

Others take an opposite position. They, in understanding that we should not worry, have no concerns and want to exercise little or no caution over the virus. In a way, this seems reasonable because we don’t take these types of cautions during the flu season. But, really, we do take some. Those who are sick are asked to stay home from school or work. The flu vaccine is given to prevent the spread of the flu. If we just said, “God says don’t worry so I won’t take any precautions,” then no one would get flu shots and no one would limit exposure, and the number of cases of the flu would certainly be much higher. Now, if we use some precautions for the regular flu, we should certainly also use some precautions for the coronavirus.

How, though, do we distinguish between taking reasonable precautions with worry or anxiety? Sometimes, this line is not very clear. The extremes are clear, but not the middle ground. Let me explain by another example. Some might take an extreme stance on today’s Gospel and say, “Jesus told me not to worry about what I will eat or wear, so I won’t bother with work or take any other measures to obtain food or clothing. God will take care of me as He promised while I sit on the couch for days on end doing nothing productive.” That, of course, is an extreme that Jesus is obviously not teaching in our Gospel or anywhere in Scripture. In fact, the Bible says, “If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat” (2 Thess 3:10). So, in order to eat, we certainly need to concern ourselves with work. And, in the same token, some precautions should be followed to help prevent not only the coronavirus, but the flu, polio, tuberculosis, or many other diseases. Of course, there will never be agreement even among Bible-believing Christians on how much caution should be followed. Part of the reason for this is that different people need to engage in different levels of caution. In our church, we are doing what we think is reasonable, safe, and without too much interruption from our regular ways. We certainly do not want people to begin worrying needlessly.

Jesus teaches us not to worry because we do. If we weren’t guilty of worrying, it would have been unnecessary for our Lord to speak these words. And these words apply to us today.

Now, things have certainly changed from the time Jesus told the crowd in His Sermon on the Mount not to be anxious. Among His original hearers, most would have been concerned about the basic needs, such as food, clothing, and shelter. Famine was more common, clothing wasn’t so easy to obtain, and shelter was not as luxurious as we have today. These basic needs were often hard to come by, and so many worried about how to get them.

In our day, things are a little different. Many do not worry about obtaining basic needs; instead they worry about keeping what they have, how to make it in retirement, the uncertain future, and so on. The more stuff we have, the more we worry about it all. And this is not good.

So, Jesus teaches us some important lessons. First, He wants people to take a step back and realize that life is more than food and the body is more than clothing. Second, He points out that we are more valuable than the birds of air and yet our Heavenly Father takes care of them. If God takes care of birds, then He will certainly take care of us, whom He made in His image and likeness. Third, God even takes care of the plants. And if it is in God’s nature to take care of grass, then He will definitely take care of you. Fourth, Jesus says that your Heavenly Father knows you need these things and so He will supply them. Fifth, Jesus identifies the root of such anxiety when He says, “Will He not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?” Sixth, Jesus teaches how our faith may be strengthened when He said, “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness.” Finally, Jesus said that when we stop worrying about the basic needs in life and instead seek the kingdom of God and His righteousness, all these basic needs will be added to us.

So, what should be our primary concern? Should it be concerns about basic needs, contracting COVID, or anything else in this life? No, Jesus teaches. Instead, we are to concern ourselves with seeking first the kingdom of God and Christ’s righteousness—to hear the message of the cross and Jesus’ bleeding, dying love—to be absolved of our many sins and pronounced innocent by Christ—to remain firm in the faith and receive the salvation of our bodies and souls.

This, dear brothers and sisters in Christ, has fallen on hard times, especially now during the coronavirus. Many assume that their faith will remain strong and active while they give themselves a break from feeding on God’s Word and Sacraments by trying to keep themselves safe from contracting the virus. However, if it is God’s will for you to get the virus, you will get it. I can tell you, though, that God’s will for you is to gather in God’s house to hear the voice of your Good Shepherd and feast on the Body and Blood of Christ. It is through these means that the Holy Spirit is present to bless you with a stronger faith and by which you learn not to be so anxious about so many things. It is also through these means that you are seeking the kingdom of God and obtaining the righteousness of Christ.

You do not remain in the kingdom of God—that is, in the faith—when you simply have a little bit of head knowledge about Jesus and His life, death, and resurrection. Instead, you remain in the kingdom of God when God is feeding your faith through the Word and Sacraments. When these means are avoided in the guise of being safe from pestilence, then we are placing ourselves into a greater danger that is much more difficult to recognize.

You’ve heard about the many people who have contracted COVID-19 and didn’t even know it. They had no symptoms. Yet, there are tests to determine if they have the virus or antibodies.

What I don’t have for you is a test to determine if someone’s faith is drying up when they have chosen to neglect the gathering of believers and dishonor the Third Commandment. I cannot run a test to say, “Your faith remains strong or your faith is now gone.” But I can tell you that Jesus teaches us not to be anxious, that He will take care of us, and that we are to seek first the kingdom of God.

Before the virus broke out, Generation Z had already been shown to be twice as likely to consider themselves atheists as the previous generation. People are leaving the faith in droves. They are no longer concerned about receiving an eternal inheritance or receiving from Christ the forgiveness of their sins. They figure life is just what we will eat, wear, own, or do.

This, too, is a cause for anxiety for many. They worry about their children or grandchildren having faith. They don’t know what to do as they witness their loved ones leave the Church.

But here’s what we do. We pray for them. We talk to them about the wonderful mercies of God. And we love them in Christ. We not only love them with tenderness as Christ would, but we also love them by warning them of their unbelief as Christ also would.

We certainly live in times which have produced much anxiety. Instead of being anxious of all the things around us, Jesus teaches us to place our attention on something else—something completely unexpected—something far better and far more glorious. Seek after the kingdom of God. As we learned in the Catechism, “God’s kingdom comes when our heavenly Father gives us His Holy Spirit, so that by His grace we believe His holy Word and lead godly lives here in time and there in eternity.”

And we seek after the righteousness of Christ. He declares us to be righteous by faith. In fact, as God’s children, Jesus covers us with His very righteousness. That way, we appear before our Father not as the anxious sinners that we are, but as righteous saints who are perfectly pure and holy. Jesus went to the cross to pay for our sins and grant us His very righteousness. In Him, we are set free from all anxiety. Amen.            

The peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus to life everlasting.  Amen