See the Sermon Archives below to download the full text of the most recent sermons available. Please note that not every Sunday service includes a sermon preached from text. If the text is not available you may call the church office at 303-762-0616 for an audio recording of any service.
June 18, 2017
Matthew 6:24-34 No One Can Serve Two Masters
The Reverend George Anastos
SERMON PART I: “Who We Want To Be”
When we are in love we discover who we want to be. When we are in money we find who we are.
I love estate sales. Sometimes on my day off my wife Andrea and I will investigate if there are any in our area and tootle off to see what delights we might find. For those of you who don’t know what they are, estate sales, by and large, sell off the contents of a home. Usually this is because those who lived there have died and their children, after taking what they want, sell the rest of the belongings. These sales provide fascinating glimpses into everyday American lives. Beyond the linens and cookware and the way-too-many Christmas ornaments that are in every house, there are those things that those people chose to surround themselves with, things that tell their stories. From art to tools to sewing supplies to model train sets, you can get a real feel for who these people were and what things they treasured.
I have two favorite kinds of estate sales. First are those that have bolo ties! Yep, I am wearing one today that I bought at an estate sale last year. It is waaaaay cheaper to buy a bolo there than at a retail establishment. The second kind of estate sale I love are those where clearly a young couple moved into their house in the 1940s or 1950s, bought everything they needed, and then never, ever, updated anything. Nostalgia city!
Then there are the rare ones that upset me tremendously. Sometimes it is clear that the sale is a result of a bankruptcy and that the sheriff has come in, told the family to walk out with only the clothes on their back and take nothing, nothing else. They no longer own anything in their home, their creditors’ do. I stand there and I see: family photos taken when marriage and children were young, a child’s well loved teddy bear on a bed, items of sentimental value lost to a family forever, and all the other material things that define or at least describe a family’s life. I can never buy anything at a house like this. I am too upset.
Invariably at the bankruptcy sales there is another factor that I sometimes notice: the preponderance of excess. Forty to fifty pairs of shoes, expensive shoes. Clothing stashed away in closet after closet, many with retail tags still on them. Myriad items, often chachka, that must have cost an arm and a leg. Did the families’ fortunes suddenly turn, or was it something else? I read once that the average American family spends 10% beyond their means. Did these families do that year after year after year until the debt crushed them? I of course never know the story, but I find it wrenching to be standing in the midst of “conspicuous consumption” and the resultant conspicuous bankruptcy. The extremes are disorienting.
There is the final thing that upsets me at bankruptcy sales. Anxiety. On some level I fear it happening to me. What if I lost my job, my home? What if I had to walk out of my house knowing that strangers (like me?) would paw over my things and decide what is worth a few bucks and what isn’t? Like any good Greek man: how do I worry? Oh, let me count the ways.
SCRIPTURE READING Matthew 6:24-34
Jesus said, ‘No one can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.
‘Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly God feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? And why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will God not much more clothe you—you of little faith? Therefore do not worry, saying, “What will we eat?” or “What will we drink?” or “What will we wear?” For it is the Gentiles who strive for all these things; and indeed your heavenly God knows that you need all these things. But strive first for the kin-dom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.
‘So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today.
SERMON PART II: “Who We Are”
I have to admit, when I read today’s lesson I thought, “Uh oh, I don’t know that I want to preach on this.” Which of course meant I had to preach on it. My mind immediately remembered, or the Holy Spirit gleefully reminded me of, a line I used in a sermon once. I don’t remember the topic, but I do remember saying with some self-righteous vehemence, “ . . . and I won’t preach what I do not have the guts or maturity to practice.” When it comes to money we find who we are. As I said a moment ago, ‘Uh oh.’
There are times, there are times, people when the words of Jesus are so demanding, so difficult, so . . . impossible. Maybe a single guy in Galilee 2,000 years ago could take the approach Jesus is advocating, but today? in 21st century America? when you are raising a family and housing isn’t exactly cheap? It doesn’t work. His context was different then than ours now. Yes, there are times when, preparing a sermon, it is helpful to research the historical context. I did that for today. And it was not relevant at all. Besides, the Holy Spirit kept banging me on the head as if to say, “Hello! Anybody home in there? This is a universal truth that needs to be applied to people’s lives no matter what the century, no matter what the culture. Stop trying to deliver a lecture on context and instead deliver a sermon on discipleship like you’re supposed to do.” The Holy Spirit can be really annoying sometimes.
So, I take two different verses from today’s lesson as my texts for the sermon, the two verses that frame the entire lesson:
‘No one can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.’
‘So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today.’
At first glance this passage seems so un-Jesus-like because his whole approach seems so passive: Hey! Lay back. Relax. Everything will be given to you. God will provide for you just as with the birds of the air. Chill out. This is a bit out of step with Jesus’ own hardworking life, and also out of step with his hardworking Jewish heritage, a heritage summed up masterfully in the book of Proverbs, “Study the ant, you sluggard.” I swear I am not making that up; it is actually a line in scripture (Pr. 6:6). Fortunately I grew up Unitarian and did not have my parents quoting that bit of scripture to me all the time. Seriously, though, Jesus certainly knew hard work. Peasants did not get days off, medical leave or vacation. You want to eat, you work.
No, Jesus was not passive and did not encourage passivity in his followers. Trust here does not mean waiting for God to come solve things for us; that is as effective as waiting for Godot. Trust here means being intentional about life, intentional about living, intentional about purpose and meaning and relationship . . . and doing something about all that. You see, the Christ life—the life of discipleship—is not for some elite group such as the spiritual equivalent of the Green Berets: the original eleven disciples, the Martin Luther King, Jrs. and the Doris Days. The life of discipleship is for every Christian. And of course we preachers think it is our God-given duty to remind everyone of that.
It is precisely here when writing a sermon like this that clergy get themselves into all sorts of trouble. It is so easy to take the rhetorical moral high ground here and to scold those in church for not being good little disciples. I know a member of the clergy who was so frustrated with the annual pledge drive that he published in the church newsletter what everyone pledged to the church annually, and where they were to date. He actually thought he would raise more money that way. It didn’t work. Moralizing rarely does. Nor does moralizing make us better disciples. Lewis Henry Laphan, in his book, Money and Class in America, notes:
Money is like fire, an element as little troubled by moralizing as earth, air and water. [We] can employ it as a tool, or . . . dance around it as if it were the incarnation of a god. Money votes socialist or monarchist, finds a profit in pornography or translations from the Bible, commissions Rembrandt and underwrites the technology of Auschwitz. It acquires its meaning from the uses to which it is put.
So, back to the first text: ‘No one can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.’ In other words, What is the use to which your money is being put? Who is your master? Whom or what do you serve? How we spend our money tells us something about our soul. Jesus is asking us if we are intentional about how we use our money, and if so, to ask ourselves if that intention is in harmony with the way of the Gospel.
It is worth taking seriously the question of whether or not we are intentional about how we spend our money. What with the bills to pay and the mouths to feed and the roof over our heads to maintain, we can legitimately question whether intention has anything to do with it; it is all necessity. That being said, I know from personal experience how startling it is to write down every penny you spend, every single penny, and then to look at where all the money is going. The person who had me do this exercise told me that it would tell me a lot about who I am and what I value as reflected in what I do (not what I value as reflected in what I say . . . mind the gap). As I said, it was ‘startling.’ If the way I spent my money was a reflection of my values, it was clear there was quite the gap between what I said and what I practiced. Previous to this I liked to think of myself as Mr. Generous. Where I put my money, however, painted a different picture. Who was my master? Did I own my money or did my money own me? I couldn’t serve two masters.
This brings me to the second text for today’s sermon: ‘So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today.’ After realizing that I was not Mr. Generous I actually worried. I worried if I would have the strength to be the person I said I was. After seeing where all my money went I certainly learned I had the financial capacity, it was the soul capacity I had to worry about. Did I have the strength to live a life characterized by discipleship, singular in its pursuit of living the values of the Gospel? It is obvious that that means having one’s behavior reflect those values and actions that Jesus affirms. It means living in harmony with the biblical ways of justice and mercy generosity. It means sharing and tithing. It means, to be blunt, living by a different value system than society’s. I know, I know it is not easy. If there is one thing I have learned it is that few if any of us have the strength to live the life of discipleship and generosity for the rest of our lives. But I have also learned that all of us have the strength to do it today, one day at a time. We can be who we want to be, both in love and in money.
I began the sermon with these words, “When we are in love we discover who we want to be. When we are in money we discover who we are.” It was a line designed to get your attention and make you think, but it’s not really true. Yes, it may be true on the day or at the moment when we have the courage to face the gap between what we say and how we behave. Yet when that happens we can choose to close the gap between who we want to be and who we are.
I’ve been a preacher now for over 37 years. And I find that over and over again the bible asks us to think: about the lilies of the field, the birds of the air, the money in our pockets, the generosity of our souls. Scripture encourages us to consider who we are . . . and then to choose who we want to be. Genesis tells us that we are created in the image of God (Gen. 1:26). 1 John tells us that God is love (I Jn. 4:8). We are created in the image of love. Moses said to the people of Israel, “I set before you this day life and death, blessing and curse. Therefore choose life” (Deut. 30:19). Choose the image in which you are created. That is the true you.
Do not worry about whether you will have the strength to live the Christ life tomorrow. Let today’s own challenges be sufficient for today. Do not worry about being generous tomorrow. Just be generous today. Do not worry about being a disciple tomorrow. Just be a disciple today. Today. One day at a time. Each of us can do this one day at a time. Amen.
The Reverend George Anastos
June 18, 2017 – Rev. George Anastos – Who We Want to Be / Who We Are
June 11, 2017 – Rev. George Anastos – Farewell
June 4, 2017 – Rev. George Anastos – Rebirth (Pentecost Sunday)
May 14, 2017 – Rev. Dr. Eric C. Smith – Ways and Dwellings
April 16, 2017 – Rev. George Anastos – Burying Jesus / Resurrecting the Church
April 2, 2017 – Rev. George Anastos – The Lazarus Church
March 26, 2017 – Rev. Dr. Eric C. Smith – Who Sinned?
March 5, 2017 – Rev. Dr. Eric C. Smith – Sermon
February 26, 2017 – Rev. George Anastos – Making Our Way Down the Mountain
January 29, 2017 – Rev. George Anastos – Meeting Head On / It Starts With Us / Seeing With New Eyes
January 8, 2017 – Rev. George Anastos – O Rest Beside the Weary Road
December 24, 2016 – Rev. George Anastos – The Giver, the Gift, and the Gifted