The Gospel lesson appointed for this fifteenth Sunday after Trinity
represents the climax of the teaching of Jesus in the Sermon on the
Mount, recorded in Chapters 5-7 of St. Matthew's Gospel: the
simplest and most difficult of all sermons. Simple, by virtue
of its uncompromising directness: you cannot serve two masters; you
cannot serve God and mammon; you cannot serve God and riches.
Therefore do not be anxious about food and drink and clothing.
The whole of nature rests upon the providence of God: consider
the birds of the air and the lilies of the field. How much
more readily should conscious, rational beings rest upon that
providence! Which of you, by taking thought, can add one cubit
to his stature? God feeds the birds and clothes the lilies:
why then should you be anxious? Your heavenly Father knows
It is a simple and direct prescription, and its appeal is winsome.
In the maelstrom of credit cards and power bills and tax credits and
parking tickets and cholesterol counts and acid rain and nuclear
fall out, and all the rest, how lovely it is to consider the birds
and the lilies. They toil not, neither do they spin, yet
even Solomon, in all his glory, was not arrayed as one of these. It
is simple, and direct, and appealing; but is it possible?
Could it be possible? It is simple, no doubt, for sentiment,
but Oh, so immensely difficult in actuality. "O ye of
little faith," says Jesus. "Seek ye first God's
kingdom, and all these things shall be added unto you."
The counsels of the Sermon on the Mount are counsels of perfection,
and much of the history of the Church consists of the search for and
striving after that simple perfection of life. In ancient
times, St. Mathew, whose festival we keep later this week, left the
receipt of custom to follow the steps of a wandering preacher.
St. Anthony the hermit gave away all his possessions, and betook
himself to the deserts of Egypt, renouncing the world of getting and
spending. St. Francis of Assisi, son of an Italian nobleman,
embraced Lady Poverty, that he might live as the birds and the
lilies simply in the providence of God. The examples are
endless, and manifold in their character. "Seek ye first
the kingdom of God."
But these counsels of perfection, what can they mean for us?
Are they some kind of beautiful and romantic, but impossible dream?
Jesus makes it clear that his counsels are for here and now.
Listen to what he says at the conclusion of the sermon: Whosoever
heareth these sayings of mine and doeth them, I will liken him to a
wise man, which built his house upon a rock: and the rain descended,
and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat upon that house,
and it fell not, for it was founded upon a rock.
What Jesus intends is a direct and eminently practical lesson about
life here and now. And that portion of his sermon which is
today's Gospel lesson is an eminently practical lesson about our
involvement with this world's concerns and this world's goods.
We are so easily seduced into regarding these things as ends in
themselves. That is what it means to serve Mammon.
Today's Gospel would remind us that the things of this world,
however good, are not ends--but means: means towards an end
which is spiritual and eternal--the knowledge and love of God, God's
kingdom and his righteousness.
Mammon is a false God, and the service of Mammon is idolatry.
And it is the essence of idolatry to trust the things of the world
as though they were a final and ultimate significance.
Idolatry is the worship of worldly things, and it is a subtle, but
constant, ever-present danger to the spiritual lives of all of us.
That's what St. Paul has in mind, when he says to the Galatians, in
today's Epistle lesson: But God forbid that I should glory, save
in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is
crucified unto me, and I unto the world.
The point is not that we should forge or escape from the toils and
the satisfactions and the trials of life in this world, but that we
should see all these things in their limitations, in the perspective
of the spiritual end they serve. Who by taking thought can add
one cubit to his stature? Life is more than reaping and
gathering into barns. The point is that we should see our life
and our labours in the context of the Providence of God--that "perpetual
mercy" of which today's Collect speaks--that Providence which
moves all things firmly and sweetly to their divinely appointed end.
And in that perspective, how foolish is all our anxiety.
Seek first God's kingdom, and in his eternal Providence, his
perpetual mercy, all will be well.