Galatians 5:25-6:10 St Matthew 6:24-34
The one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life.
Jesus says, “the Kingdom of Heaven is within you”. [St Luke 17:21] St Augustine understood this to mean that we move from searching out there in the world for God, and return to ourselves to look within, and then we look above.
So we are moving inward in the search of God’s kingdom. And if we would be faithful in this inward journey, we are to look with great scrutiny at our inner motivation for all that we say and do.
Today’s readings are about seriously looking at our inner motivations in every encounter we have in the world with people and with every action we take – and especially in relation to earthly goods.
Do we still think that we can try to serve both God and Mammon – that is, to serve God, and at the same time worldly wealth, worldly profit? If our motives are mixed we cannot serve God – we will end up despising Him, because the call to love God and neighbour gets in the way of holding on to all that we possess.
But Jesus does not call on us to renounce our desire to acquire things – as if wanting itself was somehow a bad thing in our souls – but we are to realize what are the best things to want, and to turn our desire more fully towards acquiring those best things.
In the world, gold is considered more a valuable metal than iron because it does not rust, and because of its beauty. It is more stable and lasts, but even so, the things that last forever are better than all worldly things which moth and rust doth corrupt or which thieves can break in and steal. And strangely, these highest things are not things we must buy but things that are given to us freely. They are free but we can also take action to acquire them.
It is quite clear how we can acquire this world’s goods – we develop our skills – skills of the mind and body – and then we use our skills in labouring, and are given money for what we produce.
A farmer uses his skills and knowledge to sow a crop hoping that the seeds will sprout and bring forth, with his care and nature’s additions, a multiplication.
But is there anything we can do to get these highest things? the eternal things? the kingdom of heaven?
In our Epistle St. Paul wants us to see that whatever we do, whatever words we speak or action we take, however we spend our energy in this life, we are gaining something. He says,
God is not mocked: for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption – that is, something that will not last eternally, such as the glory of this world which is fleeting, just as are its material goods. What does it look like to sew to the flesh and sew to the spirit? Every word we utter has some motivation behind it. Will this help our neighbour or hinder them, if it hinders our neighbour it is sewing to our own flesh, it hurts them and undermines our own spiritual growth, making us more fleshy. If we utter a word that truly helps them, it is sewing to the Spirit, and it will help our own spiritual growth, making us more spiritual.
But the one who sows to the Spirit shall from the Spirit reap eternal life. And let us not grow weary of doing good – which is, to plant a seed to the Spirit – 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, that is, it is especially good to do good to our brothers and sisters in Christ. Why? Probably it is especially good, because it is more likely to be received and bring forth further fruit in them.
Now there is a danger here in thinking we are getting something for being good – gaining points in heaven for doing good. [Perhaps, it is why the Reformers changed this Epistle reading?] But this needn’t be so if we are careful to remember that our desire to do any good thing, is like a seed implanted in us by God, and when we do an act of kindness we are simply, in obedience to Christ and by his grace, planting that seed that it might bring forth fruit. It is to remember that not only in the case of material things, but spiritual goods, All things come of you, O Lord, and of your own have we given you. (That’s the prayer I say every Sunday when I commend the offering of the congregation to God.)
And in the case of sowing to the Spirit, what it is that we reap is not something that is our possession alone, but something that is shared by all – the love of God shed abroad more fully in our hearts and in the hearts of others by the Holy Spirit that has been given to us. [Rom 5:5]
In our Gospel, Jesus reminds us of the most basic possessions which we can sometimes have anxiety about having enough of – for food and clothing. And are these earthly goods not also related to a desire for something spiritual?
The desire for food, is it not also a desire to be at peace inwardly and with others, to be happy?
- We know that in breastfeeding or being bottle fed it is not just about the milk the child receives, but about the mother’s love and comfort that the child experiences at the same time.
- And think about what makes a great meal truly great? Imagine eating the best cooked meal, but by yourself or with poor company, or with poor service… do you see the spiritual aspect? We wouldn’t consider that a fine feast. Eating the best food is really only enjoyable when it is with the right people, in the right spirit: then it is a taste of heaven.
- And the desire to be filled? Is it not related to the more spiritual desire to be filled with all the fullness of God?
How easy it is for us to be confused about what it is we are truly wanting when it comes to food.
The desire for clothing – is it not a desire for a certain dignity, a sense of self worth, even of nobility – and is that not connected to the desire for beauty of soul? Is it not a desire that can only ultimately be satisfied by being clothed in the righteousness of Jesus Christ? Could there be any greater beauty than to have uncovered in us the image and likeness of God in our soul? And even deeper, is our desire for clothing not a desire ultimately to be clothed in immortality? St. Paul says we groan, longing to put on our heavenly dwelling: … not that we would be unclothed, but that we would be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. [2 Cor 5:2, 4] But how easy it is for us to be confused about what it is we are truly wanting when it comes to clothing.
Jesus reminds us not to be anxious about whether or not we will get these earthly satisfactions or even the heavenly satisfactions that they ultimately point to. Jesus says, look at nature, unable to store up food, yet it is provided for by God; it is unable to change how it looks, and yet it is made beautiful by God.
Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?...
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 arrayed like one of these…
Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.
This Gospel today is full of hope for us in our strivings and anxieties – look at nature and what it teaches us.
Looking out of the office tower I was working in as an Engineer in my 20s, and seeing the seagulls soaring over the city of Ottawa, reminded me of a freedom I was losing in my own soul. I have never regretted for a moment leaving that career to seek first the kingdom of God. (I’m not saying being an Engineer is not compatible with being Christian, but it was not my first calling from God.)
God will provide! Notice Jesus is not talking about things beyond our most basic needs – food and clothing, as if we should be putting out of our minds worldly kingdoms as something to acquire. There is something of a counsel of perfection here.
This morning we’ve come, on the first day of the week, to Church, to seek first the kingdom of God. We have come to seek first the food which preserves our bodies and souls to everlasting life and that at the same time clothes us in the righteousness of Christ – even the Body and Blood of Jesus given for us. Let prepare ourselves with prayer with the ancient collect for this Sunday:
KEEP, we beseech you, O Lord, your Church with your perpetual mercy (Latin: propitiation); and, because the frailty of man without you cannot but fall, keep us ever by your help from all things hurtful, and lead us to all things profitable for our salvation; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
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Except the Lord build the house, they labour in vain that build it: except the Lord keep the city, the watchman waketh but in vain. Psalm 127:1,2