Monday, April 3, 2017

Seek Ye First the Kingdom of God

 25 Therefore I tell you, 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? 26 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? 27 And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? 28 And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, 29 yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. 30 But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? 31 Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. 33 But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.
34 “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.
Matthew 6:25-34

            The start of our passage today is with the word “Therefore.”  This connecting word indicates that there is a continuation from the previous passage.  And the previous passage we found is:
24 “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.  (v. 24)
Here we find out that we are face to face with a critical reality.  Wanted or not we have to choose.  A choice has to be made between God and money.  No one can serve both at the same time.  As declared by Jesus Himself, being a slave of these two masters is not possible.  If one chooses to serve God, then he will not serve money, and vice versa.  Obviously the right choice is to serve God and ditch money.  Jesus is not saying that we can’t use money or be rich.  What He is saying here is about choosing to be a slave of either God or money.  This spiritual reality is not something we can take lightly.  It becomes heavier as we grow older.  Its reality becomes more confronting as we mature.  There comes a time when we DO make a choice.  And it is always a conscious choice.
The conscious choice may be caused by many reasons, but particularly the pressure of life – the need of food, clothing, and shelter.  The three basic needs worry us.  We are prone to panic when these three needs are not met.  When our stomach growls because of hunger, but yet there is no food on the table, no food within grasp, no money in the pocket to buy food, we panic.  When we panic we often forget our principles.  When we forget our principles we lost our life purpose.  When we lost our life purpose we abandon our sacred identity.  So we strive to alleviate the pain of hunger, of nakedness, of the torture of elements, of the insecurity, at all cost.  And often, even to the point of selling our souls.  This is the main problem we are dealing here.
Therefore Jesus is teaching His audience a very sharp teaching as we read in our passage earlier.  His audience display worry and panic when their basic needs are not met.  In their panic mode they fall into selling their souls to money.  Gradually they become servants of money.  They worry about food.  So they forget that their life is more important than food.  They worry about clothing.  So they forget that their body is more important than clothes.  Then they forget about a lot of things.  They become dull.  They no longer have sharp minds.  They cannot discern that the birds of the air are even being fed by God in heaven, even though they neither plant nor store up.  The birds of the air are not worried.  But yet the most valuable beings on earth are worried.  They forget that they are much much more valuable than the birds of the air.
Forgetfulness seems to be their daily routine.  For they also forget to observe the lilies of the field, which do not work to dress themselves, yet dressed most beautifully by God Himself, even more beautiful than Solomon’s splendor.  They can’t discern that those lilies of the field only live for a day.  They bloom in the morning and die in the evening, but yet their dress is so glorious and beautiful.  In their panic mode, they cannot see how they are more valuable than the lilies of the field.  Their panic leads them to sell their souls to become slaves of mammon.
Jesus identifies the core of their main problem – their lack of faith.  Their lack of faith prompts them to be anxious excessively.  It is their coping mechanism.  They would feel more meaningful as they are anxious.  They think that when they are anxious they are wiser.  They think that when they are anxious they are better.  So Jesus asks them: “And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?  A rhetorical question to which the answer is nobody can.  But their lack of faith is chronic.  It’s a disease that robs people their peace.  It destroys their core being.  And this does not happen only to them 2000 years ago.
This happens to us too in our glorious scientific and technological age.  We think that when technology is so advanced and that we have found so many answers to life problems through the improvement of many areas of life, we would be less anxious, less worry, more at peace.  But we are wrong.  We grow more anxious.  We worry more excessively.  We worry not only when our three basic needs are not met, but also when even after our three basic needs have been met.  We worry that we do not get a chance to enjoy the perks and the fireworks of life.  We are anxious whether we would be able to secure the position that we have coveted since day one we work in that company.  We are anxious whether we would be able to upgrade our cars or houses.  We worry that we would not be able to hang out with our friends.  We worry that our clothing style is outdated.  We worry that we don’t know the latest news.  We lack sleep over whether we would get the lush end of year bonuses.  We are anxious whether we could go to Disneyland with our family.  Our worries are worse than those people listening to Jesus 2000 years ago.  We worry not over the primary need, but over the secondary and tertiary need.  This is way worse.  If we worry over secondary and tertiary need, how much more if our primary need appears to be unattainable.  We live like the Gentiles do.  We live as if there is no God.  All because we too lack faith.  In our lack of faith we adopt the way of life of the pagans.  The second we walk that path, God no longer exists in our heart.  God would just live in our mind as information, but never as God who controls the universe, who is sovereign over our life.  No, I do not suggest that we exploit our faith to force God to satisfy our secondary and tertiary need.  Not at all.  Secondary and tertiary need can’t ascend to the place where we must worry.  Worrying and being anxious over secondary and tertiary need in itself should not have happened.  In this modern day and age, we are tangled in the web of anxiety over not so important a thing.  How then can we get out of the venomous grip of anxiety?
To His audience, Jesus gives a way out.  It can be found in verses 32-34:
32 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.
34 “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.
The Gentiles seek treasures on earth.  They seek satisfaction through the abundance of food, the variety of clothing, the comfort of housing, the accumulation of money, and all, to secure their life.  But believers in God ought not live the way the Gentiles do.  Simply because God knows what they need and He provides them.  Instead, the believers’ way of life is to seek the kingdom of God, to seek His righteousness all their life, without worrying about the physical needs.
            Seeking God’s kingdom means desiring the presence of God’s reign with passion.  We desire Him to command us.  We desire Him to be our King.  We desire to abide by His law.  We desire to live as citizens of God’s kingdom.  It is within the Lord’s prayer: “Thy Kingdom come.”  In the midst of the world that rejects God as king, His subjects are to embrace God as king.  When the world denies God, we admit Him.  When the world hates God, we love Him.  When the world dismisses God, we proclaim Him.
            By doing so, Jesus says, all the things that we need will be added to us.  Contrary to the way of the world, we do not abandon God for the purpose to gain the world.  Instead, we abandon the world so we may gain God as we seek His kingdom and His righteousness precisely when the world moves against it.  When we gain God we gain everything.  God is the source of all things.  But this can only happen when we truly submit to His reign.  Then and only then we may understand the meaning of Jesus words that we ought not to worry about about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself.  No, it is not our portion to worry about tomorrow.  We do not know what tomorrow may bring.  We do not have the power to control tomorrow.  And we do not live in the tomorrow.  We live in the now.  The trouble we experience in the present does not need to be added with tomorrow’s trouble.  Our strength is only enough for the present.  Beyond that we destroy ourselves.  There is a saying that goes: “Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery, today is a gift, that is why we call it a present.”  Tomorrow is a mystery for us.  No one knows what is in it.  We have no capacity to predict tomorrow.  But tomorrow is not a mystery for God.  If we live for tomorrow we live in unnecessary trouble.  Lao Zi says: “If you are depressed you live in the past, if you are anxious you live in the future, but if you are at peace you live in the present.”  No man can live in the past or in the future.  Such ordeal destroys our core being.
            And so, for us who live in this 21st century, we must reorganize our priority.  Do not worry about whether we are wearing the most current trend clothes or not.  Trend and styles are not even essential.  Do not be anxious whether we would be able to vacation in Disneyland or not.  Disneyland vacation is not substantial at all.  Do not worry about whether you have the money to dine at Sushi Tei or not.  Sushi Tei dining is not our primary need.  Do not be anxious whether you are able to afford the newly built five stars luxurious apartment with three bedrooms and three bathrooms that is located in the most strategic business district in town.  Luxurious apartment will never be essential for our life.  The questions for us folks, “Why chase all those non-essential things?  Why live like pagans for the sake of gaining the non-substantial things?  Why abandon God to gain the world?”
            A legend is told about Alexander the Great.  He conquered a vast territory in such a young age.  His brilliance in conquest was the source of awe for many people throughout the ages.  His success was the envy of the world.  He was so rich, so powerful, a king.  The legend is told about the wisdom of Alexander as he was nearing death.  An illness struck him.  He could not be cured.  And he was about to die.  Listen to the story that is circulating almost everywhere:
So the mighty conqueror lay prostrate and pale, helplessly waiting to breathe his last. He called his generals and said, "I will depart from this world soon, I have three wishes, please carry them out without fail."
With tears flowing down their cheeks, the generals agreed to abide by their king's last wishes. "My first desire is this: My physicians alone must carry my coffin."
After a pause, he continued, "Secondly, I desire that when my coffin is being carried to the grave, the path leading to the graveyard be strewn with gold, silver and precious stones which I have collected in my treasury”.
The king felt exhausted after saying this. He took a minute's rest and continued. "My third and last wish is that both my hands be kept dangling out of my coffin."
The people who had gathered there wondered at the king's strange wishes. But no one dare bring the question to their lips. Alexander's favorite general kissed his hand and pressed them to his heart. "O king, we assure you that your wishes will all be fulfilled. But tell us why do you make such strange wishes?"
At this Alexander took a deep breath and said: "I would like the world to know of the three lessons I have just learnt. I want my physicians to carry my coffin because people should realize that no doctor can really cure any body. They are powerless and cannot save a person from the clutches of death. So let not people take life for granted.
The second wish of strewing gold, silver and other riches on the way to the graveyard is to tell the people that not even a fraction of gold will come with me. I spent all my life earning riches but cannot take anything with me. Let the people realize that it is a sheer waste of time to chase wealth.
“And about my third wish of having my hands dangling out of the coffin, I wish the people to know that I came empty handed into this world and empty handed I go out of this world."
With these words, the king closed his eyes. Soon he let death conquer him and he breathed his last.
The legend contains wisdom.  A Gentile king realized the vanity of chasing after wealth.  And he had to prove it with his meaningless life.  At the end of his life he realized it.  But it was too late.  He was dying.  All his wealth did not go with him.  What was then the meaning of his life?
            How about us?  Do we seek to be like Alexander the Great?  To be so rich, to be so powerful, to live like king?  Even with our primary needs met, do we still feel anxious because we desire for more and other things – secondary and tertiary?  It is meaningless.  A chasing after the wind,” the teacher in Ecclesiastes says.  No, for us, the believers, children of the living God, we who have faith in God, even in the times of trouble, even in difficulties, we do not abandon God to gain the world.  No, for us, the believers, children of the living God, we who have faith in God, we seek first His kingdom and His righteousness.  We find meaning in God Himself.  We do not find meaning in riches, in wealth, in the physical things of this fleeting world.  We do not worry.  We are not to live anxiously.  Tomorrow is a mystery.  Leave it to God.  Have faith in Him.  Our part is to live according to His Kingdom of justice and righteousness.  Then we will live in peace, in His perfect shalom, from today until the second coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.  Amen!

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