This Week’s Sermon
“Seeking the Kingdom”
Psalm 93, Luke 12:22-34
February 28, 2021
As we begin today, I want you to notice something. We all know of, or at least we’ve heard of, “The Sermon on the Mount.” That’s found in Matthew’s Gospel, chapter (who knows?) 5. But did you know there also is something called “The Sermon on the Plain?” That’s found in Luke chapter 6, verses 17 to 49. And it sounds a lot like “The Sermon on the Mount.” Like Matthew, it begins with the Beatitudes – “Blessed are the poor… and so on.” And like Matthew, it ends with the story of the man who built his house upon the sand.
But Luke’s “Sermon” is much shorter. It’s only 32 verses, whereas Matthew’s is three chapters. But if you think about our passage for today, it sounds like a similar passage in Matthew, that was part of “The Sermon on the Mount.” Yet here in Luke, it’s found several chapters later.
Biblical scholars have wondered about that ever since. Were these two “sermons” actually the same “Sermon,” told two different ways? Or were they two separate sermons with similar material? Did Matthew possibly present his version of the “Sermon on the Mount” as a collection of Jesus most famous teachings? Some think that. Or did Luke report the same event, but leave out some of the material, and then recall that material later on? It’s hard to know. And a lot has been said about it over the years.
Personally, I think they were two versions of the same sermon. First of all the name! Luke begins with Jesus being on the mountain with his disciples, and then “coming down to a level place.” That’s why some have called this as “The Sermon on the Plain.” But as one of my professors said, years ago, “coming down to a level place” does not necessarily mean coming all the way down to the bottom of the mountain! It could well refer to a level place, still up on incline of the mountain, a place that may have been a great vantage point for Jesus to teach the multitudes, and where all the people could see and hear him. That makes a lot of sense to me!
But however you see it, both of these men recognized these as some of Jesus’ greatest teachings! And since that time, “The Sermon on the Mount” – and its corresponding version in Luke – has been recognized as being one of the greatest sermons ever given by Jesus, perhaps even the greatest sermon ever. I thought about entitling this sermon today, “The Greatest Sermon Ever” – referring to Jesus. But I thought some of you might get the wrong idea! (You might have thought I was calling this sermon – my sermon, “The Greatest Sermon Ever!”)
The reason I say all of that is that we’re looking at a passage from Luke 12, that, as I said a few minutes ago, sounds like one that came in the middle of Matthew’s version of the “Sermon on the Mount.” If you look at the rest of Luke’s Gospel, you see that he does record most of what Jesus said in Matthew’s version, but he seems to spread it out over several chapters, rather than presenting it all in one place. And he uses different parts of it to emphasize something he happens to be teaching at the moment. And that’s not to say that Jesus didn’t say this that day in “The Sermon on the Plain.” But this is how Luke chose to present it. Do you see how interesting biblical studies can be? Sometimes it’s like a living, historic jigsaw puzzle!
So, as this story goes for today, a man in the crowd stands up and says, “Teacher, bid my brother divide the inheritance with me!” And that’s what begins this particular teaching. Jesus answers, “Man, who made me a judge or ‘divider’ over you?” “Take heed, and beware of all covetousness, for a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions!” That’s how he begins this.
Then he tells a parable. And it’s “The Parable of the Rich Fool.” Maybe you remember that one. There was this man, who was so rich, he had nowhere to store his crops or his goods, so he built bigger barns.” Then the man said to his soul, “Soul, (I love that!) you have ample goods laid up for many years. Take your ease. Eat, drink, and be merry.” (That’s where that phrase comes from!) But then God said to him, “Fool, this night your life is required of you! Now, who’s is all that stuff gonna be?” “You can’t take it with you!” Right?
That’s the setup for this passage we read today. And this passage sounds almost word for word with Matthew’s version in “The Sermon on the Mount.” Do you see how Luke has used one of Jesus’ lessons from that sermon, to emphasize a point he was making in a practical situation? I think he did that a lot. I think that’s why Luke’s Gospel reads the way it does!
So, what does he say here? “I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you shall eat, nor about your body, what you should wear.” That’s almost exactly word for word from Matthew. He goes on, as Matthew does, “Consider the ravens. They neither sow nor reap, and they have neither storehouse nor barn.” I think that’s a direct reference to the barns in the parable he just told! “But God feeds them! And of how much more value are you than the birds?” And then this question – also in both versions. “Which of you, by being anxious, can add a cubit to his span of life?”
That was Jesus’ answer to this man. And it was right out of “The Sermon on the Mount!” And notice, he said, “A man’s life does not consist of the abundance of his possessions.” Let me emphasize once again, that that doesn’t mean a man does not, or should not, have possessions! Remember the end of this! “Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and all these things will be yours as well.” I’ve heard it said this way. “It’s not a matter of whether we possess things, it’s a matter of whether things possess us!” God isn’t all that impressed with wealth. He’s much more interested in what we do with the wealth we’re given!
Do you get that? I think Lent is a good time to think about all this. It’s a good time to think about the priorities of our lives. What comes first? What should come first? Jesus clearly states that God’s kingdom is to be first. Do we even know what that looks like? And I ask it that way, because I think it looks different for each person. Because I believe God speaks to each one of us, personally. And I think that means he deals with each of us in our own way. So, I think each of us needs to ask what God is saying to us about this? That’s a great question for the Lenten season!
I also want you to seek here how Jesus ties this to anxiety. It’s not just about having things. It’s about being anxious about having things. And that’s a huge subject! I believe he’s right on about this, especially how it relates to our world! Worry and anxiety are pretty big subjects these days! It’s been said that stress is one of the most prevalent and one of the most debilitating diseases in our modern world! Stress can affect our body chemistry. It can weaken our immune system. It can give us digestive problems. I remind you of the study I’ve quoted before, that said that the three most used medications in this country are antidepressants, stomach acid remedies, and sleep aids! Just think about all the mattress commercials you see, that promise better sleep! What does all that say about the anxiety level in our world?
Just recently, I heard a great quote. The quote was, “Worry is a good way to experience suffering in advance.” Do you get that? “Worry is a good way to experience suffering in advance!” What a great way of thinking about worry! I have a plaque on my wall that says, “Pray more, stress less.” I have that where I can see it every day! Because it’s too easy to forget! As I’ve often said, “I have that bone in my head that makes me worry!” I got it from my mother!
Then Jesus asks this great question! “Which of you, by being anxious, can add a cubit to his span of life?” That’s a great question, isn’t it? Because there are some who would say the opposite! There are some who say that anxiety takes away cubits! At the very least, it takes away our peace and our joy – both of which I believe God wants for us! I believe God wants us to enjoy this life he has given us! He wants us to be happy, just like we want our children to be happy! He wants us to know the peace that only he can give – the peace that passes human understanding!
So, “Pray more, Stress less.” Because, “Worry is a good way to experience suffering in advance.” And that’s not what God wants for us! Jesus asks, “Which of you, by being anxious, can add a cubit to his span of life?” Instead, “Consider the birds, they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns.” And know that God cares even more about you!”
Eternal God, help us this Lenten season to remember what is most important in this life that you have given us. Help us to seek your kingdom every day. Help us, indeed, to know the joy and peace that you want for us, that only you can give. For this we pray in the name of the Prince of Peace, Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.