In Dying to Yourself You Truly Live
Fifteenth Sunday after Trinity
September 24, 2017
What would you do if you knew you were going to die? For one woman who had already lost her husband and now was enduring a famine she would have one last meal with her son and then die. Her prayers had been met with apparent silence. Once her food ran out she would be unable to do anything more to keep herself and her son alive. She was as good as dead, at the mercy of God.
It was at this point that she received new life. The Lord sent the prophet Elijah to her and he decreed that the little food she had left would not run out. She and her son would live.
It is this that is a picture of life in Christ. When you are no longer able to keep yourself alive, that is, when you die to yourself, that is when you truly live. You truly live because your Lord is the one providing for you, not yourself. But as Americans we are hard-wired to pull ourselves up and work our way out of it. If we are going to make a living we have to make it happen. No one is going to just give to us what we need to be able to buy a house and a car and food on the table and all of the costs of upkeep associated with owning a house. You have all those things because you work for them. You take care of your family because you work to provide for them.
It’s understandable then that when there’s not enough you worry and wonder when it is that God has mind to provide for you what you need. So it’s not in a vacuum that Jesus says in the Gospel reading to not be anxious about what you need. It’s in the thick of living this life. It is Elijah saying to the widow, “Do not fear.” Easy for you to say. When he tells her to make the last food she has left but first to make some for him, he might as well be telling her that in this famine he needs the food to stay alive because he’s a prophet.
But that’s not what prophets do. At least not the ones who faithfully carry out what the Lord has called them to do. Elijah is giving her a command to test her faith. Does she really believe that the word Elijah spoke that her food will be replenished by divine miracle? This is what worry amounts to, not trusting in God. This is why Jesus says to not be anxious, to not worry about the things we need in this life. It’s not in a vacuum, it’s in the daily grind of life where you face very real decisions of what to keep and what to cut out. Of what you will need to do to get the extra money you need to pay the bills or for the medical procedure or for your car when it’s not working.
In the gospel reading Jesus tells us not to worry about the things we need. This is not the Christian version of the saying that was popular at one time, Don’t worry, be happy. What Jesus is saying is, don’t live to yourself. When you are in Christ you have much more than you would if you lived to yourself. When you are in Christ you have God as your Father. As Jesus says, your Father knows everything you need. He will provide for you. If He takes care of the birds of the air, how much more will He take care of you? If He clothes the flowers of the field in their splendor, how much more will He clothe you?
For those who don’t worry, they might wonder what all the fuss is about. For those who do worry, they might wonder how exactly God provides when you don’t have everything you need. What Jesus says in the Gospel reading is not only for those who worry. It is for everyone who lives to themselves.
Each one of us wakes up each day with a powerful hold on us. Our sinful nature tightens its grip on us, refusing to let go. You may not worry about much but are you thereby not seeing how utterly dependent you are on your Heavenly Father? Does your lack of worry translate into living apart from humility that you deserve nothing of what you have and if it were taken away in a flash that you would still have all the vaults of heaven as your possession?
This exhortation of Jesus is not about living a worry-free life. It is about living in Christ. It is about dying to yourself. It is about giving thanks in all things even when you don’t have all the things you need.
Jesus left the glory of heaven and was born to a virgin. As He grew He was utterly at her mercy and that of His adoptive father. As He carried out His ministry He was never despondent that His preaching and His grace was so often rejected. He entrusted Himself wholly to His Father and continued faithfully preaching even as His heart went out to those who rejected Him.
He is God and yet His life was not His own because He willingly and joyfully submitted His life and will to His Heavenly Father's will. This was living as one who dies to himself and lives to God. This is what led Him then to offer up His life, to actually die as a sacrifice for our sake. Nowhere is there worry or anxiety here. His life was humble and joyful submission to the one who sent Him to bring about forgiveness for sinners.
How can we worry when our Father has shown us such love? How can we not trust Him when He says He will give us everything we need? If you think, yes, but what about all those things I don’t have that I need. Or if you think, yes, but what about all those things that are not going well for me. Do you see that in this very way of seeing your life that you are determining what you need rather than entrusting your entire life to Him who knows exactly what you need? It’s far better, you can be assured of that. Just look at the widow.
In dying to yourself you are living in no other way than in your Baptism. It was in your Baptism that you first died. You died to yourself, that is, your sinful nature. You died in Christ’s death and therefore were raised to newness of life in which there is no eternal death. In dying in Baptism you are freed from that. Do you see how you already have so much more than all those things that you worry about? If you were to die right now you would be free from all the needs of this world because you would be in heaven where there is no sorrow or death or need.
If dying to yourself in Baptism is what has brought about for you new and eternal life because in that death you were united with Him in His death and resurrection, then it only follows that this new and eternal life will become more and more abundant. If your Father in heaven has given His Son to die for you and conquer your grave in His resurrection then He will continue to give Him to you. In Baptism He has brought you into His Son. Living in your Baptism, in daily repentance, dying to sin and rising to forgiveness, He strengthens you in this daily struggle.
He gives you the greatest strength you could receive by giving you His Son in His Holy Supper. When your life is so often focused on food and clothing, on the things if this world, of the things you need for daily life, your Father gives you His Son for food. He is the bread of life. His body and His blood is given you to eat and drink, food far richer and sustaining than anything you could seek after in this life.
In the Lord’s Prayer we are taught to pray for our daily bread for each day. Our Father knows what we need. He provides for us by giving us His Son and with Him all things. Amen.