Pastor Steve Mechem
Matthew 6:25-34 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? 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? And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? And why do you worry about clothing? 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 clothed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?’ For it is the Gentiles who strive for all these things; and indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today.
This section of the Sermon on the Mount is about worry, about priorities, about an approach to life.
The passage is concluded with Jesus’ words, “So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today.”
Why “not worry?” After all, there are lots of things to worry about.
Why “not worry?” Because with the right priorities to life, worry is not necessary.
What are those priorities? Jesus says it in the penultimate sentence of this section,
“Strive first for the Kingdom of God and God's, righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”
And how does one strive first for the Kingdom? Jesus indicates that striving for the Kingdom is an approach to life. Jesus says that while everybody else is fighting and striving and hustling to get stuff and figure it all out, his followers should take a different approach.
He illustrates this approach in two ways. The second is by pointing to the flowers. Imagine the setting. Jesus standing on a hillside. A throng of people listening in. North, south, east and west of the crowd is hillside full of wild flowers (we might characterize them as weeds). Jesus points to their organic beauty while emphasizing the reality of their being- they don’t fight and strive and hustle. They just are, and are rewarded with beauty. Truth be told, these flowers have root systems that do stretch and strive to find water and nutrients in the earth, but that being said, the flowers testify to the beauty of being.
The first illustration that Jesus uses to describe this new approach to life is the birds. Understand that the hill on which Jesus is speaking runs into the Sea of Galilee. So a group of people one the hillside, many of whom are carrying snacks and food for the day, attract the sea gulls and such from the Lake. You have probably been at a beach or lakefront and been harassed by those white birds who want your popcorn-
Jesus is pointing to them as he says, “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? And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life?”
Jesus speaks of birds as care free. They don’t plant or harvest or build storage barns for all their stuff.
I think we may understand Jesus and birds incorrectly when we attach this care free laudy-daudy personality to our fine feathered friends.
I mean, by listening incorrectly to Jesus' words, we are only a short step away from Mayzie the lazy bird who tricks Horton into sitting on her nest and hatching her egg.
I don’t know much about birds, they seem like hard working, sometimes intense creatures.
They may not build barns but building is what birds do. Birds build nests, and if one home is destroyed, they will build another.
Since we have lived in St. Louis, we have had bird nests in our gutters, on our downspouts, under our deck, in our attic vents, in our chimney, and perhaps most annoyingly, inside our grill.
We had a situation a couple years back as starlings would try to build nests in our grill. Every day, I would clear out the few pieces of straw that had accumulated during the day. I kept the grill lid closed, duct taped the air holes, secured the grill with a cover, and still the birds would get inside a leave some building supplies.
Judi and I were gone for a week and when we returned home, I opened the grill and it was packed full with sticks and straws and in the middle of the nest rested a hand full of eggs. The grill became the possession of the starlings.
Busy. Busy. Busy builders.
And tenacious and persistent,as well. Whenever Judi is up to her elbows in dirt while gardening, a robin will come by to see if any worms might be popping up to the top. Persistent.
One day, when we lived in Indiana, I was watching a tree that had a nest resting on its branches. A squirrel, inquisitive, moved onto the branch where the nest was rooted.
In the next moment the squirrel was dive bombed by a protective mama bird. The squirrel jumped to another branch. The mama bird dived again. The squirrel jumped to a branch in another tree. The mama bird dived again. The squirrel jumped to another tree and then another. The bird stayed in hot pursuit, intent on teaching this squirrel a lesson about messing with her babies. Tenacious.
So, just my casual observation about birds leads me away from a description of care free and going with the flow and just chillin’.
What might be Jesus’ meaning as he uses bird as illustrative of the different approach to life his followers are encouraged to follow?
Let me suggest that we can learn some things from the activity of the birds around us.
There is a rhythm to life and understanding that rhythm is key to striving for the kingdom. As Jesus says to his disciples in one of my favorite passages, “Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace.”
There is a rhythm to life that includes worship and work and play and focus. Watch the birds. You can see the rhythms unfold.
There is a wonderful scene in the book, The Shack. God, in the form of a woman, tells a young seeker the secret to life’s rhythm, using birds as an illustration. “A bird’s not defined by being grounded but by his ability to fly. Remember this, humans are not defined by their limitations, but by the intentions that I have for them; not by what they seem to be, but by everything it means to be created in my image.”
To understand your place in the rhythm of God’s grace is the beginning to living a life that strives for the kingdom.
There is a song to sing- with your life. It is a song of love and grace and joy. But it is a song we discover on the journey.
There is an old proverb about birds. “A bird does not sing because it has an answer. It sings because it has a song.”
You may or may not understand life, and God, and purpose, but you have a song to sing and you sing it with you life, your words, your actions toward other people.
There is a bliss to find. Yes, there are nests to build and eggs to protect and squirrels to chase off, but there is also the pure joy of dancing in a puddle or singing from the clothes line.
Approaching life in a new way means finding and embracing your bliss in the midst of all that goes on around you.
And finally, there is the adventure to discover God’s provision. Believing in God using a new approach is to trust that God is at work in you and through you and that God provides.
Again watch the birds. When we fill our finch feeders, they come- almost immediately, almost as if they are constantly looking for provision, knowing it is there. When our hummingbird feeder is filled with sugar water, woodpeckers and hummingbirds, and bees for that matter, come to sup. Aware of the provisions. When we backwash our pool, robins land immediately staring, hoping that the puddle will provide some food. A hawk sits in our tree or flies in circles in the sky, knowing that provision is close by if she will stay alert.
They fly, they sit, they hop around always on the adventure of discovery. They are continually discovering that which is provided. . No need to worry, because provision is all around.
“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? And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life?”