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Worship Message - A Bear and A Cat

A Bear and A Cat

Imagine the surprise of the homeowner who arrived home a while back. A homeowner who looked into the backyard and saw a large black bear in a tree.

Imagine the homeowner’s further surprise to see, at the base of the tree, his cat. The homeowner’s orange cat, sitting at the bottom of the tree. A feline named Jack.

From the neighbors, the homeowner got the story. It seems Jack takes seriously his job of guarding his owner’s backyard. So it was that, the day at the center of the story, when a bear happened to venture into the yard from a nearby forest, Jack hissed at the bear.

Alarmed - maybe the bear had not seen Jack before he hissed - the bear jumped onto the trunk of the tree. The bear climbed it as fast and as high as he could. There the bear was, trapped by a cat.

What a strange scene that was. Including the strangeness of a bear being afraid of a cat.

On a ride through a national park a few years ago, I saw, at a distance, a bear upsetting a hill of something - ants or termites or something. I could see the bear taking his claws and swiping the hill away to get to what was to be his meal. It was scary to look at, even from a distance, the point being that the bear up the tree could have defended itself very easily against the cat. Instead, at the first hint of danger - danger way less than the bear’s strength - the bear, in fear, climbed the tree, doing that to try to escape what he easily could have defeated.

That story leads us this morning to a passage in the Gospel of Matthew. Chapter 6, verses 25 through 34. A passage that, in essence, challenges us to not be like the bear. To not react with fear in the presence of problems we are strong enough to face and survive.

Matthew 6, beginning with verse 25, is part of a very important, well-known sermon Jesus gave early in His ministry. It is known as the Sermon on the Mount because it was given on a mount - on a hillside - beside the Sea of Galilee.

The entire sermon is quite long. It extends from the beginning of Matthew 5 to just about the end of Matthew 7, which means today’s passage is right in the middle of the sermon.

And yes, it does deal with the issue of fear. It deals with the idea that even though there are things all around us - things of life - that can be as scary as the cat suddenly hissing at the bear, we are to react differently than did the bear. Instead of climbing a tree to escape, which, by the way, was kind of a silly thing to do. I mean, where was the bear to go after he got up the tree? He could have been trapped there for a very, very long time if the homeowner had not grabbed Jack and taken him inside. Instead of climbing a tree to escape, we are to put things in perspective and know that with God… [That is a critical point. We may not be strong enough to face much of anything on our own, but with God we are very powerful] …we are to put things in perspective and know that with God, we can stand up to any problem that hisses at us.

With that in mind, let’s consider what Jesus taught about fear in Matthew 6, beginning with verse 25. Jesus began this part of His sermon by saying, “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you shall eat or what you shall drink, nor about your body, what you shall put on.”

By the way, please know the importance of the word “anxious,” which is a very important word because it refers to becoming overwhelmed with whatever problems we face. I think that word is important because of course we will think about and maybe even worry a bit about some things, including, in this part of the passage, what we are to eat and drink and wear. Obviously those things cost money. If money is short, of course there might be a concern about how to have enough of it to buy what is needed.

I think having a concern about anything we face in life is normal and natural. In fact, if we did not care about anything at all - if we followed the words of the song a few years ago called Don’t Worry, Be Happy… Remember it? Can’t pay the rent? Don’t have anyplace to stay? No money to even have a girlfriend? Don’t worry, be happy.
The suggestion, as I hear the song, is to not have any concerns about any of the necessities of life. Just go blithely through life, I guess relying on everyone else to make it. If that is followed to the extreme, how can a person be productive?

I think being concerned about the things needed to live is normal and natural. I think that is OK. But not to the point of being anxious about those things. Anxious to the point that the thoughts of such things start to torment.

And hey, there are people, including Christians, in war-torn areas, who do have concerns about having enough food and water and clothing. But for us, do not be anxious to the point that any or all problems become overwhelming to the point we cannot sleep or eat. To the point we fret and stew. To the point we forget the Lord’s promises to help us through any and all problems that come our way.

When faced with the needs of eating and drinking and clothing ourselves - when those are the hissing cats in our lives - let’s not run up the nearest tree in fear. Instead, let’s face the needs. Which we will be able to do when we put those needs in proper perspective.

The perspective described as Jesus continued.

First Jesus asked, “Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?” In other words, of course we need food and water and clothing. But there are other things to be concerned about as well. Things more important. Things like our relationship with God. Which includes the need to accept Jesus as Savior and extends to growing in our Christian faith. The hissing cats of problems are never to be allowed to ruin our relationship with God, which being anxious about food and clothing threatens to do.

Jesus then said, “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?”

Relating that to the opening story, the birds of the air, unlike the bear up the tree, do not overreact to their challenges. They rely on God - they do that instinctively - for the things they need. The point being that we, too, are to rely on God for the necessities of our lives.

Besides - verse 27 - “Which of you, by being anxious [again, that means stewing and fretting to the point of torment - to the point of forgetting the blessings of God]can add one cubit to his span of life?”

There is a bit of disagreement on what Jesus referred to with that last phrase.

Some say Jesus meant height. Jesus’ point in that case would be that anxiety has never made anyone taller.

Others say Jesus meant length of life. In that case, Jesus’ point is that no one has ever lived longer just because they fretted and stewed.

In fact, anxiety can lead to shorter height and shorter life.

And yes, it seems very easy to fret and stew. I have probably shared before that I grew up with that. With the idea that worrying is at least doing something. Mama taught me that. Which of course is not true. At least, worrying is not doing anything productive. It is not doing anything to help.

But, I was taught as I was growing up, worrying is evidence I care.

Jesus, on the other hand, taught that being anxious has no good results. So why be anxious?

Good question. Let’s join together in guarding against it.

And let me mention this. I, too, listen to and read the news. I do so because I want to stay informed. But I realize the news can be very depressing. That the news can very easily cause anxiety as it shares so much information, most of it about bad things and threats from all over the world. Information reported by way of alerts and bulletins. So much of it making it seem the entire world in falling apart before our very eyes.

I am pretty sure I am going to continue keeping up with the news. But as I do, I will try to guard against it causing me anxiety. I will do that because that is what Jesus teaches me to do.

Verses 28 through 30. Back to the issue of clothing. Jesus said, “And why are you anxious 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 arrayed like one of these.”

Solomon. I looked him up in a Bible dictionary. Listen to some of what is reported about him in that reference.

It was during his kingship that a united Israel reached its greatest expanse. He was an expert in botany and zoology. He was the author of 3000 proverbs and over a thousand songs. He had 1400 chariots and 12,000 horsemen.

In addition, Solomon was very wise. Wisdom he did not always use, which led to his demise. But God gave Him wisdom.

And - this is what Jesus referred to in this part of today’s passage - he was very rich. I have read he was the richest man in the world at that time. Figuring for inflation and all that, he might have been the richest man ever.

Because of Solomon’s great wealth, his clothing, including his crown, was very impressive. That was especially the case on the high holy days, when he wore his finest clothing.

Solomon was wonderful to look at. But, Jesus said, he never was a match for the beauty of the lilies of the field. Lilies that did nothing for their beauty. Nothing in the way of toiling or spinning.

Jesus added that the beauty of lilies is short-lived. They are alive, in full bloom, for one day. The next day they are gathered to be thrown into ovens. Clay ovens common among the people of God at the time of Jesus. Ovens that, to achieve a very quick heat, had dried grasses and wild flowers - dead wild flowers - thrown into them.

Jesus’ point was this. If God clothes the grass of the field with beauty greater than that of the wisest and richest king ever - if God did that even though the beauty of the grass is so quickly gone - will He not take care of us? As Jesus worded it, “Will God not clothe us even more than that?”

Then an interesting follow up to that question. Will God not take care of you, “o men of little faith?” Wow. Does Jesus mean that if our problems do become overwhelming to the point of torment, if our problems do cause us to lose sleep or appetite, if we do fret and stew, if our worries do cause us to forget the Lord’s promises, we do not have faith. At least enough faith to sustain us?

That is exactly what He means. “Therefore - verse 31 - do not be anxious, saying, ‘what shall we eat or what shall we drink or what shall we wear?’”

Verse 32. Others - namely Gentiles, as in those who are not God’s people, “seek all these things.” The implication is that Gentiles fret and stew and lose sleep and appetite over the things of life. The Gentiles do that. But God’s people are not to do that. They should not do that because of the promise that God knows what we need. the implication being that He will supply what He knows we need.

So - verses 33 and 34 - seek not the things of life you need. Do not spend your time being anxious about the things of life. Rather, “seek God’s kingdom.” Seek that first, “and His righteousness.” Do that and all the things you need “shall be yours as well.”

And listen. The challenge is not only to trust God today. Jesus’ call is to extend that to trusting God for the future as well. Jesus said, “Do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Let the day's own trouble be sufficient for the day.”

* * * * *

A cat should not scare a bear up a tree. It makes no sense. It looks silly when it happens.

Likewise, the problems of this life - especially, in the context of today’s passage, the things of life we need - should not scare us. It makes no sense for the things of this life to scare us because God promises to be with us and provide for us. And He, like the bear, is much, much stronger than the hissing problems of life. With Him in us, we are much, much stronger than any problem we might face.

And hey, Jesus may not see any humor in it. How can He when He wants to strengthen us? But being afraid of the problems we face is as silly as a cat scaring a bear. So let’s not be anxious. Instead, let’s seek God’s kingdom and His righteousness. Let’s trust Him to give us what we need in the way of food and drink and clothing.

Let’s also trust Him with every other need we have, which leads to this closing illustration. I think it fits since the opening story had to do with animals.

A few years ago a book about what is known as the Children’s Blizzard, which occurred in mid-January of 1888, hitting mainly Nebraska and what would become the state of South Dakota.

The blizzard was and still is one of the worst in recorded weather history anywhere in the world. It featured plummeting temperatures, ferocious winds, and fine particles of snow, the particles almost like powder. That blinded eyes and got into mouths and noses to the point of suffocation.

The storm hit quickly, on the heels of a very warm January morning. It trapped lots of people outside. It trapped children at school.

Estimates of the human death toll range from 230 to almost 500. At least over 100 of the victims were children who died trying to get home.

The death toll of animals was equally staggering. But here is what I read that I still find amazing. Something I think applies to today’s passage.

Most of the animals lost were cattle. They became victims because, according to the book, cows react to storms by trying to walk away from them. The problem in the 1888 blizzard was that they kept being driven to keep walking - and walking - and walking - always trying to escape. With no food to replenish their strength - and no time to eat even if the grass had not been covered - the result was eventual exhaustion, which caused the cattle to fall, thereby succumbing to the cold and the wind and the powder-like snow.

However, there was almost no loss of buffalo in the area of the blizzard. Why? It is because, according to the book, buffalo refuse to be driven by storms. Instead, they turn and face storms, putting their heads down, which in the 1888 storm protected their noses and mouths. They stand, facing the danger, bracing their legs against the onslaught, determined to tough it out.

Let’s not be like the bear in the opening story. Let’s not be frightened by the hissing of the problems that come our way.

Let’s not be like the cows in the 1888 blizzard, driven by whatever problems come our way.

Instead, may we, with God, face whatever problems we have.

One more time, may we not be tormented by the problems we face. May we not fret and stew. May we not forget the Lord’s promises.

Instead, may we seek God. His kingdom and His righteousness. May we trust Him. May we do that concerning the things of life. Things He knows we need. May we do that with every other hissing problem that comes our way. In those ways, we please Jesus.

* * * * *

There is a chorus that fits today’s Bible passage very well. It fits because the first verse of the chorus is verse 33 of the passage.

It is Seek Ye First. Let’s sing the chorus, including verse 2, in which we are challenged to ask, seek, and knock for the things we need, trusting God’s promise that what we need, He will provide. He will do that as we rely on Him.

Seek ye first the kingdom of God
And His righteousness,
And all these things shall be added unto you.
Allelu, alleluia.

Ask and it shall be given unto you.
Seek and ye shall find.
Knock and the door shall be opened unto you.
Allelu, alleluia.

Lord, it is so easy to be anxious. Which means we need Your help to avoid torment and fretting and stewing and losing sleep and appetite and forgetting Your promises.

Help us to overcome all those things. Help us, day by day, experience by experience, to rely on You. As we do that, and as we see Your promises being fulfilled, may it be easier and easier for us to continue to rely on You.

A scared bear or a scared cow? Help us never to be identified with such as that. Instead, help us, with You, to face whatever problems come our way.

With You, we can survive. Thank You. Amen.

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