Let’s begin the message with a BREATH prayer to help us prepare for God’s word to reach us:
Breathing in: O Lord, you have searched me
Breathing out: and you know me
The other day I went to hike at the Broad Meadow Brook Audubon Sanctuary right here in Worcester. It’s a wonderful place, makes you feel miles away even though you’re right here in the city. Highly recommended to you if you have not been before. While there, I saw the biggest, fattest green frog ever while walking on the Frog Pond Path and I saw a beautiful large brown bunny that did not seem afraid of me in the least. In fact, he looked like he might take me on. No less than all the animals at the Audubon is the hundreds, maybe thousands of birds that live there and, why wouldn’t they? It is a beautiful, safe and protected area carved out to care for them, so that they are not disturbed. Dogs are not allowed, which my Bella is not happy about, but in that way the birds and other creatures experience safety and serenity and so they proliferate. There are some interesting and rare species of birds in the sanctuary but there are also a gazillion sparrows living in relative harmony.
Sparrows are an important aspect of today’s sermon. Verse 29 says, “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? (meaning there are so many of them) Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father.30 And even the hairs of your head are all counted. 31 So do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows.” After having spent the afternoon with the sparrows, I was glad to hear this. Obviously, sparrows are plentiful and we often think of them as nothing very special, right? The scripture tells us however, that the sparrows are important in the eyes of God just as other more impressive entities are. I believe that so-called lesser or neglected people are the folks God wants us to pay the most attention to.
I remember Shane Claiborne saying when he was here talking to us a few weeks ago, while you’re working your way up the ladder of life be careful not to bump into Jesus making his way down that very same ladder. Jesus, it seems, makes it a point to find his way down to those who are having a hard time finding their way up. Even the individual hairs on your head are important to God, can you beat that? That’s what it says. Other parts of this particular scripture are not very palatable. There are verses about Jesus bringing a sword and refusals to bring peace. However, we ought to look at the scriptures in the context of Jesus’ day. People of the time did a lot of adhering to conformity in the face of oppressive rules of law which were extremely unjust to the ordinary citizen.
Scholars write that the strong language in these verses was intended to wake people out of their self-effacing behavior of giving into the powers that be. Jesus saying things about denying to God those who do not profess him, were said so that folks would wake up and pay attention to the difficult changes Jesus was asking them to incorporate in their lives. His talk about setting a man against his father and a daughter against her mother was perhaps a much-needed wake up call to stop what they were doing in order to bring about a new day-of-reconciliation with God and each other. Or, maybe he was just frustrated and in a bad mood, I don’t know! God will be with us no matter what, but Jesus urges us through scripture to be courageous in what we do.
There is indeed significant contradiction in this passage. It is troubling to hear what Jesus had to say, especially for those of us who love their sons and daughters! However, if you have been, or are a person who experiences being left out of the social norm and the family structure (and there are an awful lot of people alone and isolated who do) these very difficult verses might actually be received as a comfort. That is to say, those of us who have a full-time job and a good family life might find these verses of turning away from your family and the way things are commonly done rather challenging. Though the words are demanding and provocative, according to Jesus it is good to step outside our zones of comfort and put ourselves in the shoes of people who feel left out, unappreciated, unseen.
I met a woman at another church a while back way before I came here who had been raised in a normal middle class family. Along the way, she was introduced to and became addicted to cocaine and alcohol, then heroin. As her addiction progressed, she fell in with people who wanted nothing better than to suck the money out of her accounts and rob her of her dignity by selling her their drugs. She was caught in a vicious cycle of addiction, recovery, addiction, recovery which many people succumb to. Substances such as these are driven by business individuals who make their sales goals by getting people addicted. In that way, they make a very good living at the cost of the souls of others. It is a pact with the devil! Eventually, my friend ended up going through almost all of her earnings and savings, was left without a home and was turned away by her family who got fed up with her destructive behavior. No one can blame her family for feeling this way but it did not help my friend to recover. In fact, it drove her into the arms of a very unscrupulous man who drained her of the little she had left, both physically as well as emotionally. In that relationship, she hit bottom hard. Somehow in her deepest despair, God’s grace reached out to her, I’m not sure how, but she is in recovery and moving through her sobriety slowly, one day at a time. Praise be to God!
Sometimes, when you are out and about you see folks on the street in Worcester pan handling or sitting on the street corner with a sign delineating their desperate situation. I know it is human nature to think, “oh, their plight is for da birds” or “hey, why don’t they just get a job?” The answer to that question is they are among God’s beloved sparrows, as varied as the hairs on your own head. You just can never know why terrible things happen to people. What I do know, from talking to people who don’t have a place to call home is that each and every one has a reason and a good many of us are just a step away from that kind of homelessness and despair, due to circumstances that go spiraling out of control. I know it doesn’t feel that way, but I am here to tell you that the people who seem like people you feel uncomfortable with down at the VA or hanging out at Worcester Fellowship, or in the 12-step recovery rooms, are just like you and me. I believe scripture bears me out, God is watching over them just like God is watching over us. Who we are and everything we do matters.
I am not sure everything has a purpose, like some people believe, but it all counts in the stream of life. Here is a quote from a book called “We Are Called To Rise” by Laura McBride which makes a lot of sense:
It all matters. That someone turns out the lamp, picks up the windblown wrapper, says hello to the invalid, pays at the unattended lot, listens to the repeated tale, folds the abandoned laundry, plays the game fairly, tells the story honestly, acknowledges help, gives credit, says good night, resists temptation, wipes the counter, waits at the yellow, makes the bed, tips the maid, remembers the illness, congratulates the victor, accepts the consequences, takes a stand, steps up, offers a hand, goes first, goes last, chooses the small portion, teaches the child, tends to the dying, comforts the grieving, removes the splinter, wipes the tear, directs the lost, touches the lonely, is the whole thing. What is most beautiful is least acknowledged. What is worth dying for is barely noticed.
Important words. Keep in my heart the words of the refrain from the song “His Eye Is on The Sparrow” sung today:
I sing because I’m happy, I sing because I’m free,
For His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me.
Amen brothers and sisters.