On the Sparrow

Genesis 21:8-21; Ps 69:7-10, 11-15, 16-18; Matthew 10:24-39; Romans 6:1-11 – June 21, 2020

INTRODUCTION TO GENESIS- Abraham had a dilemma.  He had a promise from God that he would be a father, but he and Sarah had gotten impatient waiting for God to fulfill the promise.  So, Sarah gave her handmaid Hagar to Abraham so he could be a father, and Sarah could become a mother through a surrogate handmaid.  This was a common practice.  The union of Hagar and Abraham produced a son who was named Ishmael. 

It wasn’t until thirteen years later that God’s promise of a son through Sarah was fulfilled when Sarah herself bore a son and named him Isaac, which means “laughter.”  It was laughter for Abraham and Sarah, but it wasn’t long before there

wasn’t so much laughter for Hagar and Ishmael.  Now that the promise of a son as fulfilled in Isaac, a rivalry breaks out between Sarah and Hagar and guess

who wins?  Hear the word of the Lord from Genesis 21:8-21

INTRODUCTION TO MATTHEW- When Ishmael was cast out of his father’s camp, we saw how Ishmael’s heavenly father intervened.  God cares for Ishmael and his mother and sees to it that Ishmael becomes the father of one of the nations who will call Abraham their father. 

In today’s gospel lesson Jesus talks about his Heavenly Father, and how he cares for God’s creatures and how nothing escapes God’s watchful eye.  Jesus continues to warn his disciples of the dangers ahead, but warns them of the even greater danger of rejecting or denying or being ashamed of their Heavenly Father and the hope of the promise of the love and caring of their and our Heavenly Father.  Hear the gospel of our Lord from Matthew 10:26-39

Let us pray.  Dear Lord bless to our ears, hearts, and souls this reading of your Holy Word.  Speak to us. Challenge us.  Call us to follow you above all. Amen.

****

In my midweek meditation I shared about a mom and her son in a grocery cart.  She warned him not to ask for Chocolate Chip Cookies, but when he got to the check out and saw his chances diminishing he yelled, “In the name of Jesus I want some Chocolate Chip Cookies!”  

Well since this is Father’s Day, I have a story of a father and his son in a grocery cart.  Grocery cart stories have been on my mind since for weeks that was one of the only places I could go.

A dad stopped in the grocery store on the way home from work to pick up a couple of items for his wife. He wandered around aimlessly for a while searching out the needed groceries. As is often the case in the grocery store, he kept passing this same shopper in almost every aisle. It was another father trying to shop with a totally uncooperative three-year-old boy in the cart.

The first time they passed, the three-year-old was asking over and over for a candy bar. Our observer could not hear the entire conversation. He just heard Dad say, “Now, Billy, this won’t take long.” As they passed in the nest aisle, the 3-year-old’s pleas had increased several octaves. Now Dad was quietly saying, “Billy, just calm down. We will be done in a minute.”

When they passed near the dairy case, the kid was screaming uncontrollably. Dad was still keeping his cool. In a very low voice he was saying, “Billy, settle down. We are almost out of here.” The Dad and his son reached the check-out counter just ahead of our observer. He still gave no evidence of losing control. The boy was screaming and kicking. Dad was very calmly saying over and over, “Billy, we will be in the car in just a minute and then everything will be OK.”

The bystander was impressed beyond words. After paying for his groceries, he hurried to catch up with this amazing example of patience and self-control just in time to hear him say again, “Billy, we’re done. It’s going to be OK.” He tapped the patient father on the shoulder and said, “Sir, I couldn’t help but watch how you handled little Billy. You were amazing.”

Dad replied, “little Billy?  His name is Wesley.  I’m Billy!”

It is not easy being a father. It is not easy juggling all the issues and providing for one’s family.  It is hard to bond with those you love when by necessity you must be away from them to be able to earn money to provide for them.

One cynic, speaking from his own experience, noted that children go through four fascinating stages. First, they call you DaDa. Then they call you Daddy. As they mature, they call you Dad. Finally, they call you collect. (of course, since the advent of cell phones when all long-distance calls are free—they do not call at all …and may not answer when you call.)

The role of a father is more important in today’s world than ever before. It is a different role than in earlier generations. In many households today, Dad is called upon to play more of a nurturing role in caring for children. If his spouse works outside the home, Dad must take a more active role in doing household chores. Today’s father needs to be nurturing of his children, supportive of his spouse, and yet at the same time provide for spiritual direction in the home. It is a rare man, a special kind of man, who can combine all three of these qualities


Today we salute fathers. Dads, we love you.  We wish you more than an ugly tie.

I’m wearing my Father’s Day tie from 2008 when my son took me to an Astros game, and I got a tie.  But we wish you more than a tie. We wish you peace, the kind of peace that Jesus came to bring. 

However, our lectionary scripture lessons this Father’s Day are hard to hear. Abraham exiling his 13-year-old son and his mother because of his wife’s jealousy and Jesus saying “I have come to set a man against his father are hard to understand. Is Jesus calling us to not love our fathers–to not love our mothers, our children? 

We must remember the context of these words of Jesus.  Jesus is warning his disciples about what is ahead for them. He knew that to follow him would mean that some parents would disown their children who did.  He knew that to follow him some children would turn in their own parents.  His call to follow him had to take precedence over even love of family.  In that sense he would come “not to bring peace but a sword” –a sword that would cut family ties rather than bring peace.  These words come from one who is about to give over his body to be crucified.  They are not to fear man who can only kill the body.  

I think a key to understanding these verses in Matthew is to understand them is to compare them to other statements Jesus made about peace.  In John 14:27 Jesus said to his disciples, “Peace be with you.”  He said, “My peace I give to you.  Not as the world gives give I to you.  My peace I give to you.”  There the key, I think.  Jesus did not come to bring peace to the world.  He did not come to bring WORLD PEACE.  He came to bring PEOPLE PEACE.   He came to bring peace to those who would take up their cross and follow him.  He came to bring peace to people who would follow him even to their death.  He came to bring peace to those who would answer his call to follow him, even IF it meant that to do so it would bring anything BUT peace to family relationships. 

Ideally, whole families would answer Jesus’ call to follow him and his peace would be a part of their family life and strengthen their family ties. The peace Jesus came to give, sustains his followers in the worst of times, in the cruelest of treatments.  It is not the kind of peace the world promises and rarely delivers.  It is the kind of peace that separates the followers who have faith from those who do not. 

In verses 29-31 we have one of the most important Scriptural reminders of the love of our Heavenly Father for His children. “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny?” Jesus asks, “And not one of them will fall to the ground without your Father’s will. But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.” What a moving testimony to the very intimate love that God has for each of us.

Here is one of my favorite testimonies+ as a father. Once when my daughter was around 7 years old, she and I were sitting outdoors eating pizza on Montrose.  Abbey started throwing some of her pizza crust crumbs to some sparrows in the shaded parking lot. A couple of bully grackles came down and sent the sparrows scrambling.  Abbey jumped out and sent the grackles scrambling and the sparrows came back.  Abbey squealed with delight, “Victory for Sparrows!”  In Matthew 6:26 Jesus said, “Look at the birds of the air.  They do not sow nor reap nor gather in barns.  Yet your Heavenly Father feeds them.  Are you not worth much more than they?”  Sometimes our Heavenly Father feeds sparrows through the efforts of 7-year-old daughters.

A second grader once asked his teacher how much the earth weighed. The teacher looked up the answer in an Encyclopedia. “Six thousand million, million tons,” she answered. The little boy thought for a minute and then asked, “Is that with or without people?”

Viewed from one perspective, it might very well seem that people do not really matter very much. After all, we are but microscopic inhabitants of a tiny planet orbiting a relatively obscure star in a small galaxy among the billions and billions of stars and galaxies that make up creation. Yet the God of creation has counted the very hairs of our heads.   (Some of us are doing our best to give God some time off by having fewer hairs on our heads to count.)

There is a troubling side to this truth. Sparrows do fall from skies. It happens all of the time. Sparrows do not live forever. Sudden storms or droughts can deprive them of their food. Predators prey upon them when they fall.

Our Heavenly Father’s love does not protect sparrows from falling.  Neither does our Heavenly Father’s love protect us from life’s problems. Those of you who are parents, you would protect your young from all life’s problems if you could. Deep in our hearts we would like to build a protective bubble around our children.  After all, when they hurt, we hurt. When someone abuses them, we are just as angry.  When they are confronting a crisis, it is we who toss and turn in our beds with sleeplessness. We would like to protect our young from any and every hurt. But what would happen if we did? They would never grow into responsible, competent, mature adults. Those little sparrows would never leave the nest!  (Bless their hearts).

God has placed us in a world that is designed to bring out the best within us if we deal with life in an attitude of faith and love. That does not mean that God has forsaken us or forgotten us.

There is a second truth related to this one. The Father’s love does not exempt us from life’s problems, but neither are life’s problems God’s punishment for our sins. Remember Job?  It was bad enough that he lost his children and his lands and his flocks and was covered with sores, but his friends accused him of deserving his wretched condition.

How often people blame themselves, and sometimes blame God, when life deals them a difficult blow. We hear someone say, “God must be using my child’s sickness to punish me for some sin.” What a petty God that would be to injure a helpless child in order to punish their parents. No!  Grief is tragic enough without adding to it the crushing burden of guilt.

Sparrows do fall from the sky. (Hairs do fall from our heads.)  Sparrows fall, but that is not because they have been good sparrows or bad. Sparrows fall because they are part of a lawful universe in which sparrows fall.   But here is the good news. The little sparrow never falls beyond the watchful eye of the Father. The child of God who knows that he or she is under the watchful eye of the Father can, by His grace, bear any burden, triumph over any tragedy, get on top of any circumstance because he knows that he is not alone. She is not alone.

We live in a world where fathers also fall.  Ishmael was cast far beyond the watchful eye of his father Abraham.  But Ishmael was not beyond the eye of God.  As fathers we will fall short. Thanks be to God who is a Heavenly Father who makes up for our shortfalls. 

Jesus warns his disciples that because of answering his call to follow him some families would be torn apart.  Some fathers would turn in their children and some children would turn in their fathers…but he also warns that the first and foremost loyalty is to our heavenly Father. 

It is time for fathers to face some hard truths. Sometimes our supposed busyness with business is often nothing but a camouflage, an easy way out. It is easier to provide a house than it is to provide a home. It is easier to give dollars than it is to give time. It is easier to write a check than to check out of work early to watch a child’s game or play or concert.  It is easier to provide a fun time than to share our wisdom. It is easier to be a good provider than it is to be a good leader. It is easier to push our children through the door of the church rather than lead them into the church. It is easier to be the bread winner, than to teach our children about the bread of life. Someday we will be called to give an account of our lives and woe be to those who were ashamed of their heavenly Father on earth, because Jesus warns, of them will their Heavenly Father be ashamed.

I do not know exactly what heaven will be like. But I know what God is like. He is like a Father who notices every little sparrow that falls from the sky and every hair that does or doesn’t …… God is a heavenly Father who cares for us much, much more than he cares for sparrows. That means even though we still must face obstacles and crises, we do not face them alone, and someday, somehow, all that which is hurtful will be turned into that which is helpful, and we shall live with joy in our heavenly Father’s house forever.  That is a promise that is good news in the grocery store for little Wesley AND big BILLY.  That is good news for us.  We will live in our Father’s House forever because the one whose eye is on us ….is the same as whose eyes are …  on the sparrow. 

Let us pray. We thank you for faithful fathers, for men who have not only brought children into this world but who felt a responsibility to help their children grow not only in stature but in wisdom and in favor with God and others.  Heavenly Father, we give you thanks for stepping in when earthy fathers have not lived up to their calling—for hearing the cries of abandoned Ishmaels of the world.  For answering those cries through your agents in the world, the church, yes even us. 

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