Sermon June 25, 2017

Matt. 10: 24-39 (Count hairs, did not come to bring peace…)

His Eye is on the Sparrow

In my last sermon, I emphasized God’s love.  I’m always wanting to emphasize God’s love and forgiveness.  And then we go and have a lesson like this.  In the beautiful days of summer we get this.  Sometimes we talk about the idea of preaching a sermon series.  We’ve done it a few times, but rarely.  This is one of the times I’m thinking, “A sermon series would have been nice!”  I don’t like this Gospel lesson.  But today we’ll deal with it.  It’s a challenge for us but I think we find that there is also hope and good news.

Sometimes, and I am very guilty of this, we try to make the lesson or Christianity more easy to swallow.  We make it more gentle.  This lesson talks about the struggles of being a follower of Jesus.  It flat out won’t be easy.  We say, “Well maybe this is talking about Jesus’ original disciples.  It doesn’t mean us.”  I think it was to those disciples…but also for us.   I don’t like to hear these words.  I don’t like conflict, especially from Jesus.  I like comfort.  Peace.

Pastor Lloyd has been talking for some time now especially with the council about some potential changes here.  He may be challenging us to be a different kind of church.  I’m not exactly sure what that will mean for us, but there could be some changes.  In some ways we hope to be more missional.  More reaching out rather than focusing on what we do here in these walls.  We will be challenged.

Most likely we won’t be persecuted but many of us may feel uncomfortable.  Kind of like this lesson.  It’s the old “burr under the saddle” that kind of rubs us the wrong way.  Jesus is calling for greater participation and energy and dedication.

When I first read this Gospel lesson, I think about persecution and I also think about radical commitment.   It seems like some of the greatest times of growth for the church were when it was being persecuted.  We think about the early church and the martyrs for Christ, but I think of even more recent decades.

When my wife and I served as short term missionaries in Japan, we were told that the country was less than one percent Christian.  One of the greatest times for growth had been immediately following WW2.  Why?  The people needed something to hold on to.  Something to give them hope.  They found it in Jesus Christ.  By the time we arrived in the early 80’s Christianity had declined again.  Why?  Everyone was comfortable again.  Everyone had work and a TV and good food and a place to live.  Life was good.  No need for the dependency of the Gospel.   No need for Jesus.

Do you remember when our former Gov. Jessie Ventura talked about Christians?  He said, “Organized religion is a sham and a crutch for weak-minded people who need strength in numbers.”  That was a bit like Japan.  When they weren’t persecuted, they could do it on their own.  They didn’t need Jesus or the hope found in the Gospel.

And Pastors and churches still talk about 9/11.  The Sunday’s immediately following that tragedy, churches across the country were filled.   Why?  There was a need for hope and good news and support.  Now we wonder, have we become too complacent again?  What kind of radical life is Jesus calling us to?  What kind of commitment?

I was reminded of a great story of commitment that took place under Emperor Julius Caesar.  Caesar and his soldiers were going to conquer Great Britain.  As they approached England they were in their boats.  The Brits were on the highlands and cliffs, looking straight down at the boats in the water.  The Romans were looking up at those soldiers as they came in to land on shore.  Then they did one amazing thing.  Anyone remember?  They burned their boats.  There was no turning back.  They were committed to the mission.

How does that play out for us?   What does it mean to be totally committed to Christ?  What does it mean in this 21st century when terrorists are one of the saddest examples of giving their total commitment for a cause.  So much so that they drive vehicles into crowds or strap bombs onto themselves.   It seems that they value their cause more than love of family or friends or their own life.   And that is so wrong.  There is no defending such terror.  But what is Jesus saying to us when he talks about commitment?

To be sure Jesus has some hard words, but there is hope and encouragement for us.  Three times in this passage Jesus says, “Do not be afraid.”  Whatever persecution we face, God is with us.   God cares for us.

Now I want you to take a break from the discipleship challenges we’ve talked about and think for a minute about sparrows.  That’s right.  Sparrows.  Those simple unassuming little brown birds that seem to be everywhere.  They don’t soar like eagles they don’t sing especially beautifully, they are for the most part unimportant, unimpressive, and unassuming.  But right in the middle of Jesus teaching about discipleship, Jesus talks about sparrows.  Right in the middle.

Ed Marquart writes that interestingly, there are 15 kinds of sparrows in America.  There’s a Bachman sparrow, a Brewers sparrow, a Black Throated and a Bairds,a Cassin and a Sage, and a Worthen and a Field Sparrow.  There’s a  Grasshopper, and a Henslow and a LeConte Sparrow.    They’re all different.  Each unique, and yet it is with those images of the common, unnoticeable, unremarkable little brown birds that we hear Jesus in the Gospel.  Jesus says that not one is forgotten by God.  And you?  You are so much more valuable than a sparrow.  God loves you so much that God cares for you and is with you even when you are persecuted and challenged by your call to discipleship.

There was an old song called, “His Eye is on the Sparrow.”  It was sung at my grandfather’s funeral.  A couple of years ago at the academy awards show, there was an award given for best documentary called “10 feet from Stardom.”  It’s about the unknown musicians who sang as back up vocalists for some of the most famous stars.  Darlene Love accepted the Oscar on behalf of the film and she burst into the song.  “I sing because I’m happy, I sing because I’m free.   His eye is on the sparrow, and I know he watches me.”  How would the audience respond to that old gospel song?  They gave her a standing ovation.

Ethyl Waters probably made the song most famous because she sang it at the old Billy Graham Crusades.  Ethyl Waters knew pain and persecution.  Her birth was the result of the rape of her teenage mother.  She grew up without a father in severe poverty.  She wrote that she never lived in one place for over 15 months.  .  “I never was a child.  I was never cuddled, or liked, or understood by my family.”  She married at 13 and left that abusive situation and then worked as a maid in Philadelphia for .75 a week.  Still she was able to sing of God’s care.

(Sometimes hokey or even spooky??)(Not about God spying on us but caring for us.)

Three times Jesus says, “Do not be afraid.”   My friends, you know and you have experienced, that there will be challenges and persecutions in this life.  Maybe not for your faith, but in other ways.  There will be challenges and exciting things even in this church as we think about our mission.  We may be anxious and we may even be afraid, but remember how valued and loved you are by God.  As you leave this place and enter again into the world…

Do not be afraid. Amen