God's Eye is on the Sparrows
Pentecost 5A Matthew 10:24-39
Sparrows. (All highlighted words and pictures are in power point.) Sparrows are all around us. Sparrows are those little brown birds that seem to be everywhere. Ever present. Unimportant. Unimpressive. Unassuming.
Sparrows do not draw attention to themselves. Sparrows are not majestic like eagles with their white headed feathers and eight foot wide wing spans. Nor do they have long elegant legs like the blue heron. Nor do they sore gracefully in the wind like seagulls. Nor do they squawk noisily like crows. Nor do they stretch out in a posed position like the cormorants. Here in the Pacific Norwest, we notice the eagles, blue heron, seagulls, crows and cormorants, but we do not notice the sparrows. Here in the Northwest we don’t go “sparrow watching.” No, sparrows are indescript as you see them momentarily flutter by.
We may not realize it but there are fifteen different species of sparrows here in America. Let’s pause and briefly look at several different kinds of sparrows. Normally, we don’t even bother to pause and look at them because they are so ordinary. The following pictures of sparrows all look alike but each picture is of a different species of sparrow.
The following is called the Bachman sparrow http://www.greglasley.net/bachsp.html
And is indigenous to the United States. It looks like just another little brown bird. It lives only in the pine forests of the southeaster United States.
This is the Cassin sparrow and lives in parts of Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, and Kansas. It’s another one of those “little brown jobs.”
This is a close cousin of the previous sparrow. It is called the Botteri’s sparrow.
The Brewer’s sparrow:
The Field Sparrow:
The Worthen Sparrow:
The Sage Sparrow found also here in the Pacific Northwest:
The Black Throated Sparrow:
The Baird’s Sparrow:
The Grasshopper Sparrow:
The Henslow Sparrow:
The Le Conte Sparrow:
Each of the above images was of a picture of different species of sparrow.
It is with the intricacies of these images of sparrows, and all these little brown birds which are so common, so unnoticeable, so unremarkable, so imperceptible, that we approach the teachings of Jesus today.
Jesus taught that the sparrows of his day would be sold in the town market for a penny or two.
Jesus said: “Not one sparrow is forgotten by God.” (Luke) Whoa! Wow! No, not one. Not one sparrow is forgotten by God. Jesus taught it. Jesus said it. Jesus knew the mind of God like no other human being before or after. “Not one sparrow is forgotten by God.” This was his poetic way of say that not one human being is forgotten by God. Jesus, the Mind of God, said it.
Jesus also said, “You are more valuable than sparrows.” If the Lord God remembers all the sparrows of time and history, then the Lord God remembers all human beings from time and history. We human beings are more valuable than sparrows. Jesus taught it. Jesus said it. Jesus knew the mind of God like no other human being before or after. “You are more valuable than sparrows.” This was his poetic way of say that every human being is valuable to God.
We recall the words of that famous song about the sparrow:
“Why should I feel discouraged, why should the shadows come,
Why should my heart be lonely, and long for heaven and home,
When Jesus is my portion? My constant friend is He:
His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me;
His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me.
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.”
For many of us, those words have been sung into our souls. “I know that God’s eye is on the sparrow and I know that he watches me.”
Do you believe Jesus’ teaching about the sparrows?
Do you believe that Jesus’ eye is on you, as much as his eye is on the sparrow?
It is with this introduction that we approach the sermon for today.
Jesus’ teaching about “his eye is on the sparrow” is right in the middle of Jesus’ other teachings about discipleship. We Christians often forget that Jesus’ teachings about “God’s eye is on the sparrow” is in the midst of his teachings about discipleship.
Let me explain. Let’s briefly backtrack in the Gospel of Matthew. Matthew, the tax collector, not only collected taxes but also collected stories of Jesus. Matthew was an organizer and he organized the teachings, miracles and parables of Jesus.
In Matthew 5-7, we heard the teachings of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount.
In Matthew 8 and 9, we saw the miracles of Jesus.
In Matthew 10, today, we hear of Jesus’ guidelines for his God-fearing disciples. These guidelines still apply to our lives today.
In Matthew 10, as his disciples go out into the world, they/we are to:
- Share the gospel and heal the sick.
- Not to take any money or appear that we are rich.
- Go into a hostile environment that does not like God nor God’s ways.
- Be wise and innocent.
- Be ridiculed and persecuted by religious leaders, governments, and family.
- Be unafraid of those people who are persecuting, ridiculing and killing us.
- Know that we are more valuable to God than sparrows.*
- Be public about loyalty to the Lord God and Jesus Christ.
- Expect divisiveness and tension from our families because of our beliefs.
- Love God more than our families.
- Pick up our own cross and follow Jesus.
- Lose our lives and thereby find our lives.
So we see that this famous teaching about Jesus (about knowing and loving us more than sparrows) is found right in the middle of his teachings about discipleship.
Let’s briefly look at the Biblical text for today. Please turn to your bulletin insert and let’s examine the text for today.
These teachings are found in both Matthew 10 and Luke 12. Matthew 10 and Luke 12 are Jesus’ teachings and both chapters are almost identical. When the words of Mathew and Luke are identical or almost identical, most Biblical scholars like myself say that these words come from a prior document called Q, or Quella, which is German for Source. There are 200 Bible verses common to Matthew and Luke and these Bible verses are not found in Mark. There are many examples of Aramaic hyperbole in Q. Aramaic hyperbole is not to be taken literally but substantively.
24 "A disciple is not above the teacher, nor a slave above the master; 25 it is enough for the disciple to be like the teacher, and the slave like the master. Underline and focus on the phrase, “A disciple is to be like the teacher.” That is what we want to hold onto. That is what we want. All of us who follow Jesus do. We want to be like Jesus.
If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign those of his household!
26 "So have no fear of them; Circle the word, “fear.” Also “them.” Who are “them?” Write “government, culture, family and friends.”
In this short passage, we have four references to the word, “fear,” and the word, “fear,” controls this whole text. We are not to fear governing Roman authorities, ecclesiastical Jewish authorities, and even divisions in the family. Rather, we are to fear and love God above all things. Those categories are still important. That is, we often fear government, the church, and the family. We could add a fourth fear: our friends and the crowd around us. Sometimes, we Christians, are in that situation where we need to speak a Word from the Lord to our government, our church, our family or our friends and we are afraid to do so…because of possible rejection or persecution. So often, we keep our mouths shut and we endure in the safety of silence because we are afraid of rejection and conflict and so we do not have the courage to be truthful.
for nothing is covered up that will not be uncovered, and nothing secret that will not become known.
27 What I say to you in the dark, tell in the light; and what you hear whispered, proclaim from the housetops.
28 Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. Yes, the Roman government had the power to kill the body of Jesus and the bodies of his followers. The Greek word for witness is “martyria” from which we get the word, “martyr.” Witnesses for Christ expect to be martyred, but those who kill the body cannot kill the soul.
Rather than fearing the people who persecute and kill Christians, it is wiser to fear the Lord God who can destroy both the body and soul.
29 Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? If you had Luke’s version of this same story before you, you would notice that Luke has five sparrows and Matthew has two sparrows. Matthew has two sparrows being sold for one penny and Luke has five sparrows sold for two pennies. Once again, we do not get hung up on the minutia, the petty details of the text. Matthew and Luke share the identical idea although the details are different. We can easily imagine sparrows being sold for nearly nothing in the local village market.
Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. Write down, “Luke: Not one of them is forgotten before God.” This is the key. The Gospel of Luke says in its parallel form: “Not one of them is forgotten before God.”
The NIV translate this sentence, “Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of our Father.” Does this mean that everything that happens to a sparrow is the will of God? Does this then mean that everything that happens to us human beings is the divine will of God and that we humans are part of a specific and detailed godly blueprint of our lives? Does this mean that God has a specific, detailed plan for our lives (God’s will) and this plan is being carried out in every detail? Who we marry? Where we live? The car we buy? Who we meet today? It seems to me that this passage is saying something more limited. That is, we are part of God’s glorious will for our lives, but that does not mean that God controls all the specific details of our lives as if we were some puppets who are predetermined to live out a specific, divine plan. Like good parents, God has a grand vision for the life of his children to live in love, kindness, justice, mercy, and peace within an extremely evil world. Healthy parents have good and grand visions for their children but do not have detailed blue prints of their children’s lives.
Luke’s version of Q may be more helpful than Matthew. That is, Matthews says that “no sparrow will fall to the ground without your Father’s will;” Luke says that “no sparrow is forgotten before God.” Both seem to be quoting from a previous source, called Q. We in the church have this fundamental principle to let “Scripture interpret Scripture” and it seems that Luke’s version of the story illuminates Matthew’s. God does not forget one of the sparrows and God does not forget my life either, since I am even more valuable than the sparrows. For me, Luke’s interpretation is more helpful than Matthew’s. Luke's emphasis is that God does not forget us as individual human beings.
We recall all of those pictures of sparrows and how God knows and loves and keeps track of every single one of them.
Circle the word, “father,” and remember that today is Father’s Day. God our heavenly Father is near to us and realizes all the little details of our lives, even when we are hurt and fall down to the ground.
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. Underline. Highlight. Remember. Circle the word, “you.” You are more valuable than sparrows.
32 "Everyone therefore who acknowledges me before others, I also will acknowledge before my Father in heaven; 33 but whoever denies me before others, I also will deny before my Father in heaven. Circle the word, “therefore.” That is the key to the whole section. Because we know that God keeps track of us even better than the sparrows, therefore, we are to acknowledge Jesus before others. What motivates us to live our lives in such a way that others know that we love God and Christ? Because we know that God knows the details about the sparrows and about the hairs of our head, therefore we are let other people know that God knows us that well.
34 "Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.
35 For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; 36 and one's foes will be members of one's own household. 37 Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me;
38 and whoever does not take up the cross and follow me is not worthy of me.
39 Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.
What does these teachings mean for our lives today here in the 21st century?
- “Not one sparrow is forgotten by God our Father.” Jesus. Learn these words. Memorize them. Put them deep into your heart. The Lord God watches us even more than the Lord God watches little brown blobs called sparrows. Not one sparrow is forgotten by God our Father. Think of all the pictures we saw of sparrows. Not one sparrow is forgotten by God our Father. Nor is any one of us. …Remember the personality of each sparrow that we saw. It’s individuality. It’s uniqueness.
Jesus is teaching you. Jesus is saying to you. Jesus is talking to you. You and your life are more valuable to God our Father than the sparrows.
Do you believe it? Do you trust it is true? Is that cool? Is that great? Is that than awesome?
Jesus was a genius and no one ever said anything like that before or after him. Jesus was seminal, original, innovative. Jesus was creative, the mastermind, the intelligence behind the universe. Jesus said: You are more valuable than sparrows. Not one sparrow is forgotten by God our Father.
Can you believe it? Can you trust that it is true?
- We are to acknowledge and testify before all people (government, family, friends) about the Lord God who created all the sparrow and Lord Jesus Christ who taught us that we are more valuable than sparrows in the heart and mind of God.
We are not to be ashamed of God before our government when it is hostile to the Christian faith, before our family who sometimes thing our deep faith is rather silly, nor before our friends who often don’t want us to be too religious.
When this truth finally penetrates your heart and mind that not one sparrow is forgotten by God, when you believe it, when you know it, you then share those convictions with others. You share with your family and friends and neighbors and work associates and everyone…that not one human life is forgotten by God, that their life is known and remembered by God.
As someone has said, God in heaven carries a wallet in his/her pocket, and in that wallet are pictures of you and me. Like the Lord God has an image of every sparrow in mind, so the Lord God carries a picture of you and me in his/her heart.
What is the story behind the song, “His Eye is on the Sparrow?” “Civilla Martin wrote: "Early in the spring of 1905, my husband and I were sojourning in Elmira, New York. We contracted a deep friendship for a couple by the name of Mr. and Mrs. Doolittle, true saints of God. Mrs. Doolittle had been bedridden for nigh twenty years. Her husband was an incurable cripple who had to propel himself to and from his business in a wheel chair. Despite their afflictions, they lived happy Christian lives, bringing inspiration and comfort to all who knew them. One daywhile we werevisiting with the Doolittles, my husband commented on their bright hopefulness and asked them for the secret of it. Mrs. Doolittle's reply was simple: "His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me." The beauty of this simple expression of boundless faithgripped the hearts and fired the imagination of Dr. Martin and me. The hymn "His Eye Is on the Sparrow" was the outcome of that experience." The next day she mailed the poem to Charles Gabriel, who supplied the music.”
The words and melody of that song are deep into my heart and the hearts of many others:
“His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me;
His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me.
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.”