How Many Sparrows?
Text: Matthew 10:5a, 21-33
Proper 7, A
Jesus has compassion on the harassed and helpless people of this world. And having compassion on them He instructed his 12 disciples to go out into their midst and proclaim the good news of the kingdom of heaven. But before Jesus sent out the 12 He gave them instructions. Lots of instructions. He didn't want them to be caught unaware. And thus the warning: 25It is enough for the disciple to be like his teacher, and the servant like his master. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign those of his household.
What Jesus was (and is) trying to make clear is that there are some very powerful enemies out there who will do anything to try and crush the spread of the Gospel. These include the devil, the world, and our own sinful flesh. Not one of them respects Jesus, so why would they respect those who try to do His bidding or worship in His presence? If they were willing to call the Lord of Heaven and Earth Beelzebul (which means the Lord of the flies or the Lord of dung) then certainly they will have no problem trying to belittle His disciples' work after Him.
Not only will these three cause problems to arise and interfere, they will use every opportunity that comes along to tear down the work of the Lord. The devil provides temptation, the world provides hardship and peer pressure, and our own sinful selves lend a hand through our many doubts and worries and misgivings.
I'm sure you've seen it played out a hundred different ways already in your life. You know you need to read the Bible so finally you find some quiet time and sit down with the intention of catching up: only right then the phone rings, or your child comes in crying because their sister took their doll, or the toilet starts backing up because guess where the doll went? You get frustrated and slam the Good Book down, and at the end of the day it still hasn't been picked back up again. You know you need to pray and you are ready to. But then you are reminded that the grass needs cutting now because it looks like rain; you also should take the car in because you have that long trip coming up in a couple of days and the laundry is piling up all over the house. Feeling like you are not in control of your life anymore (are we ever really?) you heave a big sigh and get back up off your knees your prayers left un-prayed for another day.
As a congregation we are carefully considering how best to reopen our services and activities in the face of a global pandemic. What is OK and what is not. How much is too much? How can we protect our neighbours and still be faithful to God’s calling? But the news is contradictory and ever changing, the rules seem completely arbitrary and nonsensical. Thousands of people are given government assent to march and shout at the top of their lungs cheek to jowl on our main street for hours, but any joy expressed in worship will kill your grandma. He’s singing too loudly. She’s not wearing a mask. They are too close together … how dare they! Do they want me to die? All of this is engineered to breed more fear and more mistrust among us. The world provides Covid-19, the devil tempts us to unreasonable fear, and the sin-weakened flesh is ready to blame our brothers and sisters in the faith.
A lot can happen to make us feel small and unimportant; to make us feel overwhelmed and under-prepared; to make us feel inadequate to the tasks at hand or indifferent to the work that needs to be done. That's just the way the devil the world and our own sinful selves work. They will use anything and everything that happens – good or bad – to overwhelm us, belittle our faith, our abilities and our desire to be like our Master. It can get to the point where we might even be tempted to read Jesus' gracious words in v.29 and 31 “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? … Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.” and all we can think to say is How many sparrows? Because even a hundred is still only worth a dollar. A thousand is ten. How much am I worth to God? How many is many? Such questions are the Biblical equivalent of hoarding toilet paper to make yourself feel better.
But counting sparrows, dear friends, is NOT why Jesus said this. He didn't say it so that you would belittle yourself further by attempting to count out your worth in sparrows. He said this to show you that you are the biggest, most important thing to Him. As far as creatures go, the sparrow is about as unimportant as they get. They are not usually eaten for food. They are not songbirds. They don't have fancy plumage or colours. The Israelites couldn't even use them as a sacrifice. But God loves them and personally cares for them none-the-less. Not one thing ever happens to even one of these worthless little birds that God doesn't know about. And if God shows this much care for something so unimportant, how much more will He do for you?
Are you not worth more than many sparrows? The answer to this rhetorical question is a resoundingly emphatic YES! Much, much, much more! Your worth to God is so much that it can't even begin to be counted in all the sparrows that have ever lived. In order to count it properly you need something else … like nails. Three big ugly nails. The nails used to pierce Jesus' hands and feet upon the cross. That, dear friends, is the only true measure of how much you are worth to God. God loves even the little sparrows enough to watch over them individually. But God loves you so much that He was willing to lay down His life for you. There simply is no comparison.
It is one thing for the servant to strive to be like the master, but it is something else entirely for the master to become like the servants. Yet that is just what Jesus did for us. He valued us enough to come to earth and be born a man. He valued us enough to live the sinless life we never could and die the death of sin we all deserve. He values us that much.
Where the devil and the world and our own sinful selves use that big things of life (including the ever-present threat of death) to overwhelm and belittle us God uses the little things of this life to build us up and show us our true worth. Three nails and a piece of wood show us that depths of God's love for us. A handful of water sprinkled on the head shows us God's acceptance. Simple bread and wine show us God's forgiveness. For when the water and the bread and the wine are each connected to God's loving promises in Christ they become something far greater than they once were. They become God's means of showing us the grace we need to get through this life doing His will.
And the same holds true for us. God doesn’t seek just to comfort us in our fears, but rather He call us to boldness of faith in the face of our troubles. No matter what happens in this life, if we are connected to the promises of God in Christ Jesus our Lord, we will rise above it all. We will become more than we ever thought we were, or could be. We will be able to do more than we ever thought we could. We can be free of fear. For God is here for you. He is here in the little things that mean so much. In the spoken Word, and in prayer. In the Bread and the Wine. In the love and support that we share with one another in word and in song. And He will be in every task we do, showing others that they too are the biggest, most important thing to Him.