His Eye Is on the Sparrow Fathers’ Day
Genesis 21:8-21 Matthew 10:29-39
Are any of you “birdwatchers”? I guess all of us are, to one degree or another, because we notice birds. But can you imagine anyone ever saying, “Oh, look! There’s a sparrow!”? It just doesn’t happen. Sparrows are small and brown and common—almost beneath our notice. After all, it’s the rare birds, the colorful birds that grab our attention and make us say, “Oh, look! See that bird?!”
In similar fashion, the world divides up people into more valuable and less valuable. Personally, I am uncomfortable watching beauty pageants, not because I don’t appreciate beautiful women, but because the pageants make me kind of sad. Beautiful people already get plenty of attention and preferential treatment, all based on what they look like on the outside. I feel sad for people who are beautiful on the inside but are overlooked because they are not so pleasant to look at. And I feel sad for the beauty contestants themselves, because they are being conditioned to believe that their worth is based on their looks: their value goes UP the more beautiful they are judged to be, and their value goes DOWN as their beauty fades.
Fortunately, I know some former beauty queens who have developed their inner beauty, and it shines out no matter how many pounds they put on, or how many wrinkles they have to deal with! Their real beauty radiates from within.
Enough about beauty pageants. My point is this:
The world divides people into more valuable and less valuable.
Humans tend to stand in awe of celebrities and people who are in charge of great quantities of money. If a celebrity goes missing, or a rich person flies off and gets lost, then the national media dive in, our attention is focused on them, and vast resources are spent trying to find them. Meanwhile, there are children in India and South America and Detroit and Sparks—places far and near—who are in desperate need of just a little support, and the world ignores them.
Well, our Scriptures for today point our attention to a different way of looking at people. They grab our focus and say “EVERY person is of value!” They tell us, Even if you feel insignificant, God sees you as precious.
Abraham, Sarah, and Isaac—and Hagar and Ishmael
Last week, Ken Vogel talked about Abraham and Sarah and their long wait for a promised child—a boy they named “Laughter” (that’s what Isaac means). He was named Laughter because they both laughed when God told them (in their old age) that they were going to have a son. But today’s reading from Genesis also reveals a dark chapter in the story of Abraham and Sarah. You see, some years before this startling announcement, they had despaired of having a child and had decided that they needed to “give God a little help” in this department. Sarah had a maid whose name was Hagar, and she suggested that Abraham have a child with this maid, thereby giving him an heir. So he did, and she gave birth to a boy they named Ishmael. (His name means “God listens.”)
Now, people being what we are, a great jealousy and conflict developed between Hagar and Sarah. And after Isaac was born and weaned, Sarah told Abraham, “Cast out this slave woman with her son; for the son of this slave woman shall not inherit along with my son Isaac.” (Notice how she wouldn’t even use the names of Hagar and Ishmael, just referring to them as “this slave woman and her son.”) Were they any less valuable?!
Abraham was distressed because he loved Ishmael, but God assured him that God would watch out for him and make a great nation of him as well. God’s promise was to take care of a boy born of a slave girl and cast into the desert—ejected from the community because they were no longer needed. This is a dark chapter indeed, but it shows us something about the caring nature of God! It forces the question, “If God is for us, then who can be against us?” Or, to state it another way, “If God values us, what does anyone else’s opinion matter?!”
God Cares for Sparrows—and for Each of Us
In our reading from Matthew, Jesus says, “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground unperceived by your Father. And even the hairs of your head are all counted. So do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows.”
Do not be afraid. You are of more value than many sparrows, and God highly values sparrows! Your worth is not based on your appearance or your celebrity or your money—your intrinsic worth is established in the solid fact that the God of the universe knows you are worth dying for!
Both of our readings for today make direct reference to the fact that each of us experiences adversity. Friends, it doesn’t require a crystal ball to see that we are headed into a time of economic, political, environmental, and personal adversity. The bad thing about hard times is that they lead us to believe that God is NOT caring for us. The good thing about hard times is that God’s loving provision stands out in stark relief! Remember, if God is for us, who can be against us?!
I’ll finish with this word of encouragement, a story about Ted Roberts who is a pastor and speaker and writer. During the Viet Nam War, Ted was a Marine fighter pilot. His Christian wife had sent him a book, and in the midst of that terrible conflict, he flipped through it. It led him to pray a somewhat crazy but heartfelt prayer, “Christ, I really don’t know who you are, but my life’s become totally insane. So if you’re there, sign me up!” Well apparently Christ honored his prayer and “signed him up” and, after returning from Viet Nam, Ted felt drawn to ministry. But he was still suffering from an identity crisis. Let’s hear it in his own words: “During my first couple of weeks at seminary, everyone seemed to walk around speaking Greek, Hebrew, or theological terminology. I had no clue what they were talking about. Everybody had huge black Bibles filled with notes. My green, plastic-covered Living Bible had coffee stains from reading it in the ready room prior to flight. I might fail miserably at this theology stuff; then what? That’s when I started wearing my flight jacket to class to show all the flight patches. One day as I walked to class, the Lord asked a straight-forward question in my heart: ‘Why are you wearing that jacket, Ted?’
‘It gets cold when I ride my motorcycle.’ Since it was more than 70 degrees that day, I knew my response was ridiculous. So then I told the truth. ‘Lord, I’m afraid of failing. I wear it so I’ll feel like somebody.’ Christ responded, ‘I died for you; that’s what makes you somebody. Get rid of the flight jacket and trust me.’”
Christ died for me—that’s what makes me Somebody.
Do not be afraid. You are of more value than many sparrows!