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Sermon: “From Lament to Praise: His Eye is on the Sparrow”

Rev. Dr. Deborah Lind, preacher

Lectionary Readings for this Sunday deal with the underside of faith.  The disciples who have faithfully followed Jesus are now faced with the reality that they too will deal with conflict, hatred, and death. In the Gospel according to Matthew, everything that Jesus has endured will be their fate.  There is a cost to discipleship. (Matthew 10:16-23) This is a reality check, “if you follow me, it will not be an easy life”. Ministry is not a get rich scheme, like some evangelists from tents to TV demonstrated.  Jesus was clear that the rich ruler and the Pharisees who demanded attention and glory might not make it through the gates of heaven.  Peace might not reign in your family because of religious rifts.  So, what’s new?

Let’s admit it, you and I know what it’s like to be despairing and faithful.  Can you think of time when you cried out to God, and prayed in despair?

Our reading, Psalm 86 begins with such a plea to God…from one who is “poor and needy”.  Ever been there? (Raise your hands) The Message translation is something we can understand, “Bend an ear, God: answer me. I’m one miserable wretch! Keep me safe-haven’t I lived a good life?  Help your servant- I’m depending on you. You are my God; Have mercy.”

Sometime in your life, it may not be this moment. You and I have been there on our proverbial knees or standing screaming, “Where are you, God?”  Can you relate?

Let me tell you a modern parable: A mule was walking along enjoying the sunny day when he fell into a deep dark hole. Unable to climb out the mule loudly cried out, “HE HAW, HEY UP THERE, HELP ME OUT!”  A farmer in the field heard his cry, took his shovel out of his wagon, and started digging. He tossed dirt down the hole the mule cried out, “HE HAW, why are you burying me?”.  The mule stomped around while the man continued to toss dirt over the braying animal. Shaking it off and stomping the dirt down, the hole was filling up and the floor was rising UNTIL the mule could step out, walking away tired but alive and well.

Can you relate? Short story about me.  I was ordained 34 years ago when women clergy were still new in the Presbyterian and Methodist churches. Christians in our family had mixed reactions.  Catholics and Baptists love me, but were not in favor.  Stay in music. The whole was dark and deep, but I did have people who lifted me up into the light. God was always with me and spoke through the faith community.  One Princeton Seminary professor told me to look up and listen to the applause.

I think that the Psalms and Gospel selections for today are important reminders that discipleship, following Christ is difficult. And the journey can be rough. But you don’t walk it alone. Yes, Matthew 10: 24-39 lays out a harsh reality, to follow Christ can be dangerous and difficult. Jesus needs harvest hands, workers in the vineyard. And you are never too young or old to sow seeds of love and devotion.

My sister and I are helping our 94-year-old mother move into a smaller room at the nursing home. And I she showed me a letter I’d written to my Swedish Grandfather in 1963. I was astonished. I wrote that I was playing the organ for children’s church and organizing the worship. Plus, I attended the youth program and sang in the adult choir.  Even little children can lead if you encourage them.

Same goes for all ages.  We all assume that our ministry is right here inside these walls.  But Jesus instructs his disciples to get out there! Imitate Christ and practice your ministry out there. On the roads, in your neighborhood, in the grocery store.

Reach out to the lost sheep. Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse. (Matthew 10:5b-15)

Essentially Jesus Christ told his disciples to observe and do the same.

Now do as I have done. Love as I have loved you.  Don’t expect to sit at the head table, prance around like mucky mucks, or accumulate riches and titles or praise.  Instead get out there on the dusty roads.  And, if someone doesn’t like you or the message, shake it off (the dust) and move on.

Don’t retaliate. If they don’t want the peace Christ’s brings, so be it.

Share Christ’s love and peace with the next person.

The tough talk in Matthew 10: 16-23 seems harsh at first but it was their reality.  Jesus warns that everything he has experienced including death threats and division may happen to the disciples/Apostles.  You may get arrested and they were. Or you may be put to death.  And several disciples were martyred like Jesus.  Families may divide, brothers and sisters may stop speaking to you.  You may have division in your own families because of religion. We all want peace, in the world, in our communities and in our families.  But that isn’t easy.  One seminary professor gently guided me during rough times in my family. It wasn’t easy being a female called to the ministry 40 years ago.  His directive reminds me to calm down, think, pray and remember to “Speak the truth in love”.  Cunning or as smart as a serpent and gentle as a dove.  The other directive I had posted over my office door.  “Jesus came to take away your sins, not your mind”.

There is a wealth of Jesus’ Wisdom in verses 24-32 The TRUTH WILL COME OUT OR REVEAL ITSELF.  Don’t fear those who kill the body, they can not kill your soul. The old life is gone, and you will have a life that is worthy and priceless. God cares for the smallest and most vulnerable little birds, sparrows could be purchased for pennies.

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, …. 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”.

You see in the end; we praise for the God who loves us.  We thank God for Jesus Christ, who assures us that God knows inch of us body and soul. That includes the hairs or lack of hairs on our head, the aches of body and soul. Of each of us.  Christ loved in an extravagant way to demonstrate his love for God and God’s love for us. Whoever acknowledges God in heaven, acknowledges Christ. And those who acknowledge Christ before others will be One with God.

All Praise and Glory to God!

“His eye is on the Sparrow” lyrics written by a woman, Civilla D. Martin in 1905.