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SJMC/GLMC Church Picnic
Consider the Birds: The Sparrow
So, Jesus says “consider the birds.” Most of us know this passage from Matthew pretty well. It’s part of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. “Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they...? Therefore, do not worry, saying “What will we eat?” or “What will we drink?” or “What will we wear?” But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”
Jesus’ point, of course, is that if God so cares even for the birds, we can be assured that God will care for us even more. We can let go of some of our worries, trusting that it’s God who provides our daily bread. And it’s a pretty obvious point. Sure, we children created in the image of God, we’re of much greater value than a bunch of birds.
And yet, Jesus does tell us to look at them. And so perhaps we ought to take him at his word. So what exactly are we looking at? In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus says something similar, but makes it a bit more specific. “Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten in God’s sight. But even the hairs of your head are all counted. Do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows” (Luke 12:6-7).
So then, let’s consider the sparrow. Not the most exciting of birds. Small, kind of a drab brown, and it doesn’t so much sing as chirp. Loudly and incessantly, sometimes. But more even than that, the sparrow is common. There are sparrows everywhere – all over the world.
When we think of sparrows, we’re probably thinking of the house sparrow – passer domesticus, if you’re interested in the scientific latin name. It’s called a house sparrow because it has this habit of making its home where people are. Wherever people thrive, the house sparrow thrives too. And people have thrived all over the globe, making the sparrow among the most common birds in all parts of the world.
The house sparrow was brought to North America from Europe sometime in the middle of the 1800’s. Partly for pest control, and partly for a taste of home as people moved and settled onto this continent. Well, the sparrow quickly did what it does best: it multiplied and flourished. Very soon, sparrows were everywhere. In fact, they began pushing out other bird species native to the United States and Canada. They can be quite aggressive in claiming territory. You could make the argument that the sparrows were just following the lead of their human partners, but people quickly turned against them. Sparrows have been considered a pest and a nuisance in many places, and there have been numerous campaigns over the years to curb their population. Even today, I’m told, people who care about birds will take drastic measures to root out sparrows that make their homes in yards or birdhouses.
Even in Jesus’ time, it seems, sparrows were at best a cheap street food. Five sparrows sold for two pennies. And yet, Jesus says, not one of them is forgotten in God’s sight. No matter how common, how plentiful, how ordinary – God knows and remembers and loves.
I suspect that we often have a hard time loving things that are ordinary or common. We easily appreciate the thing that is rare, or special, or unique. We’re drawn to what catches our attention in a particular way. But the ordinary and the everyday often passes without notice. Or like the house sparrow, we notice with hostility.
It’s funny – in part because of sparrow purge campaigns, there are actually a few traditional sparrow geographies where the population is now in decline. In the United Kingdom and India, for instance, the house sparrow is hard to find. And in these places, there have been popular movements to preserve and celebrate the sparrow! We dislike what is common until it’s not. When it’s rare, then suddenly we desire and love it.
And yet not one sparrow is forgotten in God’s sight. God feeds and cares for even these birds of the air in all their multitudes. Ordinary is not a problem for God. Common is not a turnoff. And that’s probably good news for us too, as we find ourselves in the crush of humanity living out our days on this earth.
Because in both Matthew and Luke, Jesus’ point is that if God loves and cares for the most common of birds, how much more will God care for us and supply for our needs. We don’t need to worry about having it all together. About standing out in our wealth or abilities. We don’t need to scurry around adorning ourselves with colours and patterns that might win over the God who made us. God knows every sparrow – every hair on our heads, and God will not forget us.
Perhaps we can even relax enough to share a bit in God’s love of what is common. Perhaps we could learn to delight in the things that surround us every day. The birds of the sky and the trees of the forest, the air we breathe and the sun that shines. But also the people who we seem to be stuck with. Family, spouses, children, friends, co-workers. It’s no coincidence that Jesus calls us to love our neighbours. It’s not a matter of finding somebody appealing or interesting enough to love, but of learning to delight in those we see every day.
Psalm 84 begins: “How lovely is your dwelling place, O Lord of hosts! My soul longs, indeed it faints for the courts of the Lord; my heart and my flesh sing for joy to the living God. Even the sparrow finds a home, and the swallow a nest for herself, where she may lay her young, at your altars, O Lord of hosts, My King and my God. Happy are those who live in your house, ever singing your praise.”
The sparrow – at home in God’s house, even if not such a welcome guest in our own. It may not have much of a song, but perhaps we can still hear God’s praises sung in the sparrow’s insistent chirps.
Jesus invites us to consider the birds. For his eye is on the sparrow, and I know he’s watching me.