Scripture: Matthew 10:26-39
Wow - what to do with this selection? When I first read it, hear it, in the spirit of lectio divina practice of reading sacred text, I thought of words that jumped out to me. Some words that stand out are fear, secret, kill, sparrow, value, deny, sword, against, love, worthy. I would not normally put many of these words together. How did they end up together in the Gospel?
They go together here because the Gospel of Jesus Christ - the message that Jesus brought to this earth - is one that is full of turning the world upside down from its normal operations. It’s full of bringing together the unexpected.
For example, this image of a sparrow - one of the smallest of birds - as something that God is concerned with and sees. If you want to make a statement about importance in this world, wouldn’t you use something grand, large? Instead, Jesus uses a sparrow, something small & meek, when talking to his disciples.
This imagery tells us that even the smallest in this world matter. What the world sees as small and insignificant, God does not discount. This imagery tells us that...
even if we feel God has left us/the world
Even when we feel invisible and unseen
Even when we feel the global world is being turned upside down
Even when we feel our individual world is turned upside down
Even then God sees us, sees us as important.
God is with us.
God is still speaking. (A motto that the UCC proudly promotes.)
Kathryn Matthews (Sermon Seeds, ucc.org) makes an interesting point on the relationship between the sparrow and value in productivity. Especially in the U.S. high value is placed on productivity - what can you do for me? What can you add to society or this company? Unfortunately, a person’s value is very often related to the number in their bank account. That’s the world.
God, on the other hand, is concerned with the sparrow. What does the sparrow add to the world? It doesn’t have a bank account. It won’t find a cure to cancer or AIDS or COVID-19. But...it has beauty, it is simply a part of the ecosystem and a part of the cycle of life. It is a living creature on this earth and God sees it, loves it, cares for it.
The Gospel of Jesus teaches us that each life - each person has value and it is not based on what productivity levels you can offer to this world. Whether black, brown, white, heterosexual, bisexual, “able-bodied,” “other-abled,” scientist, artist. Each person has value. In true Dr. Seuss form “a person’s a person, no matter how small.” As Christ-followers, this is what Jesus teaches us - to not overlook or forget people who have been overlooked by society - this is what we need to fight for in this world.
This is so much of what Jesus taught. He reached out to the people on the margins, he reached beyond society’s boundaries. Each person, each human being, has value for no other reason than they are a part of God’s creation.
(Right now, I’m imagining giving this message in a Children’s Message format and having Charlie ask me “what about the Nazis?” Fair question, Charlie. It can be hard to say that an individual who puts such hate into the world has value in God’s eyes, and yet it’s true. Their actions are not okay; their words are not condonable; others need to work against that hate. But I believe their life has value.)
And so, with this message that even the overlooked or who are perceived to be “the least” in society have great importance with God...and Jesus knew that it would come with conflict. Jesus knew the message would not be well received by all, particularly those in power.
I saw a statement online this past week that said “you cannot be anti-racist and conflict avoidant at the same time.” And that really upset me because I knew it was true - and I know I avoid conflict fairly well. Seeing that message came on a day when someone posted hugely inflammatory racist comments on a post of mine, and I wanted to delete and ignore them. (I did eventually block this person because the discussion was not productive. It was a moment of discerning when to “brush the dust off my feet,” if you will.) The whole experience, coupled with these verses today, reminded me that the deeper message of Jesus is not one that will be met with open arms by everyone.
Saying that everyone is equal may seem foundational and assumed by many - but it’s not.
Pushing for social reform so that everyone is treated equally will not be met with open arms by all.
Even if the end goal is shared and two people/groups of people have a shared common goal, how to get there may be vastly different.
Jesus’ message that each living creature is seen and valued would not always be received with open arms. For those of us who find ourselves in heated conversations around equal rights for all people, I pray it is an encouragement to hear that Jesus knew, even 2000 years ago, that it would not be a conversation easily entered into.
He even recognized that it could divide families - parent and child, brother and sister. Jesus was NOT anti-family, but he was also not for idolizing those relationships above God’s message of inclusivity and equality. I don’t believe Jesus was encouraging divisions among family members, but he was encouraging the spread of a message and a way of life that wouldn’t be welcomed by all.
I don’t think I would need to ask for a show of hands for how many people have kept quiet on an issue at a dinner in order to “keep the peace.” Maybe prompted by your parent and given a look across the table of “don’t go there.” Some people listening, depending on personality, have no problem speaking up! They’ll call out hate or discrimination or racism in a heartbeat without hesitation!
And also, for those of us with personalities that don’t enter easily into those conflict situations, how can we hold true to the teachings of Jesus - that the sparrow, the overlooked, the marginalized matter?
In a recent podcast (I forget which one), the host suggested that perhaps you think of speaking up not as a way of starting a fight but as a way to not lie to people about who you are or what values you hold.
When in a group of people and a racist joke is told or comment made, instead of staying quiet, simply say “I don’t think that’s funny/true.”
When in the car with someone and they make a derogatory comment about someone asking for help at a stoplight, say that you wonder what all has happened in their life to bring them to that point. Maybe it will spur a compassionate perspective.
When a person says something about Christianity being outdated or just used to exclude others, simply say “that’s not what I’ve experienced.”
And when you take a stand for who are considered to be the “least” in society, know that God sees you.
When you are weary from conversation after conversation regarding racism or the environment or healthcare,
When you are frustrated from time spent researching candidates and trying to make the best informed decision,
When you are seeking out community organizations working to end inequality,
When you are tired after an evening of preparing meals for those without homes,
Know that God sees you and sees them and sees us all - the small, the large, the productive, the non-productive - all of us.
God is present.
God is still speaking.
God sees you.