(This also appeared in the Faith column of the Sentinel-News in Shelbyville, KY on May 15, 2015)
“So have no fear of them; for nothing is covered up that will not be uncovered, and nothing secret that will not become known. What I say to you in the dark, tell in the light; and what you hear whispered, proclaim from the housetops. Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. 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” (Matt 10:26-31, NRSV).
Do you know anything about a hostile environment? Have you ever been in hostile territory? Even among your own people?
Maybe your job can be a hostile environment. You work harder than the person next to you, although you don’t make as much money. You are constantly picking up his slack. Then, one day he doesn’t come in at all, so your boss asks you to cover his work (but not for any extra pay). And you do such a good job that they decide not to hire anyone to replace him. Hostile.
Maybe your group of friends can be a hostile environment. People who have told you that they will have your back no matter what. People who say that they will stand beside you through anything. And then when they catch wind of a rumor, you can feel the condescending eyes from your so-called friends looking down on you. Hostile.
Maybe even a place like the grocery store has become hostile. Because you require food stamps to feed your children after a lay-off, you get to experience the judgment of complete strangers who can’t believe that you would dare buy name-brand Cheerios instead of the generic. Hostile.
When Jesus instructed his 12 disciples in the 10th chapter of Matthew to go to the lost children of Israel, to offer healing and wholeness, he warned them that they would be going into hostile territory. Even amongst their own people, they would be thrown out of towns and flogged in the synagogues. “I send you like sheep amongst wolves,” he tells them. But then Jesus tells them not to worry or be afraid, for when a buy-one-for-a-penny-get-one-free sparrow falls from the sky, God takes notice. And so when you are in peril, know that God has his eyes on you too.
Think about that. When a sparrow, a small, insignificant bird, a mere speck in the sky, indistinguishable from the other millions of sparrows just like it, falls from the thin blanket of atmosphere around planet earth, a mere speck of dust orbiting a pinpoint of light called the sun, one of billions of other stars in the Milky Way, which is just one of 100s of billions of galaxies in a universe over 10 billion light years across, when such an infinitesimal, almost worthless bird falls from the sky, the creator of that same vast universe takes notice! And while you might not think so highly of yourself, surely you would agree that you are more valuable to God than a sparrow. In fact, God has the number of hairs on your head counted. Do you know what that means? It doesn’t mean that God merely knows the number of hairs on your head. It means that when you brush your hair and one falls out, God says, “Now that was number 5,962.” That’s how intimately God knows you. So do not worry.
Now this is good news and surely helps me to be strengthened and encouraged by God’s care and concern during the trials of my life. But I have to admit that I still worry. Why? Because I am a parent. Because I am a son. Because I am a brother, a spouse, and a friend. I have loved ones. And I worry about the well being of my parents as they age. I worry they may get lonely. I worry about whether my children are protected from all the dangers of life. I don’t want them to suffer. I worry about those I love whose lives have gone completely off the rails, who are lost.
If you also worry about your loved ones, consider this passage from Matthew 10 again. If you, you who are fallible and human, love those people in your life—parents, children, siblings, spouses—so much that you think your heart is going to burst, if you love them so much that you would sacrifice your sleep, pace the halls, drive across the country to see them, sit in hospital waiting rooms praying for them, then how much do you think God cares for them? In fact, God cares for them so much that he put you in their lives to be a loving parent, child, spouse, sibling or friend. But not to be their God. That job is already taken by someone far more qualified.
Jesus calls us to let go. Jesus calls us to drop our worry and fear. When we do, we are free to live the way God intends for us, with praise and thanksgiving. And one day, when the absent spouse, the wild child, or the lost brother comes home and asks you why you are singing, you can say, “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. And I know that he watches you too.”