Second Sunday after Pentecost, Year A
June 22, 2014
Genesis 21:8-21, Matthew 10:24-39
I admit that I am having a hard time valuing sparrows:
Since the beginning of spring they have been eating
everything we have planted:
lettuce and peas and spinach
everything that grows early.
I swear one bird told all her friends,
and a whole flock of sparrows
could be found every morning eating away
until David built a sparrow-proof fortress for the lettuce.
In Jesus’ time, two sparrows were sold for a penny:
I’d pay a lot more than that if God could love those sparrows
some place else.
Then again, even if those sparrows are worth nothing to me
to God they are valuable all by themselves.
This passage is, of course, not so much
about how God values sparrows,
but about how God values people--
more than “many sparrows”--
though in there is a gentle reminder that
we aren’t valued above ALL of them.
Our value to God is wrapped up in the way God treasures
every created thing.
There is in this passage a wonderful affirmation
of all that God has made,
so much so that even the hairs of our heads
that so easily fall out and turn gray
are counted by God.
Indeed, it’s hard to think of a more affirming passage than this one,
written to a community under a lot of stress,
with opponents on many sides.
To have Jesus affirm their value to God,
God’s care for them,
when it was not at all obvious that God favored them
was no doubt a source of comfort.
Perhaps we too,
in the more fearful and desperate moments of our lives,
perhaps when we have felt worth not even a penny,
have found the same kind of comfort in knowing that
our value to God is beyond measure.
Nothing that can happen to us,
no illness or accident or disability,
or failure or sin, or anything at all,
can take from us our God-given value.
And then there’s Hagar:
The slave woman offered to Abraham by her mistress
whose sole value was bear an heir.
And when she did as she was instructed,
and bore a son and became valuable,
she found that her value wasn’t secure at all.
All it took was a “legitimate” son to take it all away.
To her mistress, maybe to Abraham, maybe to God,
poor Hagar wasn’t worth very many sparrows,
and no one seemed to be counting the hairs
of her now-unnecessary son Ishmael’s head,
though their story does end with God making good
on a promise to Abraham.
Hagar and her son, Ishmael, have been on my mind this week
as I have read of the tens of thousands of Hagars and Ishmaels,
wandering through the wildernesses
of Central America and northern Mexico,
struggling to cross into Texas,
only to find that they are not much valued on the other side.
Perhaps we wonder what kind of desperation,
what fear of violence and hope for something better,
might drive so many to take such a dangerous journey.
How many sparrows are those 39,000 families worth to us?
Is anyone but God counting the hairs on the heads
of the 52,000 children who have crossed since October?
Seeing so many children crowded into detention centers
and hearing so many speak so harshly about them
is enough to make one question Jesus’ certainty
about the way God values each of them.
Their treatment does not at all seem to reflect their God-given value.
With eyes of Christian faith, of course,
we can affirm with Jesus the value of all those migrants:
There can be no doubt for us
that God is not only counting every hair
but also grieving every lost child,
every bereft mother, every separated family.
The God who sees every sparrow fall
is surely seeing Hagar and her children at the border
and in every place where the value
of the people God has made out of love
is not borne out in the way they are treated.
So what are we to make of the difference
between Jesus’ affirmation of how God treasures us
and the reality that so many are excluded from the care
that their dignity as those valued by God
should guarantee them?
There are many ways to respond to that question,
and this week, as I have read over and over again
Jesus’ affirmation of our value in God’s eyes,
of how we are treasured along with the sparrows,
I have heard not only an affirmation of the value of all created things
but also an invitation to join in valuing them as God does.
I wonder if Jesus is inviting us to become God’s partners
in seeing every sparrow and counting every hair,
in grieving with God when anything
God has made falls to the ground
or is lost to neglect, or violence, or fear.
Perhaps the gap between the way God values all things
and people’s everyday experience of being valued
closes, bit by bit, when all the friends of God,
including we followers of Jesus,
learn to embody ever more in word and action
God’s treasuring of every sparrow, every hair,
every Hagar, every Ishmael, every created thing.