3 Pentecost Proper A7
Rev. Dr. D. K. Schroeder
Matthew 10:5a; 21-33 Sermon
June 25, 2017

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Hymns (from The Lutheran Hymnal & With One Voice):
TLH 27 "Oh Bless The Lord, My Soul"
TLH 517 "The Will Of God Is Always Best"
TLH 501 "Soldiers Of The Cross, Arise"
WOV 721 "Go My Children With My Blessing"


TEXT: (vs. 29-31) “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny?  And not one of them will fall to the ground without your Father’s will.  But even the hairs of your head are all numbered.  Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.”

                This morning, I’d like to introduce you to a gentleman who was a member of one of the congregations I served inAustralia.  Reg Paech was his name, and he was absolutely a delightful older gentleman in his mid 80’s.  He had a college education, and was a real history buff.  He and his family were very faithful church members, coming to all the services and Bible studies.  He was talented craftsman too, and he did many projects around the church.  He even made screens for all the windows in the parsonage.

                As nice and as talented as this man was, he did have one big downfall.  He had to be the absolute worst driver that I’ve ever encountered; and I certainly have known some bad drivers in my time.  Here’s how I came to that conclusion:

                There was a church meeting out-of-town one evening, and Reg along with myself and our vicar (or student intern) had planned to attend.  Reg offered to drive us all to the meeting, and we agreed.  Previously I had ridden with him only short distances, so I had no highway experience with him.  This particular meeting was about 75 miles away, so it would involve both highway and night driving.

                The ride that my vicar and I had that day was the biggest white knuckle drive I’ve ever experienced.  Reg drove fast, 85 miles per hour in his Mazda 929.  We went down these rather narrow back highways at these speeds, mindful of the fact that the speed limit was only 60 miles per hour, and that’s all the faster a person really wanted to go on such a road, considering the curves and oncoming traffic.

                We had several near misses on the way to the meeting.  When we got there, my vicar was as white as a sheet, and he begged me to drive on the way back.  I offered to do it, but Reg insisted on driving.  “I’ve never had an accident in my life” he said, with me finding that rather hard to believe.

                Anyway, after a similar “white knuckle” ride home, sure enough we made it back, safe and sound.  Both my vicar and I vowed to never ride with him again if we wanted to keep our sanity.  And apart from a few rides to and from the train station, I was able to keep that vow. 

                Reg is no longer on this earth.  He died over 15 years ago; and yes, he died from natural causes, and not because he didn’t survive a traffic accident.

                My experience with Reg taught me a valuable lesson however.  Considering his driving ability, and the fact that he had never been in an accident, demonstrated to me exactly how active God and his angels are involved with his people.  God protects his people in perils.  He watches over them, and shields them in times of danger.  I don’t know how we avoided several accidents that day, except that Reg’s guardian angels, along with mine and my vicar’s, must have been working overtime.

                I believe that God was teaching me a valuable lesson through all of this.  He taught me to trust him in all things.  Certainly we trust him with our lives and our souls, knowing that he will take us to heaven someday.  We trust him in matters of faith and theology.  But in this case, we also have to trust him with our temporal lives, and the things that are day-to-day occurrences during our life here on earth. 

                Our gospel lesson for today teaches us one important thing, and that is that God cares.  He really cares about us and what happens to us.  Jesus uses some interesting examples.  Verses 29-31 read:  “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny?  And not one of them will fall to the ground without your Father’s will.  But even the hairs of your head are all numbered.  Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.”

                At first glance, we might get a strange picture of God; sparrows falling to the ground according to his will.  We might imagine that God is saying, “Okay little birdie, I’m tired of your chirping and singing and flying about.  ZAP!  You’re history!”

                When I read that section, I used the translation that I did because that is the picture people often have.  However, that’s not a clear image of what Jesus is saying.  The ESVtranslation in our bulletin says:  "Apart from your Father."  The King James translation says:  "Without your Father."  This is the thought that the Greek conveys.  In other words, nothing will happen to even a sparrow without God in heaven knowing about it.  So God isn’t out there randomly willing birds to fall to their death.  But he does know when it happens.

                Jesus also points out that even the very hairs on our head are numbered, and God knows what that number is.  It's like we sang in our sermon hymn, "The very hairs, his Word declares, upon my head he numbers."  That is some rather trivial information that none of us would know even about ourselves.  Science can tell us approximately how many hairs are on the average human head.  But our number is unique, and is even changing.  It probably changed this morning with the number of hairs that went down our shower drain or are remaining in our combs and hairbrushes in the bathroom.  God knows that too.

                We could even get more intimate than this when we consider God’s knowledge.  He knows how many individual cells we have in our body, how fast we burn calories, how many red and white blood cells we have, etc.

                It’s not like God is walking around concerning himself with our particular hair count in mind; but if he were to be asked the question, he would know the answer.

                Jesus is using these examples to make the point about how intimately God knows us; and if he knows these details, then he must really care about us. 

                In 1904 the hymn writer Civilla Martin wrote a hymn about this very thing.  In the chorus of the hymn, she wrote the words on our bulletin cover this morning:  “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.”

                Our gospel lesson for today was originally addressed to the 12 apostles as Jesus was sending them out with the Gospel lesson.  He had warned them that they would endure persecution and hardship and adversity.  They would be arrested and flogged and brought up on charges on account of Jesus.  People would hate them because of Jesus and his message.  But through it all, they needed to stand firm, and keep proclaiming the message of the Gospel. 

                In verses 26-28 of our text, we read: “So have no fear of them; for nothing is covered that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known.  What I tell you in the dark, utter in the light; and what you hear whispered, proclaim upon the housetops.  And 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.”

                The enemies of Christ can only go so far in their persecution, and no further.  Christ is our Lord, and he is in charge of our lives.  Therefore we do not need to be afraid of those who are angered or take exception to our faith and the way we demonstrate it and proclaim it in our lives.  We can go so far as to shout it from the rooftops.  Our Lord recognizes faithful service to him.

                Every enemy we can think of, even Satan himself can do nothing more to us than kill our earthly bodies.  That may seem like a terrible thing, but in that very moment of our earthly death when our enemies seem to be prevailing over us that we shall slip from their grasp, and Jesus will receive us into his waiting arms in heaven.  Earthly enemies can strip us naked and leave us to die.  They can take away everything we own, except one thing.  They cannot take away our faith.  That is something that is ours and ours alone regardless of what happens.

                As much as people on earth may persecute us, or whatever troubles may happen to us, it is foolish to worry about it.  We need to be concerned about how we stand before God, for he is the only one who can cast both soul and body into hell. 

                Sin in our lives is something that can create an air of distrust and doubt.  We often think that God is out there so far away, and that he doesn’t really care about us.  We think that God is oblivious to our hardships and trials here on earth.  We are often tempted to let our adversaries get the better of us.  We can get so caught up with the problems of this earth, that the important things are either lost, or shoved into the background.

                It’s here where Christ meets us at our most desperate and intimate need.  This is the whole point of Jesus’ ministry, which is the redemption of each soul individually.  That was the message the apostles carried forth so long ago.  Everybody was a sinner in need of a Saviour.  The news which the apostles carried forth was good news, great news about the forgiveness of sins.  Those who would come to faith in him as their Saviour would find salvation and eternal life.  But those who opposed him and rejected his saving Gospel would be publicly revealed as being without excuse for their unbelief.

                Jesus comes to us with this same message today.  He comes to us as sinners and gives us new life and new hope.  He demonstrates how much he loves us and cares for us.  He invites us to have faith and believe in him as our Saviour, and we will experience new life here on earth and a blessed hope for the life to come.

                The sparrow comparison is an interesting one.  Jesus says in the beginning of verse 29, “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny?”  The word that is translated “penny” is actually the Greek word “assarius.”  In those days, the normal day’s wage for a worker was one denarius.  An assarius was 1/16th of a denarius, representing a very small price.  Sparrows were sold as food for poor people when they couldn’t afford anything better.  Their value was pretty minimal.

                But yet, God who created the sparrows watches over them, and not one falls to the ground that he doesn’t know about.

                I think that points up quite well how much each human life is worth to God, which Jesus says is worth more than many sparrows, in fact worth more than all the sparrows.  For Jesus to come to the earth, to live, and to die for the sake of all humans shows just how much we are worth in God’s eyes.

                Humans are precious because we have immortal souls.  Could God possibly forget or be unconcerned about those who are his dear children through faith in Christ?  Could Jesus ever be indifferent to those whom he redeemed through his precious blood?  Isn’t that unthinkable?  God is so concerned about our welfare and our soul’s salvation that he even knows how many hairs each of us has on his or her head, and if one falls out, he knows which one it was.  Absolutely nothing escapes his notice or is beyond his power to control. 

                With this in mind, we can be certain that we are safe in his hands.

                This morning, I’d like to close by reading a short article written by the popular singer, John Thomas Oaks.  This story appeared in the November/December 2001 issue of “Christianity Today.”  The story is entitled, “The Sparrow at Starbuck’s.”

                It was chilly in Manhattan but warm inside the Starbucks shop on 51st Street and Broadway, just a skip up from Times Square. Early November weather in New York City holds only the slightest hint of the bitter chill of late December and January, but it's enough to send the masses crowding indoors to vie for available space and warmth.

                For a musician, it's the most lucrative Starbucks location in the world, I'm told, and consequently, the tips can be substantial if you play your tunes right. Apparently, we were striking all the right chords that night, because our basket was almost overflowing.

                It was a fun, low-pressure gig—I was playing keyboard and singing backup for my friend who also added rhythm with an arsenal of percussion instruments. We mostly did pop songs from the '40s to the '90s with a few original tunes thrown in. During our emotional rendition of the classic, "If You Don't Know Me by Now," I noticed a lady sitting in one of the lounge chairs across from me. She was swaying to the beat and singing along.

                After the tune was over, she approached me. "I apologize for singing along on that song. Did it bother you?" she asked.

                "No," I replied. "We love it when the audience joins in. Would you like to sing up front on the next selection?"

                To my delight, she accepted my invitation.

                "You choose," I said. "What are you in the mood to sing?"

                "Well. … do you know any hymns?"

                Hymns? This woman didn't know who she was dealing with. I cut my teeth on hymns. Before I was even born, I was going to church. I gave our guest singer a knowing look. "Name one."

                "Oh, I don't know. There are so many good ones. You pick one."

                "Okay," I replied. "How about 'His Eye is on the Sparrow'?"

                My new friend was silent, her eyes averted. Then she fixed her eyes on mine again and said, "Yeah. Let's do that one."

                She slowly nodded her head, put down her purse, straightened her jacket and faced the center of the shop. With my two-bar setup, she began to sing.

                Why should I be discouraged?  Why should the shadows come?

                The audience of coffee drinkers was transfixed. Even the gurgling noises of the cappuccino machine ceased as the employees stopped what they were doing to listen. The song rose to its conclusion.

                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.

                When the last note was sung, the applause crescendoed to a deafening roar that would have rivaled a sold-out crowd at Carnegie Hall. Embarrassed, the woman tried to shout over the din, "Oh, y'all go back to your coffee! I didn't come in here to do a concert! I just came in here to get somethin' to drink, just like you!"

                But the ovation continued. I embraced my new friend. "You, my dear, have made my whole year! That was beautiful!"

                "Well, it's funny that you picked that particular hymn," she said.

                "Why is that?"

                "Well…" she hesitated again, "that was my daughter's favorite song."

                "Really!" I exclaimed.

                "Yes," she said, and then grabbed my hands. By this time, the applause had subsided and it was business as usual.

                "She was 16. She died of a brain tumor last week."

                I said the first thing that found its way through my stunned silence.

                "Are you going to be okay?"

                She smiled through tear-filled eyes and squeezed my hands. "I'm gonna be okay. I've just got to keep trusting the Lord and singing his songs, and everything's gonna be just fine."

                She picked up her bag, gave me her card, and then she was gone.

                Was it just a coincidence that we happened to be singing in that particular coffee shop on that particular November night? Coincidence that this wonderful lady just happened to walk into that particular shop? Coincidence that of all the hymns to choose from, I just happened to pick the very hymn that was the favorite of her daughter, who had died just the week before? I refuse to believe it.

                God has been arranging encounters in human history since the beginning of time, and it's no stretch for me to imagine that he could reach into a coffee shop in midtown Manhattan and turn an ordinary gig into a revival. It was a great reminder that if we keep trusting him and singing his songs, everything's gonna be okay.