top of page

Matthew 10:24-39

I still remember hearing the words “I am going to write a book with the title, “God Doesn’t Give a Rip about the Sparrows.” This statement was followed with silence as large group of us had been laughing and crying together as we sat around a table after a friend’s funeral. This happened a while ago and yet it still echoes in my mind. This was an acute expression of grief, of loss, and of expecting something else from God. It is similar to the words of the two walking the Emmaus Road who said; “But we had hoped….

Aside from the reality that this is an acute moment of grief, which frankly gives permission for people to cry out without theological checks, there is something fairly common to Christ followers revealed. Many of us fall into a transactional understanding of our commitment to discipleship. That is, if I fulfill my end of agreement; which can vary but often sounds like: give from my resources, attend church, pray, then God provides some basic protections. There is room for minor setbacks, but major catastrophes (like death) are out of order. I give you my life and you give me a good life. The assumed promise is that we will have all the components for a good life in our cultural context. In a North American context that can mean if I follow God I will have the resources for a certain size home, sense of security, meaningful work, spouse and children. When those things don’t happen we often ask; Why? What did I do wrong? or our own version of “But we had hoped…”.

Here is the difficult (and good) news; this transactional assumption is not the discipleship revealed in scriptures.

The passage we are diving into is a portion of the “missionary discourse” found in Matthew. The chapter begins with the sending of the twelve disciples with authority, offering healing in the name of Jesus and the proclamation that the kingdom of heaven is near. Sounds like a good life. And yet most of this chapter also offers a reality check. We are told that our journey as disciples will be like the journey of Christ. There will be rejection, distress, persecution and heartache. We get a pretty dire picture of local governments flogging, towns rejecting, families betraying . . . culminating in “All men will hate you because of me” (Matthew 10: 22). And then in a spot pretty central to the teaching in this discourse we fine verse 26: “So have no fear of them”. They can, and will, harm you, but fear not.

This is an interesting call. The disciples are being told that as you go forth these hard things will happen but fear not. I am not a fan of being scared. I don’t like scary movies, I don’t like feeling spooked. I made my husband promise me he would never intentionally scare me in our home. I don’t like the on edge feeling of being afraid. So how do I embody a fear not kind of life when it seems pretty clear that God is not offering human-type transaction with the assurance of safety and well-being?

I think this ‘fear not’ it is only found in letting go of the transactional for the transformational. That is, I am not committing my life to be a disciple of Jesus Christ that I might get a prescribed good life (though that might have been a motivator at different parts of my journey). I am a follower of Jesus Christ because in him I am invited into the kingdom of God. In Christ I am reconciled with God, with others and creation. In Christ I am invited to breath the air of grace, forgiveness and life itself. In Christ I have a hope and a life which cannot be taken away. In Christ I am living a life where I am not the center and yet I am cherished. I am not promised a “good life” in terms of my narrow view. But in Christ I am promised an abundant life.

So when I hear “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. And even the hairs of your head are all counted. So do not be afraid, you are more value than many sparrows.” (10:29-31) I hear that the sparrow in life and in death was not apart from the Creators love and care. Death comes sometime through illness, accident or by persecution. Nevertheless we, who die in Christ, die with the assurance that we die as one valued, cherished and loved by our God. So perhaps the better title would be, “God Gives a Deep Rip about the Sparrow Even When it Dies”.

One of the themes of a small group I met with over several years was: “make peace with death”. It sounds rather morbid or dramatic. For while there were struggles to being a Christian, I would quickly confess none of us live in a place where following Christ would cost us our very life. And yet perhaps it does . . . I would not compare our situations to those persecuted Christians whose martyrdom is real and horrific. I would say, however, say that all Christ followers are called by this passage (and others like it) to say “God, this life of mine is yours,

The famous Wesleyan prayer says it well:

“I am no longer my own, but thine. Put me to what thou wilt, rank me with whom thou wilt. Put me to doing, put me to suffering. Let me be employed by thee or laid aside by thee. Exalted for thee or brought low for thee. Let me be full, let me be empty. Let me have all things, let me have nothing. I freely and heartily yield all things to thy pleasure and disposal.” [1]

Whenever I pray this, I stumble a bit and acknowledge I can only live into this prayer by the power of the Holy Spirit. It is not to be said lightly. For my small group we found the idea of making peace with death freeing.

We were a group of women holding various leadership positions in the Boston area. We were pastors, lawyers, community advocates and leaders of social agencies. All of us were deeply seeking to live for Christ. These were some seriously gifted and strong women I got to hang out with who were not afraid of challenging me to go deeper. And we also confessed to each other the places where fear was an obstacle. This was fear of failure, fear of having to enter another fight, fear of being misunderstood, fear of disappointment, fear of rejection (church, family, and community), and fear of potential cost of resources.

We recognized that this fear could deeply hinder the work God would have us to do or speak and this fear could even jail our very spirits. To be free to fulfill all of what God wanted to do in us, among us and through us we had to find a way of embracing the truth of “Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.” This truth is both known in the already, and in the not yet, in the very present and eternal.

When fear reigns our primary motivation becomes survival and acquisition. That means I do all I can to collect resources like a squirrel getting ready for the winter, With little care for others and the main goal of having enough for me an mine. (this for humans has no bound). It also means I will do anything to survive; make compromises, stop speaking truths, participate in actions or practices which conflict with who I have claimed to be. Through these actions we may survive but the life that is left is hollow, not hallowed.

But when Christ reigns, we are invited into a hallowed life. One that lives out the call of Christ deeply, loves widely, and forgives wildly. These words can sound blissful but that are the very words and actions that cost Jesus his life. And yet there is bliss when we see a hollow life as worse than death and the beautiful hallowed life is found in Christ.

Help us to embrace the hallowed over the hollow. Amen​ [1]