Highly Valued

William C. Brownson Uncategorized

READ : Luke 12:6-7

Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? And not one of them is forgotten before God. Why; even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not; you are of more value than many sparrows.

Luke 12:6 7 RSV

It was at the presidential breakfast during the National Religious Broadcaster’s Convention in Washington D.C. Just before the main address, gospel singer Deniece Williams rose to sing. Mother of four small children, she announced her first two selections as bedtime songs. She sings them to her children before they go to sleep. Lovely, soothing lullabies. How blessed her children are to hear those mother sleep songs! They even made some of us drowsy at eight in the morning! But then, in a way that moved many of us almost to tears, Deniece lifted her beautiful, resonant voice in “His Eye is On the Sparrow.” “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.”

That song, of course, was inspired by words Jesus spoke. Listen. I’m reading from the Gospel according to Luke, chapter 12, beginning at verse 6:

Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? And not one of them is forgotten before God. Why, even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not; you are of more value than many sparrows.

GOD’S CARE FOR SPARROWS

Can you believe that God cares about sparrows? It sounds odd, but it’s in keeping with what we know about Him, isn’t it? Listen to the psalmist, “Who is like the Lord our God who is seated on high, who looks far down upon the heavens and the earth, He raises the poor from the dust and lifts the needy from the ash heap.” God is exceedingly high, we learn, exalted above everything. He has to look far down even to see the heavens, much less the earth, but at the same time, He’s near to the downtrodden and the despised. So even though He’s the one who spoke the galaxies into being, He still takes note of the sparrows. In the administration of His vast universe, He doesn’t forget the tiny birds. What about that?

Birds are not very imposing, are they, especially sparrows? They’re so common that no one takes particular notice of them. And as far as value to human beings is concerned, they don’t have a great deal. In Jesus’ day, you could buy five of them for two of the smallest coins made. What we call pennies today could have purchased you a tree full. In many ways, the sparrow is a symbol of insignificance. In our scheme of things, sparrows don’t matter much. What befalls them doesn’t seem to make the slightest difference to you and me.

But already in the Old Testament, we get hints that God is mindful of such creatures. Listen as the psalmist celebrates God’s care: “He makes springs gush forth in the valleys; they flow between the hills; they give drink to every beast of the field. The wild asses quench their thirst; by them the birds of the air have their habitation. They sing among the branches” (Ps. 104:10 12). God makes the brooks and streams for birds to drink from and to sing by.

And listen to what another psalm says about God’s habitation in the temple: “How lovely is thy dwelling place, a O LORD of hosts! My soul longs, yea, faints for the courts of the Lord. My heart and flesh sing for joy to the living God” (Ps. 84:1 2). That we can understand. But what about this that comes next: “even the sparrow finds a home and the swallow a nest for herself where she may lay her young, at thy altars, O LORD of hosts, my King and my God” (v. 3). The sparrow may be the emblem of worthlessness and the swallow of restlessness, but there’s a place for both in God’s house. I sometimes think about that when an occasional bird finds its way into a church building and perches high in the rafters, swooping around. A sparrow in God’s sanctuary!

Now listen to Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount: “Look at the birds of the air. They neither sow nor reap, nor gather into barns. And yet your heavenly Father feeds them” (Matt. 6:26). Did you notice that? He feeds them. As though the Lord of the universe held crumbs for them in His hand.

Now, obviously, all that can be sentimentalized, carried to an extreme. But it tells us something important. If God is not indifferent to His animal creation, we surely should not be. He has given us dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air, Genesis tells us, but we bear rule as His appointed stewards. That surely leaves no room for heartless cruelty to animals.

I’m not an animal rights activist myself. I don’t condemn hunting and fishing. I don’t despise people who wear furs. But as a Christian, I think about these things. I remember this word in the proverbs, “A righteous man has regard for the life of his beast, but the tender mercies of the wicked are cruel.” I notice that those who later reveal a contempt for human life often begin by showing viciousness toward animals. Is it any concern of ours how poultry is treated on our turkey farms, how cattle and hogs are cared for, how animals are trapped? I think so. The animal creation is under human dominion. That’s the way it is; that’s the way it was meant to be. But I think God wants it to be a caring sovereignty that avoids whenever possible inflicting needless pain and suffering.

HIS CARE FOR US

Now I’m going to put on a different hat. I’m going to think with you about the value of human life. That’s the main point Jesus is making. “You,” He said to His followers, “are of more value than many sparrows.” That’s good for us to remember too. Sometimes those who are intensely concerned for the well being of animals don’t show a comparable interest in their fellow human beings. A recent visit I took to India and Nepal brought that vividly to my mind. A number of animals in the culture of that region are regarded as sacred: snakes, monkeys sometimes, especially cows. In those parts of the world, a cow often has more rights than a human being. Penalties before the law can be more severe for hurting a bull than for mauling a man.

I have to draw the line there. Do you remember that account in the gospels about the demoniac from Gadara? When Jesus cast out the demons from that afflicted man, they somehow entered a herd of almost two thousand swine. All of them, panic stricken, plunged headlong into the sea and were drowned. There are many things we don’t understand about that strange event. But for me, at least one lesson emerges clearly. To Jesus, the freeing of one human being from demonic enslavement was more significant than the fate of thousands of pigs. Not because He thought little of animal life, but because He thought so much of human beings like us.

Jesus’ words about God’s care for the sparrows are what we call an argument from the lesser to the greater. If one sparrow is never forgotten before God, how much more is this true for people? Jesus says, “Why, even the hairs of your head are all numbered.” We hear a lot of jokes about that hair numbering part. It becomes easier to understand for some of us who are older and smoother! But it’s a powerful metaphor, isn’t it, for God’s intimate knowledge of us and His personal care? In many parts of the Bible, the promise is that “not a hair will fall from your head.” That’s a pledge of God’s faithful keeping. It’s a way of saying that not even the slightest harm or loss will befall us.

We’re talking now about God’s assigning value to human life. When He says to His disciples, “You are of more value than many sparrows,” He obviously means more valuable to God. Human beings, the Bible record assures us, are special to God, extraordinarily the objects of His interest and care. All the other creatures are made by His word. The man and the woman are created also in His image. Everything is created by God; they in a particular sense are for God. They are the crowning works of His hands, His masterpiece, if you will.

We are, as the psalmist sings, “fearfully and wonderfully made” (Ps. 139:14). All the universe reveals astounding creativity. But human beings, what marvels they are! Much they share with the animals. But beyond that, an ability to reflect about themselves, an awesome power to choose, a capacity for love. God must have said with peculiar emphasis after He looked at the man and woman He had made, “That’s good! I like them. They’re the apple of My eye, graven on the palm of My hand.”

SO TAKE HEART

That’s why Jesus says to His disciples and to us, “Fear not, don’t be afraid, don’t worry.” Why? Because you are of more value to God than many sparrows. Now remember, we’re talking about worth and not worthiness. It’s about our being dear to God’s heart, not deserving of His love. As Jesus sees us, worthiness and deserving are simply out of the question. He says to all of us indiscriminately at one point, “If you then, being evil. . . .” That’s His overall verdict on our character. He teaches that all of us need to repent. Without repentance, He says, we’re sure to perish. He assumes that we all need God’s forgiveness. Without that pardoning grace, we’re simply lost. We’re valuable to God, not because of some intrinsic worth of ours, but simply because He made us and He loves us.

“But how can we be sure of that?” someone wonders. What if the appearance of human life on this earth is really a cosmic accident? What if we are, as someone cynically put it, nothing more than a “temporary planetary eczema” soon to disappear, with no one to remember us. Christians base their conviction about the preciousness of human life not only on our creation in God’s image but also and supremely on Jesus Christ.

The astonishing word of the New Testament is that God cared so much about people like us that He came to share our flesh and blood, that He took upon Himself our humanity. He lived for us, taught us the way, healed our afflictions, carried our sorrows. And then when nothing else would do, He took upon Himself the crushing weight of our guilt and gave Himself to die for us. There, in the face and form of the crucified Jesus, we gain our clearest glimpse of how much we mean to the Lord of the universe. For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.

Well, what does this “fear not” mean for you and me today? What good is it to us that God is mindful and doesn’t forget about us? That doesn’t protect us, obviously, from the accidents and sorrows of life. It doesn’t keep us from suffering, surely not from death. Sparrows do fall to the ground sometimes. Sometimes they freeze or are devoured. And men and women like us, we often get our hearts broken. But the word about the sparrows is saying this, “Don’t be afraid that God will forget you, that He’ll fail to be aware of what you’re going through. Don’t think that you can ever drift beyond His care.” In spite of the worst that may befall you, you can cling to the reality of God’s love.

And if a word about sparrows teaches us that, what about the word of the Cross? Listen to the apostle, “If God is for us, who is against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, will he not also give us all things with him?” (Rom. 8:32). In other words, if He gave you the best, the utterly wonderful gift of His Son, will He ever withhold from you anything you really need? You’re not only on His mind; you’re in His heart. He loved you so much, He gave for you His very best. So, friends, whatever you run into in life, whether it’s a winter storm or a tempest of the soul, you don’t have to be afraid. In fact, you can lift up your voice and celebrate, “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.”