SUNDAY 12:

19-25 June

 

Matthew 10: 24-39                                            (Sermon 2: “Are All Sparrows Equal?”)

Romans 6: 1b-11

Genesis 21: 8-21                                               (Sermon 1: “God Heard the Voice of the Child”)

Psalm 86: 1-10, 16-17

 

PREPARATION

 

The winter deepens and the days are short

but the long summer of Christ’s light remains,

A cold wind blows outside

but the warmth of God is around us and within us.

 

We are indeed a most privileged people.

 

 

The joy of Christ Jesus be with you all.

And also with you.

 

OR

 

All things are known by God,

all creatures are precious .

 

There is nothing covered up that will not be revealed,

nothing hidden that will not be made known.

Please turn to me, and have mercy, O God.

give your own strength to your servants.

 

For you are great and do remarkable tings,

your and you alone are truly God.

Make our souls joyful, O God,

for to you our souls aspire.

 

Sparrows are cheap, but not even one of them falls to the ground

outside of your heavenly Father’s circle of love.

The very hairs on your head are all  numbered,

and you are more valuable than countless sparrows.

 

PRAYER OF APPROACH

 

Most wonderful God, our Parent and Friend,

  we praise you for the riches of love that enable us to come together

  in this house of prayer to celebrate your goodness.

Please lead our truant minds away from petty concerns to larger commitments,

  away from tiredness or apathy towards a sense of awe and wonder,

  away from self obsession to the holy intoxication of your awesome beauty,

  humble power, and your unspeakable love.

We realise we never seem be able to thank, praise and enjoy you

  to the heights that we should,

  but we do pray to be able give you the best worship that at this

  time is possible.

Through Christ Jesus our Lord.

Amen!

 

CONFESSION AND ASSURANCE

 

God is light, in whom there is no darkness at all.

Let us pray.

 

Holy Friend, in you there are no shadows,

no imperfections, and no regrets.

We wish we could say the same about ourselves,

but it is not so.

 

We confess that in our secret  lives there crouch scungy things which needs dragging into the light of your beauty.

We confess that in our more open selves are some faults that we have come to treat as foibles rather than to confront them as sin.

We confess that in our hearts are unresolved regrets for hurts inflicted or opportunities wasted, yet our regrets readily turn to self pity rather than repentance.

 

So we come to you in simple trust, as we have done many times seeking

the same stream of mercy in which we have often bathed,

and that same spring of love from which we have slaked our thirst,

and that  same bread of life from which we regain our strength.

 

FORGIVENESS

 

            My friends, please do not let this moment no pass as a mere formality.

God is merciful, and can be trusted right at this moment to forgive our sins

and cleanse us from all corruption.

For Christ’s sake, don’t carry old guilt one moment longer.

Let it slip from your shoulders and fall away into the into the abyss

of God’s forgiveness.

 

Out Christ’s fullness we have received love heaped upon love.

            Thanks be to God!

 

PRAYER FOR CHILDREN

 

God of sparrows and budgerigars,

of tiny babies and little kids,

please help us to trust your total love

for each one of us.

Nothing ever escapes your notice,

nothing happens outside of your care.

If we trust you, you can make-over

ugly souls into beautiful people,

and your can turn sins and sorrows

into the success of wiser lives.

You know we trust you a little,

please help us to trust you a lot more.

In the name of the Lord Jesus,

Amen!

 

PSALM 86:1-10, 15-16

            Note: Here are two versions. The one in italics is the more relaxed.

 

Bend down and hear me, my God,

for I feel bankrupt and vulnerable.

Look after me, for I am yours,

save this poor servant who trusts you.

            Are you listening to me, Holy Friend?

            I’m feeling empty and vulnerable.

            If I’m yours you’d better help me,

            please rescue this nobody who trusts you.

 

My God, please deal gently with me,

for I pray to you all day long.

Fill this meagre soul with happiness,

for towards you my soul yearns.

            My God, please go easy on me,

            I need you every minute of the day.

            Cheer me up as I serve you,

            lift my spirits as I focus on you.

 

You are always kind and forgiving,

full of love to all who call out to you.

My God, hear this prayer of mine,

listen to the words that pour out.

            I know you have always been forgiving,

            always there for us when we call out.

            So please hear me now when I pray;

            beneath my chatter are deep needs.

 

Whenever I’m in trouble I call on you,

because you listen and answer me.

Among religions there is nothing like you,

nobody else has love like yours.

            When I’m in big trouble I call out,

            and you never let me down.

            Other religions may talk big

            but none do the things you do.

 

Some day all nations will come to you,

bowing down and glorifying your name.

For the things you do are wonderful,

nothing else is Divine except you.

            I reckon that one day everyone will come

            and give you their best love and praise.

            They will find out how wonderful you are

            and that nothing’s worth more than you.

 

You, most loving God, overflow with compassion,

you are slow to anger and full of faithful love.

Turn to me and include me in your saving love,

please give this child, your servant, new strength,

            Holy Friend, you are patient and generous,

            not easily upset but loving without reserve.

            Right now, turn and hug me with your love,

            give me more faith and determination.

                                                                                                                                                      © B.D. Prewer 2000

 

FRIEND OF SPARROWS

 

Friend of sparrows

  and life’s minnows

who feels the fall

  and rise of all

overlooked things;

 

Spirit who brings

  life into dust

and beneath rust

  sees the true face

  saved by love;

 

Child of the dawn

  who dares to scorn

religious signs

  yet redefines

our hopes and rites;

 

God of the lights

  of worlds sublime

that precede time

  ever to you

all praise is due!

                                             © B.D. Prewer 2000

 

COLLECT

 

Most loving God, your holy Son has taught us that none of our concerns lie outside your love, and no person is ever irrelevant or dispensable. Teach us the way of quiet trust, that placing all our affairs in your hands, we may live faithfully and lovingly, allowing your Spirit to guide our feet in the way of your peace. Through Christ Jesus our Lord.

Amen!

 

SERMON 1: GOD HEARD THE VOICE OF THE CHILD.

 

             Genesis 21: 8-21

 

A child and its mother banished to the desert?

 

Here is a shocking story of human jealousy and callousness.

 

Two little boys are happily playing together. The younger one is Isaac, the son of Abraham and his chief wife Sarah. The older child is Ishmael, son of Abraham and a secondary wife named Hagar, a woman of another tribe who first came into Abraham’s household as a slave.

 

Sarah, mother of Isaac, is jealous of her son’s half brother, who is a potential rival. The jealousy boils up within her until it cannot be contained. She goes to her husband Abraham and nags: “Throw out this child of a slave woman. He has no right to be seen as your heir along with my son Isaac!”

 

Abraham was not happy with Sarah’s jealousy. But after some prayer, he took Hagar and Ishmael, gave them some bread and a water bag, and sent them away into the desert.

 

GOD MUST WORK WITH FAULTY MATERIAL

 

By all our common humanitarian values, this is obviously an outrage. No wonder the critics of the Old Testament enjoy this story and try to make us writhe with embarrassment. Here the great man of faith, Abraham, sends one of his wives and her small son off into the desert with only a bag of water and some bread.

 

Is this the kind of God we believe in? A God who allows such an injustice to happen?

 

Certainly it fits the ugly real world as we know it. Racist jealousy and cruelty has not been exactly absent during the last fifty years. The killing fields of Cambodia, the torture and mutilation and murders in Chile, ethnic cleansing (that grotesque euphemism) in Bosnia and Kosovo, tribal massacres in Africa, The Indonesian inspired brutalities in East Timor, the recent blood-letting in Ache, the attacks on New York and Bali, the misdirected bombs in Afghanistan and Iraq.

 

Yes indeed, ours is the world where it is easy to picture a woman and child being given some bread and water and expelled out into the desert.  But to read of it being perpetrated by Sarah and Abraham, the great mother and father of God’s chosen race, seems almost obscene.

 

However, we had best come to terms with it. As I suggested last week, God does not have perfect people with whom to work; just sinners. The church over the centuries has been involved in both racism and brutality. Even the great Protestant reformer John Calvin, to his everlasting shame, resorted to having an opponent, the theologian and physician Michael Servetus, burnt at the stake.

 

In bringing great and complex purposes to fruition, God has to work with extremely flawed material. I sometimes wonder what are the great evils of today to which I and other Christians are blind, but which later generations of believers will look on with repugnance. Yet God chooses to still call and use creatures like us.

 

GOD RESPONDS TO HUMAN INJUSTICE

 

Returning to Abraham and Sarah, the providential love of God shines out even against this ugly background of jealousy and callousness; a scene of grave injustice.

 

There is gut-wrenching pathos in what happened to the child Ishmael:

            Hagar went and wandered in the wilderness of Beersheba. When the water was all             gone, she placed the child under one of the bushes. She then went away and sat down opposite him, about the distance of an arrow shot from a bow. For she said: I      cannot bear to watch the dying child. A she sat there opposite him, the child loudly         cried and wept.

 

What mother or father among you cannot feel the distress of little Ishmael and the deep anguish of his mother Hagar.  But a most beautiful part of the story then unfolds:

            God heard the voice of the child, and the angel of God spoke to Hagar from the heavens: “Don’t grieve so deeply, Hagar.  Don’t be afraid for God has heard the   voice of the boy where he is. Get up, go and pick the child up and hold him in your     arms, for God will make him a great nation”. And then God enabled Hagar to see a    well of water, and she went and filled the water bag and gave the child a drink. And God was with the lad, and he grew up there in the wilderness and became an expert          hunter with his bow and arrow.

 

“Now God heard the voice of the child.” That’s it! Yes! YES! YES!   GOD HEARD!

 

Here we have a glimpse of the God to whom all lives are precious. A God who hears the voice of one little Arab child dying of thirst out in the desert near Beersheba.

 

Forget Abraham’s faults, and forget Sarah with her cruel jealousy. Focus on the God in this story who refuses to accept that the life of one child does not matter. This is the same God who calls out to little Samuel at night while he is alone in the temple at Shiloh. This is the same God who rescues tiny Moses from his boat-crib on the Nile. This is the same God who calls a shepherd youth named David to be the king of Israel. This is the same God of whom the psalm sings: “When my father and mother forsake me, then the Lord will take me up.”

 

“Now God heard the voice of the child.”

 

 

THE GOD OF JESUS AND OUR GOD

 

Jesus is the supreme revelation of this God. His God is one who cares for every single person and who will suffer to save and heal them.

            Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them can fall to the ground             without your Father (God) knowing. But even the hairs of your head numbered. So do       not be afraid; you are worth much more than many sparrows”

 

A sharp warning at this point lest we jump to false conclusions: Jesus did not say that his Father will always save the sparrow from its fall. He says that its plight is registered in the soul of God. God feels every fall, God knows, God cares, God loves.

 

Jesus did not answer the age old question: “Why do many innocent people, including little children, suffer and die prematurely? Why does God allow it to happen?”  His message was to assure us that God did care, did feel in the Divine heart the pain of every fall and the grief of every death, Jesus proclaimed that every person is precious. He went on preaching this message even as his own life was at risk; even when he knew that excruciating death on a cross was to be his horrible end. The suffering of the innocent remains a grievous puzzle to sensitive minds, but the God of Jesus is not insensitive to even one little Arab or Australian child’s pain.

 

Jesus did not express it like St Paul did, but he was the inspiration for Paul’s words in his letter to the little congregation of Christians in pagan, imperial Rome:

            We do not even know how to pray as we should. But the Spirit intercedes for us with             groans too deep for human words.

            We know that in everything God works for good with those who love him; who are             called according to his purpose.

 

The God of Jesus cares about every human being, suffers for every human being, and plans for the ultimate joy of every human being who will accept the love that is offered.

            Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them can fall to the ground             without your Father(God) knowing. But even the hairs of your head numbered. So do        not be afraid; you are worth much more than many sparrows.”

 

The ancient story of Ishmael, sent away with his mother into the desert with only some bread and a water bag, is a like a foreword to the Gospel of Jesus, who procalims God’s  love for one lost shhep, one lost coin, one lost son:

            God heard the voice of the child.

 

GOD DOWN-UNDER?

 

Lte s mobe from ancient deserts to the contemporary land “down-under.”

 

Our Australian outback has many desert places similar to the wilderness in the region of Beersheba. Like some of you, I have camped there. At night you can feel the sense of elemental silence. You can imagine you are alone in the whole universe. Who out there under the everlasting stars would hear the cry of one small child?

 

The answer is God. The God of Jesus Christ. No human cry is unheard. There is no tragedy that is not suffered by God and taken by the wounded hands of Christ to be woven into a final tapestry beauty and love and joy.  Even the strongest and wisest and most elderly among us, are just the vulnerable little children of God. With all my heart I believe and declare to you:

            God hears the voice of the child.

 

 

* Too long. Shorter edition follows.

 

SERMON 2:  ARE ALL SPARROWS EQUAL?

 

“Don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.”  Matthew 10:31

 

Are all sparrows equal?  Or are there special favours for some?

 

Are good people who love, worship and obey God granted special protection from the evils and calamities that fall on unbelievers? And are true believers afforded favours in the ordinary business of life?

 

FOUR EXAMPLES

 

Here I offer you four situations that may help us focus on some of the issues.

 

1/         A 35 five years old Kathy, a devout Baptist, is driving to visit a friend of hers in hospital; a friend with whom she usually plays tennis each week.  As always, the biggest hassle will be finding parking space within walking distance of the hospital. She prays that God will provide her with one. Ahead of her (to her chagrin) is another car, also looking for parking. A vehicle’s reversing light flashes, and leaves a space. Quickly, with sharp reflexes, Kathy swings and beats the other car to the vacant space. Gratefully she thanks the Lord for his favour.

 

            Also visiting the hospital that day is a 77 year old woman named Eva... She is a devout Lutheran, who had prayed for God’s help to get her through another difficult day. Her husband is struggling to throw off an infection following open heart surgery. Her car is the one which was outmanoeuvred by the Kathy. She vainly searches for another 15 minutes before settling for parking almost one kilometre way. With the aid of her walking stick, Eva slowly makes her way to the hospital, and lovingly tends her gravely ill husband.

 

            Question: Has God looked after the Baptist Kathy but ignored the Lutheran Eva? Was one blessed and the other denied? Was the difference that one had greater faith than the other?

Does one of God’s human “sparrows” matter more than another?

 

2/         Sue, a mother of four had fought a long battle with cancer. She and her husband Alex, and elder in their Presbyterian congregation, received repeated visits from a Roman Catholic neighbour with charismatic leanings (whom I will call Theresa) who kept insisting. “If you have faith you will be healed. Not a hair of your head will perish.” She gave the example of a cousin of hers who prayed to the Lord and was delivered from cancer; that cousin was now in a remission that extended to 11 years.

            As the mother of four sank lower towards death, Theresa took to taking the husband aside and berating Alex: “It must be your lack of faith that is the problem. Have more faith and God will deliver Sue from this disease.” Theresa laid the whole blame for his wife’s illness on him. When Sue died, Alex felt a burden of guilt heaped upon the load of sorrow he had to bear.

            Question: Was that correct? Would God have healed Sue if only Alex had more faith? Is that the kind of God we are dealing with?

 

3/         It was mid summer. The temperature reached 41 degrees. A bush fire was bearing down towards a farm house. The occupants, the Hasluck family, were members of the Uniting Church.

The man and his wife prayed that God would divert the fire and save them. Suddenly, at about 4.30 p.m. there was a wind shift and the fires missed their home and outbuildings by about 700 metres.  The farmer and his wife thanked the Lord for his miraculous intervention. Later they told their friends: “Our prayers saved us. The Lord looks after his own. Each hair on our heads is numbered.” When questioned about other farms in the district that suffered, the Hassocks said: “Well we had faith, didn’t we?”

 

            Question: Why then did the Lord not hear the similar, fervent prayers of the Arrowsmiths, their devout Anglican neighbours? For when the wind changed direction, it wiped out their sheep pens and shearing shed, their barn, tractor and shearers’ huts. If God watches over every sparrow that falls, where was he when 5 thousand sheep either perished or had to be mercifully shot once the fire had passed? Are Uniting Church members like the Haslucks more in God’s favour than Anglicans like the Arrowsmith family?

 

4.         Two blithe AOG members, Jerry and Cindy, were driving interstate to visit relatives. Before they set out, they prayed to the Lord for travelling mercies. Then off they went, without a care in the world. Suddenly, as they rounded a bend, they were involved in a three car collision. Their vehicle fared better than the other two. After the police have finished enquires, Cindy and Jerry were able to continue their journey with little more than bruises and shock. They drove on, singing their thanks to the Lord for his travelling mercies, which so obviously protected them. Jerry in a croaky baritone hymned: “His eye is on the sparrow, and I know he cares for me.”

 

            Question: What about the dead man in one car, and the two injured in the other vehicle who were rushed by ambulance to hospital? Must we assume that they were either not believers, or if they were, they did not have as much faith as our two Christians, Jerry and Cindy?

 

JESUS AND TRAGIC SITUATIONS

 

Are these examples far fetched? Not at all. Each one is based on actual people and events, although I have altered name and gender, and have scrambled their church affiliation to protect their privacy.

 

People do find themselves in such tragic situations. Situations where God seems to hear the prayers of some, yet ignores the prayers of others?   I return to the words with which I began this sermon:

Is faith in God like an all-inclusive insurance policy? Are those who love, worship and   obey God granted special protection from the evils and calamities that fall on        unbelievers? And are they afforded special favours in the ordinary business of life?

 

What was Jesus on about when he said:

            Two sparrows can be bought for a couple of coins. Yet not one of them falls to the             ground without your Father being concerned.

            The very hairs on your head are all numbered

            So do not be afraid. You are worth much more than many sparrows...

 

First let us place this saying in context. Jesus had been warning his disciples about the inevitable misunderstandings and persecution which would afflict the disciples in their mission.  They were being sent out into the world “like sheep among wolves” He warned that some of them will be dragged before the courts, or hauled before governors and kings for sentencing. Some will be abused and betrayed by their own families. Some may be killed for their faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.

 

If this happens, says Jesus, never be afraid, don’t be at your wits end,

Two sparrows can be bought for a couple of coins. Yet not one of them falls to the       ground without your Father feeling the loss.

 

I must underline this: Jesus speaks this promise not to a lucky few disciples who will have an easy life but to those who will endure many troubles, and who may even be arrested, tortured, convicted and executed.

 

Jesus is not promising favours in human terms, he is not guaranteeing protection in the way the world offers protection. 

 

If you want worldly protection, then go to a security firm, hire a body guard, put bars over your windows and wear a bullet proof vest. And be always afraid. Because you will be, if you chose to place your trust in the world’s protection. You will always be anxious. Always afraid.

 

JESUS OFFERS A DEEPER SECURITY

 

Jesus offers something better, something far more profound. Something fundamentally more secure.

 

Jesus offers something which goes deeper than anxiety and allays it. He is saying that even when the worst happens, you will remain precious to God. Not for a moment will you be alone. Not a skerrick of your precious soul will be ignored or lost. The Heavenly Abba will be with you all the way, from here to eternity.

 

Please take note that Jesus does not say that God will prevent the fall of a sparrow. Nor does he say we will not lose some of our hair. (Pastors and preachers, not even archbishops and cardinals, are to be protected from going bald!)

 

Jesus is using colourful metaphors. The sparrows and the hairs on our heads are a pictorial way of saying that God cares for you utterly, every second, no matter what happens. God will be with you in every moment of ease or struggle, of laughter or tears.

 

There is no divine insurance policy guaranteeing “Christian sparrows” good health, nor for their protection as they board an aeroplane, nor is there a promise of deliverance in times of fire, flood, famine or drought.

 

Therefore let us be warned: We cannot judge the faithfulness or otherwise of a believer from what happens to him or her. 

 

THE ONE GUARANTEE

 

Yet there is just one guarantee: One sure thing which stands the test of time and eternity.

.

The guarantee is that God loves us and will be with us, no matter what happens.  Nothing can cancel God’s loving involvement, from our highest success and happiness to our deepest disaster.

 

            Not one sparrow falls to the ground without your Father feeling the loss.

            The very hairs on your head are all numbered

            So do not be afraid. You are worth much more than many sparrows...

 

 

We continue our mission as agents of the loving Christ in a largely unloving world, not because if we do so we will receive God’s protection, but because it is the right and loving thing to do.

 

LOOK AGAIN AT THE FOUR EXAMPLES

 

Return with me now to the examples which I gave at the beginning of this sermon.

 

First: 35 year old Kathy, who gets a parking space before 77 year old Eva.  Should she be piously congratulating her superior faith? Get real, Kathy! That parking space you obatined through selfish opportunism and quick reflexes.

 

 Second:  Sue dying of cancer. Her husband Alex  is berated by a self righteous Theresa. Should Alex, as he sees he lovely wife slowly die, fear that God has denied healing because of his lack of faith? Get real Alex! God has no favourites.

 

Third: the Haslucks and the bush fire, and the unfortunate fate of the Arrowsmiths. Did God miraculously save the Haslucks of the Uniting Church while ignoring the prayers of the Anglican Arrowsmiths?  Get real you lot ! God is not some  puppeteer                    

.

Four: Jerry and Cindy who survived a three car collision with minimum damage. Was their survival a result of their superior faith and the umbrella of protection which God gives? 

Get  real, Cindy and Jerry. Begin using your good fortune in God’s service, not for your  own ego pampering.                                              

 

 

Not one sparrow falls to the ground without your Father feeling the loss.

 

 

With all my being I declare to you again:  God’s providence over arches and undergirds all things, and every  minute. God never wearies. God’s Holy Spirit is with us always, sharing our lives and seeking to bless our strengths, to forgive our sins, share our pain and weep with us in our grief.  God is with us enabling to transform accidents and tragedies into spiritual opportunity.

 

 

This I know. Not from some theory. From personal experience. Often from excruciating experiences. The very hairs on your head are all numbered. So do not be afraid. You are worth much more than many sparrows.

 

 

SERMON 2:  ARE ALL SPARROWS EQUAL?

 

“Don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.”  Matthew 10:31

 

Are all sparrows equal?  Or are there special favours for some?

 

Are good people who love, worship and obey God granted special protection from the evils and calamities that fall on unbelievers? And are true believers afforded favours in the ordinary business of life?

 

FOUR EXAMPLES

 

Here I offer you 3 situations that may help us focus on some of the issues.

 

1/         A 35 five years old Kathy, a devout Baptist, is driving to visit a friend of hers in hospital. As always, the biggest hassle will be finding parking space within walking distance of the hospital. She prays that God will provide her with one. Ahead of her (to her chagrin) is another car, also looking for parking. A vehicle’s reversing light flashes, and leaves a space. Quickly, Kathy accelorates and beats the other car to the vacant space. Gratefully she thanks the Lord for his favour.

 

            Also visiting the hospital that day is a 77 year old woman named Eva... She is a devout Lutheran. Her husband is struggling to throw off an infection following open heart surgery. Her car is the one which was outmanoeuvred by the Kathy. She vainly searches for another 15 minutes before parking almost one kilometre way. With the aid of her walking stick, Eva hobbles to the hospital, and lovingly tends her gravely ill husband.

 

            Question: Has God looked after the Baptist Kathy but ignored the Lutheran Eva? Was one blessed and the other denied? Was the difference that one had greater faith than the other?

 

2/        Sue, a mother of four had fought a long battle with cancer. She and her husband Alex, and elder in their Presbyterian congregation, received repeated visits from a Roman Catholic neighbour with charismatic leanings (whom I will call Theresa) who kept insisting. “If you have faith you will be healed. Not a hair of your head will perish.” She gave the example of a cousin of hers who prayed to the Lord and was delivered from cancer; that cousin was now in a remission that extended to 11 years.

            As the mother of four sank lower towards death, Theresa took the husband aside and berating Alex: “It must be your lack of faith that is the problem. Have more faith and God will deliver Sue from this disease.” Theresa laid the whole blame for his wife’s illness on him. When Sue died, Alex felt a burden of guilt heaped upon the load of sorrow he had to bear.

            Question: Was that correct? Would God have healed Sue if only Alex had more faith? Is that the kind of God we are dealing with?

 

3/        It was mid summer. The temperature reached 41 degrees. A bush fire was bearing down towards a farm house. The occupants, the Hasluck family, were members of the Uniting Church.

The man and his wife prayed that God would divert the fire and save them. Suddenly, at about 4.30 p.m. there was a wind shift and the fires missed their home and outbuildings by about 700 metres.  The farmer and his wife thanked the Lord for his miraculous intervention. Later they told their friends: “Our prayers saved us. We had faith, didn’t we?”

 

            Question: Why then did the Lord not hear the similar, fervent prayers of the Arrowsmiths, their devout Anglican neighbours? For when the wind changed direction, it wiped out their sheep pens and shearing shed, their barn, tractor and shearers’ huts. If God watches over every sparrow that falls, where was he when 5 thousand sheep perished? Are Uniting Church members like the Haslucks more in God’s favour than Anglicans like the Arrowsmith family?

 

JESUS AND TRAGIC SITUATIONS

 

Are these examples far fetched? Not at all. Each one is based on actual people and events, although I have altered name and gender, and have scrambled their church affiliation to protect their privacy.

 

People do find themselves in such tragic situations. Situations where God seems to hear the prayers of some, yet ignores the prayers of others?   I return to the words with which I began this sermon:

Is faith in God like an all-inclusive insurance policy? Are those who love, worship and             obey God granted special protection from the evils and calamities that fall on             unbelievers? And are they afforded special favours in the ordinary business of life?

 

What was Jesus on about when he said:

            Two sparrows can be bought for a couple of coins. Yet not one of them falls to the             ground without your Father being concerned.

            The very hairs on your head are all numbered

            So do not be afraid. You are worth much more than many sparrows...

 

First let us place this saying in context. Jesus had been warning his disciples about the inevitable misunderstandings and persecution which would afflict the disciples in their mission.  They were being sent out into the world “like sheep among wolves” He warned that some of them will be dragged before the courts, or hauled before governors and kings for sentencing. Some will be abused and betrayed by their own families. Some may be killed for their faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.

 

If this happens, says Jesus, never be afraid, don’t be at your wits end,

Two sparrows can be bought for a couple of coins. Yet not one of them falls to the        ground without your Father feeling the loss.

 

I must underscore this: Jesus speaks this promise not to a lucky few disciples who will have an easy life but to those who will endure many troubles, may even be arrested, tortured, convicted and executed.

 

Jesus is not promising an easy fix. He is not guaranteeing protection in the way the world offers protection. 

 

If you want worldly protection, then go to a security firm, hire a body guard, put bars over your windows and wear a bullet proof vest. And be always afraid. Because you will be, if you chose to place your trust in the world’s protection. You will always be anxious.

 

JESUS OFFERS A DEEPER SECURITY

 

Jesus offers something better, something far more profound. Something fundamentally more secure.

 

Jesus offers security which runs deeper than anxiety and allays it. He is saying that even when the worst happens, you will remain precious to God. Not for a moment will you be alone. Not a skerrick of your precious soul will be ignored or lost.

 

Please take note that Jesus does not say that God will prevent the fall of a sparrow. Nor does he say we will not lose some of our hair. (Pastors and preachers, not even archbishops and cardinals, are to be protected from going bald!)

 

The sparrows and the hairs on our heads are a pictorial way of saying that God cares for you utterly, every second, no matter what happens. God will be with you in every moment of ease or struggle, of laughter or tears.

 

There is no divine insurance policy guaranteeing “Christian sparrows” good health, nor for their protection as they board an aeroplane, nor is there a promise of deliverance in times of fire, flood, famine or drought.

 

Therefore let us be warned: We cannot judge the faithfulness or otherwise of a believer from what happens to him or her. 

 

LOOK AGAIN AT THE THREE EXAMPLES

 

Return with me now to the examples which I gave at the beginning of this sermon.

 

First: 35 year old Kathy, who gets a parking space before 77 year old Eva.  Should she be piously congratulating her superior faith? Get real, Kathy! That parking space you obatined through selfish opportunism and quick reflexes.

 

 Second:  Sue dying of cancer. Her husband Alex  is berated by a self righteous Theresa. Should Alex, as he sees he lovely wife slowly die, fear that God has denied healing because of his lack of faith? Get real Alex! God has no favourites.

 

Third: the Haslucks and the bush fire, and the unfortunate fate of the Arrowsmiths. Did God miraculously save the Haslucks of the Uniting Church while ignoring the prayers of the Anglican Arrowsmiths?  Get real you lot ! God is not some  puppeteer                    

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Not one sparrow falls to the ground without your Father feeling the loss.

 

THE ONE GUARANTEE

 

Yet there is just one guarantee: One certainty which stands the test of time and eternity.

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The guarantee is that God loves us and will be with us, no matter what happens.  Nothing can cancel God’s loving involvement, from our highest success and happiness to our deepest disaster.

 

            Not one sparrow falls to the ground without your Father feeling the loss.

            The very hairs on your head are all numbered

            So do not be afraid. You are worth much more than many sparrows...

 



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            THANKSGIVING

 

            [** For two voices]

 

Holy and most generous friend, we say thanks for the breath we breathe at this moment; for the precarious, precious gift of life and the beauties that unfold before us by day, and the wonders revealed by night.

 

For the beauty of the world; seashore and outback, valley and mountain, forest and farmland, sunrise and dusk, springtime and autumn, starlight and moonlight.

 

For the beauty of courage; the handicapped defying the odds, young folk rising to high achievement despite neglect and abuse at home, elderly people bearing hardship or pain without complaint.

 

For the beauty of trust; a baby asleep in its mother’s arms, a church welcoming a new pastor, a patient trusting a surgeon, a distressed person risking all with a counsellor.

 

For the beauty of forgiveness; a child forgiving a parental injustice, an injured victim showing mercy to the offender, lovers putting hurts behind them, a war victim forgiving the enemy, a husband forgiving her husband’s killer.

 

For the beauty of love; parent, child, sister, brother, friend, lover, and for that awesome love when some lay down their own life not only for a friend but also for a stranger.

 

For the beauty of your love; Jesus your true Child in action, healing and pardoning, telling parables and washing feet, defying the threats against him, betrayed and abused, suffering and dying, rising and celebrating.

 

Holy and most generous God, for the sublime beauty of your simplicity and humility in being

Friend of all who turn to your light, and Friend of those who still stubbornly stand in the darkness, we give you thanks and praise. Through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Amen!

 

PRAYERS FOR OTHERS

 

Let us turn from our own needs, to that of others.

 

Let us pray.

 

Compassionate God, prayerfully we tune our hearts and minds to the needs of other people, and we pray that our small yet sincere compassion may unite with your immense love and bring blessing to those for whom we pray.

 

Deal gently with the timid and the anxious, those who jump at their own shadow, and those whose phobias make it a major project to go down the street or visit a neighbour.

 

Deal patiently with the foolish who have placed themselves in sordid situations from which it is hard to break free, and with the slow learners who repeat old mistakes.

 

Deal confrontingly with the excuse makers who won’t face up to their mistakes, and with the evasive ones who won’t accept their responsibilities.

 

Deal forcefully with the arrogant who trample over the well being of others, and with the rich and powerful that buy and bully their way past the rights of others.

 

Deal mercifully with victims of the callous, the neglectful, and the cruel, and especially with the many who today feel exhausted, physically, or emotionally or spiritually.

 

Deal comfortingly with the sick, the dying and the bereaved, and especially with those who have no knowledge of you, or are afraid of you rather than trusting your love.

 

Deal bluntly or gently with your churches according to their respective needs, and especially give your love to any who are suffering harassment, ridicule or persecution.

 

God of unspeakable love, if you can use us to answer any of these prayers, or the prayers of our fellow Christians around the world, please take us, guide us, and employ us, to the glory of your name. Through Christ Jesus our Redeemer.

Amen!

 

SENDING OUT

 

Live purposefully,

for God hears the voice of every child.

Live trustingly

for even the hairs of our heads are numbered.

Live bravely,

for fear of failure is overshadowed by the love of Christ.

 

The cool head of Christ Jesus guide you,

the immovable rock of God’s love underpin you,

the warm fires of the Spirit embolden you,

today and always.

Amen!