Sunday, June 21, 2020
Twelfth Sunday in Ordinary Time Year A
Third Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 7)
God of strength and courage, in Jesus Christ you set us free from sin and death, and call us to the risk of faith and service. Give us grace to follow him who gave himself for others, that, by our service, we may find the life he came to bring. Amen.
“A disciple is not above the teacher, nor a slave above the master; it is enough for the disciple to be like the teacher, and the slave like the master. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign those of his household!
“So have no fear of them; for nothing is covered up that will not be uncovered, and nothing secret that will not become known. What I say to you in the dark, tell in the light; and what you hear whispered, proclaim from the housetops. 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. Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground unperceived by your Father. And even the hairs of your head are all counted. So do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows.
“Everyone therefore who acknowledges me before others, I also will acknowledge before my Father in heaven; but whoever denies me before others, I also will deny before my Father in heaven.
“Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.
“For I have come to set a man against his father,
and a daughter against her mother,
and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law;
and one’s foes will be members of one’s own household.
Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever does not take up the cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.”
All readings for the week:
Genesis 21:8-21 with Psalm 86:1-10, 16-17 or
Jeremiah 20:7-13 with Psalm 69:7-10, (11-15), 16-18
1. What is your greatest loyalty?
2. Did the martyrs and heroes of the early church have a different call from ours?
3. Does discipleship have to be costly? Why or why not?
4. What “dogmatic slumber” tempts you today?
5. How do you experience God’s love as tenderly watchful, even in the face of hardship, deprivation, uncertainty and division?
by Kate Matthews
We have a golden opportunity this week to spend a little time–in the beautiful days of summer (at least here, in the Northern Hemisphere)–meditating on the secret lives of small birds and vulnerable creatures. The words of Jesus, reassuring his disciples of how precious they are, call to mind the earlier passage in Matthew’s Gospel, when he told them to “look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?” (6:26).
Here, in one of the Bible’s many “do not be afraid” passages, we hear that God takes note of every sparrow that falls to the ground, a most ordinary occurrence, and yet one of significance to the Creator of the entire universe. And we also hear, amazingly, that we are of inexpressibly even more importance and value to God.
What do we need to earn?
While I’ve always loved these beautiful words, in both “sparrow passages,” I have more time to think about them in greater depth since I retired–and now, in self-isolation because of the pandemic. I’ve noted to my friends and family that I felt like I was under pressure ever since that first day I walked into Sister Perpetua’s first-grade classroom back in September 1956, so it’s taken time to make the adjustment to a life without grades, evaluations or deadlines hanging over my head.
It occurs to me how much getting good grades or job performance reviews worried me and made me think I had to earn…what? God’s love? God’s care? Safety? Abundance? Sufficiency? Or does it have something to do with earning one’s value in God’s eyes, proving one’s worth by what one does, and how well one does it? Is doing all that matters, and being, not so much?
Being, not just doing
When we stop “doing,” and focus on “being,” are we no longer productive in any way that matters? Perhaps not, in the eyes of the world, at least, which dares to measure our “net worth” in dollars, not wisdom or kindness or gentleness. On the other hand, how would we ever “measure” those qualities, and in what quantities?
Here the poetry of Mary Oliver is most helpful, and a good way to begin the day, or a whole new stage in life. The work of poets like her is to feed the spirit of those who read their words and hear another version of “Consider the birds…consider the lilies….”
Are we what we do?
We are certainly bombarded every day with messages that equate productivity with what we do and what we physically make, even if that product is money and that money consists of numbers on a screen. Sometimes it seems like we only “count” if what we do or produce can be counted. And yet, it’s only fair to note that our work is productive in many ways that are good even if they are intangible.
For example, I think of the students in my son’s fourth-grade class who have begun the summer with a deeper love of reading, because their teacher spent time reading with them the stories they grew to love. Someday, maybe even this summer, that work–a labor of love–may produce hours of “just being” for those young people, who may spend some of their free time simply enjoying the breeze, the sky, the green grass and the sounds of sparrows overhead as they read.
Nevertheless, I also hear strong suggestions that our value is tied to our productivity, for example, in the debates over immigration, when we are, reasonably, urged to acknowledge the contributions to our economy that are made by immigrants. Yes, that’s true, but aren’t human beings of inexpressible value (as Jesus says) not because of their potential economic impact but simply because they are precious children of God?
How do we decide who matters, and how much?
Are our elders still of value to us? Consider the immeasurable import of this question in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic: we’ve heard many arguments (not just debates or discussions, but arguments) about the economic impact of protecting the most vulnerable members of our society, those who are elderly or frail, those with special needs and health conditions.
What about people with serious disabilities who may need the support of the wider community simply to live, to be? I have a grandchild with special needs who has been greatly impacted by the social isolation of these past months, without the support systems that make her life more enjoyable and are helpful to her parents. There are often votes by powerful people who decide that the rich need lower taxes even as funds for schools and services for children with special needs are cut.
How does a body of lawmakers, or the community in general, decide the value of a meaningful life for these members of our society? The needs and rights of all children, of course, come to mind, not only in feeding and housing them and keeping them safe, but in providing good schools and any additional resources they need not just to live but to thrive.
Do sparrows really matter?
In recent years, protections for the environment and the creatures who live in it (and have no voice in what happens to them) have been rolled back or eliminated. The United States left the Paris Climate Agreement, leaving us to wonder whether the powers that be are cooperating with any international efforts to deal with climate change.
So another path for reflection on this text may be the value of all creation, and our solidarity with it, not only the sparrows but the great creatures of the sea, and old-growth trees that are irresponsibly felled, the rivers and lakes that lose funding for their cleaning (not to mention the pipes that carry poisoned water to homes), the magnificent animals in Africa and elsewhere that are hunted for sport and the tiny little “insignficant” species that are becoming extinct every day in our rain forests–and the rain forests themselves, the lungs of the earth…surely all of this does not happen without God taking note, and caring more than we can understand or evidently respect?
God watches over us
There, I find myself thinking such heavy thoughts again, but I also try to spend time every single day outside, in my yard, tending to flowers and feeding the birds and then sitting for a time, not reviewing my to-do list but listening to the birds sing and watching them swoop around their feeder, and especially watching them simply perch for a while, as if they are listening and watching, too, and just, for a while, being.
It makes me wonder if they know things I cannot, not yet. I’m reminded of that haunting song, “His Eye is on the Sparrow,” and I am in no hurry to go back inside, to my chores. I sense that God is watching over me.
A preaching commentary on this text (with book titles) is at http://www.ucc.org/worship_samuel.
The Rev. Kathryn Matthews (email@example.com) retired in 2016 after serving as the dean of Amistad Chapel at the national offices of the United Church of Christ in Cleveland, Ohio (https://www.facebook.com/AmistadChapel).
You’re invited to share your reflections on this text in the comments on our Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/SermonSeeds.
For further reflection:
Brennan Manning, The Ragamuffin Gospel: Good News for the Bedraggled, Beat-Up, and Burnt Out, 21st century
“[Jesus] had no romantic notion of the cost of discipleship. He knew that following Him was as unsentimental as duty, as demanding as love.”
Donald Miller, Blue Like Jazz: Nonreligious Thoughts on Christian Spirituality, 21st century
“The trouble with deep belief is that it costs something. And there is something inside me, some selfish beast of a subtle thing that doesn’t like the truth at all because it carries responsibility, and if I actually believe these things I have to do something about them. It is so, so cumbersome to believe anything. And it isn’t cool.”
Martin Luther King Jr., 20th century
“Our only hope lies in our ability to recapture the revolutionary spirit and go into a sometimes hostile world declaring eternal hostility to poverty, racism, and militarism.”
Sue Monk Kidd, The Secret Life of Bees, 21st century
“The hardest thing on earth is to choose what matters.”
Parker J. Palmer, Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation, 21st century
“Before you tell your life what you intend to do with it, listen for what it intends to do with you. Before you tell your life what truths and values you have decided to live up to, let your life tell you what truths you embody, what values you represent.”
Nancy Pearcey, Total Truth: Liberating Christianity from Its Cultural Captivity, 21st century
“In every historical period, the religious groups that grow most rapidly are those that set believers at odds with the surrounding culture.”