I have a birdhouse just outside my study window. It’s busy with the coming and going of adult sparrows laying, hatching and feeding chicks, and juvenile sparrows trying to discover life on the outside. Over the course of a summer a nesting pair in my birdhouse might hatch a couple dozen chicks. We have a second one on the other side of the yard, so one might expect that we would be overrun by Hitchockian swarms of sparrows. In fact there are quite a few for weeks at a time, but eventually they all fly off somewhere, and we are left with only a few from fall through winter. Where do they all go? I imagine that most of them die before spring comes again. A sparrow’s life can appear very cheap indeed.
Matthew said that two sparrows were sold for a penny. Luke waged a price war with five sparrows for two pennies. They were the cheap animals that the poor could afford as an acceptable substitute to the more expensive sacrificial lamb; the throw away animal for the throw away people. But not in God’s eyes. Matthew and Luke agree at least on this, that not one of them will fall to the ground apart from God, and that we are more valuable than many sparrows. We are not more valuable because of our faith or how we express it. We are more valuable because we are God’s beloved creatures. That’s all and that’s enough.
If God cares enough for the lives of sparrows that not one would die apart from God’s love, why do we find make it so difficult to accept how much God loves us? Time and again I have counseled with persons who were taught from childhood that they were sinners already condemned to burn for eternity in hell by a wrathful God, and their only hope was to accept Jesus Christ as their personal savior, yet constantly warned that they were always on the verge of losing whatever grace might flow to them through him. In trembling fear they are more certain of their damnation than their salvation. What rot! The damage done in childhood by incompetent preachers can take a lifetime to overcome, and it is shameful.
Jesus himself said that he did not come to condemn but to save, not to take life but to give it in abundance, not incite fear but to endow love. We are reminded that while were yet sinners knowing nothing of God’s intent, Christ was sent to us. We are sinners yet, and we are called to a life of confession, repentance and renewal through Jesus Christ, but it is not a life motivated by fear. It is a life motivated by the love that God has poured out upon us and continues to pour out upon us, undeserving as we might be.
I guess this sounds like a diatribe, and I guess it is because I’d like to see more energy put into sharing the good news of God in Christ with those who have never heard it than trying to heal the wounds of those who have heard it wrong.