God's Eye is On the Sparrow
Homily for the 5th Sunday after Pentecost
St. Mary in Palms, Los Angeles, June 19, 2005
Jeremiah 20:7-13
Romans 5: 15b-19
Matthew 10:24-33

I was all set to say something soothing and uplifting about the sparrows this morning, when I got an e-mail from a sometimes irreverent friend. "Sure," he wrote, "not a sparrow falls to the ground without the Father seeing it. But a fat lot of good it does the sparrow."
I took it as a salutary reminder that this text cannot be taken to mean that we will never have trials and tribulations, that everything will always come up roses, that we will never encounter the hostility of the world, and even -- perhaps especially -- the enmity of the "religious" world, when we try to be faithful to our calling. Jesus, in fact, has just finished saying the exact opposite:
"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!"
"It is enough for the disciple to be like the teacher"; it is enough for us to be like Jesus.
What does it mean for the disciple to be like the teacher? What does it mean to be like Jesus?
The 17th Century Bishop of Winchester, Lancelot Andrewes, describes what he calls the "munificence" of God, the radical generosity we know to be embodied in the Incarnate Word, and therefore meant to be embodied in his Church -- in us.
He speaks of God

In all of these things, Bishop Andrewes, in good "classical Anglican" fashion, is sticking very close to the Scriptures and the early teachers of the Church. There's nothing new here, and we all can nod our heads and say, "Of course". But what if we lived that way, not only while we're at Mass, but out there, in the real world of 2005? I suspect we would very soon find ourselves in deep trouble.

Loose the prisoners, deliver the captives, even just treat them as human beings? Like Jeremiah, we will hear many whispering. "Terror is on every side! Denounce him!"

And the haughty are riding high, manipulating our fears and appealing to our worst prejudices, all the time gathering wealth and power to themselves, propounding false theologies that assert their "right to rule" -- everything -- in perpetuity. Seldom has there been a time when the haughty have been more in need of being firmly invited to join the rest of humanity -- for their sakes as well as for our own. But they hardly welcome the prospect.

Heal the sick? You'd better be good at miracles, because we're closing down health care. Giving food to the hungry, of course, is usually applauded, but as Blessed Oscar Romero found out, it is considered very bad form to ask why they are hungry. As for "gathering together the outcasts", that one is guaranteed to get you into trouble, every time.

I could go on and on, but you get the point. Being like Jesus in the present age is sure to attract controversy and condemnation, sure to provoke the same kind of name-calling and retaliation with which the powers that be welcomed Jesus. Should we be surprised when the Ku Klux Klan burns crosses in front of our churches? Or when powerful establishment preachers call us "agents of Satan?"

"If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign those of his household!" But Jesus goes on to tell us that we must not be afraid: "for nothing is covered that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known."

"But wait a little," St. John Chrysostom comments, "for time discovers all things . . . it will both refute their false accusation, and make manifest your virtue . . . Let not therefore what is now said humble you, but let the hope of the good things to come raise you up. For it cannot be, that what relates to you should be hid."

Hold on to that -- we will need it, I fear, in the difficult months and years to come as controversy continues over our own beloved part of Christ's Church. It has done so, of course, many, many times in the last 2,000 years -- there has never been a time when everybody, everywhere, was in amicable agreement about everything, including many of the issues that are dividing us today. If anybody starts to talk to you about "the unanimous, unchanging, unwavering teaching of the Church for 2,000 years," don't take it too seriously. Someone's been reading too many pious tracts.

When you look at the actual history of the Church, disagreement and controversy, growth and change, seem to be not the exception, but the rule. Far from "threatening orthodoxy", they seem to be part of the process of being orthodox itself, as succeeding generations in their own times and places struggle to give "right glory", "ortho-doxa" to God.

Orthodoxy, you see, is something done, a life lived rather than a text memorized and recited. And the Word became Flesh, with all the messiness that implies, not print.

It is not for us to become obsessed with worry over what the outcome, in human juridical terms, of our present controversies might be. About what might be lost that is dear to us, or what may be gained that makes us uncomfortable, over who might end up "in" and who, if anybody, might end up "out" and exactly what it is that one would be "in" or "out" of -- does anybody really know? It is enough for us to be like Jesus.

And to be like Jesus, we will need to keep ourselves close to Jesus. We will need him, not as a distant law-giver we read about once in book, but as a very present friend and lover. We will need him among us, in the Mass and in the Sacraments, in our Sunday and weekday liturgies, and in our daily offices, prayers, and meditations. And, as Lancelot Andrewes' list suggests, we will need to see him in the blind, the naked, the fallen, the hungry, the prisoners, the lowly, the outcasts. It won't do much for our upscale image, but we will need to be close to this Jesus, too, their joys our joys, their sorrows our sorrows, helping -- and being helped -- in time of trouble.

Success or failure, the opinions of others, the names we are called -- none of this is in our keeping. Like Jesus, we live the Good News and leave the rest in the Father's hands.

The 14th Century mystic Julian of Norwich is often quoted out of context and over-sentimentalized, but she knew the trials and tribulations of trying to be like Jesus as well as, if not better than, any of us. "He did not say," she writes, "'You will never have a rough passage, you will never be overstrained, you will never be uncomfortable', but he did say 'you will never be overcome.' God wants us to pay attention to these words, so as to trust him always with strong confidence, through thick and thin. For he loves us and delights in us; so he wills that we should love and delight in him in return, and trust him with all our strength. So all will be well."

It may not always feel that way. We have our share of rough passages, we are overstrained, we are, more often than not, uncomfortable, and worse. Sometimes our whole world seems to be falling apart around us.

But through it all, as Sister Mary Paul says in a little booklet on Julian, "the God who has revealed himself in Christ is not a God who stands outside the course of events, but a God who in creation and redemption, both of which are continuing processes, is himself totally present. What shall be at the end is not extraneous to what has been from the beginning or to what now is."

God is totally present to us -- that's the important part. And if we stay close to Jesus, the wellness that shall be at the end is, at some deep level, already a present reality, available to us even now, in the midst of all our anxieties and troubles.

And so, as St. Augustine tells us, we can sing our Alleluias, "even here, among the dangers, among the trials and temptations of this life". Sing our Alleluias and keep on walking -- walking to the Kingdom, walking with Jesus.

God loves us and delights in us.

His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me.

-- Ted Mellor