Sermons

PastorEric-2Sunday's Sermon - 
The Rev. Eric Christopher Shafer. 

Sermon for 2nd Pentecost - It was a February Sunday several years ago and Kris and I were traveling with a group of US Lutheran communicators in the West Bank, the area of biblical Palestine occupied by Israel since 1967. We were scheduled to worship at Reformation Lutheran Church in Beit Jala, a town next to Bethlehem. But that Sunday the entire area was under Israeli army curfew. Since we were accompanied by the Rev. Munib Younan, bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land, we were able to get through the military checkpoint from Jerusalem into the occupied territories.

This was a surreal experience – our two Lutheran World Federation vans following the bishop’s car into the Beit Jala area. Our three vehicles, with hazard lights blinking, were the only ones on the road that Sunday morning. All businesses, schools and homes were closed and even boarded up. Normally on a Sunday morning, a work day for the majority Muslim population, the streets would have been teaming with people. Not this day. The streets and sidewalks were completely vacant and quiet except for an occasional stray dog. The Israeli curfew kept everyone at home and off the streets. Those who ventured out did so illegally, under the threat of arrest and prison. We motored on, aware that we, too, might encounter Israeli soldiers who would not be happy to see us out and about. Fortunately, we did not encounter any Israeli soldiers.

The church bells were ringing as we approached Reformation Lutheran Church in Beit Jala. We wondered if anyone would be there. As we entered the church grounds, there were hundreds of people waiting for the bishop’s arrival and for worship. Surprised by their bravery, bravery I thought might be fool-heartedness, I asked one of our hosts why he had violated the curfew and risked imprisonment to come to worship that day.

“If God calls us, we’re coming,” was all he said or needed to say.

I am tempted to talk about the importance of worship attendance and how we in the USA take our freedom to worship, or not to worship, all too much for granted. Christians in the West Bank do not take that right for granted – they even risk arrest and imprisonment to attend worship services!

But, that’s another sermon.

Today, I want to talk about not living in fear or, to be more specific, I want to talk about living in hope. The people of Reformation Lutheran Church in Beit Jala know what it is like NOT to live in fear. You and I can know that, too.

Today’s Gospel lesson from St. Matthew tells us several times that we can, we should, always live in hope, without fear, because of God’s constant love for us. The text tells us how God is always watching over us:

  • “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father.” Luke, in a similar text, says “no sparrow is forgotten before God.” In Jesus’ day, sparrows were considered the lowliest of birds (not much different than today!) Luke even says “five sparrows for two pennies.” Almost worthless. They were one of the cheapest animals available for sale for animal sacrifice in the Temple courtyard. As cheap as they were, they were still important to God. Matthew’s and Luke’s point is that God does not forget us as individual human beings.

  • “And even the hairs of your head are all counted.” God cares for us so much that God even knows the number of hairs we have! God knows the smallest details of our lives. That’s how much God cares for us. No sparrow or hair is forgotten by our all-knowing and all loving God. A metaphor, of course, but such a good one.

  • “Have no fear;” “Do not fear;” “Do not be afraid.” At least three times in this text alone.

In other words, Matthew is telling us in all situations, no matter how bad they may seem to us, we can live without fear. We have a God who cares for the lowliest of creatures and cares all the more for us, so much that God even can count our individual hairs!

We can live without fear. Perhaps even more importantly, in all of our lives, no matter how good or bad they may be, we can live in hope.

Civilla Martin writes of a time early in the spring of 1905 when she and her husband were living in Elmira, New York. While there, they became good friends with a couple, Mr. & Mrs. Doolittle, who Martin called “true saints of God.” Mrs. Doolittle had been bedridden for twenty years. Her husband was a paraplegic and used a wheel chair to get around. Despite their afflictions, they lived what Martin called “happy Christian lives, bringing inspiration and comfort to all who knew them.”

Martin writes that one day while she and her husband were visiting with the Doolittles, her husband commented on their hopeful nature, despite their disabilities. He asked the Doolittles for the secret of it. Mrs. Doolittle’s reply was simple:
“His eye is on the sparrow, and I know he watches me.”
“Why should I feel discouraged, why should the shadows come,
Why should my heart be lonely, and long for heaven and home,
When Jesus is my portion? My constant friend is He:
His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me;
His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me.
“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.”
(sung by soloist)
Civilla Martin is, of course, the writer of this wonderful hymn. She wrote it first as a poem and then sent it to her friend Charles Gabriel, who supplied the music.

I don’t know about you, but I do get discouraged at times. Thus, the assurance in today’s text is very important to me. It is easy, at least for me, at times to get overwhelmed by doubt and fear. But this text and this hymn provide reassurance in those times.
"Let not your heart be troubled," His tender word I hear,
And resting on His goodness, I lose my doubts and fears;
Though by the path He leadeth, but one step I may see;
His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me;
His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me.
“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.”
(sung by soloist)
God is so concerned about you and me that God even knows how many hairs we have! (Or lack of hairs, but that’s off track a bit!) That’s such a wonderful metaphor for God’s love for us – complete, continuing, and even detailed. God gets us through the tough times. And when we are tempted to become hopeless God even draws us closer.
“Whenever I am tempted, whenever clouds arise,
When songs give place to sighing, when hope within me dies,
I draw the closer to Him, from care He sets me free;
His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me;
His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me.
“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.”
(sung by soloist)
In one of the sermons I read this past week, the pastor said he asked his grade school age daughter what she thought of his sermons. His daughter smiled and said, “Daddy they all go something like this – blah, blah, blah, love.” The pastor related that he rather liked that summary of his preaching – other themes and topics at times, but love as the theme always.
I like that too. And, that’s where Jesus ends up always, also. With constant love and care for us no matter where we find ourselves, even, or, perhaps, especially, when we find ourselves in fearful situations.
If God’s eye is even on the sparrow, then we know that God is always watching out for us, loving us, caring for us, in all times, good and bad.
Have no fear; do not be afraid, not even of losing your life for Jesus’ sake. For God is with us always and we know God is watching and caring for us.

Amen.

The Rev. Eric Christopher Shafer
Senior Pastor
Mt. Olive Lutheran Church, Santa Monica, California

 


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    • 1343 Ocean Park Blvd.
      Santa Monica, CA 90405
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