Tuesday, September 1, 2009

The Common Ones

flock of sparrows in a treeLuke 12:6 "Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? And yet not one of them is forgotten by God."

Most of us in service professions get overwhelmed at times. The needs are so great and the resources so small, and often the smallest resource of all feels like our own time and energy. Even if you're not doing anything in particular at the moment, there is a constant weight of what is needed and what remains undone. The work of service knows no time clock.

On top of that, it can be thankless or even met with open hostility. Think of the way that community organizers were slammed and demonized in 2008 and you'll have a small idea. It's like that in religious service, too, and there have been many times when the question "Why am I subjecting myself to this? Why don't I just do something else?" has forced its way to the front.

When that happens, I generally go for a walk. And when I do, I unfailingly see sparrows.

When I was a young child, my mother used to sing hymns to me before bed. This is My Father's World was a favorite and, combined with her love of all living things, I learned from her that God could teach me through Creation just as surely as God could teach me through the Bible and through other people. Which is where the sparrows come in. At some point in ministry, as I pondered whatever set of trials and tribulations had driven me out for that walk, I passed a bush. It seemed like a regular bush, but as I got closer, it moved. It was filled with a flock of sparrows.

The message dropped like a 75 lb. package from UPS on my head. "You are doing it for them. For the little ones, for the common ones, for the ones that can be easily bought and sold with impunity, for the ones that kids think it's okay to shoot with bb guns. There are masses of them...they are as common as the sparrow and just as disregarded. No one listens for their songs, no one tries to attract them to their feeders because they don't have pretty colors. People get angry because houses made for purple martins or bluebirds get turned into public housing for unlovely sparrows. But God has not forgotten them and has sent you and others to care for them."

Whenever my own task has felt too overwhelming, the sparrows descend as a reminder. They fill the bushes. They are there at the dumpster behind the restaurant or on the city streets, hopping from here to there looking for crumbs. They sit outside my window, reminding me that I am in ministry because God has not forgotten them and I am part of God's provision for the sparrows of the world.

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