Listen to the sermon here:
Scripture – Jeremiah 20:7-13; Psalm 69:7-18; Romans 6:1b-11; Matthew 10:24-39
Psalm 69:14 says, “Save me from the mire; do not let me sink; …”
The beautiful chestnut sparrow was flying between nest and ground, finding bits and pieces to build a nest. Later, this same pattern was followed to find little bits and pieces of seed and small insects for the baby sparrows. The baby sparrows grew into young sparrows yearning toward the right day to take flight.
Finally, one sparrow felt the urge to hop out of that nest and the wings worked. The next sparrow wanted to follow. Never mind that this one was not ready. It was not the right day to fly from the nest. But not to be left behind, out the young bird hopped. However, the wings were not ready! No, it was not the right time for this sparrow. Who noticed? Who cared? Maybe the sparrow landed on a hard surface. Maybe a cat found this to be a gift from heaven. Maybe a human found this bird while breath was still audible. Perhaps Human took the bird into the kitchen to nurse the bird. Someone noticed!
Someone else noticed! Matthew 10:29 tells us, “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? But your Father knows when any one of them falls to the ground.”
This same passage goes on to say that God has the hair on our head counted. I wish my number was not decreasing. How about you? Is your hair thinning? Then we wonder if we shall just accept this gradual change or if we should be taking measures to stop this troubling trend. Should we try to find a natural-looking hair piece? Or should we find some product that thickens each strand or should we wear a hat of some sort all the time? Maybe our hair loss is due to illness. Thankfully, patience usually wins the day in that case. Remembering and clinging to the promise that God has our hair counted gives us solace and hope.
What to do! This hair-counting is really just a metaphor to say that God really knows us and cares intimately for us. The title of this sermon “Do Not Let Me Sink!” could be prayed by the bird and those of us with simple hair loss, and especially those of us whose hair is temporarily at zero count. Each of us has times in our lives when we find ourselves praying, “Do Not Let Me Sink!”
Do not let me sink as a parent. Do not let me sink when I make this speech. Do not let me sink when I have this broken foot. Do not let me sink when my spouse flies the coop. Do not let me sink when my child – young or grown – gets into trouble. Do not let me sink with fear as my family is losing our house with no relatives who can help. Do not let me sink because I have succumbed to a yearning that has turned into pure and simple sin. Simple? Those of us who have found ourselves bowing before God, even on our knees, know that none of these problems is simple. At least, simplicity does not seem to be available. One thing affects another thing like a line of dominos when something starts the chain of down, down, down!
We have worked hard to get those dominos to stand just so. The line of dominos, standing on end in a straight or curving manner, look so beautiful. We are set. These dominos can just please stay that way and life will be great. The slightest malfunction, the slightest breeze really, can start the motion that becomes a general downfall. Like the young sparrow. Like a parachute that does not open. Like a boat that is leaking, or worse yet, hits a rock that splits the bottom.
Lord, do not let me sink! How deep am I going? Is this clear water or muddy water or worse? Oh Lord, is this really the end? So different from my vision for my life. And I brought these children into the world. Are they going to sink with me? Or will they be saved? Oh Lord, in your mercy, hear my cry.
Good news! God does hear our cry! What is my only comfort in life and in death? From the Heidelberg Catechism we have this marvelous answer. “That I, with body and soul, both in life and in death, am not my own, but belong to my faithful Savior Jesus Christ, who with his precious blood has fully satisfied for all my sins, and redeemed me from all the power of the Devil; and so preserves me that without the will of my Father in heaven not a hair can fall from my head, yea that all things must work together for my salvation. Wherefore, by his Holy Spirit He also assures me of eternal life and makes me heartily willing and ready henceforth to live unto Him.” (from The Heidelberg Catechism of the Reformed Church in the United States)
In our lesson from Jeremiah 20 today, we find Jeremiah being very unhappy, falling, sinking in despair because God has called Jeremiah to speak God’s directions and reproaches to the people of Israel. Jeremiah cries to God, “O Lord of hosts, you test the righteous, you see the heart and the mind; …” Jeremiah does not see any good results from his work for God. All Jeremiah sees and feels is rejection. He could easily be saying to God with the Psalmist, “Do not let me sink!”
Max stands at the corner of High and Main Streets in his town. It is a strange intersection as the flow of walking traffic includes well-dressed people – high heels, name-brand handbags, with hair not only counted but done elegantly and precisely, with noses in the air. Woven in this mixed bundle of pedestrians crossing the street in a hurry, before the stop hand appears on the traffic light pole, are the persons who only have pennies in their pockets. Max is thinking that this mix of people is like having cardinals and sparrows in the same big exhibit at the Museum of Natural History.
Max stands there thinking. He has a paper to write for a philosophy class. Which persons will survive the longest? Who is the strongest? Who will push whom to the ground in order to climb the ladder first? Max wonders who of these people in his sight will cry out “Don’t let me sink!” Max is wondering if anyone in this crowd is truly happy or truly content. Who is saying, “Thank you God, everything is fine with me. Thank you, thank you!”
Do you seek contentment? Max wonders if anyone has achieved that state of being. Max needs to know so that he can write his paper. What about that man in the expensive overcoat and the current model hat. Where is he heading? To a pleasant event with gracious friends or even clients or prospective clients? At the end of the day, who will greet him when he opens the door of his home, be it condo or large mansion-type home? Will happy children and wife be there with smiles? Or will a very discontented person open that door, full of complaints? Is that person in the expensive overcoat caught in a trap of a scheme of some sort or another.
“My,” says Max, “How will I ever write this paper about contented people when I don’t know these people?” I need to get to know enough of these people really well. I need to get inside their personalities. What is contentment? Is it the same as peace? Is the person wearing a third-hand coat more content than the man in the expensive overcoat?
So Max intentionally opened the door to a café close to the intersection and first sat on the stool next to the man with the third-hand coat. “Hi buddy. How’re you doing?” Buddy replies with, “I am actually fine. I have this warm coat. In a few hours, I will walk to a delicious meal with many other thankful people. We will talk together in a warm room. For that time, we wait all day. But we know God has given this gift to us. A warm meal each evening and friends. We drag through the day with this vision and hope as a guiding light to which we look forward. We know we are loved. Max can only say, “Really?” “Thanks, Buddy” Max says as he pays the bill for both coffees.
Then Max slides onto a stool next to the expensive overcoat and says, “Great day. Are you finding this day to be great?” Expensive Overcoat says, “Not especially” as he stares into his coffee trying to decide to make it disappear slowly or quickly. Expensive Overcoat knows he has a client to meet in five minutes. Will this client bite for the plan that is more-or-less a trick. Expensive Overcoat is being pressured from a higher level person who is being pushed by a penthouse boss. Max becomes a bit too bold and says, “So what is good in your life at the moment?” Expensive Overcoat thinks for a while still staring at his coffee, then says, “Nothing. I can think of nothing. Everything seems flat or worse.” Max says, “Do you have a sinking feeling?” “Exactly,” says Expensive Overcoat. Very much so.” “Oh,” says Max. “Sorry to hear that. Do you have a plan to change that or is it a free-fall feeling that is unstoppable?” “Yes,” says Expensive Overcoat. “Free-fall, that’s it.”
Max intends to only pay for his own coffee but, on second thought, Max realizes that Expensive Overcoat needs some kindness in his life.” Before Max walks away leaving Expensive Overcoat staring at his coffee, Max says, “Now you feel lost and last. Think about feeling found and first.”
That is what Jesus is saying in Matthew 10:39: “… 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.” “Do not let me sink,” the psalmist wrote. Here Jesus is answering not only the psalmist and Jeremiah but Expensive Overcoat and Third-Hand-Me-Down when he says “Take up your cross.” Yes, take up your cross. We shall take the burden that is greatest and carry it and follow Jesus. Go to Jesus. Do we need to carry the cross, our burden, the whole time we are following Jesus? We will surely sink if we are carrying this burden, this heavy cross. But Jesus promises that as we are carrying our cross while following Him, that cross in our hands will fade and when we look again, that heavy burden has become a piece of foam, a light burden and when we look again this cross is on our forehead, marking us as children of God in baptism. This cross, that will not be removed, brings with it light, joy, hope, peace and contentment. The elusive contentment found us – in the person of Jesus Christ!
Holy and Loving God, help us to grab our cross, our burdens, our worries and anxieties about sinking, and follow you closely. As the burden becomes light, we discover the cross made on our foreheads at baptism. “You are sealed with the cross of Christ forever,” the words promised. God, thank you for the transformation from sinking to rising to the heights that you promise in Jesus Christ. Amen