September 23, 2001
Proper 20
Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost

LECTIONARY READINGS
from the Revised Common Lectionary

Amos 8:4-7
1 Timothy 2:1-7
Luke 16:1-13

The Underlined / Linked Texts above will take you to
Sermons on Amos 8:1-12 and Luke 16:1-13


His Eye is on the Sparrow
Amos 8:4-7 and Psalm 113

Civilla Durfee Martin wrote the gospel song, "His Eye is on the Sparrow," ¹ in 1905 after she and her husband had visited some friends. She tells the story this way:

Mrs. Doolittle had been bedridden for nigh twenty years. Her husband was an incurable cripple who had to propel himself to and from his business in a wheel chair. Despite their afflictions, they lived happy Christian lives, bringing inspiration and comfort to all who knew them. One day while we were visiting with the Doolittles, my husband commented on their bright hopefulness and asked them for the secret of it. Mrs. Doolittle’s reply was simple: “His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me.” The beauty of this simple expression of boundless faith gripped the hearts and fired the imagination of Dr. Martin and me. The hymn “His Eye Is on the Sparrow” was the outcome of that experience. ²

The scripture reference comes from Matthew where Jesus says, "Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. And even the hairs of your head are all counted. So do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows." [Matthew 10:29-31]

"His eye is on the sparrow," the song affirms, "And I know He watches me." God's watchful care is affirmed in the Psalms. "Truly the eye of the LORD is on those who fear him, on those who hope in his steadfast love..." [Ps. 33:18]  "The eyes of the LORD are on the righteous and his ears are attentive to their cry..." [Ps.34:15]

***

There is an important spiritual principle that can make a difference in our life and faith that can be expressed by saying, "We need to pay close attention to the things God pays close attention to." This probably sounds like a statement of the obvious, but our scripture reading from the prophet Amos suggests that God pays close attention to what happens to the poor and needy - and - God pays close attention to our response to the poor and dispossessed.

The difficulty is that our culture does not want to keep a watchful eye on the things God keeps a watchful eye on. The poor and the homeless are kept at a distance. We do not want low income housing too close to our neighborhood and homeless shelters are best kept well out of sight of our shelter. And as for the extreme poverty of some parts of the third world - well that's a "world away" - so to speak.

It is easy to pass by on the other side as the priest and Levite did in Jesus' parable of the Good Samaritan. God was not only watching the poor man who had been beaten and robbed, he was watching those who encountered the victim. In the story, Jesus redefined the whole notion of neighbor. As a matter of fact, it is the perpetrators of the misery of the poor that God promises to remember. "Surely, I will never forget any of their deeds." 

For most of us, it is not a matter of consciously victimizing those who are poor. We are not, in Amos' words, "...buying the poor for silver and the needy for a pair of sandals." We are not hiding in the weeds on the Jericho road waiting to pounce on some poor unsuspecting traveler. But we are aware that there is a dangerous Jericho road out there and in the words of Martin Luther King Jr., "We've go to do something about that Jericho road."

***

Susan is a caring Christian woman who lives with her family in a well-to-do area of Wheaton, Illinois. She has been an active member of whatever church she attended since her earliest years. If anyone would respond to the needs of others it was her and as for contributing to someone's misery - she would be horrified to think the thought!

But, Susan had never been out to the Jericho road and had no "up close and personal" idea of the kind of misery some people endure. Then someone in her church challenged her to consider participating in a mission trip to Honduras where homes were being built for the poorest of the poor. Hurricane damage had destroyed tiny shacks that had never been replaced. She went on the trip and her life was permanently altered.  The Spirit of God got hold of her heart and she saw what God sees and her "seeing" will never be the same. Her own words tell the story best:

"The country is so poor, I couldn't explain it in a million years. No one was able to prepare me for what I saw. Thousands of shacks with no floors or water or electricity. No doors or windows along the road side and river banks. It is the saddest thing I have ever seen. Yet, I fell in love with this place. The people in the village were so kind and giving. The children in the village hung around the work site all day and we played with them and hugged them. They are starving for attention. It is not uncommon for families to have eight children and live in one room homes. They have no birth control, no medications of any kind for the poor. They have absolutely nothing!

We built four houses. They are tiny rooms and the homes my group built would fit in my kitchen. A family with eight children will be living in it.

The greatest and hardest thing was the children. Every time we gave them a toy (we brought lots with us) they would go home to find something to give us back. Fruit, a small flower - anything. When we worked, they would spray us with water bottles to keep us cool. They would wipe the dirt off our arms and legs. They even worked on the site, shoveling, pushing wheel barrels of dirt and more. It wasn't even going to be their house. They just wanted to be near us. When we left on the last day, they cried so hard and so did we. I haven't cried like that since my son Ryan was born critically ill. Leaving those children was one of the hardest things I've ever done. Because of the poverty they don't receive mail, so I have no way to communicate with them.

One little girl has a single mom and they live in a one room shack. We are going to try to raise funds to have a house built for her. It will cost about $3500 to build a house. The labor is all volunteer. I am going to head up the effort to raise the funds and will give a talk in church this Sunday regarding the need as well as to talk about our trip. I hope I can do that without crying. I still cry when I look at the pictures or talk about it.

This experience has most definitely changed my life!

***

Susan now sees what God sees and she pays attention to the things God pays attention to. $3500 dollars to provide a homeless family with a "house."  A house you and I would likely consider a too small one car garage.

The prophet Amos warns that God sees and pays attention to the poor and needy. Psalm 113 is a song of praise to the God who, "...raises the poor from the dust, and lifts the needy from the ash heap..."  God equalizes people of high estate and low estate. The poor and needy are made to, "...sit with princes..."

Perhaps most of us would feel secure in the knowledge that we do not "...buy the poor for money or sell the needy for a pair of sandals..." as Amos complains. BUT... once I become aware of the Jericho road -- the plight of countless thousands of God's children who go without food, shelter and clothing -- I am on the case!  Once I see what God sees, I am confronted with the choice to enter the fray and put my hand to the task of caring -- or to pass by on the other wide along with the priests and scribes.

Most of us could easily add the cost of a poor Honduran family's "home" on to our mortgage. Can you imagine what would happen if someone in our church took on Susan's vision and committed to building one tiny house for one poor family? And then another church would hear of the mission and build a house for just one family?  Then what would happen if groups of ten Christian people began to see what God sees and pay attention to what God pays attention to and commit themselves to $350 each to provide a homeless family with a house to live in?

The math is simple.

The implications are profound!

If only we would try to see what God sees and pay attention to what God pays attention to. The God whose eye is on the sparrow would take great joy in seeing us become faithful to the task of caring for the least of the least!

The Psalmist reveals the heart of the poor and dispossessed filled with praise because God cares for them and is attentive to their needs. Listen once again:

"From the rising of the sun to its setting the name of the LORD is to be praised. The LORD is high above all nations, and his glory above the heavens. Who is like the LORD our God, who is seated on high,
who looks far down on the heavens and the earth?  He raises the poor from the dust, and lifts the needy from the ash heap..."
[VV.3-7]

I challenge you today to go from this time of praise and worship with a new commitment to seeing your world as the One whose eye is on the sparrow sees it!

¹ See a Beautiful Java Applet of His Eye is on the Sparrow

² From the Cyber Hymnal


Reflection on the Texts

NOTE: We are experimenting with linking the lessons to Bible Gateway. You need to be online to use this function, but when you click on the lessons (and some texts referred to in the notes) you will go to the passage at the Bible gateway site. The text will be in RSV, but you can read the text in several different versions when you are at the Bible Gateway site. If you explore the different versions, there are footnotes and other helps that may enhance your study along with our notes and sermon suggestions.

Let us know if this is helpful for your study.  It takes a bit of time, but if it helps we will continue the practice. If we do not hear from you - we will not continue the links.

Luke 16:1-13

There is (almost) universal agreement that this parable and attendant applications is one of the most difficult (and maybe the most difficult) of Jesus' parables to interpret. A key question is whether this pericope is really a unit or whether it has been expanded upon. Jeremias sees the parable as having originally been vv. 1-8 and vv.9-13 as appended to the original parable. (Rediscovering the Parables) There are three ways to interpret the parable: 1) Be Wise (Imitate the shrewdness of this generation -- in light of approaching crisis -- an eschatalogical sense to the parable) -- 2) Be Kind (Some see the parable as an injunction to use worldly possession to make "friends" -- i.e. help the poor -- so that the "angels" will welcome them.) -- 3) Be Warned ( a] to be ready for the approaching crisis or b] against unfaithfulness.)

Many commentators use approach #2 "Be kind -- that is use the wealth of the world to help others. (Wm. Barclay, Bruce Larsen, Geldenhuys)

There is another possibility which retains a unified approach to the parable and its attendant admonitions. It is suggested by Elton Trueblood's description of 16:9 ("And I tell you make friends for yourselves....") as an example of Jesus' humor. Trueblood says, "Jesus meant of course, exactly the opposite of the words he spoke." [E. Trueblood; The Humor of Christ] The humor -- if Trueblood is correct -- has a mocking tinge to it. Our position is to favor Trueblood's minority opinion on this verse -- especially in light of the discourse with the Pharisees following today's pericope. The Pharisees "having heard all this"

The approach we are taking with this message is that the passage has a central and unified theme which has to do with our core values as followers of Jesus Christ. It is likely that Luke has combined separate sayings here to address the theme of values. Verses 10-12 are unique to Luke. The lesson is about values no matter how you finally interpret verses 8 & 9. The true follower of Jesus Christ will not become entangled in the values of a material and possession driven culture. . There is no confusion or mixed loyalty -- the disciple is "faithful" in all things.

v.5 "How much do you owe my master?" vv. 5-7 suggest that the rich man may have been in the business of making loans for interest -- not acceptable practice for Jews to their fellows. The income would be "unrighteous money".

v.8 "And his master... because he acted shrewdly; for the children..." "Because" and "for" are both translated from the particle "hoti". So the translation might better be, "And his master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly because the children of this age..." In other words -- the master commended the guy because he was cunning because that's the way it is with people like this -- and people like this are way better at this kind of cunning than people whose values are rooted in God."

* Luke's three stories about a "rich man" -- 12:16, 16:1, 16:19. See also Luke 8:14, "...they are choked by the cares and riches and pleasures of life... -- from the parable of the sower.

v.9 "They may welcome you" is a bit misleading since "dexontai hymas" is future passive -- best translated as "you will be welcomed". This means all interpretations which attempt to discern the "they" are misleading. It may give the edge to those who take the verse to mean: "You as my followers should use the money of this world to make friends for good purposes so that when all is said and done, you will be welcomed into eternal homes."

"dishonest wealth" = "mamones tes adikas" Likely idiomatic expression for worldly wealth. Unrighteous in the sense of "of the world" and not "holy". Thus the money changers who took a cut for exchanging worldly money for money which could be used to purchase offerings.

v.13 Though one may have both God and wealth, we can not serve both -- or be in bondage to both at the same time.

 

Amos 8:4-7

God's concern for the poor and dispossessed is particularly powerful in Amos and is woven throughout Luke's gospel.

 

Luke 15:1-10   [Notes from last cycle]

v.1 This parable begins a long section in Luke 15-19 which is largely unique to Luke and shows Jesus' exceptional concern for the social outcasts of his day. It was a general principle of the Pharisees that one did not enter into "table fellowship" with those whose moral and / or ritual cleanliness was in question. Galileans were sometimes generalized by the Pharisees as "sinners". Other than actual participation in the actual acts of "sin" or law breaking -- eating with "sinners" is a most egregious sin. (See Lk. 5:27-32)

v.2 "Grumbling" = "diagogguzo" Complaining that runs through a crowd... a general "ain't it awful" runs through the self-righteousness of those who see the tax collectors and "sinners" (unacceptable people) as beneath them. They, on the other hand are the "favored of God".

**Note on Lk.19:10 "...to seek and to save that which was lost" "lost" = "apollumi" A very strong word. The root is destruction, death, ruin. The gospel in a nutshell is that Jesus came to search for and to bring salvation / wholeness to the one who was destroyed, lost, devastated.

vv.3-7 It is striking that the key element in story of the lost sheep is the joy of "finding". The shepherd put the sheep on his shoulders and "rejoices". Then he calls his friends to "rejoice" with him. Finally, Jesus talks about the great "joy" there will be in heaven over the sinner who repents. Jesus is saying that his ministry of seeking and receiving "sinners" is pleasing to God. This is instructive for the community of faith today.

vv.8-10 The parable of the lost coin offers a "second" for Jesus' ministry of welcoming sinners. There is a powerful dual question here: "What is the Pharisee's view of sinners?" and "What is Jesus' / God's view of sinners?" This begs the question: "And what is ours?"


1 Timothy 2:1-7
[A sermon outline from Last Cycle]

A Lesson for Young Pastors

The premise of I Timothy is that the Apostle Paul is giving instruction to a young protégé. This passage gives four things the pastor-teacher is to teach:

1. 2:7 (The last verse first) We are "heralds"

Paul says he was "appointed" a herald. i.e. Our primary task is that of one who brings a message on behalf of the one who sent us -- namely God.

2. 2:1 Pray for those who lead the nation.

The key here is that if we can live "peaceable lives" -- we will be free to carry on the task of proclaiming the kingdom of God.

3. 2:2 God desires our redemption

There is something God wants us to know -- namely the fact that Christ has come as Redeemer. There is "knowledge" or "truth" we are commissioned to teach / preach.

4. 2:5-6 One Way

This takes us to what Reinhold Niebuhr called the "scandal of particularity". Jesus Christ has come as the One who redeems. Acts... "There is no other name under heaven given among men whereby we must be saved."


 Worship Helps

A Call To Worship (Based on Psalm 113)

L: Let us praise the name of the Lord,
P: God is wonderful! Yesterday, today and forever!
L: The Lord our God has done marvelous things,
P: We are blessed more than we could ever imagine.
L: For all the amazing gifts we have been given,
P: We praise the name of the Lord! Amen!

 

A Prayer of Confession

O God of heaven and earth, Creator of all we have and are, we come before you today as those who need Your help with faithfulness. We long to hear the words, "Well done good and faithful servant," yet our service to you has fallen short. O give us the strength of your Holy Spirit, that we might set our hearts more squarely on the goal of unwavering commitment to your lordship in all of life. Amen.

Assurance of Pardon

Scripture assures us dear friends that if we confess our sins, God is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. Receive the good news that in Jesus Christ we are forgiven. Amen.

A Prayer of Dedication

Help us, O Lord God, to let go. We too easily cherish the things of this world and lightly consider the claims of eternity. Give us grace today. Give us the power to see ourselves in the light of Your love. May the gifts we bring today call us to the joy of living for You in a lost and broken world. Amen.