Consider the Sparrow

“Look at the birds of the air; 
they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, 
and yet your heavenly Father feeds them.”

-Matthew 6:26

Jesus invites us to be birdwatchers. He suggests that we can learn something about God if we do this. We can learn something about anxiety. We can learn something about the place that work has in our lives.[1]

My family and I were watching television several weeks ago when we heard a thwack on the window. When we investigated, we found that a sparrow had died flying into the window. We all felt terrible. We gathered up the poor dead body of the little bird and had a mini funeral, burying it in the forest behind our place. We were motivated to purchase special ink to mark the windows to prevent birds from flying into the windows. 

In Matthew 10:29-31, Jesus says, “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father.”[2] God was with that poor sparrow that flew into our window as it met its final moments. In Matthew 6:26 God feeds the sparrow, and in 10:29-31, God is with them when they die. God accompanies the sparrow in life and in death. Look at the birds of the air. God is with those birds as they travel through their lives, and God will be with them as they die. 

Sparrows “neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them.”[3] When I look at the sparrow, it is true that I do not see them sowing seed or gathering into barns. But I do see them labouring to eat. Recent studies – studies that Jesus obviously did not have access to – have suggested that birds do worry – and that they worry about getting food. In fact, these studies suggest that they worry more about this than about predators.[4]

Worry and anxiety are built into the fabric of existence, it seems, even for animals. A conventional sermon would try and convince you to abandon anxiety, but I suspect this is a fool’s errand.[5] The thing, as I see it, is not to eliminate anxiety – rather it is to not let it dominate our lives. This can be a great more difficult to do than to say.[6]

Look at the sparrow, it worries, yet God feeds it. Our worry does not separate us from the love of God. Not one sparrow will fall to the ground apart from God. Worrying about death will not keep it away. And death is yet one more thing that will not separate us from the love of God. 

We might as well look at the sparrows because they are looking at us. 

The oldest evidence of the house sparrow dates to more than 100,000 years ago, in a cave in Israel.[7] At some point sparrows decided to attach themselves to humans. Now, except for one species in the Middle East, all house sparrows throughout the world have built their lives around human settlements. Some have been seen in a mine in England, 2,000 feet down below the ground, and others have been seen on the 80th floor of the Empire State Building in New York, and they have found homes everywhere in between.[8]

Jesus says that the birds of the air “neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them.” In the case of sparrows, God feeds them through us. They find food in human gardens and fields. If our sowing and reaping causes us anxiety, it also provides food for the sparrow. Our anxious work helps them. 

There have been times when the sparrows have succeeded a little too well. Mao, the Chinese leader in the mid-twentieth century said there were four great pests in China: “rats, mosquitoes, flies, and sparrows.” There were so many sparrows they threatened the harvest. Moa had his destroy the little birds. And they were surprisingly successful – according to some, they wiped out a billion birds.[9] Initially, this helped the crop production. But in the long run, this plan backfired. It seems that sparrows, along with eating crops, also ate pests. These pests multiplied in the absence of the sparrow, and the crops failed on a large scale. Around 35,000,000 Chinese died of starvation.[10]

Look at the birds of the air; Look at the sparrows. We look at them not merely because they are beautiful, but because, whether we realize it or not, we are partners with them in the project of life and existence. They look to us for a means of existence, and in ways we are not perhaps aware, we look to them as well.

Look at the (sparrows), they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Jesus in Matthew wants us to have faith – he wants to teach us about the one in whom we put our trust – God. We worry sometimes simply because we have a bad understanding of who God is. We worry sometimes, because the God we hold in our mind is a God who inspires worry. Sometimes we hold to an idea about God that needs to be released, so that we can find God all over again, in new and more helpful ways.

Consider the sparrow’s ability to receive God’s generosity. Do we believe in our hearts that God is generous? How generous is your God? Our biggest problem as a species from a theological perspective might be that we do not know how to receive God’s generosity. We limit what we let ourselves receive from God according to our vision of his generosity. We agree that he is generous, but typically in our hearts, we do not grasp the level and degree of divine generosity. 

Typically, we like to have God’s generosity correspond to our worth. In our hearts we like to think that God is generous with those who are worthy. We can gather that which we have sowed and then later bring it into barns because we worked for it – we have earned it. We don’t really think God is generous, so we gather into our barns far more than we need – far more than what is required for our daily bread. 

Consider the sparrow. You see, sparrows do not worry about any of these things. Birds have no agendas, schedules, deadlines; no managers, bosses, employees; no boardrooms, shops, or storefronts. They do not know about economies, supply and demand, or money. They simply take what is in front of them. They simply take the food before them that they need. They either eat what they find and live or do not and die.

We have built up whole systems of ownership which means that we might find ourselves in jail if we really lived like the sparrows do – simply taking to eat what is in front of us. Our worry is built into the systems of culture, government, of economics. If you live in worry, that is because the economic systems, political systems, and cultural systems breed worry in us. 

Our worry is built upon the idea that there is not enough for everyone. I must take some, and I this might mean that there is not enough for you. Our worry sets us against each other – against God, and ultimately against our own selves. 

To learn these lessons from the sparrow is to be thrust into a radical alternative vision of what reality could be… of what life could be. 

So, let us consider the sparrows – our partners in life. 

Let us know that God is with us in anxiety and in tranquility. 

Let us work together to build up communities knowing that God is with us in life and in death.[11]


[1] What we see when we look at the birds of the air depends entirely upon what sort of bird we happen to find ourselves looking at. If we look at a hawk, we will see one thing; if we look at an owl, we will see something else; and if we look at a sparrow, we will yet see something else.  Indeed, if we look at a hawk or owl, we might see them eating the poor sparrow. Because I cannot look at all birds, I am going to focus on the sparrow. I like the sparrow because they are ubiquitous delicate creatures of gentle beauty and grace.

[2] Matthew 10:29-31.

[3] They do not practice agriculture – yet they find food. 

[4] https://www.wausaudailyherald.com/story/life/2016/10/26/what-do-birds-worry/92673910/

[5] If even a sparrow worries, certainly we who have a greater capacity to be able to imagine the many ways things might go wrong in the future – certainly we will also worry. If we have imaginations, we will have worry.

[6] True, I hope we all have moments when anxiety is dispersed, but I think it is naïve to think we could ever finally be rid of it.

[7] https://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/the-story-of-the-most-common-bird-in-the-world-113046500/

[8] https://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/the-story-of-the-most-common-bird-in-the-world-113046500/

[9] https://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/the-story-of-the-most-common-bird-in-the-world-113046500/

[10] https://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/the-story-of-the-most-common-bird-in-the-world-113046500/

[11] A sermon preached at St. Hilda’s Anglican Church in Sechelt on October 10, 2021. 

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