Monday, January 30, 2017

Little Brown Jobs and Murmurations

Matthew 4:12-23
Chatfield UMC
January 22, 2017
Rev. Debra Jene Collum

I think this is one of the saddest sentences in Scripture:
“When Jesus heard that John was arrested, he went to Galilee...”

In the Gospel of Matthew Jesus had just finished his vision quest in the desert. Confronting the voice of evil and the temptations to envision his mission and purpose from the perspective of power rather than servant hood.
Coming from a potent time of affirmation of purpose and mission it must have been devastating to hear that his cousin John was in Herod’s prison.

Remember John had just baptized Jesus, just reaffirmed his own ministry of kindom of God building. And in his zeal John offended Herod and was arrested.
Jesus knew that this was more than just an arrest over an offense. It was the state trying to silence anyone who called them to account for their actions against morality and service to the people.

Jesus knew that if he continued his purpose and mission in the way his time in the desert directed him, he too would face persecution by the government. Because he knew he was going to have to say more against Herod than what John had said.

John simply pointed out that Herod’s marriage was based on an adulterous relationship and the quest for power. Jesus was going to have to speak about the ways the government, which Herod represented, was abusing the poor and creating a culture of power only for those who were wealthy.

Jesus knew it was going to get messy.

So what does he do? In his grief and resolve. He starts building a team. From the least likely of places with the least likely of people.

He goes to Galilee; to the land that at one time was called Land of Zebulum and Naphtali. Hasn’t been called that for 700 years. Two of the tribes of Judah. That had been under siege by the Assyrians 700 years before a promise had been given to the people of Zebulum and Naphtali by the prophet Isaiah: “a people who living in dark have seen a great light. A light has come upon those who living in this region, in the shadow of death.”

Jesus now stands on this very land that is again under siege from a foreign power: Herod’s Rome and says: the prophecy will again be fulfilled: Light is here. The kindom of God is coming.

In this out of a way place of foreign occupation that has known oppression for centuries Jesus begins to build a team. Simon Peter, Andrew, James, John. Come, follow me. I’ll give you a new purpose for life. A new way of being.
You are great fishermen. Now let me put those skills to work showing people that they belong in the Kindom of God.

Jesus doesn’t go to the halls of power to build his team. Does he? He goes to a land that was of little importance to people of little importance. People who feel as if they have no say in the life of the government or even the religious institutions.
People who are living hand to mouth, literally. Hoping that the foreign powers will not focus on their little village. Not over tax them during the next wave of power grabbing. Not bring in an army to take over the fishing trade.

Jesus walked along the shores of Galilee and chose fishermen.

This week I was led, more than once, to think of little brown birds: sparrows. As I came up to the church on Friday morning in the balmy 40 degree day, the house sparrows were thinking about mating. You could hear it in their calls. They will be very surprised, if they were successful, when they try to lay eggs in the snow in a few weeks.

These were the very common and somewhat obnoxious house sparrows. Such common and ordinary birds.
There are tons of sparrows throughout the world. And many different types of sparrows. Just here in MN there is the possibility of seeing 20 different types of sparrows. I have a few yet to see on my bird life list.

To most people sparrows all look the same. Unless you pay close attention and use a good set of binoculars it is hard to tell one sparrow from another In the birding world we often call a sparrow that is too far away to be identified as a little brown job, or an LBJ.

Yet, what does Jesus say about these little brown jobs? Jesus said: not one sparrow shall fall but what our Creator God doesn’t know and care and mark that sparrow’s passing. What a powerful metaphor for those of us who find ourselves thinking we are small, of no great worth. A sparrow, a common brown bird that many people don’t even notice; that are so common, is important to God. Important to Jesus.

Just like common fishermen, a despised tax collector, and a few others about whom we know very little. These men and the women who began following Jesus would step out into this place of foreign occupation and life in a way that would get them in trouble. But before that happens they will participate in a ministry of kindom calling and healing.


Jesus preaches and teaches the “good news” of God’s empire that has invaded Roman Galilee (Matthew 4:23). He also heals people’s diseases and infirmities.

Why are there so many sick people in the Gospel?

The Gospel reflects the sickness of the imperial world at this point. Roman imperial structures and practices were bad for people’s health. Some 70-90 percent of folks in Rome’s empire experienced varying degrees of poverty -- from the very poorest to those who temporarily fell below subsistence levels. Understandings of hygiene were limited; social stresses were high; water quality poor, food insecurity was rife with low quality and limited quantities.
Is it any wonder that people were sick? Poor nutrition, lack of immunity. These kinds of diseases were death-bringing in a world that required physical labor for survival.

Jesus’ healings are acts that don’t just repair the body but repair imperial damage and enact God’s life-giving kindom in restoring people’s lives.
 
And they anticipate the completion of God’s working that creates a world, envisioned by Isaiah, a world of light and God’s kindom embodied.  In which all people enjoy abundant good and physical wholeness, where “the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them” (Matthew 11:5; Isaiah 35:5-6).

Jesus embraced his call to ministry and invited others to join him.
And the common people followed.
Because they saw the possibilities of living in a new way of being community. In a place of health and wholeness and care for neighbor and concern for self.

I want to turn to another birding metaphor. Because I believe this kind of community kindom building is going to become more and more important as we learn to walk alongside each other and care for one another.

Already we are seeing signs of violence and hatred and repeals of laws that have protected our health and welfare.
So how do we become kindom people? Aren’t we like the disciples? Little brown jobs? Of very little consequence? Our ripples seem to make very little impact.

But I learned something this week about an amazing phenomenon called murmurations. This is when large flocks of birds coordinate their flight so that it looks like they are in a ballet. Here is a video of one made up of starlings.

Now starlings are another bird that gets little respect. However, researchers have learned that the way they accomplish these beautiful movements is by consistently coordinating their movements with their seven nearest neighbors
Isn’t that awesome. Each little group of seven overlapping with another group of seven keep the communication going with the entire flock so that out of chaos, beauty happens.

Now here is the thing. A murmuration is almost always caused by a predator threatening the flock. They are trying to put distance between themselves and the threat to the flock.

I love this because it gives me hope for the potential for kindom building. We don’t have to protect the whole flock nor do we have to worry about whether the entire flock will fly toward the light. We only have to concern ourselves for those nearest us. Those seven neighbors or family members or coworkers or friends. Communicating with them. Building the kindom together with them moving toward the light with them. And they in turn will build with their seven and they with their seven on and on until the whole flock starts looking more and more like the kindom of heaven and more and more people experience healing from destruction and disease. And the empires that threaten us, the predators are kept at a distance.

Where more and more people walk into the light of God’s love. Where more and more people dance into the wholeness of being the people of God. Where the beauty of the kindom of God outshines any ugliness. Where Light shines in darkness and the darkness cannot overcome it.


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