Sermon Text: For The Birds
My wife likes odd creatures.
I first noticed this years ago when we were in kayaks on the Chenango River. The carp were mating. Some them would flop out of the water and on to the shore. She could not get enough of watching them.
She also really wanted to see a mud puppy in the river. Mud puppies, essentially, are giant salamanders. They are ugly, slimy creatures who live under rocks in the Susquehanna River. They are also called hellbenders or snot otters. I am not making this up. We never got to see one in the wild, but we did get a good look at the one in the Syracuse Zoo.
My wife is also very fond of turkey vultures. And she has helped me to learn to like them, too. We have a collection of turkey buzzard statues, figurines, and stuffed animals. I am not making this up, either. And you would be surprised at how seldom you find toy turkey buzzards in gift shops.
So years ago now, I made a mistake at a church coffee hour. I was telling a member of St Mark's about how my wife is drawn to all these odd creatures. So my church member looked at me and said, "Well?"
Yeah, yeah, I walked into that one. I'm odd, too...I get it. This church member had my number. I will not name her, but I will tell you that she is one of our wardens right now.
Well, being married to Paula has taught me to appreciate all God's critters. Especially birds. Turkey vultures, goldfinches, woodpeckers, crows, eagles, great blue herons...I love them all.
In this time of restricted activity due to the pandemic, many of us are taking more time to watch birds. First, there aren't as many other things to do. Second, birds are really interesting. And third, Jesus said to do it. "Look at the birds of the air," Jesus said in Matthew's Gospel, in one of the readings for this summer.
Jesus tells us to be bird watchers, and to learn from birds. It's a pretty easy command to obey, when you think about it.
You know, Jesus was a pretty happy person. We don't think about that too much. We think of him as the Man of Sorrows, acquainted with grief. We think of his sufferings in Gethsemane and on the cross. But mostly, Jesus was full of life and joy. He watched the birds darting in the sky over the hills of Galilee. In them he saw a life of joy and freedom from care. He looked closely at all the different wildflowers growing in the fertile soil of Galilee, and he loved their beauty. He saw that these birds and wildflowers were just themselves - glorious and God-given.
Jesus did not teach a sour, negative spirituality. He had a rock-solid sense of his Father's goodness and generosity. Jesus loved parties and feasts...he was no killjoy.
But he was clear about priorities. If you put stuff first in your life, that stuff will crumble. But if you put God first, you get the world thrown in.
Don't worry, he says. Life is not just an anxious struggle for survival. Life can be received as a gift from the creator of the birds, the wildflowers, the hills and lakes, and us.
So what can I learn from my wife the birdwatcher, and Jesus the birdwatcher, and the birds themselves?
Well, I might learn to live lightly. Birds fly -- I can't -- but I can live lightly. I can try to consume less and take myself lightly.
Second, I might learn to wing it sometimes. I cannot always be in control. That's a hard lesson, but maybe birds can teach me to wing it, and go with the wind.
Third, I might even learn that all of us can make the world a little more beautiful. I may not have bright red or blue feathers, but I was created as a unique individual with my own gifts and abilities. I can try to make the world a little lovelier. I might remember to sing more -- that's always a good plan.
And last, above all, I can learn from the birds that life is a gift, a free, joyous gift. It is tough sometimes -- just think of a little sparrow in wintertime. But it's still worth living. It's all a gift.
So - okay, I'm an odd creature. But my wife is drawn to odd creatures. And I'm a bird-brain sometimes, but maybe that can be a good thing. I cannot fly in my body, but my heart can soar with the birds, even with the birds no one likes very much, like crows, like vultures.
"Look at the birds of the air," Jesus said. Many people of his time thought he was an odd duck. All I can say is, Jesus is one bird worth watching, too. I want to watch what makes him angry and what makes him joyful.
I'm still learning all this, even after all these years. I hope if I keep my eyes open, I will find the secret of the joy at the center of the universe.
I am looking for the birds'-eye view! Maybe you are, too!