11024 S. Bell Avenue
Chicago, IL 60643
Reflection November 18, 2018
"Look at the Birds" - by Rev. Dr. Thomas Aldworth
I have two bird feeders on my backyard deck. I love the various birds that come regularly to feed there. There are flocks of sparrows, along with an occasional cardinal (male and female), nuthatches, chickadees, woodpeckers and the like. And yes, as I mentioned Sunday, squirrels also come for their turn! I intend to keep the feeders full over the winter.
It’s estimated that there are between 100 and 200 billion birds on the earth. So birds outnumber us humans many times over. Birds are, as we know, cousins to dinosaurs. There is much debate about how they evolved. There are between 9,000 and 10,000 different bird species. Without our bird brothers and sisters, we would be overrun with insects.
The smallest bird is the 2 inch-long bee hummingbird. The largest bird is the ostrich which can be 9 feet high and weigh 350 pounds. What is the most common bird is debated but there are three contenders for most numerous bird species: 1) the chicken; 2) the house sparrow and 3) the Red-billed Quelea, a bird from Africa which gathers in enormous flocks that can take five hours to pass by.
I absolutely loved seeing Orioles this past year at my friend, Vinal’s, house in Wisconsin. But the prettiest bird I’ve ever encountered was a Lilac-breasted roller – a bird from sub-Saharan Africa. The Lincoln Park Zoo had one in an exhibition. Of course, seeing such a lovely bird at the zoo reminded me of a quote from the French playwright Jacques Deval: “God loved the birds and invented trees. Man loved the birds and invented cages.”
Birds sing. Typically it is the males who sing. They sing to attract mates. Female birds are attracted to the male based on the quality of the song. It seems the quality of the song indicates the fitness of the bird singing it. The better the song – typically the fitter the male. I wonder how this might translate into our human experience. I’d hate to be judged on the quality of my singing!
I bring up these facts about birds because in Jesus’ well-known parable about the mustard seed, we are the birds who come and find shelter in the branches of God’s kingdom. In this parable lies a vital message. The message is that we’ll not find adequate shelter in our world until we find shelter in God. God is the only true shelter against the storms of life.
Jesus was surely taken with images of birds. He no doubt knew the image of escape from Psalm 124: “Blessed be the Lord, who has not given us as prey to their teeth. We have escaped like a bird from the snare of the fowlers; the snare is broken and we have escaped.” Is this not what happened to us in Christ Jesus? In Jesus’ life, death and resurrection, the snare of the bird-catcher is broken and we have escaped.
We’re all familiar with this passage from Matthew 6:26: “Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than them?”
Just as Jesus taught us many examples from the world of birds so we can continue learning from them. Birds show us how we can trust in God rather than in ourselves. Faith is all about trust. We place ourselves in the hands of our God and we trust those hands.
Yet many of us, myself included, find it hard to trust. The world doesn’t appear very trustworthy. Since the world doesn’t appear trustworthy, it’s really hard putting our trust in God. Having been raised during the height of the cold war, I remember how difficult it was to trust fully in the future. At any moment, we knew, we could be incinerated in an atomic mushroom cloud. Those of a certain age will remember the drills we had in grade school in the 1950’s.
We were told that in the event of a nuclear attack, we should hide under our desks and turn our backs to the blast. I wonder how anyone could have come up with such drivel! I guess these drills were supposed to make us feel better – make us imagine we could survive an attack. But huddled under my desk, I did not feel better regarding my chances for surviving a nuclear attack.
I find it hard trusting in an untrustworthy world. And while the threat of nuclear annihilation has diminished somewhat, the threat continues to stalk our world. I wonder what happens in the hearts and minds of children when they learn their lives might be extinguished in a nuclear conflagration? (By the way, as I am typing this, I see a set of male and female cardinals outside my office window!)
I believe Jesus’ admonition about the birds of the air is even more important now than in the days when Jesus walked among us. We have grown up with so many more fears than most people at the time of Jesus. We need to embrace being like the birds of the air.
Let us likewise learn – as Jesus did – from the birds. Let us understand the words of this Chinese proverb: “A bird does not sing because it has an answer. It sings because it has a song.”
We, too, sing because we have a song divinely planted deep in our souls. We sing because, in Christ, we’ve been given a song of freedom which can never be stilled, a love-song that can never end either here or in eternity.
Rev. Dr. Joel Mitchell, Pastor