Nature Series: Birds
Rev. Dr. Glenda Hollingshead; March 22, 2020
4th Sunday in Lent
Luke 12:4-7; Matthew 6:25-29
A poem entitled “The Cardinal”:
So brilliant in my dreary yard
Before the green of spring.
The Cardinal is back again
A dazzling, scarlet thing.
Here he grabs an old dead twig
There some dry, brown grass.
He tries a dozen different bits
To find one that will pass.
You see he’s building up his nest
To show his love so pure.
He must succeed to claim his prize
Brown, scarlet and demure.
So now he works to build the best
This bright spot in my day.
And as he works the world turns
To green from dullest grey. [i]
While bird poems are plentiful, bird metaphors glide in and out of our common speech. Allow me to demonstrate:
She sings like a ____(bird).
The child is as happy as a ____(lark).
He was running around like a ____ with his head chopped off. (chicken)
She has eyes like an ____ (eagle).
Light as a _____ (feather).
Don’t count your ____ before they hatch (chickens).
Madder than a wet _____ (hen).
That old gentleman is as wise as an ____ (owl).
Naked as a ____ (jaybird).
While birds are all around us—physically and metaphorically—they also abound in Scripture. Birds are present in the creation. Ravens feed the prophet Elijah in a time of distress. The Psalms mention them often. Leviticus provides the longest list of birds found in the Bible, including scavengers like vultures, falcons, buzzards, and hawks. The dove is a favorite of ancient Israel, known to nest in the holes of the cliffs. You will recall that Noah releases a dove to determine how much the flood waters have fallen. A harmless, peaceful bird, over time it becomes a symbol of the Holy Spirit. A hen with her chicks provides a picture of Jesus’ love and concern for God’s unrepentant people: “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem…how often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings…” In the book of Revelation, birds are summoned to “the great supper of God.” From beginning to end, birds are part of the biblical landscape.[ii]
Another important bird in Scripture is the eagle, the largest bird in Israel with a wingspan of up to 8 feet. In Exodus 19 we read that the Lord calls to Moses from the mountain, saying, “Thus you shall say to the house of Jacob, and tell the Israelites: “You have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself.”
Finally, there is the sparrow, a small, seemingly insignificant bird, that in biblical times had little sentimental or commercial value. Yet Jesus uses it to teach a valuable lesson. “Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten in God’s sight. But even the hairs of your head are all counted. Do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows.”[iii]
In all times—but especially in times like these—when we are facing challenges we could have never imagined; we can gain strength and courage by meditating on God’s care for the birds. God’s tenderness for them reminds us that we are not alone. God is always with us, and through the power of the Holy Spirit, God has equipped us to soar like the eagle.
Yet, we are wise to take heed because the ways of the world will keep us a-ground, distraught, and fearful. But Scripture tells us that God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.[iv] We are not lost. We are not powerless.
Furthermore, looking out for number one is not the motto of our faith. As Christians, we are children of the Most High God, and we are created for love. In the name of love, we have choices to make. We can choose to practice social distancing to keep ourselves and others safe. We can choose to wash our hands often and to stay home as much as possible. We can choose to check on our neighbor via phone instead of entering her home. We can choose to show our appreciation for people working in grocery stores. We can choose to gather in worship with other believers, digitally. We can choose to turn off the news and other social media outlets when the strain of being too connected feels overwhelming. We can choose to practice self-care, by going for walks, taking bike rides, creating delicious meals, reading, listening to music, watching the birds….
And through it all, we can choose to pray like we have never prayed before—for a cure for COVID-19, for aid to those in need, for business owners and their employees who are facing incredible challenges, for people who do not have adequate savings, and for all our health care workers.
In the coming days, may we remember that God is faithful. God knows all our needs and God, who values the sparrows, surely values you and me. In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
[ii] “The Birds of the Air,” A Gathering Voices by Don McKim
[iii] Luke 12:6-7
[iv] 2 Timothy 1:7
*Cover Art by Stushie, used by subscription