Last month, two of our team (Fiona Schneider and Liz Baddaley) spent some time in Zermatt, Switzerland with ICS. Mountains and mission… it was a great week all round as people from many nations were touched by God’s love. But as Liz sat eating lunch in the town square one day, she learned one thing in particular she felt everyone connected with the Sanctuary would appreciate hearing about when she got back…
“Sparrows are common. Everyone knows that. They’re not on the list of must-see sights to take in anywhere you visit. But they’re special to me.
I’m an all-round animal lover and these small garden birds are no exception. They are so intricately crafted, and make such distinctive, delicate movements with their heads. And you rarely get very close to them before they fly away in fear.
84 has been my favourite psalm for years because it expresses such longing and delight to be in God’s presence, and sparrows make an appearance in it… they are described as having found a place (together with the swallows) right by God’s altar – they are valued and welcomed right in; how much more so then are we?
Jesus talks about sparrows too, saying that God loves them enough to know when even just one falls – and urging us therefore to know just how much more deeply we are loved… for we have so much more value.
So sparrows have become associated for me with our access to God’s presence and our preciousness to him – seeing them is like a promise with bones and feathers on. And this has only been increased since I formed a worship busking duo with Anya Faull called sparrow song – partly inspired by these scriptures and partly by the fact that sparrows are not song birds, so any melody they could offer would have to be a supernatural gift to them… and those who heard them.
So as I sat eating my lunch in the town square of a beautiful Alpine town, it was unsurprising that although they had none of the mountain grandeur or fresh, foreign appeal of my other surroundings, a number of sparrows coming seemingly impossibly near to me literally made my heart sing. Because after all, as I have shared, they have great value to me.
I couldn’t believe how close they came! Schooled in getting a feast of bread scraps from the array of delicious deli sandwiches being eaten by different visitors, they knew it was worth the risk to wait for food only centimetres away from my feet. And the braver ones were soon on the seat next to me, and on the back of the bench courageously edging even further towards me.
I loved feeding them the flakes from my crispy bread – and of course they came even closer still then. And stayed.
I got to watch these sparrows in a way I had never done before and it was one of the highlights of my day – and even my whole time in Switzerland. Because it delighted me to be so close to something I place such worth in…
It was special in itself, but it was also a moment of seeing with greater clarity just how much God delights when we choose to come close to him – just how much his heart rejoices to share good things with us.
But my admittedly somewhat whimsical reflections were soon interrupted by stamping and shouting.
It was coming from another bench in the park area – or more accurately from the couple who were sitting on the bench. They had some tame sparrow visitors too, but there was no delight in it for them. They saw the sparrows as inconvenient, or perhaps even as vermin.
I could tell this because their hearts betrayed themselves every time one of the tiny birds came close. Their faces were twisted into angry frustration and they stamped and shouted so that the sparrows fled.
I genuinely felt grieved in that moment. And it just struck me again, deeper than ever, that our actions towards things – and people – come out of how our hearts value them – or don’t value them.
I didn’t have to try to be nice to the sparrows – I didn’t feel I was doing them a favour or engaged in an activity that was ‘the right thing’; I was just genuinely just delighted to spend that time with them, give them a feast and see how close they would come – and all because of their deep worth to me.
It was such a clear picture of how people treat each other on the basis of how they perceive – as precious and intricately created or as an intrusion on, or distraction from, their own agenda…
And lest you think for a moment I am holding myself up as any kind of example through this lesson in sparrows, I’m still searching my heart over a strong suspicion that I would not have been half so overjoyed if my peaceful lunch-break had been disturbed by someone made in God’s own image, rather than by a few little, brown birds.”