Craft of Preaching

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Field notes from preachers you trust -- Nathan Aaseng, Patricia Tull and others.

The Year of Matthew or When Small Birds Return

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Blue Birds at Argyle Park
(Creative Commons Image by Macomb Paynes on Flickr)


Without small birds, the world would be very quiet. In fact, it would hardly make a sound. In January the northern hemisphere is locked in silence, and in a sense, that emptiness in itself is a beauty. And it is beauty of another kind when the birds return, as they might be one of spring’s first markers. Before the green or the buds, before the sky broadens and before the things that live beneath the dirt arc up, hungry for companionship toward the widening light, if one is particularly blessed, while it is still grey, one might hear a cardinal.

Little birds disappear quickly, but without them, life would feel like less. But that is true of many small things; the kind glance of surprising recognition, the passing of the cup, that awkward, familiar stride one has come to know through time. Small things, the life of tiny moments, is life that thrusts us beyond the grand routine postures of this world, so pale and stiff, the things that many imagine are of value.

It is that motif, that smaller story, which runs like a blue vein beneath red skin, the undercurrent of things, which is the most fascinating. These are the stories of this Matthew year. These are the stories of silences and frailty. The stories that are hard and grinding. These are the stories of both the courageous and the fearful. And if the stories in are true in any way at all, it is that life, the one that is buried, hidden beneath our gold and crimson vanities that seems to be the one most full, lies this smaller life of song.

We trust God is working, both in the texts we are given as preachers, and the world. Though we wait for a rising, there is enough beauty in what is given that we who preach discover the riches of things hidden. On the surface, Matthew seems grumpy and law-bound.

But below and beneath, in the white space of Matthew’s story, we discover that Jesus is not bound by the law, rather he binds the law for us, which gives us an opportunity to slow down and let the demands of the story be. To let the smaller song of silence and sparrows and courage and hope emerge, still and ambiguous. To hear the gospel.

In this year, both in terms of the lectionary and the sky, we are given the biblical stories of the small and the expectant. They weave through Matthew’s gospel to us, a body of faith, a blue thread of hope. A commission, an unfinished tale, nothing more than a small bird with a story, of which we are still a part. A body of the song that interrupts our lives with miracles and darkness and gnashing teeth. An urgent promise in itself, yet beneath it, the dark, quiet beauty of commission and what is to come.

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