Bluebirds, nests, and hope, part 4
Psalm 23, Revelation 7:9-17, John 10:22-30
by Isaac S. Villegas
April 21, 2013
In 2008 I preached three sermons on the bluebirds who were living, and dying, in my front yard, in the bird house that my neighbor gave me. I guess we can call that my only sermon series.
For five years I haven’t said another word about them, partly because I was done thinking about birds as a sermon topic, partly because I thought you were tired of hearing about them, and partly because in the last one, part 3 in the series, I said I wouldn’t bother you with another bluebird sermon.
Despite all that, I’m thinking it’s time to revisit them, because I can’t help myself. When I think of Psalm 23, I can’t help but think of the bluebirds in my yard, sustaining life, even if its precarious life, bearing witness to hope in the midst of a world full of enemies. So, today: Bluebirds, part 4.
From the book of Revelation, from the Gospel of John, and from Psalm 23 we hear a longing for rest, a longing for home, for a safe place to live. In Revelation, chapter 7, a multitude gathers around the throne of the lamb, of Jesus, resting in God’s house.
“These are the one who have come out of the great ordeal,” an elder says, and “the one who is seated on the throne will shelter them” (Rev 7:14-15). Or, as it says in another translation: “the one who sits on the throne will spread his tent over them.”[i] God draws the people close. God shelters the persecuted.
The image of God’s shelter here in this passage is the tabernacle, the tent of God’s presence that traveled with Israel as they wandered in the wilderness, during their migration out of Egypt. As a people on the move, Israel is drawn into God’s presence, drawn into the tabernacle — a movable shelter, a traveling refuge. And God extends the tent to cover all the people. Or, to turn to another image, as it says in Psalm 91: “God will cover you with his feathers. God will shelter you with his wings” (Ps 91:4). God’s tabernacle, God’s house, becomes a nest, with God as a bird, sheltering us under her wings. And no one will snatch us from the nest. Or, in the words of Jesus from John’s Gospel, “No one will snatch them out of my hand,” he says (Jn 10:28).
In John’s Gospel, the image is Jesus as the shepherd who watches over the sheep. But it’s the same idea: God’s presence makes a home for us, even when we are surrounded by enemies, by evil, as we move here and there in the world — God as a nest in the wilderness.
My neighbor gave me a birdhouse some years ago, the perfect size and structure for bluebirds to build their nests inside. I put it on a wood post in the front yard, near the road, which turned out to be a bad idea for a couple reasons. First, because the birds would panic every time a car would pass by, or a neighbor with a dog; and, second, neighborhood cats would dig their claws into the wood post and climb up to the house and kill the newborns. The nest became a grave.
I went to Home Depot and bought a metal pole to hang the birdhouse onto, to replace the wood post. The bluebird couple came back, rebuilt their nest, made some babies, and took turns sheltering the chicks while the other scavenged for food.
This is what hope looks like, stubborn hope — the way bluebirds come back and make room for life in the midst of a world of death. That’s what the gospel is all about: that God makes room for life to grow, so that God’s eternal life, God’s love can grow, can multiply, even in the worst conditions, even in the valley of the shadow of death. The hope of Easter, of resurrection, is that not even crucifixion can put an end to God’s work of making room for life in the world. The story of Good Friday and Easter Sunday is that God turns a grave into a place for new birth, the empty tomb into the birthplace of resurrection. God is stubbornly for hope, for life, like my bluebirds as they nest and shelter.
This winter I moved the birdhouse behind our house, because I decided that it was in my way in the front yard. A couple of bluebirds moved in a month ago and they’ve been hard at work collecting twigs and leaves, weaving all sorts of things into their nest.
Our church is a nest, where God weaves our lives together, creating a home in the world for the gospel to be born, for good news to grow in us, a shelter for hope and joy and all things good. The Christian life is about nesting, about being people who are able to build nests wherever we go, wherever we happen to settle for a season, knowing that God has always been mobile, living in a tent, a tabernacle, providing the people of God shelter in the wilderness.
The world seems like a wilderness of violence, full of hostility and wild destruction.
We are overshadowed by death. Yet, with the Psalmist we pray: “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me” (Ps 23:4).
For you are with me. I say those words to God because I can say them to you. I can pray those words to God because you teach me what they mean. You are with me, as we live with shadows of death. You are with me, and with you comes God’s presence, with you comes the body of Christ. All of you, as church, are a nest, making a place for life, for joy, for the goodness of fellowship. I go on with hope, for you are with me.
In John’s Gospel, at the very beginning of his story about Jesus, the Spirit of God flies down from heaven in the form of a bird, a migration from heaven to earth, to rest on Jesus, and to draw us into Jesus’s body. The Spirit is a bird who gathers our scattered lives and weaves us into a home for new life, a nest for hope — not just for ourselves, but for a world in need of hope.
As the Psalmists says: “God will cover you with his feathers. God will shelter you with his wings” (Ps 91:4).
[i] Mounce, Book of Revelation, 161.