Rev. Wilson’s Sermons

God Cares!

Matthew 10:24-39

25 June 2017

Kenneth Feinberg is the lawyer who chaired the September 11 Victim Compensation Fund, which gave money to the family of each person who died in the 2001 terror attacks.  He started with a formula and then added his own deliberations.  Feinberg took into account a person’s age, who in that person’s life depended on them, whether there was any life insurance, and what their income and earning potential was.  As you can imagine, the amount of money given varied dramatically—from $250,000 for blue-collar workers to $7.1 million for executives.

Feinberg later reflected on his experience in an interview.  He said, “As I met with families and wrestled with issues surrounding the valuation of lives lost, I began to question this basic premise of our legal system.  Trained in law, I had always accepted that no two lives were worth the same in financial terms.  But now I found the law in conflict with my growing belief in the equality of all life.”

Jesus is readying his disciples for their work in the world.  He, more than anyone, knows the perils they will face and so he wishes to warn them.  He even invokes the name Beelzebul.  In the Old Testament, the name Beelzebul is derived from a Philistine God and came to represent a winged demon.  In the New Testament, Beelzebul is the prince of demons, or the devil.

What Jesus is saying here is that those who are opposed to the disciples as they go out to do their work in Jesus’ name would rather call Jesus Beelzebul than open themselves up to him and to God.  Jesus is warning the disciples that they will be treated as if they are wicked and evil because they represent him, the devil, in the eyes of many they will meet.

The warnings continue.  In their work, the disciples will find conflict rather than peace.  They will find themselves at odds with many—including members of their own families.  Jesus does not pull any punches.  They must be ready to take up their crosses and follow him wherever they are led.

Yet in the midst of these warnings of the dangers the disciples will face, Jesus mentions, seemingly out of the blue, creatures that seem so insignificant that most of us take no notice of them.  Sparrows.  They were not valued in Jesus’ day either, costing only a penny for two of them.  They were the meat of the poor.  Yet Jesus says that that their lives and their deaths are not beneath God’s attention and care.

Jesus assures the disciples that they are valuable in God’s eyes as well.  The hairs on each of their heads have been counted.  Now granted, that involves more counting for some of us than for others.  Nonetheless, every single hair has been counted—something that takes time and care.

As I was reflecting on this passage this week, I was reminded of Noah, a sweet older man in one of the churches I served in North Carolina.  Noah and his wife, Pearl, lived in a small house in the country just a stone’s throw from where his parents had raised him.  Noah had worked hard all his life, but didn’t have a whole lot to show for it from the world’s point of view.  By the time I met him, he had a long list of physical ailments.  He and Pearl lived a quiet life because of this.

They were married a very long time.  They had hoped and prayed for children, but none ever came.  This was their cross to bear.  Not in the same league as the perils the disciples were being warned against perhaps, but an aching emptiness they shared.  It didn’t take much to see the weight of this loss etched on their faces.  Yet, Noah always had children around him at church.  They all loved being near him—in part because he always had some hard candy in his pocket for them.  But also, he had a soft way of being with them that let the children know they were special in his eyes.

Noah loved to fish.  He had a good-sized pond in front of his house.  Every boy, and many girls, too, learned how to fish in that pond under Noah’s tender tutelage.  While he would never admit to it, I suspect he stocked the pond with fish. Many of those kids continued to stop by well into adulthood to see how he and Pearl were getting along.

Once Noah was no longer able to leave the house except for medical appointments, I would visit him often.  He would tell me stories of all the kids who had passed through his life and his home over the years.  While many were fully grown, they were all his kids—ones who had helped fill the yawning void of not having his own children with his precious Pearl.  I never left empty-handed either.  I always had to take a tomato or two home in the warm months, and something baked in the cold months.  Noah and his wife were going to take care of me just like they took care of everyone else.

Everyone mattered to Noah.  You could have been a Yankee interloper like I was, or one of those kids who really needed to know they were loved by someone.  We all had value, and we were all interesting to this sweet tender man.

Why was I reminded of Noah this week?  This passage tells us that, to Jesus, we are all valuable in his sight.  Our lives have innate value in and of themselves.  We have value because we are creatures, like the sparrows.  We, who are created in God’s own image, have value.  As Julian of Norwich, a mystic of the Middle Ages, wrote in the vision of the hazelnut, “I marveled how it might last, for it seemed it might suddenly have sunk into nothing because of its littleness.  And I was answered in my understanding: It lasts and ever shall, because God loves it.”

The God who cares for the welfare of sparrows also keeps track of every aspect of human lives, even tallying up the hears of our heads.  We are fully known.  We feel secure in God’s deep attention, knowledge and care for us.  We know just how deeply we are loved.  This is what gives us the necessary strength and courage to take up the cross that is ours to bear and follow God.  For some, that does mean facing danger.  It can mean losing our human families in order to live out God’s claim on our lives.  It can mean wrestling with difficult ethical questions such as putting a value on human life.  It can also mean living with a longing that is so very deep but will never be filled.  Yet, through it all, we remain steadfast in our faith because of God’s care.

After the September 11 Victim Compensation Fund completed its work, Kenneth Feinberg was asked by the president of Virginia Tech to manage the fund established to compensate the families of the students and faculty killed in the 2007 tragedy on campus.  Feinberg said that, as a result of his previous work, Feinberg the citizen should trump Feinberg the lawyer.  His legal training would not be an obstacle this time.  Everyone—students and faculty alike—would receive the same compensation.

All the children that passed through Noah’s life received the same attention from him.  They all felt special in his eyes—no one more special than another.

God cares for each of us just as God’s eye is on the sparrow.  To God we matter equally—there are no unimportant lives.

Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!  Amen.