“Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. And even the hairs of your head are all counted. So, do not be afraid: you are of more value than many sparrows.” —Matthew 10:29-31.
The Christian Century: Thinking Critically, Living Faithfully is a biweekly magazine that explores current religious topics. I started subscribing many years ago when Scott Lee told me Barbara Brown Taylor often wrote for it. Today I especially look for a section called “The Word: Reflections on the Lectionary,” in which some amazing ministers from all denominations write a response to the Sunday lectionary readings.
In the June 7, 2017, issue Liddy Barlow, executive minister of Christian Associates of Southwest Pennsylvania, was the guest preacher writing about the sparrow text from Matthew for the Sunday of June 25th. She writes about the lawyer Kenneth Feinberg who chaired the September 11 Victim Compensation Fund, giving money to the families of those who died in the terrorist attack using a formula based on the income and earning potential of each victim. The compensations ranged from $250,000 to $7.1 million. At the end of the experience, Feinberg struggles with this differentiation as he listens to the stories of the victims and their families and wonders if one person is really twenty-eight times more valuable than another.
Barlow also writes of the Civilla Martin poem, “His Eye Is on the Sparrow,” which became a Gospel hymn bringing comfort to the African-American Church in our past century. I will never forget hearing Kathleen Battle sing this hymn a cappella in a concert with the National Symphony at the Kennedy Center. We were on the first-row center and she was there in front of us, a foot away, in this striking dark red velvet dress. Her soul was singing from somewhere deep inside of her.
This indeed is a Scripture passage and a hymn about how valuable each of us is to God. So often people tend to come for spiritual direction when they do not feel valued by God. When we talk, I so wish I could sing this song like Kathleen Battle and let them know their worth.
Barlow concludes her message by telling us that Feinberg is again consulted, this time in 2007 by the president of Virginia Tech about how to distribute the compensation to the families of those killed there in a mass shooting. Feinberg has been changed by his 9/11 experience and has come to believe in an equality of all life. He recommends that all victims, students, and faculty receive the same compensation.
This is the story of how the God our understanding works in the world, a God who so desperately loves and values each and every one of us. I am reminded of this every morning as I watch the white-crowned sparrows come to the feeder outside my window above my desk.
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