✠ In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit ✠
In today’s Gospel Jesus says that you are worth more than the birds of the air. He says, “Are you not of more value than they?” And the answer of course is “Yes!” But why is that? Why are you of more value than the sparrow or the raven or the eagle? The fact is that many in today’s environmental movement would say that you’re not. A growing number in our culture would say that human beings have no more value than any other animal, or even plants and trees. It’s more important to protect unhatched eagle eggs than it is to protect unborn children. An animal has just as much or even more of a right to make its home in a particular habitat as we do to make our home there. And of course, it’s true that we do have the responsibility to be good caretakers and stewards of God’s creation. But the subtle (and sometimes not-so-subtle) message that is communicated is that you’re actually not more valuable than the birds, especially since there are so many of you humans. You’re no more valuable than a snail or a dolphin or an ancient tree. You’re just an incredibly minor blip on the evolutionary timeline.
Where is that we are to find our value and our worth? The generation raised on the self-esteem movement is beginning to realize that constantly telling people they’re wonderful and awesome and giving them trophies for no apparent reason is just a bit shallow and a formula for disappointment. What is it that makes you worth something? We try to find it by looking to our own qualities–our intelligence or our good looks and fitness or our creativity and talents. Or we define our worth by our value to others–I’m needed at my job, or I have an important role in my family, or my friends and neighbors depend on me. And that’s all fine and good. But what happens if you begin to lose your mental sharpness or your money or your looks or your health? What happens if you’re no longer needed at your job, and your family and friends don’t depend on you as much as they once did? Have you suddenly lost your worth? Certainly not!
The one who defines your true worth is not you or others, but God Himself. Your value comes from the Holy Trinity and is grounded in Him. The fact that He loves you makes you lovely. The fact that He treasures you makes you a treasure. Jesus says to everyone here, from the unborn to the aged, “You are of more value and worth than you fully can know.”
For you are children of the heavenly Father, as we just sang. And don’t discount that phrase or make it into some generic platitude. The God of all creation, the Almighty Maker of the universe, you get to address as Father, Dad. You are His children. You get to come into the house without knocking. You have the code to the garage door. You have a spot at the table.
Here are three reasons why you get to call yourselves children of God. First, He created you. And when He made you, He did so in His own image. That’s one of the key things that distinguishes you from the animals. No animal was created in God’s image; but you were. You’re not just a highly developed animal; you’re a reflection of God Himself.
And it gets even better. Here’s the third thing, the clincher: this crucified and risen Jesus, who is the image of God–you have been baptized into Him. You are literally in the image of God, in Jesus, God’s Son, and so you truly are children of God through Him. There’s only one child of God by nature, one Son of God. But through your baptismal union with Him, you are all brothers and sisters of Christ, and therefore you are children of the heavenly Father. Here’s something that gives you the greatest value: God Himself chose you personally and adopted you at the font. He put His name on you by water and the Word. Think of it in terms of an auction. If no one’s bidding, the item is worth little or nothing. But when the billionaire steps in and shows interest, the item’s value skyrockets. God has stepped in and shown more than just an interest in you. He has bought you and claimed you as His own and brought you into the household through Christ. The family name is yours. You are royalty in the house of the King of kings.
So, the question Jesus asks in today’s Gospel, then, is pointed: “Why do you worry. . .?” The only way that you can worry is if you forget who you are in Christ and start living as if mammon is your lord rather than God, as if the things of creation determine your worth rather than your Creator and Redeemer. Your heavenly Father knows what you need. Romans 8 says, “If God did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things?”
To live in the way of worry is to live like the pagans, who believe it all depends on their planning and efforts and how well they’ve pleased God and earned His blessing. Their focus is on this world, so full of change and decay, rather than on Jesus Christ, trusting in Him who is the same yesterday and today and forever. Jesus Himself exhorts us, “Do not worry about tomorrow. Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you.”
We seek first the things of God, because He sought us first. He seeks first your salvation. Through Christ’s death and resurrection, the old perishable order of things has passed away and all things have become new. You who are in Christ are righteous in God’s sight, a new creation.
In this new creation our Lord clothes and feeds you marvelously and abundantly. Listen again to what Jesus says, “Do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink.” Don’t be anxious about such things, because Christ faithfully gives you to eat of His body and drink of His blood for the forgiveness of your sins. Your life is forever safeguarded by His own life which He puts into you under the bread and wine. How can you worry about daily bread when you are given to partake of the Living Bread which came down from heaven? Any anxiety you may have about your life must fade into the background as you hear Christ's words, “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day.”
Likewise, listen again to these words of the Lord, “(Do not worry) about your body, what you will put on.” You need not be anxious about clothing, either, for it is written, “As many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.” You were robed in Christ’s righteousness at the font, the garments of the Savior that will never wear out or fade in glory as worldly fashions do. How can you fret about clothes when you’ve been given such divine, royal apparel?
In fact, we eagerly await the day when we can be rid of our mortal clothing–this perishable flesh and blood–and put on our new and everlasting clothing in the resurrection of the body, as it is written, “The perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality. . . Then the saying that is written will come true: ‘Death has been swallowed up in victory.’ . . . Thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”
This is where your value and worth come from, from the work of the Blessed Holy Trinity for you. The Father Himself made you and formed you in your mother’s womb; you’re His handiwork. The Son redeemed you by sharing fully in your humanity, sacrificing His flesh and blood on your behalf. And the Holy Spirit has sanctified you, clothing you with Christ, bringing you to faith and into the family of God. You are of the greatest value and worth to Him. And so the life He has given you in this world also has purpose and value as you live in faith toward Him and in fervent love toward one another in your daily callings.
Therefore, brothers and sisters of Christ, do not worry. Let your fears be turned to faith. Let your anxiety be turned to confidence in the Father’s loving care. Cast all your care on Him, for He cares for you. Your heavenly Father even looks after the sparrow. And Jesus says in Matthew 10, “Do not be afraid, you are of more value than many sparrows.”
✠ In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit ✠