What do you think a human life is worth? …
Kenneth Feinberg thought he knew what human life was worth. After September 11, 2001, he managed the victims’ compensation fund, and had to determine how much the family of each victim should receive. He began by thinking financially. Bob was 30 years old and earned, say, $50,000 a year and over a lifetime, he could have earned $3 million. Sue was 50 years old and earned $500,000 a year. She could have earned at least $7.5 million. So he set up an award system that gave more to the family that depended on the higher income. (He added in other factors, but this was his starting point.)
A few years later, Feinberg was asked to manage the compensation fund for the mass shooting at Virginia Tech. It occurred to him then that each life is worth a lot more than what the cash payment is. And that each life is equal in value, no matter how much the individual earned.
… Today, we will consider what a human life is worth apart from its monetary value.
Jesus promises that God knows when even a sparrow falls from the sky, and how many hairs are on our heads. He says we are worth much more than two sparrows, which are sold for a penny.
Since God knows what is happening with every sparrow, and with all the hairs on our heads, then God must know us intimately. And if God knows us so well, then we can trust God to take care of us.
Unfortunately, God rarely steps in and changes things. We still get fender-benders. We still get arthritis and cancer and heart disease. Our loved ones still die. Families and churches still fight.
The hopeful thing is that God knows and cares what happens with us, and sends Spirit to be with us, no matter what is going on. Each person has value; each person counts in God’s eyes. Jesus says we are worth lots more than sparrows, and God even knows what happens to sparrows!
Just so, we are not worth what we earn at our jobs. We are worth what every other person is worth -- we are priceless. We are worthy of God’s love because God made us. We are worthy of being loved by Jesus just because we are his people, members of his body, of his flock.
Since we are so well loved and valued, our response can be to love and value everyone. We love hungry people by feeding them. We love sick people by caring for them and finding ways to heal them. We comfort those who are grieving with hugs and food. We share Jesus with those who don’t yet know he loves them, too.
We all have days or weeks, or longer perhaps, when we don’t feel that we are worth much. Maybe not even as much as a sparrow. But, I hope we all remember we are worth dying for in Jesus’ eyes, and perhaps that will boost our self-image.
… So, now we come to the question all preachers ask as they prepare a sermon: “so what?” I think the “so what?” of this message is that we can help others feel and believe that they, too, are worth much more than sparrows in God’s eyes.
Here is one way: LSTC, the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago, discovered they made a huge impact on the lives of the people of the small town of Drama, Greece. They made the marginalized residents feel like a million dollars with what they thought was a simple gift, the return of a rare book to its original home.
In 1913, Codex 1424 was stolen from a monastery near Drama in rural Greece. A Codex is an ancient book, hand-written on sheep’s skin. It is estimated that this particular Codex took the skins of 50 sheep to produce its 337 pages of New Testament text. The book was made in the 9th century, so it is 1,200 years old, and has several unique features that made it extremely valuable as a rare book.
Through several steps after the theft, the Codex made its way into LSTC’s rare book collection. Recently, the monastery from which the Codex was stolen traced it to LSTC and requested its return.
LSTC leadership agreed to return the book to its home, and during a campus worship service presented it to Archbishop Demetrios, the leader of the Greek Orthodox Church in America. The book was then taken to Drama, Greece, where it was received as part of the annual celebration of St Barbara, patron saint of Drama, with a procession through town and numerous leaders of the Greek Orthodox Church present to receive it.
Seminary President James Nieman made these comments. “We thought it was a nice and moral gesture, a generous gift. But the area to which it was returned is rural and poor, devastated even more by Greece’s recent economic disaster, making the gift even more significant.
“These are people who are disregarded. Paying attention to a request that the treasure be returned – that they were listened to and taken seriously – has had a huge impact. The area has a vibrant spirituality, and its people consider the return of the Codex similar to the miracle of the wedding at Cana in the Gospel of John.”
In returning what was stolen, the people of Drama have been made to feel worthy once again. They have been made to feel they are worth much more than two sparrows.
… This week, if you are feeling you are worth less than a couple of sparrows, remember Jesus’ words and his many promises to be with us always. If you know someone who feels they are worth less than two sparrows, remind them that in God’s eyes, they are worth dying for, and in the words of a MasterCard ad – they are priceless!
Please pray with me. Loving God, thank you for your presence in our lives. Thank you for making us feel worthy of being loved. Thank you for dying and rising for us. Help us to share this good news with others. Amen