The Value of a Sparrow
September 4, 2016
Topic: Worry Scripture: Matthew 6:25–6:34
Jeremiah 17:7-8; Matthew 6:25-34
One thing you will learn about me is that sometimes I can be a worrier. As long as I can remember, I’ve always been prone to that paralyzing effect anxiety and worry can have on you. I remember one time when it was particularly bad. I had been thinking about it for weeks, months even. I knew he was supposed to visit. I’d been waiting for a long time. My family assured me he was coming. I couldn’t share my stress with my friends because I didn’t think they would understand. So I pretended like everything was ok when really, inside, I felt like a nervous wreck. If he didn’t come, my whole world would flip upside down. I’d be crushed. Heart-broken. I can even remember the gentle assurances of my mom patting me on the back trying so hard to let me know I had nothing to worry about. She’d say, “Matthew, don’t worry. Santa won’t forget you.”
Worry is an interesting thing, isn’t it? It is force that can have a presence at any time in our life and yet has the ability to morph and form based on our age and space in life. As a little kid, the fear of Santa skipping over me was crippling. And no doubt the other parents in the room have seen how fear and worry can grab the innocent heart of a child. My son Isaac is terrified of the washer and dryer. We have to walk by them to get through to our garage and if they are running he won’t walk past them. We have to hold him. He says things like, “Washer hurt you.” I assure you, Caitlin and I did not dress up as household appliances and rattle his chains. But somewhere he picked up the fear of a washer and dryer. And I think it shows us that fear and anxiety are not necessarily things we are taught but rather intrinsic realities for the human person.
We can easily call it a result of sin and the fall we read about in the opening chapters of Genesis. Adam and Eve exist in this paradise, literally and otherwise. The very fact they can stroll around absolutely nude is enough proof that they don’t really worry about anything. But do you remember the first thing they did once they tasted the forbidden fruit? They felt shame and they hid. They were anxious. They were afraid. Afraid of God, even. Fear, anxiety, worry…they are natural elements of humanity now but they certainly weren’t in the original design.
And that takes us to our text this morning. Jesus was many things during his short ministry on earth. He healed the sick, released the oppressed, loved the unloved. And he taught. He taught a lot. In different ways too. He used short stories that we call parables. He employed fancy rhetoric to go toe-to-toe with the most educated people in the time. And sometimes Jesus went old school and just preached a sermon. That’s where our text comes from this morning.
Commonly called the “sermon on the mount” we hear Jesus deliver a sermon that spans three chapters of Matthew’s Gospel. And he fires off on a battery of subjects: money, divorce, murder, prayer, adultery, judgement, salvation. In this marathon message, Jesus talks about worry and anxiety. It comes right at the end of Matthew chapter 6. We’re in verses 25-34.
Read Matthew 6:25-34.
So Jesus comes at the issue of worry head on. “Do not worry about your life.” Don’t do it. Don’t worry. End of story. It seems simple but thankfully Christ is a much better pastor than that and isn’t interested in offering the equivalent of a Bible tract or inspirational quote on Facebook. He dives in. He makes his stance clear: Now, we’re not to worry. But then he goes deeper. He pulls up the roots of our worry, reveals the truths we’ve accepted that aren’t really truths and says, “No more.”
The two things Christ hammers on in our passage are food and clothing. For many of us in this room, it might be hard to imagine being worried where our next meal will come from or if we’ll have a coat for the coming winter. The truth is that the only real anxiety we might have about food is the fact we can’t go to Chick-Fil-A after church. The only worry about clothing very well may be that we might miss a sale for that one thing we’ve wanted. But it would be a mistake for us to read Christ’s words here and dismiss them by saying, “Nah, I’m good with food and clothing. This isn’t for me.”
The piercing reality is - Christ is speaking to people about something much more draining than hunger and much more humiliating than nakedness. Worry has the power to suck and drain everything we are. When we are hungry, our demeanor changes. We’re not ourselves. I love the Snickers commercial with Betty White playing pick-up football but I think it can get worse. Some of us may not get weak but we get HANGRY and lash out. It’s because our reserves are gone. We feel weakness. We feel emptiness that needs to be filled. That’s physical.
Worry does that on a spiritual and personal scale. When we worry, we’re not us. Caitlin knows this about me. When I’m worried, I’m not there. My mind is racing that endless and terrifying maze of possibilities and fears. And I run that race alone. Without Caitlin. Without Isaac. Worry forces me to leave my family behind in the labyrinth of my own anxiety. Worry drains us and robs us of not only precious energy but precious time.
Worry leaves us feeling more stark and bare than nakedness. At least with real nakedness we can grasp for some sort of covering or run to the closet. Worry pins us down in the most embarrassing, terrifying, humiliating spotlight and forces us to remain still in that space. We cycle through the guilt of wondering if it’s all our fault. We dwell in fear thinking that nothing we have to offer can cover this overwhelming fear. We’re terrified, humiliated, and hopeless.
Worry is paralyzing. In the same way that Isaac will not walk by a running washing machine, so too do we find ourselves frozen in place by the fear of uncertainty. And so what does Christ do when he talks about this reality? He uses the images of birds and flowers. Two of the most free and burden-less creations in the world. But we have to notice how Jesus brings these images into the conversation. I assure you, this is not simply an environmental push from our Savior or a mere placating gesture like the “Hang in there, kitty” posters we find in a doctor’s office.
Verse 26: Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Verse 29 Jesus describes how God beautifully clothes the flowers of the field even though they don’t labor or spin. Both images that Christ offers are simple ones but His reason for using them is not because of their qualities but because of the quality of God, the Father. God takes care of His creation. And did you notice what else Jesus says in relation to both of these images? He talks about value. Jesus mentions the value of a sparrow in describing how God provides even for this simple creature. Flowers are given the attention of the Almighty so that they may fill this world with beauty. Christ chooses to make the notice and prescribed value of God the foundation for His message on worry. He doesn’t go into an intense psychological evaluation. He doesn’t encourage folks to make a checklist or even take a deep breath. He brings the people’s attention to what and who God, the Father, values.
And Jesus leaves no question about it: We are valuable to God. Jesus doesn’t talk about the value of a sparrow or the worth of a flower for the sake of the bird and the flower. And He doesn’t talk about worry simply to say, “Stop it!” Jesus’ words about worry are a declaration of our value to God. Of how much we are loved. Christ declares the love of God to his audience and this is even before the cross. There comes a time when Christ not only tells humanity of our value but instead shows it through paying the ultimate price. Christ died so that we might be freed from sin and from death. He paid the costliest price, His own life, because He knew we were worth it. Because he knew our value. Jesus did this and continues to do this.
So when we engage the subject and condition of worry we don’t have to tackle it on our own strength. It’s not simply about whether we can get a handle on our feelings or whether we can work harder to alleviate our fears. Though it may not be our only or final recourse against anxiety, recalling and embracing our value in the eyes of God should be our first stop when struggling with worry. And this is regardless of our situation, our need, or our fears. John Calvin said, “He who is fully convinced, that the Author of our life has an intimate knowledge of our condition, will entertain no doubt that he will make abundant provision for our wants.”
It reminds me of a song by the band Casting Crowns called Who Am I. It goes:
Who am I, that the lord of all the earth
Would care to know my name
Would care to feel my hurt?
Who am I, that the bright and morning star
Would choose to light the way
For my ever wandering heart?
Not because of who I am
But because of what you've done
Not because of what I've done
But because of who you are
I am a flower quickly fading
Here today and gone tomorrow
A wave tossed in the ocean
A vapor in the wind
Still you hear me when I'm calling
Lord, you catch me when I'm falling
And you've told me who I am
I am yours
Friends, life is hard. We’re reminded of it every day. If not personally, then through the experiences of friends or neighbors or by what we see on the news. Worry is a part of our greater affliction of sin. With the introduction of sin comes the introduction of doubt and fear. With sin comes deception and lies. Lies about who we are. Lies about whose we are. Lies about our value. We are valuable. Not because of anything we offer or produce or have accomplished. No, we are valuable because the Father says so. Our faith is the steady ground we stand on and our true north when we lose direction.
Jesus, at the tail end of his message, says that we shouldn’t worry about things like food and drink and clothing. He says that is something pagans do. Pagan is a word describing someone who doesn’t believe in or know God. But Jesus isn’t making a stab here. He’s voicing a sadness. Those who do not know God are forced to scramble, gather, toil, and push for everything and hope it’s enough. They lack certainty beyond their own ability and direction beyond their own perception. The children of God do not. Jesus moves right along and says we do not need to worry about these things because God knows us and knows our needs. And that is why Jesus tells his audience, why he tells us, to seek first the kingdom of God and declares that all these things will be added to you. It’s not because God is a cosmic vending machine that receives our adoration and spits out our desires. It’s because God is our Father who loves us and values us and truly seeks our good.
As we wrap up, I have to admit this is not something I’ve mastered. I still find myself gripped by fear and anxiety and worry. I’m still forced, on a regular basis, to come before God begging for His presence and intervention. It makes me feel small, small like a bird. It makes me feel vulnerable. As vulnerable as a blossom in the elements. Maybe you find yourself in the same place. We can take heart when we recall the value of a sparrow. Though it may seem small and frail, that creature is held in the hands of our strong and loving God. And as Jesus says in verse 26: Aren’t we more valuable than a sparrow? God says yes.
So when Christ concludes our text the same way He started it - by saying: “Do not worry.” – We can take heart that Christ isn’t demanding we simply “buck up” and tough it out. Instead, he reminds us of the tenderness of our Father. Who picks us up and holds us. Who speaks to us and reminds us of our value and how we are loved. A Father who shows us that we are loved far beyond the value of a sparrow.
Let us pray.