photo by my friend Terri Cofiell
by Alicia Randolph Rapking
“Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?” (From “The Sermon on the Mount,” Matthew 6:26)
This year, Christmas in our household was a time of offering practical gifts. And so, tires and oil and oil changes and a graphing calculator became the gifts that the kids received. The one frivolous gift, which I have determined is not really frivolous, was the gift of feeding the birds this winter. New suet cakes, bird seed, and new bird feeders, along with assorted hardware, for hanging the feeders, appeared under our Christmas tree. Throughout the rest of the winter there will be time for feeding and watching the birds as I sit in silence in my quiet room.
photo by my friend Terri Cofiell
I have been thinking about Matthew 6:26 over the past few days as we have prepared for and received a blanket of snow and as I have noticed the birds looking for food in the brutal cold temperatures. The verse is part of the greater three chapters surrounding it that we call the “Sermon on the Mount,” where Jesus is speaking profound words that help us understand what is important to God and for our lives lived with God.
In the sermon, Jesus raises up all kinds of people that God recognizes as being blessed, that our society may not agree with: the poor in spirit, those who mourn, the need, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness (for justice), the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers, those who are persecuted. Throughout this sermon, Jesus is trying to help us understand that God’s guiding wisdom in our lives will look differently than the guiding wisdom of society around us, that if we choose to live with God at our center, our lives will not have the same values as the rest of the world. I believe that Jesus was trying to help us to see that living our lives in the manner described in the “Sermon on the Mount,” is transformative not only for us, but for all of humanity.
Then, in chapter 6, Jesus asks a question regarding the birds of the air. Jesus says: Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?
First, Jesus is calling us to look at creation around us. God is present everywhere, with people and creatures alike, with sky and sea, with the heavens and the earth and while all of these gifts are offered to us freely, they belong to God and not to us. So, God offers us relationships and beauty of the earth and the heavens. And it follows that since these gifts belong to God, us included, there is an understanding that we cherish and care for each other and for the earth and all of creation.
And then, if we are listening closely, Jesus startles us by calling our attention to the birds of the air and to consider who cares for them. God, through creation cares for the birds. So, if God cares so much for what many would call tiny and insignificant creatures, would God care for all of creation? Except, the birds of the air are not a tiny and insignificant part of creation, but an integral part of creation as are all the aspects of creation—interdependent, offering what they can to help all of creation flourish—including humanity.
As I have thought about birds and creation and beauty and God’s great concern and care for all, my thoughts have returned to the Christmas hymn that I wrote about just before Christmas, “O Holy Night.” There is one line in the hymn that has come back to me over and over again through the last couple of weeks—“. . .and the soul felt its worth.”
It has been a powerful prayer for me to think about the soul feeling its worth. So when the violence and tragedy of the last several weeks has been reported, I have asked the question: Is the soul of humanity feeling its worth?
When so many innocent people in Aleppo felt the violence and power of war and so many children were orphaned in the midst of the siege of that city, and buildings older than I can imagine were leveled along with homes and businesses, I asked the question: “Is the soul of humanity feeling its worth?”
When a lorry deliberately ran into a German Christmas Market with the intention of bringing fear and death and creating violence I asked the question—“Is the soul of humanity feeling its worth?”
With so much recent vandalism and hatred and prejudice emerging in our own country, when fear has come over many who are minorities, I have asked the question: “Is the soul of humanity feeling its worth?”
And yesterday, when a shooter took the lives of many people and wounded or shattered the lives of many others in a Fort Lauderdale airport, I asked the question: “Is the soul of humanity feeling its worth?”
I find myself asking this question over and over again.
No matter who is to blame for the attacks and fear and unrest, I think it is clear that the soul of humanity is NOT feeling its worth. Jesus taught us that all of creation is of value and great worth to God–from the tiny birds of the air to humanity who has the biggest potential to feel and offer God’s love. Jesus, God incarnate, Emmanuel, came to earth to help us understand our worth, our value. And if we are able to feel our worth, our value to God, then we are able to understand that we are not singled out as more valuable than others.
Feeling our worth means that we have the opportunity to see and treat all people—all humanity and all creation—as God does, with love and respect, gentleness and mercy, challenge and forgiveness. Knowing that God treats all people in this respect is evidence that we understand that we have worth in God’s eyes and through God’s love we can feel our worth and offer that same love and respect to all of God’s children in this world, whether they are like us or not.
Here’s what I long for in 2017. I want to be able to sing “O Holy Night” next Christmas and when I reach that line “. . .and the soul felt its worth,” I want to sing it with joy in my heart, knowing that our world is more peaceful and loving because humanity is finally feeling our worth and treating each other as people of worth. At the moment I have my doubts that I will be able to sing that line and feel that joy, but I am determined to spend 2017 treating all people with love and fairness and justice so that each person I meet will feel their worth. I know that I will make mistakes and I will fail at times, but I am certain that in God’s mercy I will be given chance after chance to help others feel their worth.
Please join me in this profound task to help others feel their worth in 2017.
To God alone be glory!
photo by my friend Terri Cofiell