Monday 23 June 2014

Second Sunday after Pentecost - Br. Simeon

Andre-Rublev's Saviour

Homily preached at Winmalee by Br. Simeon

Sunday 22nd June 2014: 


Gospel:  Matthew 10:24-39

“Do Not be Afraid”

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart, be acceptable in thy sight O Lord my strength and my redeemer. Amen

I recently read the story of a Priest who arrived in his new Parish and, on the first Sunday preached a wonderful sermon. On the second Sunday, he again preached a wonderful sermon, but it was the same as the week before. On the third Sunday, there was another repeat of the same sermon. One kind person quietly said to the Priest after the service, ‘It was a good sermon, but that’s the third time you’ve preached it.’ ‘I know,’ replied the new minister, ‘When I see some evidence that you actually heard it, I’ll change it!’

I wonder if you know what the most repeated command given in the Bible is? It’s actually repeated three times in today’s Gospel reading (Matthew 10.24-39) and is the command, ‘Do not be afraid.’ I'm told that this command is actually found 365 times in the Bible, one for every day of the year. I haven’t checked that out for myself but you can find quite a bit of debate on the internet about whether or not it is the case. Whether that is correct or not, the fact remains that that “Fear not” or “Do not be afraid” is the most frequently repeated command in the Bible.

This seems strange in a passage where Jesus gives lots of reasons why we should be afraid:
   the effect of his message he says will be division within families (vs 34-36);
   there are powers abroad in the world which can destroy both body and soul (v 28); and
   everything that we do, including those things done in absolute secrecy, at some point in the future, will be revealed and no longer be secret.
The world is split- Jesus seems to be saying between those who takes God as master and teacher and those who take Beelzebub or the powers of evil as master. No pupil is greater than his teacher, no servant greater than his master, so who we follow and who we serve defines who we are. Those who take up their cross, follow in Jesus’ footsteps and lose their lives for his sake are his disciples; those who do not take up their cross, do not follow in his footsteps and try to gain their own life are not. The divisions will run even through families with sons and fathers, daughters and mothers, daughters-in-law and mothers-in-law all making different choices and being on different sides of this divide.

It all sounds pretty scary to me but Jesus was preparing his disciples for the kind of world they would live in following his resurrection and ascension. A world in which those living in Jerusalem would experience the Roman army destroying the Temple and Jerusalem itself and a world in which those in other parts of the Roman Empire would experience persecution for sharing the good news of Jesus.

Transpose these words and that setting into Zimbabwe or Iraq at present and you can glimpse the force and realism with which Jesus is speaking. We are not in those kinds of situations currently, although a combination of recession, peak oil and climate change, could make our experience of life here in the West much more conflicted in future. But, even though we are not in that situation now, the new way that Jesus established of being God’s people still divides opinion and actions. If people genuinely follow his way, the somewhere down the track division is bound to be experienced.

In that kind of a world what reasons are there for us not to fear? The first reason Jesus gives initially seems strange.

“… the first reason  (verses 26-27) is that a time will come when everything will be uncovered. Everything that is presently secret will be made known.

Why should that mean they don’t need to be afraid? Lots of people would regard the imminent disclosure of their most private thoughts and words as a further reason to be afraid, not as a reason to throw fear to the winds. Jesus seems to be assuming that what will come to light on that day is the disciples’ loyalty and faith; they will be seen to have followed Israel’s true Messiah, the world’s true Lord. Their patience and perseverance will emerge into the light. What may have looked like obstinacy or even arrogance will at last be seen as what it is, a resolute determination to follow the Lord of life wherever he leads. In other words, truth will out, justice will prevail, and those who have lived with integrity and innocence, despite what the world says about them, will be vindicated. That, rather than a quick God-will-look-after-you message, is what Jesus is ultimately offering.”

Then Jesus goes on to give us what are some of his “most striking promises about the detailed love and care of God, not only for every one of his creatures, but for every hair of their heads.” God is actually “the one that we do not have to fear. Indeed, he is the one we can trust with our lives, our souls, our bodies, everything.”

We often pick up on an important misunderstanding in the way that we often translate and understand Jesus’ words here. In verse 28, the Good News translation of the Bible says that we should be afraid of God “who can destroy both body and soul in hell.” For me personally, I would say  that is a mistranslation of Jesus’ words. It is the powers of evil that can destroy both body and soul in hell.

The whole force of Jesus’ argument is actually that God cares for each one of his creatures from the sparrows to human beings knowing us intimately and does not want any of us to perish.

 “God is the one that we do not have to fear. Indeed, he is the one we can trust with our lives, our souls, our bodies, everything.”

Precisely because God can be trusted with everything, our allegiance to him matters: allegiance to Jesus must come top of every priority list. Comfort comes with challenge but the challenge of Jesus’ sayings, is “matched by the remarkable promises he makes to those who accept them and live by them:”

“He will ‘own’ us before his father in heaven. Those who lose their lives will find them.” “You are worth more than a great many sparrows; so rest assured that God knows and cares about the details of your life, even as you face the temptations and dangers which so easily surround you.”

As followers of Jesus, we are bound to expect attacks at all levels. But we also need to learn and trust that the one we are serving is stronger than the strongest opponent we will ever meet.