Whom should we fear? Felicity O’Brien St Chad’s Linwood June 25 2017
Matt 10:24-39 Rom 6:1b-11
Whom should we fear? Or rather, who should we be afraid of? Our Gospel reading tells us not to be afraid of anything that is covered up, because everything will come out into the open. Don’t be scared of secrets and whispers, or of those who bully you and give you a hard time. Fear only the one who can destroy both soul and body in hell.
That means don’t be scared of bullies! Don’t be sacred of other people!
Part of being a human being means, unfortunately, that we need to put up with other human beings. People can be really horrible to each other, and we know that it’s always been like this. People didn’t suddenly get awful just this century.
But, it’s not the end of the story. It’s not a cause for despair. Yes, life can be awful, but God is not sitting away up in heaven, listening to the angels practising their harps, and ignoring us down here on earth. God knows everything we are going through. God knows exactly how many hairs we have on our heads. For some of you out there, that’s not quite as many as it used to be! God knows when people are mean and unkind. For those of you who are still at school, God knows when you are being bullied. God even knows when you are being the bully! Now, if you look around at each other, you might say to yourself, but most of us here are older. And the kids might think, what can we have in common with the older people? Except that we all like gingernuts at morning tea?
I’m sure many of you have experienced being treated badly by other people. You kids might think that once you grow up, you will never have to deal with the horrible people at school again. Maybe those ones won’t be there, but about 9 % of elderly people experience being bullied too. Often it can be their own family members who try and push their old mum or dad around, take their money, take over their decisions, and leave them feeling powerless. You see, young people, there’s more in common. But God sees it too! God cares even for a sparrow that falls to the ground! God knows all about the stresses and strains that we are going through.
That’s all very well, you may ask, but how does that help me? It helps because if you ask God to help you God will. It’s unlikely that God will send a superhero wearing a cape, with their undies on the outside, to rescue you from the bullies or from horrible people, but God does send help. God strengthens us to withstand the pressure, to put one foot in front of the other just one more time, and for just one more day, and helps us through. Take note of that word “through”. We will not always be in a dark tunnel, we will get past it. God gives us wisdom to cope – did you hear some of the wisdom in our reading from Romans?
Because Jesus died for our sins, and because we have died with him in our baptism, we can walk in newness of life!
What could that mean? What does new life look like?
Imagine a colt that’s just been born. You may have seen animals being born on a farm or on a wildlife documentary. The little animal slides out from its mother, and tries to stand up. The legs look really long and spindly, and at first the baby animal is really wobbly. Newness of life can look really wobbly for a bit too. As we start off on our Christian journey, we can have wobbles. We can have times of making bad decisions which come from our previous life experience. But in newness of life, if we remember to ask, ‘what would Jesus do’, we learn to follow the wisdom, to walk away from sin. As we get better at walking away from sin, it become second nature. Eventually. Just like the baby horse gets steadier on its feet, we too get steadier as we learn the best way to go.
What does the right path look like? How should we behave as Christians? Jesus is our good example. We need to love, without reservation, without conditions, without even thinking about whether love is the right thing. If we do everything from a position of loving God and loving our fellow humans, we will have a better journey.
That sounds easy, doesn’t it? No? I see you shaking your heads. Surely, being a Christian is easy – we just be really nice to everyone, and life will be sweet? No? Now you’re giggling as well as shaking your heads.
Quite right. The Bible never promises that life will be easy.
In our Gospel Jesus says he comes to bring not peace but a sword! Heavens! That doesn’t sound very appealing! Unless you like swords that is, and you could deal to the bullies…no, let’s not go there.
I think Jesus is talking about the sword of the spirit, the sword of truth, that divides right from wrong, sin from the right path.
Have you heard the term ‘whistle-blower’? Sometimes it is pronounced ‘nark’. It’s not a popular thing to be a whistle-blower is it? It means telling on someone who has done wrong. If we come across wrongdoing in our lives, when it is us in the wrong, we can pray about it, give it up to God, and try to go better next time we deal with the situation. But if the wrongdoing is someone else’s, I believe that it is our duty as truth-loving, God-loving, people-loving folk to speak up. If we find injustice in the world, we need to do something about it. You have probably noticed that the whistle-blowers are often on the news, for months at a time, and they don’t have an easy life.
Maybe the people we need to call out on their behaviours are in our own family. Jesus said he has come to set ‘man against his father,
and a daughter against her mother,
and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law;
and one’s foes will be members of one’s own household.’
It is in this area of justice that this scripture makes sense. Many terrible things can happen behind closed doors – injustice and abuse, unfairness, violence,- and trying to do something about it can be very difficult. But remember Jesus has come, with the sword of truth. Jesus, whose father God knows everything that happens to us and by us, is our big brother, because we have been adopted into God’s family! It may be very hard to call it when we see wrongdoing within the family or workplace setting, but in the long run, if we are there for those who cannot help themselves, for the last, the lost and the least of our society, we are being the hands and feet and voice of Jesus in the world.
This coming week, think about sin, think about what it means for you to walk steadily in the right path, away from sin. And when you come across sin around you, pray about the best way forward. No, you don’t get a real sword to fight the baddies, but you do get the sword of the spirit. First pray. And remember that prayer is a conversation, not a monologue or a shopping list. Prayer means talking to God and also listening to God.
May your ears be open to God’s voice this week.