Do Not Be Afraid
Matthew 10: 16-39.
It seems to me that we live in a very dangerous age.
It seems to me that we have a lot to be afraid of.
People need to see hope, people need to be inspired.
And the tougher the time, the more people need that hope and inspiration.
And when they are not getting it they want to blame someone...and often ministers get the blame.
Why aren’t their ministers giving them comfort?
Why aren’t their ministers inspiring them to tell them that everything will be all right?
Why aren’t ministers telling them that God will protect them?
Where is the vision that should be coming from the ministers?
And often we wish that if we had been alive at the time of Jesus, then we could follow Jesus and Jesus would give us comforting words to help us.
Jesus would give us a vision.
Jesus would inspire us.
And when I hear comments like that I wonder if they have read about the same Jesus as I have.
Like today's passage.
Jesus is talking to his disciples during troubles times.
John the Baptist has been beheaded.
There is growing resistance against Jesus by the scribes and the Pharisees.
There is growing crowds following Jesus which means that Jesus will be on the Romans radar. They will be watching Jesus to see if he is starting an insurrection.
And I can imagine the disciples beginning to get worried.
They don't have the theological clout of the Pharisees, what if one of these Pharisees stops them when Jesus isn’t about and asks them about things of the faith...what are they going to say?
They are worried about the Romans as well...if one of the soldiers stops them, maybe threatens to torture them to find out what is going on, what should they say?
So theyget round Jesus and say to him, ‘Jesus we are afraid. Inspire us, give us a vision, tell us why we shouldn't be afraid.’
And then Jesus gets them all to sit down and he talks to them...one of the least inspiring talks that you could give to any bunch of folks.
Remember this is a talk to frightened people, and his first words are...
‘I am sending you out just like sheep to a pack of wolves.’
I can imagine one of the disciples, maybe Thaddeus, putting up his hand, and saying, ’Excuse me. Sorry to correct you Jesus. But surely you have it the wrong way round. What you are trying to say is that we might feel frightened, but the truth is that our enemies are nothing. And we will go out to them like wolves, like lions, out to fight mere sheep. Our enemies will crumble before us because God is on our side.’
And all the other disciples are nodding at Thaddeus. Because Thaddeus has it right, that’s what they need to hear. They need to hear that inspiration, they need to hear that vision.
And to these frightened men Jesus says,
‘That world out there is like a world of wolves...and you are sheep.
You have heard them call my miracles acts of Satan. If that’s what they call me what do you think they will call you?
And if you think the stuff you get from the religious leaders is bad wait till you hear what you own family say. People will be threatened by what you say and when they are threatened they lash out. When family lash out they ignore you, then ridicule you, then attack you, then cast you out their homes. And that will be the easy stuff.
The more powerful the person, the greater will be the pain when they lash out. The time will come when empires will try to kill you for what you believe.’
Does that sound visionary to you?
Does that sound inspirational to you?
Would that make you feel more or less afraid?
We live in a world where there is a lot of fear.
And fear holds us back.
We get afraid of a crowd of teenagers in the streets.
We get afraid of being in a lift in a block of flats.
We get afraid of someone in the streets that wears the dress of another culture.
We are even afraid in our own home.
I was in my house the other day looking at my official Church of Scotland email account. And this email came in from them inland revenue saying that they had started proceedings against me and that if I didn't contact them immediately then bailiffs would come round to the house and take possessions up to the value of £1,000.
I was afraid that they would take my graphic novel collection away.
And then it dawned on me.
For the last two years I have an accountant who does my tax stuff. If the Inland Revenue wanted to talk to me they would talk to them first.
Not only that, two years ago was I given an official address that I am supposed to
use for everything. But any time I had talked the Inland Revenue I had used my old email address because I had already started using that one and I couldn’t be bothered changing it. Therefore the Inland Revenue wouldn’t know my official address, so whoever was contacting me, it wasn't the Inland Revenue. So I just deleted that email and forgot about it.
But we don't even feel safe in our own homes.
People get phone calls saying that they are the bank and that they think our bank account has been broken into and it is the scammers themselves phoning to see if we will give them our bank details.
We get afraid of our families. Will they fallout with us over stuff that we have said.
The divorce rate is higher than it has ever been. Relationships aren’t stable. I had a woman appear at the manse a few weeks ago needing help because her relationship with her husband had deteriorated that she felt threatened and vulnerable.
And if we get through all of that we get afraid of ourselves.
That sudden pain when I inhale, is that the start of something or me just catching my breath?
That bleeding, should I ignore it as nothing, or is it the start of something really serious?
It does nothing but destroy us.
It isn't real.
It doesn’t help.
You want to know what really makes me afraid...heights.
I can be watching a TV programme and someone is standing on the ledge of a building, and just the thought of that and my legs get funny.
Imagine that I am up a mountain and find myself on a ledge...fear doesn't help.
What fear does is make my legs wobbly and that isn't a great thing to have when you are on a ledge up a mountain.
This is the message that Jesus is giving his disciples.
Not that there aren't scary things out there. Of course there are scary things out there.
But we don't need to be afraid of those things.
But God is with us.
Let’s look at Islam. Should we be afraid of Islam?
A lot of folk are.
A lot of folk are scared of this faith that seems to inspire hatred and anger and violence.
I’m not. The reason I'm not is because this faith has inspired Mulla Nasrudin.
Decades ago I was studying in Aberdeen University when I came across a book of stories about Mulla Nasrudin. The best way to imagine him is both an idiot and a genius at the same time. A bit like the Homer Simpson of the Islamic faith.
This is a typical story...
Time and again Nasrudin passed from Persia to Greece on donkey back, carrying two stacks of hay. And he would then the next day trudge back without them. Every time the guard searched him for contraband and could never find any.
‘I know you are a smuggler but I can’t find what you are smuggling.’ complained the guard.
Weeks turned to months and months into years. And over the years Nasrudin became more and more wealthy in appearance. But the guards could ever work out what he was smuggling.
One day, when both Nasrudin and the guard were retired, the guard met Nasrudin at tea and asked him, ‘Tell me. What were you smuggling?’
And Nasrudin replied, ‘Wasn’t it obvious? Donkeys.’
The first time I read stories of Mulla Nasrudin I realised that a faith that inspires its people to laugh at themselves isn't a dangerous faith. These weren’t people to be feared. They were people just like us.
That was the point that Jesus was trying to get over to his disciples, to us.
We don't deal with fear by pretending that the world hasn't got scary things in it.
We deal with fear by realising that we have nothing to be afraid of.
Not because of what is in the world, but because of who we do life with.
While I was writing this sermon I could hear a wee girl called Blair in the house that my wife was looking after. Blair didn't have a care in the world. She lives in the same world I do, the same world with terrorist extremists and broken relationships and illnesses. But she was fine. And the reason she was fine was she felt safe because Roseanna was with her and they were trying to put up a tent for her to play in.
The tent didn’t give Blair security, things don’t give people security. What gave her security was knowing Roseanna was about, and Roseanna is scarier than any monster that could be out there.
She felt safe when she was with Roseanna. She didn't think about it, didn’t reason it out, she just felt it, lived it.
Jesus said that that was the way we should feel when we know God is with us.
Why fear when God is with us?
Why fear when God gives us strength to face what is ahead?
Why fear when God gives forgiveness for what has passed?
Why fear when God gives courage to do what needs to done?
We have a God who knows us so well that he has counted every hair on our head.
Now some of you are thinking that wouldn’t take very long.
For you, I want you to imagine a God who knows you so well that he has counted every hair that you have ever had.
That’s how well he knows you.
Every breath you have taken, he has been there.
Every step you have walked, he has been there.
Every sign, every cough, and every laugh he has been there.
And if God is there.
And if He is with us.
Then we don’t need to be afraid of conflicts, we don’t need to run from conflicts.
We can even face them and in facing them, deal with them.
We don’t need to hide from danger; we don’t need to pretend that danger isn't there.
We can face it, with the strength of God, and when we do that the danger stops being dangerous.
Our world is just our world. It is the way it is.
We can either face it alone, and often sacred.
Or we can face it with God, hand in hand with him, and not be afraid.