Avoiding getting our fingers burnt
Matthew 4: 12-23.
Let me show you something.
I have a taper here and what I am going to do is light it and see how long I can hold it before I let it go.
Now there are various factors here.
The first is how long the taper is and how I hold the taper. The longer the taper the longer I can hold it before letting go.
Also if I hold it with the flame going up the taper it will burn quicker.
But probably the most important factor is whether I mind getting my fingers burnt or not.
And as it turns out I don’t want to get my fingers burnt so I will let go of the taper before the flame gets to do any damage to my fingers.
That is what today's readings are all about.
Most of the time ‘we up front on a Sunday’ try to tell you that the Kingdom of God is worth following.
That it is wonderful to believe in a God who cares;
believing in a God who comes along side us and helps us,
believing in a God who helps us face our fears and our challenges, that that is a good thing to trust in.
But here’s the kicker...there’s a cost.
John the Baptist believed in the kingdom of God.
John believed in a God who gave him strength.
John believed in a God who cared, not just for him but for everyone.
But that had a cost.
The cost for John the Baptist was that he had to tell others so that they could have hope too.
The cost was that he had to help others when they were struggling. Because if God was a God who cared, then maybe God had put John in that place and that time so that he could be the help others needed.
The cost was that if John saw an injustice that he had to call it out.
John saw that there as a standard that the poor had to stick by, and the rich had a whole different set of standards that they could life by.
And when John called this out he was arrested.
And now Jesus has the same choice.
He is at the start of his ministry of sharing the care and love of God with others.
But he has seen that when John the Baptists did that he got his fingers burnt.
So is it worth while even starting to go down that road?
The question is, ‘Isn’t it just enough to believe? Can’t we just believe in God’s love without sharing it?’
That is the question Jesus had to ask himself.
John the Baptist believed in God’s love, John the Baptist shared and lived that belief and for that sharing and living he was first put in prison and then beheaded.
There is a film coming out very soon called A Hidden Life. It is based on the true story of farmer Franz Jagerstatter who was a Christian in Austria just before the Second World war. He was called up to fight for the fatherland and refused on the grounds that he believed in a God who cared. And this God who cared, cared about what the Nazi’s were doing to other people.
He talked to the local priest and bishop and they told him that he should obey the law, they told him that if he went against the law of the land that there would be consequences. He would get his fingers burnt.
But Franz believed it wasn’t enough to just believe, you had to live what you believe. And if God cared for others then how could he fight for a country that was persecuting Jews and gypsies and communists and anyone else who disagreed with them.
He was imprisoned and then executed by the Nazi’s.
Jesus had seen that commitment in John the Baptist.
He would see John arrested and then beheaded.
John had had his fingers burnt.
Jesus saw the cost of that commitment.
Jesus saw the cost of not only believing that God cared, but living a life where God cared.
Jesus could have decided that he wasn’t going to get his fingers burnt.
I think that Jesus had to seriously think about it.
I think that is why Jesus went to stay in Capernaum.
In Galilee he was known. He could talk to the priests and his family.
But in Capernaum Jesus was unknown.
Jesus could think things through and then if he decided that he wasn’t going to go through with his ministry then he could just disappear.
Or maybe the Spirit led him to Capernaum.
Maybe the Spirit let Jesus see what life was like completely devoid of God,
a place where there was no belief in God at all,
a place where people lived without the knowledge of God’s help.
And Jesus saw what that was like.
I was at a dinner recently and the folk I was talking to didn’t go to church. They had been to a lot of funerals recently and in particular they had been to a lot of humanist funerals. And they were commenting on how much they disliked the funeral services. They couldn't pin down why they didn't like them; they just knew that something was missing.
I think I know what was missing.
Because I have talked to members of this church that have been to humanist funerals and the numbers of times they have said, ‘There was no hope.’
You see without God a funeral service basically says, ‘This person is dead and that’s it.’
Without God there is no chance of meeting again.
Without God there is no hope of resurrection.
Without God there is no rejoicing in the life that has been and hope for the life to be.
Without God there is no celebration.
And maybe that is what Jesus saw in Capernaum.
He saw people living their lives where they lived and then they died.
That was it.
We live and then we die.
And if all we do is live and then die then what is the point?
Why bother with anyone else, why bother with ourselves?
Jesus had a choice, we have a choice.
Jesus had seen John the Baptist live his life as if God cared for him and cared for others.
Jesus had seen that had a cost for John the Baptist, a truly terrible cost.
Living the life where he not only believed in a God who cared, but lived a life where he showed that God who cared, would have a cost.
But maybe in Capernaum he realised that just believing in a God who cared for him, but not living, not sharing it, also had a cost.
All those lives with no hope.
All those lives missing out on the care they could have.
All those lives lived alone and outside of a community who could help them.
That would be the cost of Jesus not living a life where he shared God’s love.
Every time they made a mistake and lived not realising they could find forgiveness; how dark would those lives be?
Every time they watched a loved one die and not realise that their tears were a celebration of how special their relationship was, and instead of rejoicing in the feelings they still had, trying instead to force them down all the time; how dark would those lives be?
Every time they fell out with someone and didn’t know that God could give them the strength to seek reconciliation but instead they lived a life always knowing nothing but separation in that relationship; how dark would those lives be?
Every life that was lived in darkness... that would be the cost of Jesus not living a life where he shared God’s love.
So he returned to Galilee and he started his ministry.
And it had a cost; one day it would cost him his life.
But it also had a reward; all those people whose lives he touched,
the disciples that had purpose and meaning and significance,
those he healed, those he gave hope to,
those that felt they had a second chance of living life.
And that is our choice too.
There is a cost to living the life where we share God’s love and God’s care.
I could probably go round this congregation just now and get person after person to share a story where their lives were harder because of their faith.
Where they had been involved with others and their lives were messier because they were involved.
I could go round this congregation and probably every person would have a story where they had had a sleepless night because they were caring for someone, praying for someone to get better or to make a wiser choice of life.
Knowing that God cares for us and that God cares for others and sharing that care has a cost.
It cost John the Baptist.
It cost Jesus.
It cost every disciple that Jesus choose.
It has cost disciples through the ages like Franz Jagerstatter.
All I would say is look at the alternative.
You live a life where we know God cares for us but we keep that to ourselves,
we keep silent, we don’t get involved...
then other people continue to live in darkness,
continue to live without hope,
continue to live without purpose or meaning or significance.
Here’s the thing.
Candles live their life being burnt.
It’s part of being a candle.
But because a candle is burnt it gives off light in the darkness, and that light gives others hope and a warning of the dangers they face and a path to safety.
If the candle doesn’t burn then all there is, is darkness.
If the candle doesn't burn, then even the candle lives only with darkness.
We ask ourselves if it is worth living the faith when it means us getting burnt because life is hard.
Instead we should ask ourselves do we really want to live our lives without the light surrounding us, do we really want to live in a world where there is only darkness.