In today’s reading from Matthew, we hear some no-nonsense talking from Jesus as he continues to prepare his disciples for the realities which face them as they take his teaching of God’s kingdom to the world. Earlier in this chapter, Jesus says: “I am sending you out like sheep among wolves”. When the going gets tough out there, you are going to have to dig-in and battle through. You must be prepared to be different.
So, Jesus tells them: As you learn from me, as my words become instilled in you, you will grow like me; people will identify you with me – and me with you. Like students and teacher, slave and master – the way you live – what you do, what you say, will bear the marks of me. And look what I have had to put up with – you have seen some of the adverse reactions I have had. You can expect the same!
Do not be afraid
But do not be afraid says Jesus. And he says it three times in our reading – verses 26, 28 and 31. It’s one of the most common phrases in the Bible; over 300 mentions – “Do not be afraid”. In Genesis 26, God tells Abraham: “Do not be afraid for I am with you” – and we find the same phrase on through the Old Testament, from the prophets and to Jesus himself: “Do not be afraid”.
And why should we not be afraid? Because God values you, Jesus tells the disciples. God values the sparrow, so how much more does he value you? He even values every hair of your head – though for many of us more mature men here this morning I’m not sure that is the best words of comfort! But we should all take heart from that fact. God values each one of us and cares so much about each one of us.
Our real worth before God is a more powerful force than our real fear of those adverse words, emotions and actions which we may have to face. And it’s that value which has given courage to the many, many followers of Jesus who have stood up for him down the ages. It’s that sense of value, of worth, which can give us courage today. In the Old Testament reading set for today, Jeremiah expresses his fears as he is driven to speak out for God, yet he takes heart from knowing that God is with him. When the going gets tough, do not be afraid.
Then in the last part of our reading, Jesus weighs-in with a real bombshell of a challenge. He tells his disciples that he has come not to bring peace but a sword. And, even more alarming, that he has come to turn family relationships upside down; that we must love him more than family. Is this the same Jesus who spoke of peace and love to all? Love your neighbour as yourself? Why is Jesus quoting these verses from the prophet Micah?
Jesus is issuing a challenge to the disciples. He is asking: just where does your allegiance lie? What governs your priorities? Are you so tied into the world’s priorities that you can’t let go? This is a time of change. Change brings division – some want to change, others don’t. Micah faced the same challenge. Jesus, like him, was calling people back to God’s ways. So, whilst some will listen and take on board what you say, others will not – they do not want to be disturbed – they are quite happy going their way – it’s a way they have got used to and are comfortable with – to change could bring lifestyle upset, and they don’t want that.
If you are going out to tell others of God’s kingdom, says Jesus, then you have to take on a new allegiance, a new priority in your life – and be prepared to be different. In today’s reading from Romans 6, Paul underlines this difference by saying: “now we are baptised into Christ Jesus we live a new life”.
So, what of us today? Do we realise our value in God’s eyes? In Jesus, have our priorities changed? Where does our allegiance lie? Are we ready to stand up for God’s ways – to speak out for Jesus? Increasingly we hear and become aware that the post Covid-19 world will be different – and church could well be different too. Are we prepared for that; to embrace changes; or are we too comfortable and set in our ways? Are we prepared to be different? Our diocese has a strap-line “Church for a different world”. Can we live up to that?
And when the going gets tough, are we tough enough to get going?
Whatever we are called to face, let us remember: “Do not be afraid, I am with you”, says the Lord. Amen.
‘Prepared to be different’ was delivered by Nigel Silvester to St Zoom’s on Sunday June 21st 2020. It’s based on Matthew 10: 24-39. St Zoom’s is made up of congregation members from Bury, Heywood and Rochdale.