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Trinity 2: Matthew 10  24-39                              

25 June 2017

Today’s Gospel presents us with a group of sayings that are unnerving.

‘What you hear whispered, proclaim it from the housetops’. Well, we do get a lot of proclaiming from the housetops around here from our neighbours the seagulls. All day, every day. I’m so grateful to whoever it was that let off the particularly loud firework banger at midnight the other night, and woke up all the seagulls. I’m reliably informed that there is no such things as a seagull! There are only black-backed gulls and herring gulls and various other varieties. Perhaps if we gave them their proper name they might go away?

There is quite a lot of talk of fear in the Gospel today. Well, we don’t fear the gulls unless you’ve just cleaned your car. We have other things that we might be fearful of at the moment. I don’t know about housetops, but, for those living high up in flats at the moment, there is a concern about safety. But, hopefully, even a lot of that fear has been allayed this week as building materials are inspected and reviewed.

A more general malaise of fear is around at the moment in terms of our departure from the EU. What will happen? Does the government have a plan and if it does, who needs to know about it? How do all the negotiations work? Who do we need to trust? And all that is before we’ve started to ask ourselves what the effects will be of withdrawal from the EU on agriculture, finance and business and the life of society. Unnerving and creating sense of fear which the media need no second invitation to work on. The state opening of parliament this week felt nervy. Our national psyche is being unnerved.

Of course, fear is common human feeling and those who delved into primeval human activity know that fear is productive, in making important decisions about fight or flight. But fear doesn’t create the confidence needed to give of our best.

Jesus seems fully aware of this in what is said in Matthew 10. Did Jesus say all this in this form? We don’t know. It looks like Matthew has gathered together a group of sayings that he wants to put together to encourage those who’ll read what he’s written; the early Christian communities.

No doubt fear was a regular part of their life; fear of Romans and Jews who didn’t share their beliefs about Christ. There was some persecution in 80 or 90 AD, but not as bad as what was to come in the Roman arena. Matthew was writing for those living in inhospitable places in terms of welcome and trust. In other words, there was fear around. And he wants to allay the fears and give Christians confidence through the tone of Jesus words given here.

What is it we fear personally? I guess we all have silly fears that will be sorted out by lunchtime. We also tend to have deeper underlying fears around too, though, don’t we? About health, and success and living up to expectations and having enough money and our identity in character –do people really like us? What a cocktail.

The real problem is fear, not what we’re afraid of. What do I mean by that?

Cranmer got it: in the second collect at Evening Prayer:

Give unto thy servants that peace which the world cannot give, that both our hearts may be set to obey thy commandments, and also that by thee, we being defended from the fear of our enemies may pass our time in rest and quietness.’

What we’re praying for here isn’t that we be defended from our enemies, but from the fear of our enemies. Enemies aren’t the problem, it’s the fear of them. Or as President Roosevelt once put it, ‘the only thing we have left to fear is fear itself’.

Fear undermines confidence, relationships, trust. It’s deadly and it’s contagious.

A common human fear is of being found out. We all have things we rather not got out into the open. Jesus says, ‘nothing is covered up that will not be uncovered’. Now that’s unnerving. Or is it? In a sense everything about us is uncovered. We believe that God knows about it, unless we think we can hide it from God. But we know about it. We don’t need a psychologist to tell us that people with lots of difficult secrets often become anxious and fearful people. That’s because it’s not covered up in their own internal lives. They know only too well what they’re afraid of, very often, and have to live with it as uncovered in their internal life, but covered to everyone else. How to resolve such things may be through being open about it, or accepting it, or being forgiven or learning to live with it. Not easy, but, prayer and counselling and friendship and faith and trust all help.

Sometimes things need to be uncovered. This week has seen the publishing of the report about the Church of England’s handling of the sexual abuse of young men by the former Bishop of Gloucester, Peter Ball. Bishop Rachel has described it as appalling, and she’s not wrong.

What has been uncovered is the activity of a man whose sexuality and spiritual power combined to enable him to put his fantasies into practice.

What has been uncovered is the fear, horror and sense of loss and degradation of his victims who have had their experiences covered up by the Church of England.

What has been uncovered is a church in a state of fear that led to a number of very serious misjudgements that have damaged lives and faith in the institution. We need to listen, we need to repent and we need to learn.

Fear has played a significant part in all this sadness.

 

Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground unperceived by your Father... So do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows.’

In one way these words are unnerving in placing a different value of parts of creation. Poor old sparrows, we don’t see much of them these days and they were the food of the most poor in Jesus’ day. I hope it still doesn’t happen today both from the perspective of the poor and the sparrow.

What Jesus in Matthew is trying to emphasise with this is something important about faithfulness. There is no need to fear. There is no need to fear anything; uncovering, death, being seemingly insignificant. There is no need to fear the fear itself, because it cripples.

The love of God for each of us, which has been revealed in Jesus Christ, is the perfect love that casts out fear. It is love that isn’t abusive or fitful or predicated on something in return. It is love in which we can have faith, that we will not be lost, but, known and remembered within the mind of the divine.

God is faithful in Jesus Christ and in the presence and work of the Holy Spirit.

Fear is not one of the building materials of the Kingdom of God.

Canon Richard Mitchell

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