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Don't Be Afraid

sparrowsMatthew 10: 24-31
Introduction to the reading
Last week we began our summer sermon series on discipleship, instructions to the first followers of Jesus from the Gospel of Matthew.  They will now be apostles, the ones sent out to make other disciples.

We began with hospitality, or more accurately, the lack of it.  Jesus told his disciples that they may very well face inhospitable environments.

And he told them that if they weren’t well received, they should shake off the dust, leave that town or village and go somewhere else.

What is the equivalent of doing that two thousand years later, when the whole world is our village?  We have a hard time making the persistent, steady Christian voice of Jesus heard in the cacophony of today’s politically strident, constantly connected world.  But maybe we don’t have to be loud and strong and demanding in order to do Jesus’ work in 2017; maybe the other place, for us, is a different, quieter way of walking in Jesus’ Way.

In the first part of the reading, Jesus lets the disciples know they’re probably going to have a hard time of it - if the master is threatened, as Jesus himself certainly was, can the students expect to fare any better?  But then he then reminds them that they work under God’s gracious protection and everlasting love.  In 2017, so do we.

In my reading this past week, I encountered this in Christian Century magazine:

LAWYER Kenneth Feinberg chaired the September 11 Victim Compensation Fund, which gave money to the family of each person who died in the 2001 terror attacks.  Starting with a formula and then using his discretion, Feinberg considered the victims’ age, their dependents, whether they had life insurance – and their income and earning potential.  The value assigned to these lost lives varied dramatically: as little as $250,000 for blue-collar workers, as much as $7.1 million for executives.

Feinberg later reflected on his experience.  “As I met with the 9/11 families and wrestled with issues surrounding the valuation of lives lost, I began to question this basic premise of our legal system … Trained in the law, I had always accepted that no two lives were worth the same in financial terms.  But now I found the law in conflict with my growing belief in the equality of all [human] life.”  (Barlow 20)

Jesus has already said that the disciples will likely enter hostile, unreceptive environments as they spread the gospel message.  He sends them out into a perilous world.  A little later on in Chapter 10, we read that there will be divisions in their families.  There will be those who kill the body.  The disciples must be prepared to take up the cross.
And yet, here in this passage, Jesus suddenly speaks of the smallest, most insignificant creatures.  “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny?  Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father.  Even the hairs on your head are all counted.  So do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows.”  In the marketplace of the 1st century, sparrows were the source of protein for the poor.  And God looks after them.
What does this mean for us today, in 2017?  Namely this:  

  • In a world that says the life of a rich person is worth 28 times more than the life of a blue-collar worker, Jesus says that God pays special attention to those who are poor, struggling, suffering, and outcast.  This is God’s way, from the earliest times, and the main point of our first reading today, the story of God’s faithful protection of Hagar and Ishmael.
  • In a world of the haves and have-nots, the 1% versus the other 99%, Jesus says that every life has an innate value, in and of itself.  We are created, remember, in the image of God.
  • In a world of such mean division as we have today (and as there has always been, in one way or another), even so, Jesus says, there is nothing that will eradicate the gospel or destroy God’s loving and watchful care over the faithful.  They cannot kill your soul.  “The body they may kill,” wrote Martin Luther in his well-known hymn, A Mighty Fortress Is Our God.  “The body they may kill, God’s truth abideth still, His kingdom is forever.”

A front page story in The New York Times on June 11, “Liberals Fighting for Their Faith”, described the work of ministers and churches on what could be called the Christian left, countering the strongly conservative, restrictive, politically active, louder Christian right.  In response to that story, the following week, letters to the editor - from an Episcopal priest in New York to a Presbyterian pastor in Chicago to a Catholic activist in Connecticut to an evangelical Christian in Wisconsin - proclaim that the work of Jesus on behalf of those who struggle has been going on all along but without a lot of media coverage.  Being good stewards of the earth, caring for the sick and disabled, feeding the hungry, welcoming the stranger, seeking social justice and peace – all this we do day after day after day with dedication and love and usually without much fanfare.  We just keep following Jesus, courageously trusting in God’s love and providence to carry us along and to carry us through hard decisions and difficult times.

No matter what career path we follow, no matter what our job or volunteer activities, no matter where we live or who we live with, following the Way of Jesus is something anyone can do.  Back to Mr. Feinberg…
After the September 11 Victim Compensation Fund completed its work, Kenneth Feinberg received a call from the president of Virginia Tech, asking him to manage the fund that would distribute compensation to the families of the students and faculty killed in the 2007 mass shooting [there].  “I realized that Feinberg the citizen should trump Feinberg the lawyer,” he said.  “My legal training would no longer stand in the way.  This time all victims – students and faculty alike – would receive the same compensation.”    

And now to the One who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than anything we can ask or imagine, to God be the glory, now and forever.  Amen.

Barlow, Liddy.  “Living the Word”. Christian Century 7 June 2017: 20.

Rev. Kathryn Henry
Peapack Reformed Church
Gladstone, NJ
June 25, 2017

khenryRev. Kathryn Henry
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