Sermon for 21st June

Occasionally you will hear people using the phrase “workplace challenges”. I am sure that most of us have faced those, but we Christians should always think of those worse off than ourselves, so let me invite you to pause for a moment and put yourself in the shoes of President Trump’s press secretary. Her name is Kayleigh McEnany and I wonder what she must feel every time she sees her boss walk towards a microphone. “What is he going to come out with now?” must be a constant concern for her.

But then I wonder whether the same was true for the disciples listening to Jesus. Every so often, just when you think you’ve got the hang of his teaching, he says something that shakes that confidence a bit; and today’s gospel is one of those passages.

While I believe firmly that God never gives a burden without giving the strength to carry it, I also know that Jesus never promised that life as a disciple would be beer and skittles. Just in case his apostles had not grasped that point, he lays it out for them here.

Having mentioned President Trump, I feel bold enough to say that what Jesus tells us here is gonna set us up for Heaven, bigly. Jesus said “Nothing is hidden that will not be revealed. Nothing is secret that will not become known.”

He goes on to explain that it may have been necessary to keep something quiet up to this point but now the disciples will have to shout it from the rooftops. This is not going to be popular, and Jesus is very clear to the disciples that they will be hated, abused, perhaps physically damaged. Look at the names they’ve called me, says Jesus, so imagine what they will say about my servants.

But everything you will ever need to know to spread the gospel, you already know, he says. I’ve kept nothing back. Even if they turn on you, they cannot harm your soul. Yes, they can hurt your body, and there is no denying that; but the more important thing is to preserve your soul, and God can always keep it from harm.

There follows one of the most touching testimonies to the value of every human being that you will find anywhere.

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.

That may seem something of an unimpressive comparison, but it really isn’t. If God knows what is happening to each of his sparrows, we can be pretty sure that he is watching over every one of us.

Then Jesus says something surprising.

Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.

Nearly fifty years ago I heard the Reverend Ian Paisley preach. I am sure we have all heard him speak in other fields, but I had never heard him preach the Word before, and he preached on this gospel passage. His Lord, he said, came with a sword. His justice is shown in the fact that he has a sword, and his mercy is shown because he does not always use it.

This rang a bell with me for local reasons. There was a little group of people at my church who espoused what I described as “Jesus is a good bloke” theology. Their language was always about Jesus as a friend, a mate; and I thought that missed the small but important point that He does not care for us because we deserve friends. There is a gap between God and man that is not bridged by mankind reaching up, but only because God chooses to reach down. To be blunt about it, if God treated us fairly we would all be in the cart. It is because He loves us even though we are not always lovable that we have the hope of glory.

Again, Jesus has not promised us that life is going to be easy. He cannot achieve his aim without overturning the nice cosy world that currently exists. And because some will win, others will lose, and they won’t like it. He is the Prince of Peace but that doesn’t mean that peace can be introduced peacefully. It is not God’s intention to divide us, but that will be the effect so long as some believe passionately and others deny him. Of course, if we are lukewarm about the gospel things will rub along a lot more gently, but that doesn’t make it a good thing to do. Conflict is unavoidable, so we must not shrink from it.

We know all we need to know to spread the gospel. Nothing is lacking. We don’t need any special knowledge. We have the means to do so – books, teaching and so on. We have the motive to do so, the clear command of God to make disciples of all nations. We have the opportunity to do so, in a world in which so many people have nothing to cling to in tough times, no anchor, no roots. The question is whether we have the will to do so. God can provide everything else, but the will to live his life and spread his word must be ours and ours alone.