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Two sparrows sold for a penny Ordinary 13 Year A

Sermon on Matthew 10 :24-39 25 June 2017  

The Reverend Canon Charles Royden

Jesus said

"A student is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master. It is enough for the student to be like his teacher, and the servant like his master. If the head of the house has been called Beelzebub, how much more the members of his household! "So do not be afraid of them. There is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be made known. What I tell you in the dark, speak in the daylight; what is whispered in your ear, proclaim from the roofs. Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell. Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of your Father. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don't be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows. "Whoever acknowledges me before men, I will also acknowledge him before my Father in heaven. But whoever disowns me before men, I will disown him before my Father in heaven. "Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to turn "'a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law-- a man's enemies will be the members of his own household.' "Anyone who loves his father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves his son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and anyone who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.

Take up your cross and follow me

We are living in difficult time are we not, characterised by fear.
1. There is fear over the future of our country, nobody seems to know what Brexit means let alone how it will affect our country which is so divided over it anyway.

2. We don’t know what kind of government we are going to have and good national leaders seem in short supply.

3. We have endured atrocious terrorist attacks with many killed and this week we have innocent people mowed down outside a mosque.

4. Then we witness the most horrific human suffering as people are burned alive in their own homes in a block of flats which it seems was not up to standard when it comes to fire safety and this could be the case for the homes of many more people. People afraid to go to sleep at night.

5. Then the church seems not only under attack but tearing ourselves apart

6. I was thinking about poor Tim Farron this week who has been hounded out of his political leadership for holding views which, whether you agree with them or not, are actually the position of the majority of Christians across the world and pretty much of the Church of England

7. Then I was reading the report into the failure of the Church of England to deal with the sexually abusive and predatory Bishop Peter Ball runs to 80 pages of damning indictment of all of those involved. The failure of the church to deal with this abuse led to a 17 year old victim Neil Todd eventually taking his own life. It has led to the damaged reputation of the last two archbishops of Canterbury one of who Lord Carey who has effectively been removed from ministry. The whole thing is made worse by the fact that the disgraced ex bishop Peter ball has never acknowledged his crimes let alone sought forgiveness for them. To commit abuse is one thing, to refuse to say sorry for what you have done is a second and ongoing attack on your victim because you deny them truth and justice, the opportunity to be believed. In one part of the report I read a very telling phrase in which it referred to the

            how the episode had damaged not just the reputation of the Church but also

             “its collective sense of itself as a just and compassionate body”.

So we are at a very low ebb.  So where do we go from here?

Well it is important to notice the words of Jesus at the outset of the passage today. 

Jesus starts by saying something which will come as an encouragement to those who have been victims of abuse.

There is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed,

or hidden that will not be made known.

Perhaps that is something which could have been a scripture verse printed on the cover of that 80 page report and the victims should perhaps draw comfort from the promise of that kind of reckoning from Jesus.

Then Jesus speaks words of encouragement

Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of your Father. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don't be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.

When Matthew included these words of Jesus in his Gospel, Christians were facing death for their faith. The church was not just at a low ebb with declining numbers it was facing the most intense pressure possible to eliminate it by killing adherents who held faith in Jesus.

 

There have been many times when Christians have been under attack and persecution.

Out of these persecutions come stories of faith and trust in God which has emerged more strongly. 

I was at the St Albans Pilgrimage yesterday we marched through the city to remember Britain’s first saint and martyr St Alban. As we re-enacted the Albans story yesterday it reminded me very much of the readings which we have today from Matthew.

Alban was seized by Roman soldiers 1700 years ago after he gave shelter to a stranger fleeing from persecution. This was a Christian priest called Amphibalus.  Alban was so moved by the priest’s faith and courage that he asked to be taught more about Christianity, then still a forbidden religion.

Before long the authorities came to arrest the fugitive priest.  But Alban, inspired by his new-found faith, exchanged clothes with Amphibalus, allowing him to escape. Instead Alban was arrested and brought before the city magistrate.   Alban refused to sacrifice to the emperor and the Roman gods. When asked to identify himself he declared: ‘I am called Alban and I worship and adore the true and living God, who created all things’.

The magistrate ordered that Alban should receive the punishment due to the priest.  He was brought out of the town and up the hillside to the site of execution where he was beheaded. Despite escaping, Amphibalus too was later arrested and martyred at Redbourn, a few miles away. Alban is a saint of the undivided church in this country, a saint for all Christians.  His welcome to a persecuted stranger was a powerful example of courage, compassion and hospitality. 

I am really pleased that soon the Abbey will have a magnificent redevelopment completed with a visitors centre and the restoration of a shrine to Amphibalus. We have secured  millions of pounds of funding and once opened visitors will come to learn about Alban and have multi media displays to bring the story and the Abbey even more to life.

Jesus tells his followers

‘Do not be afraid of them’

Jesus does not tell them not to be afraid because he will stop anything bad happening to them. Jesus promises that their suffering is known to God. Not only known to God but God feels our suffering.  At the heart of our faith is bread and wine, which shows a God who suffers with us and shares our pain and death. 

In Psalm 56 there is a wonderful phrase where the Psalmist reflects on his pain and suffering and his foes all around him attacking him. The Psalmist must have felt like Tim Farron because he says of his enemies that they are always hounding him and goes on

‘They are always twisting what I say

they spend their days plotting to harm me’

In spite of this the Psalmist commits that he will trust God and put his faith in Him, in spite of all that is going wrong. Then he uses this beautiful phrase 

You keep track of all my sorrows

You have collected all my tears in your bottle

You have recorded each one in your book.

What the Psalmist is saying is that we might think our tears go unnoticed, we might think that life is horrible to us and nobody cares and perhaps even that God does not care, but God does. God knows each tear that we cry, tears we weep are not lost, they are not forgotten; God holds them in his memory and feels them in his heart.

As Christians we have few answers in the face of what is going on in our church, let alone the world, but we do know where God is, God is in the middle of it, suffering alongside us as his son suffered on the cross. He stores up our tears in a bottle.

As I reflect on us as Christians and as the church collectively, the message which this passage brings to us today is I believe one of, do not be afraid. What we sometimes lack as Christians is the confidence which Jesus encourages.

In this passage Jesus tells his disciples to go out and speak fearlessly. Jesus knew that being a public Christian was not easy, he said bearing witness to his name would not bring peace but a sword ! Yet Christians should not be silent, they should boldly declare their faith, because there was a promise 

"Whoever acknowledges me before men,

I will also acknowledge him before my Father in heaven.

Fear not men who can only kill the body !

In chapter 5 of his Rule St. Benedict tells,

“Yearn for everlasting life with holy desire.  Day by day remind yourself that you are going to die.  Hour by hour keep careful watch over all you do, aware that God’s gaze is upon you, wherever you may be.” 

This was not meant to be some sort of threat, it was an encouragement for his monks to remember that this life was not the ‘be all and end all’’

This was  truth understood by St Alban, it was truth understood by the first Christian Martyr St Stephen and all of those other disciples who  willingly went to their death and their blood became the seed of the church and it grew through their sacrifice.

They knew and understood the words of Jesus that their death was not insignificant, God knew them so intimately that even the hairs on their head were of their. I am told that an average head has 100,000 hairs, some have more some have considerably less, but the point Jesus was making was that even if you are bald, he knows how many you have lost, he shares your pain.

What the church needs in the presence of the troubles we face as a nation and the troubles we face as Christians in a secular world is confidence. I don’t proclaim the wondrous future of the Methodist Church, or the Church of England, but I do absolute confidence in the Gospel of Jesus.

Christians have a truth which we must proclaim because the world so badly needs it, even if it doesn’t want to hear it.

How wonderful it is to hear from London that even when the response of the authorities has been less than we would have hoped, it is the Christian churches which have so faithfully proclaimed the love of God by offering compassion and practical support when people have needed it most.

There is another thing which like in this passage from Jesus. he tells us that we should not be surprised when we are under attack because he was attacked. The words he uses are these

If the head of the house has been called Beelzebub,

how much more the members of his household!

Isn’t that a wonderful phrase, we are a part of God’s household !

I wonder if you have ever read Desiderata, the poem written by Max Ehrmann in 1927

Go placidly amid the noise and haste.

It is an interesting poem, meant to encourage and cheer us up. Desiderata is Latin for 'desired things.' You may remember the audio version by Leonard Mr Spock of Star Trex.  It came out in 1968 and I remember it quite vividly.

The closing lines of the poem has a phrase in it which I have always found intriguing

'You are a child of the universe, no less than the trees and the stars ,

you have a right to be here.'  

Listen to the words of Jesus and he speaks that we are not like the created order at all

we are not a child of the universe we are part of his household - we are a part of his family

Things might get tough, the Christian has to be prepared to be in conflict. In fact that conflict might run so deep that even the most important thing in our life which we cherish such as family will be threatened but we should not be afraid because we are not insignificant orphans in a senseless universe, we are children of the creator God. We are a part of God’s household, we live with him now. This is an inspiring message that we should have confidence.

Conclusion

This is not a meaningless universe subject to random happenings, we are not just highly developed animals. There is a  God who made us and not only made us but he is intimately involved with all that he has made and he values each one us and knows us intimately.

You are of such value to our compassionate God that he counts the hair on your head, he counts your tears, he stores them in a bottle.  

God doesn’t just know us but we are a part of his family. Even if you don’t like your own natural family, or they don’t like you, don’t worry because when you belong to God’s family that is for eternity. 

No matter what the complexities and distresses of life we may face, we should be unafraid to speak for our faith in words and deed with confidence. Understand that whatever is going on around you, you are truly known and loved by God.