Sermon for the Second Sunday after Pentecost
For only a penny you can buy two sparrows, yet not one sparrow falls to the ground without your Father's consent. As for you, even the hairs of your head have all been counted. So do not be afraid; you are worth much more than many sparrows!
Trust in the Lord
Lutheran pastor, Martin Niemoeller, a founder of the confessing church in Germany was outspoken in opposition to the Nazi regime. To keep him quiet Niemoeller was imprisoned. Months later he was summoned before a special court, and suddenly he began to feel afraid. He had no idea what to expect! As he was taken along the seemingly endless corridor from the prison cell to the courtroom, he heard a quiet voice.
As he listened, the voice was quoting from the Bible in Latin, the version used by the Roman Catholic Church. The voice whispered a verse from the Book of Proverbs. It began, “Nomen Domini turris fortissima” “The name of the Lord is a strong tower”; the verse goes on, “the righteous run to it and are safe” (Proverbs 18:10).
It was the jailer's voice. We don't know who he was, but what he said had an instant impact on Niemoeller – his fear vanished and his confidence in God was renewed. It was just as well that the other guards had no idea what was being said or else the owner of the voice would have joined Niemoeller.
Niemoeller survived the war and helped rebuild the church in Germany and especially led its people to face their guilt over what had happened.
Fear can have a powerful effect on a person’s confidence. Fear can overwhelm our trust in God. It has paralysing effect.
During his years as premier of the Soviet Union, Nikita Khrushchev denounced many of the policies and atrocities of Joseph Stalin. Once, as he spoke out against Stalin at a public meeting, Khrushchev was interrupted by a shout from a heckler in the audience, “You were one of Stalin’s colleagues. Why didn’t you stop him?”
“Who said that?” roared Khrushchev. An agonizing silence followed as nobody in the room dared move a muscle. Then Khrushchev replied quietly, “Now you know why.” At that moment everyone had experienced paralysing fear.
Today we hear Jesus giving his disciples instructions prior to their first mission. He told them about the dangers and hardships that they will have to contend with as they announce the Kingdom of God, heal the sick and raise the dead. Just as Jesus faced opposition and suffered, it will be no different for those whom he sends out. “A disciple is not greater than his teacher”, Jesus said. If the world gives me a bad time, it will give you a bad time too (Matt 10:24, 25). He says, “People will hate you. Relatives and friends will betray you, hand you over to the authorities who will want to kill you. Parents will even turn against their own children. Everyone will hate you because you are my disciples” (Matt 10:21-23). And Jesus wasn’t bluffing one bit. Read the history of the early church and you will be horrified at the terrible things that were done to the faithful. Not to be recommended before turning your light off at night because the images are too graphic.
After Jesus had finished his description of what it meant to take up the cross of discipleship and follow him, it’s a wonder someone didn’t say, “No thanks! I’ll give this one a miss, if you don’t mind, Jesus”.
Without a doubt, Jesus is sending his disciples like sheep into the middle of a pack of hungry wolves (Matt 10:16). So what does Jesus do? Sell them life insurance? Give them a quick course in martial arts and self-defence? Teach them how to diffuse the anger of their opponents? Send them to a workshop on evangelism in a hostile world? No, instead he urges them to trust God. Confidently go ahead and speak the truth. Shout it out. Stand and deliver because you can count on your heavenly Father (Matt 10:26, 27).
“Do not be afraid, he says. … For only a penny you can buy two sparrows, yet not one sparrow falls to the ground without your Father's consent. As for you, even the hairs of your head have all been counted. So do not be afraid; you are worth much more than many sparrows!” (Matt 10:29-31).
Sparrows are very common birds, very small and insignificant creatures, worth very little yet they matter to God. People may regard them as worth nothing but as far as God is concerned they are extremely valuable.
When you are having your haircut has the hairdresser ever said, “Did you know that hair number 437 has a split end?” Or when you are combing your hair and you notice that one or two hairs have separated from your head, do you go into mourning? A hair is such a small insignificant thing – no one takes any notice when one drops out. But Jesus says that every hair on our head is numbered. He says that God is vitally interested in hair number 437, even though I consider it too trivial to worry about.
What Jesus wants to illustrate is that it doesn’t matter what is happening in your life, God has an intimate knowledge of every detail. It may be that you are suffering in silence, or in the case of so many of Christ’s disciples around the world, no-one cares that they are suffering as their enemies secretly find ways of making them disappear, however, God knows everything. He knows when one of his own is afraid no matter how insignificant or small that person might be in the eyes of others. If a sparrow is important to God, then those for whom Christ has died are super important and never forgotten.
Isn't that amazing? God knows everything that we go through, and nothing that happens to us escapes him. Even if our prayers don't seem to be answered, even if everything seems hopeless, God knows and God cares. Jesus concluded saying, “So do not be afraid; you are worth much more than many sparrows!”
A little boy and his father walked the country road from their home to grandma’s house. While they were visiting grandma, the sun set. The little boy later wrote, “Between our home and grandma’s house was a swamp. That night the croaking of the frogs, the chirping of the crickets, and the shadows of the trees frightened me. I asked my father if there was any danger of something catching us, but he assured me that there was nothing to dread. And so, taking me by the hand, he said, ‘I will not allow anything to harm you.’ Immediately my fears passed away and I was ready to face the world.” (W. B. Davidson).
Like a father who will do anything to protect his
child, God watches over us.
Like a father who is ready to hold our hand when trouble strikes, Jesus assures us that we are precious and is ready to comfort us when we are afraid.
What it boils down to is that the perfect antidote for fear is trust in God. That’s the experience that Niemoeller had as he was being taken down the corridor of a Nazi prison to an indefinite future. The unknown guard whispered “The name of the Lord is a strong tower” reminding him that God knows his situation and God will give him the strength to face whatever lies in the future. His fear vanished.
The Bible resounds with messages about
faith in God in a time of trouble.
The Lord is my light and my salvation; I will fear no one. The Lord protects me from all danger; I will never be afraid. (Psalm 27:1, 2)
God is our shelter and strength, always ready to help in times of trouble. So we will not be afraid… (Psalm 45:1, 2)
Even if I go through the deepest darkness, I will not be afraid, Lord, for you are with me. Your shepherd's rod and staff protect me. (Psalm 23:4)
Whoever goes to the Lord for safety, whoever remains under the protection of the Almighty, can say to him, "You are my defender and protector. You are my God; in you I trust." (Psalm 91:1, 2)
When Jesus faced the horror of the cross and he knew that there was only way that Good Friday could end. Verses like the ones I just read must have given him comfort and courage. The ordeal of the cross didn’t go away but he was able to go on trusting the heavenly Father.
When the disciples faced all kinds of horrors to the point of losing their lives Jesus’ words must have had a powerful effect on them. It must have been a great comfort to know that they were not suffering alone in some dark and dingy prison cell – their heavenly Father knew exactly where they were and what was happening. If he knows all about a hair that falls from our head, or small ordinary birds, then he know all about the children whom he loves.
Sometimes we are afraid
of what others will think when we speak up for Jesus.
Sometimes we are afraid of letting our Christian values guide us because that will set us apart from everyone else around us.
There are times when are afraid that we won’t have the right words to say in a particular situation or be able to pray the right prayer.
Sometimes we are afraid that we will make a wrong decision so we don’t make any decision.
Sometimes we are afraid of what the future will bring.
Whether I’m speaking to us as individuals or all of us together as a congregation what a joy it is to know that God knows our troubles, our fears, our lack of enthusiasm or the problems of our congregation better than we even know ourselves. He knows us inside out. He knows every personality and possibility of this congregation in the same way he knows an insignificant sparrow. He knows what fears we have and what potential there is and what is possible in the future. As a group of Christians we can be fearful of stepping into the future – what will it cost, where will the people to do this come from, should we imitate the past, what others are doing or do something new? On a personal level he knows exactly what fills us with fear.
Our heavenly Father is always ready to calm our fears. He invites us in Psalm 27 “Trust in the Lord. Have faith, do not despair” (Psalm 27:14). What a release from fear it is to know that God is on your side; that everything is in the hands of a loving God and he will make sure that all things happen according to his loving plan for you.
Let me conclude with this - the next time fear takes a grip on your life, take a moment to recall some of the great promises of God. Remind yourself that God cares – you are a dear child of his and he cares for you. “Don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows”.
© Pastor Vince Gerhardy
22nd June 2014