“So have no fear of them; for nothing is covered up that will not be uncovered, and nothing secret that will not become known. What I say to you in the dark, tell in the light; and what you hear whispered, proclaim from the housetops. Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather fear him 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 your Father. And even the hairs of your head are all counted. So do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows.
“Everyone therefore who acknowledges me before others, I also will acknowledge before my Father in heaven; but whoever denies me before others, I also will deny before my Father in heaven.
“Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.
For I have come to set a man against his father,
and a daughter against her mother,
and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law;
and one’s foes will be members of one’s own household.
Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever does not take up the cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.
One of the songs sung by the military wives led by Gareth Malone is titled “Stronger Together”. It says “together we are stronger we can overcome. Together we belong together we are strong”, and it makes a reference to the voices above the noise which are full of life and full of hope. To me those voices echo voice of the Holy Spirit supporting and leading on through the challenges of this life to overcome the powers of evil and hold fast to the love of God.
In recent months, we’ve seen examples of this through the coming together of Mancunians and of Londoners where those of different faiths and none have stood together in defiance of the attacks on the innocent victims in the cities. We are all called to overcome evil in this world. We are all called to share God’s love. Yet this passage from Matthew makes it clear that this isn’t an easy task.
Jesus is saying these words to the disciples at the point when he is sending them out to spread the Gospel message in the surrounding area. He says that he is sending them out “like sheep into the midst of wolves”. He warns them of persecution as their message would not make them popular with everyone. As we tell people about Jesus or as they see us living our lives by Christian values it could make us unpopular with our friends and families.
Since becoming ordained, my husband and I have both experienced this: yet we have been called to go on loving those who reject us because of our faith.
We are all called to witness through God’s love, and that’s part of the discipleship of living a Christian life. Jesus gave us the perfect example of how to love in obedience to God through his life on earth.
God was central to his life. Jesus spent long hours in prayer talking to his heavenly father and then going out and sharing God’s love in his daily life. He didn’t live in blind obedience to the Jewish Commandments and laws: Jesus lived a life of discerning love brought about through his closeness to God in prayer.
Remember his healings on the Sabbath; giving ears of corn from the field to his disciples to eat on the Sabbath day? Jesus cared for people just as God cares for each one of us – we are reminded of his care for even a sparrow falling. He cares and values each one of us as his own adopted children. We are chosen, we are called by name. We belong to God.
Our response is to keep God as our focus in life, to put God first even when we are challenged by the world and those around us.
God sent his Holy Spirit to strengthen us in our daily lives. Paul writes in his letter to the Ephesians
“be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his power”. Paul knew that the followers of Jesus back then needed the support of the Holy Spirit to faithfully follow God in their lives.
Reflecting on the example of Jesus, he reminds them to “pray in the Spirit at all times in every prayer and supplication”. We too need to pray for strength and discernment as we witness to Jesus in our lives each day.
As God’s adopted children, loved by God, we are part of the body of Christ in his church on Earth. We stand together, stronger together. We stand in the strength of God’s power,
in Paul’s words the Ephesians: “by putting on the whole armour of God, so that we may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil”. So, in a world which is not this dissimilar to the world that Jesus lived in, or to the world of the early church, we are called to follow Christ – assured of God’s love for us, assured of the Holy Spirit’s presence with us and assured of our strength together as the church in the body of Christ.