June 21, 2020 at St. Peter the Apostle in Naples, FL
Jeremiah 20, 10-13 + Psalm 69 + Roman 5, 12-15 + Matthew 10, 26-33
Now, well into summer, we are settling into Matthew’s Gospel which consists of five distinct sermons. Be calm, you’re not going to get them all today. You know the first one well, it is the Sermon on Beatitudes. Today we are into the Sermon on Mission. Later we will move into the Sermon on the Parables, then the Sermon on the Church, followed by the Sermon on the End Times. And so, it is to us that Jesus speaks in this church today. He speaks about our Mission, and about the fear that can keep us from fulfilling that mission.
We’ve all learned by now that fear can be both good and bad. When it is good, fear can keep us from doing foolish and dangerous things. When it is bad, it can keep us from doing good and doing the right thing. Fear can either turn us into wise and prudent people or it can make us cowards. Courage is what Jesus proposes as a necessary virtue for us, his disciples. This courage sets us free. The courageous are not without fear, they are simply not reckless. They know what to fear, and how to avoid it trusting their gifts, skills, and wisdom. As Jesus nurtures us today as his disciple/missionaries, he never suggests that taking up his mission in this world will be easy and without risk and danger, but there can be no silent disciple/missionaries. We are either known and recognized by what we say and what we do, or we count for nothing in God’s sight.
Having been called in faith and gifted with the gospel, there is no going back for us, and there is no hiding. There is no denying that the values of our faith are being eroded all around us. The evidence is there day and night. It is greater and more complex than abortion. It is a choice being made every day that choses privilege and convenience over life itself. It is a kind of moral decay that rewards the powerful and wealthy with more and more safeguards to their privileged position. It is the kind blindness that sees nothing wrong with demonizing people who are different from us fleeing from violence and poverty. In that blindness the face of Christ is never recognized. It is a kind of deafness that does not hear the cries of children snatched from the arms of parents who just want their children to be free and safe like us. It is not likely here and at this time in history that we will put our lives in danger. What we are likely to face is not so much hostility or opposition, but something which is even harder – a deadly indifference. To bear witness in this case requires a special kind of courage. It means overcoming our fear of what people think of us or call us, and the fear of what it will cost in in terms of letting go of our ego.
When Jesus says to us, “Do not be afraid,” he is not saying that we should never feel afraid. The issue is what fear will do to us, paralyze us, silence us, and make us unable to fulfill the mission he has entrusted to us. What he does is encourage us to trust in his Father who sees, cares for, and loves even the littlest and the least valuable of all creation. Faith, my friends, is not a comforting illusion that all is well. Rather, it means knowing that life is full of risk, full of insecurity, and yet rejoicing in it. That is the essence of faith. Nowadays, thanks to security cameras, we are often being watched, watched by a cold, dispassionate eye intent on catching us in the wrong. The feeling that someone is watching you is not a pleasant feeling. But the feeling that someone is watching over you is a really good feeling. God is not watching us. God is watching over us. That conviction offers us comfort, strength, and courage. Most of all it gives us hope in times of difficulty and danger, and only God can dissolve our deepest fears.