I am sure you have seen the slogan ‘No Fear’ on T-shirts, coffee mugs, and hats. I had one on my hat when Alison and I sailed down the east for the first time. It was created as an advertising gimmick but it has caught on with a generation that thrives on taking risks, living on the edge, pushing the boundaries to the outer limits. The thrill seeker has no fear of jumping off bridges attached to a bungee cord, jumping out of an aeroplane, sky diving strapped to a snow board, climbing El Capitan the highest point at Yosemite National Park or some other sheer faced granite rock. They tell me that danger generates an inner rush; Risking and surviving produces an inner satisfaction and overcoming a great peril brings a sense of gratification.
The slogan ‘No Fear’ holds a strange bit of irony. While advertisers attempt to project, a fearless attitude we live in a society that is plagued with fear and haunted by phobias. One of the fastest growing industries in our country is the security business. People are buying home security alarms, motion detection devices, and gadgets to protect themselves from danger. Psychologists are identifying more and more types of irrational fears and phobias. Besides the more common ones such as claustrophobia, the fear of small places they have classified several others. Phonophobia is a fear of loud noises. Photophobia is a fear of light. Decidophobia is the fear of making a decision. I wonder how long it will be before Coronophobia is added to the list? Finally there is Pantophobia, the fear of everything.
People who suffer from one or more of these irrational fears develop feelings of intense anxiety sometimes causing the person to panic and hyperventilate. They will go to great lengths to avoid the situation. Their avoidance behaviour disrupts their normal social functioning.
We may not have such severe and disrupting fears but, if we were honest, most would have to admit to having certain fears. Some worry about having enough money to pay all their bills. Others are worried about their children who seem to keep making the same mistakes over and over; And which one of us can really say that they are not troubled by a fear of the unknown or in a small way the fear of being rejected by others. I wonder if people today are wearing the ‘No Fear’ insignia more out of wishful thinking than bravery. (I can assure you that was definitely the case when I wore my hat!)
Before sending out his disciples, Jesus gave them instruction on overcoming their fear. He was commissioning them for a very dangerous mission. They would not only be rejected and scorned but their very lives would be threatened. They would face hardship and trials. They would have to live on a meagre allowance of food and they would never really be certain where they would be laying their head at night. Yet, through it all they were to have no fear. Each of us knows that those words are easier to say than to do. So how were the disciples to do it? How could they put aside their anxiety?
If you look closely Jesus words in the passage, there are clues for the disciples to help them to deal with their fears. First, they had to have confidence in his promise of the power of the gospel message.
Any sales person knows that selling an unknown product can be quite challenging. But it has been proven that simply by increasing the familiarity of a product name, sales will increase. It is much easier to sell something that everyone already knows about and even wants. The entire advertising industry is based upon that principle. So that is why we get the same adverts over and over again.
But here we have the disciples, just 12 ordinary guys and they were to tell people about an entirely new way of understanding the law and a new way of relating to God. Jesus wanted those uneducated men to go out and persuade people that their old beliefs and customs needed to be replaced by a new set of beliefs and customs. He commissioned his disciples to go out a sell a new idea with absolutely no advertising whatsoever. It was an extraordinary thing that he was asking them to do.
To assure them he gives them a promise that what has been hidden will be revealed. The things that he had shared with them in secret would eventually become known to everyone. This is his promise. The gospel will have a powerful force into every area of society. It will not remain hidden. The message will not remain unknown.
It doesn’t matter where we live, or who we are, belonging to a large Christian community or a small Benefice it can sometimes feel discouraging. That is especially true of the ‘lockdown’ scenario we find ourselves in where our outreach programme has been curtailed. We have had to find different ways of communicating and sharing our faith and it is easy to become disheartened and fearful of failure. Jesus’ promise to his disciples is the same promise for us. It is going to be tough out there, and there will be hardship. But Jesus didn’t end on a negative note. He Jesus calmed the disciple’s fears by reminding them of their value in God's economy. Sparrows are of such little value that you can buy two for just one penny. Yet, valueless as they are in the human economy, they are so treasured by God that not one of them falls to the ground without God knowing. It is mind blowing to know that the death of every sparrow is known by its Creator. As much a God loves each one of us he does not alter the course of our lives, if He intervened in every danger we would become puppets and no longer have free will. The disciples discovered that their infinite worth in God's eyes would not protect them from suffering and persecution but they knew that whatever was going to happen to them good or bad God was with them and that their infinite value to God was their true security. That is His promise for us today. When the going gets tough remember we are of more worth than a sparrow.
Jesus is telling the disciples that gospel are so radical that when a person decides to follow Him they may encounter conflict in relationships. Francis of Assisi was one who discovered this sad and painful truth.
St. Francis was the monk who preached to the birds of the air and the animals of the forest. He was the epitome of a calm, gentle and humble spirit. What father would not be proud to have a son follow in Francis' footsteps? Well, his own for one!
His Father was a wealthy merchant, who was greatly disturbed by his son's vow of poverty. Francis decision to give away his wealth to the poor may have been noble but the great bulk of his inheritance still belonged to his father, so he resorted to imprisoning Francis in the family cellar, but to no avail. When he recruited the Bishop to help him, Francis stripped himself of all his fine clothes, handed them to his father, stood before him naked and said, "Up to today I called you father, but now I can say in all honesty Our Father who art in heaven. He is my Father and I put my faith in him.
The gospel demands a radical lifestyle. It runs opposite to the status quo. It frees us from the social chains of greed, status and success. Living the way Jesus taught us should fill us with a spirit of love even for those we dislike. The life of discipleship requires following Jesus to the exclusion of all that would stand in the way of faithful obedience, and that might be family or friends, and there are countless Christians today who have been shunned by family and friends for their faith.
If we are honest we will probably never be truly free of all our fears but we can still live as people who have no fear. No fear of being rejected by others for our witness to the truth of God's amazing love - no fear of what calamity may befall us; because we know that Jesus has promised to be with us. Most of the things we fear we cannot face. Sometimes life requires us to act as if we are more confident than we know we are, I do it all the time! There is a little chorus that says: Be Bold Be Brave for the Lord your God is with you. I do know that God will always be with us, whatever the future may hold.
Receiving these promises from Jesus and walking with determination the disciples went out and proclaimed the love of God; my prayer for us all is that we will walk through each day with the same determination and confidence. Amen.
24 ‘A disciple is not above the teacher, nor a slave above the master;
25 it is enough for the disciple to be like the teacher, and the slave like the master. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign those of his household!
26 ‘So have no fear of them; for nothing is covered up that will not be uncovered, and nothing secret that will not become known.
27 What I say to you in the dark, tell in the light; and what you hear whispered, proclaim from the housetops.
28 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.
29 Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground unperceived by your Father.
30 And even the hairs of your head are all counted.
31 So do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows.
32 ‘Everyone therefore who acknowledges me before others, I also will acknowledge before my Father in heaven;
33 but whoever denies me before others, I also will deny before my Father in heaven.
34 ‘Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.
35 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;
36 and one’s foes will be members of one’s own household.
37 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;
38 and whoever does not take up the cross and follow me is not worthy of me.
39 Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.