HOPE Point @Wesley Memorial UMC
June 25, 2017
Matthew 10: 26-31 (CEB)
“Therefore, don’t be afraid of those people because nothing is hidden that won’t be revealed, and nothing secret that won’t be brought out into the open. 27What I say to you in the darkness, tell in the light; and what you hear whispered, announce from the rooftops. 28Don’t be afraid of those who kill the body but can’t kill the soul. Instead, be afraid of the one who can destroy both body and soul in hell. 29Aren’t two sparrows sold for a small coin? But not one of them will fall to the ground without your Father knowing about it already. 30Even the hairs of your head are all counted. 31Don’t be afraid. You are worth more than many sparrows.
Think with me for a minute about the sort of news you “announce from the rooftops.” I suspect that most of us, at some point in our lives, experience something so wonderful that we wish to proclaim it widely and loudly to any that will hear; these are those moments like an engagement or marriage, the birth of a child, the news of cancer in remission, or a graduation. There are, indeed, these occasional moments in life when something so momentous happens that we feel compelled to climb atop the roof and yell the news out in the hopes that all the world will hear and share in our joy and happiness.
But sometimes, rooftops or high places are used for a different sort of announcement or news-sharing. Back in the days before telephones (or even telegraph), people and nations would often devise elaborate communications systems to do things such as warn of invading armies. Paul Revere’s famous midnight ride announcing the arrival of the “redcoats” involved a lantern hung high in the steeple of the Old North Church in Boston; “One if by land, two if by sea.” The same idea was used by guards along the Great Wall of China in the days of invasions by the Mongols; signal fires were lit atop the towers of the wall to communicate up and down the span of the wall if something was happening.
Obviously, whether good or bad news, announcing something from the rooftops is a pretty effective means of communication. And for me, it is also a way of indicating the importance of the particular message being delivered. In other words, if it wasn’t important, we wouldn’t be announcing our news from the rooftops. So all of this got me wondering…why is it that I, why is it that we, are not out proclaiming the most important news of all time from the rooftops? We are heirs to the greatest proclamation in the history of the world, and yet we essentially hold it inside? But why? Why do we keep it undercover? And what would it take to do as Christ has directed us; to go out announcing this great news from the rooftops?
I suppose one possible reason we don’t proclaim the gospel message from the rooftops is that it is news we live with everyday. So, it’s not “new,” or “novel.” It’s not like those special occasions that come around only once in a lifetime. On the flip side, while we don’t know the “day or the hour” of Christ’s return, we’ve been waiting 2,000 years already, and so there’s not really a sense of urgency about offering some sort of warning about what is to come. So, we just go about our daily lives; we do our devotions, we say our prayers, we go to worship on Sundays, and in our routine, the blessed urgency of the gospel announcement has sort of worn off for us.
But in all honesty, I really think that is just an excuse. Because whether we are immersed in the good news everyday or not, the message is no less important, and the need to announce this news from the rooftops is no less urgent. So, again, why are we not “announcing from the rooftops” what has been declared in secret? Jesus, I think, gets to the heart of the matter in this same passage, when he speaks on the issue of fear. Jesus talks a lot about fear in these passages, and it may seem a little confusing, so I want to spend some time making sure we understand Christ’s meaning here.
The passage opens with Jesus’ instruction not to fear “those people because nothing is hidden that won’t be revealed, and nothing secret that won’t be brought out into the open.” The “those people” Christ is referring to are people who follow Beelzebul, which is a way of referring to the devil, or just evil in general. And what Jesus means is just what he says, the deeds of these people will be revealed. We don’t need to fear evil because God will expose it for what it is. There is also a warning here for disciples not to get caught up in evil, but to remain true to God. If evil is revealed for what it is, then so will good be revealed, as well.
The second thing Jesus says about fear in this passage is that we should not be afraid of “those who kill the body but can’t kill the soul. Instead, be afraid of the one who can destroy both body and soul in hell.” In other words, we should fear the Lord. You perhaps remember talking about the “fear of the Lord” as part of our sermon series on fear several weeks ago. Fear of the Lord is not living with some idea that God is in some way going to make things difficult for us or hurt us or harm us. Fear is an awe, a reverence, a respect for God. Fear of the Lord is a good thing; it compels us to always stay focused on God, to do what the Lord requires of us, and to follow God because, as Christ says, God is the only one who rules our body and soul.
The final lesson about fear comes after a reminder of God’s care for the sparrow and God’s knowledge of every hair on our head. “So,” Jesus says, “Don’t be afraid. You are worth more than many sparrows.” In other words, God, the God who is our Lord, the God who rules our body and soul, that same God is going to take care of us. So no matter how difficult things may be; no matter what temptations may come our way; no matter how low we may fall; no matter how attacked we may feel; no matter what secrets may be revealed, God cares for us and God is going to look after us.
I think the Rev. Tom Long says it best in his commentary on Matthew’s gospel, “There is nothing that the world can do that is able to eradicate the gospel or destroy God’s loving and watchful care over the faithful. The world can forbid missionary activity and enforce it by throwing those who bear witness to the kingdom in jail, but ‘nothing is covered up that won’t be uncovered, and nothing secret that will not become know.’ The world can even kill those who serve the gospel, but the murders are not to be ultimately feared. They may have momentary power over bodily life, but they have no power over the soul. Only God has that. Only God is to be feared, and God, who counts the hairs on our heads and who does not fail to note even the falling of a single common sparrow, can be trusted to reassure those who serve the kingdom.”
Now, with that in mind, let’s go back to where we started and Christ’s instruction to “announce from the rooftops” that which “you hear whispered.” We can and do come up with all sorts of reasons about why we can’t, won’t, or don’t declare the gospel message from the rooftops. Underlying nearly all of those excuses, I expect, is a sense of fear about something; fear of retribution, fear of rejection, fear of persecution, fear of loss; I could go on and on. But based on what Christ says here about fear, there are no excuses, and there is no fear that should stop us. In fact, I think it’s fair to say that if we are to fear anything, we should fear what will happen if we don’t announce good news from the rooftops! We should fear the consequences of our excuse-making. We should fear what will happen if we keep the good news covered up, if we keep it secret!
I wish I could tell you how exactly to go about honoring this call from Christ. I preach this sermon as much to myself, if not more, than anyone else in the room. I don’t recommend literally climbing on your rooftops…Thomas can talk to you about why that’s a bad idea. But not climbing up on rooftops doesn’t have to keep us from announcing the good news that Christ calls us to share in the world. I think a lot of times these days, we are more ashamed of the gospel than proud of it; again, I preach to myself as much as to anyone in this room. But there is nothing to be ashamed of; this is really, truly, the greatest news that can ever be told, and though some may misrepresent Christianity, we have no need to be ashamed of proclaiming boldly what is true.
So, here’s what I think, I’m kind of thinking out loud here. Each of us must find a way to “announce the good news” on a regular basis, and the best way to do that is to do it in a way that works for us. If you’re an introvert like me, then it may happen best one-on-one, in the coffee shop, or around the dinner table with someone you’ve known a while. If you’re more extroverted, you might find opportunities in the boardroom, with the stranger sitting next to you at the ball game, or standing in line at the grocery store. No matter what we may think, there are opportunities for all of us to announce and share this good news in the world, and through God’s guidance and power, it will happen just the way it needs to. There is nothing to fear.
Let me tell you a story that will hopefully help you see some ways you can announce the good news our world needs to hear. During the Thanksgiving holidays a year and a half ago, in 2015, we gathered with Ken’s family in Northern Kentucky, near Cincinnati. Though Ken and his sisters were raised going to church, his oldest sister stopped attending when she got married because her husband was very much against the church. Since they do not attend church, their two sons, my nephews, were not raised in the church. My oldest nephew, Austin, is in college now and studying mechanical engineering; he’s interested in pursuing rocket science. In any case, Austin’s “hobby” of sorts is outer space. He reads about new discoveries in space on a regular basis, he studies the science behind black holes and light-speed travel, how stars form and die, and on and on and on. Well, during the 2015 Thanksgiving holiday, Austin was sharing with Ken and Mary Ellen some of the new things that we are learning about space. During the conversation, as we were all wowed by the awesomeness of space and all that it is, Ken said to Austin, “When you see something like that, does it make you wonder if there is a God?” Austin’s response was, “Yeah, it really does!” Ken went on to talk a bit more about God who orders chaos and separates light from darkness, and so on. Appealing to Austin’s own love of science and space, Ken told the good news of a creator God who designs such beauty and majesty not only into the world, but into the entire universe, all of space.
Austin didn’t jump up and run to the altar at the nearest church, but I believe Ken planted a seed that will blossom every time Austin is wowed by a new discovery in space. I also believe that someday, God just might work through that seed to bring Austin into relationship with God in Christ Jesus.
Friends, this is the story we are privileged to tell, and if we get out there and “announce it from the rooftops” without hesitation, then we can fully trust that God will work through that proclamation. We have nothing to fear!