A Promise You Can Trust
The Second Sunday after Pentecost

A sermon by Rev. G. Lynn Turner, Senior Associate Pastor
Richmond’s First Baptist Church
Richmond, Virginia
June 23, 2014


It happens every year….all over the world…children leaving home…. for college or for jobs,….it is a joyous time…a grieving time….a rite of passage time and often the scene is the same….mom and/or dad driving their daughter or son off to school or giving that last bit of advice to their son or daughter before he/she starts the new job or enlists for service in the military, …where has the time gone? And then the questions start: Did I teach them everything they needed to know?  Did I do my job well?  Are they confident enough in their ability to make it on their own?  Have I lived and modeled the Christian Faith so they can now make wise decisions without my advice? Do they really know how tough the real world is out there? …they won’t have the security of home anymore…can they really be ready to handle this next chapter in their lives?

And reality hits if you are the parent…you have no choice…the time is here and its time to give them wings to see if they can fly….on their own…and you send them off with one last reminder and blessing…remember…no matter what…you can always come home, nothing can keep us from loving you and with God on your side…you are going to be great!

That’s a little how I see the scene in our gospel reading today…Jesus, like a nervous parent sending his disciple’s off for the first time….on their own…without him…could they make it?  Would they be ok?

But in this passage often called a part of the missionary discourse from the Gospel of Matthew…it’s like Jesus also feels the need to paint the worst possible scenario, like he has to scare the “heebee jeebees” out of them……a true test to see if they were willing and ready to go.

Most of the words in our gospel reading today are not something that would make you feel good about following Jesus. In fact….if I had been one of the first 12 apostles sent out….I seriously might have reconsidered….except for this one significant detail that we learn earlier in the chapter….in verse 1 it says, “Matthew 10:1 (NLT) 1  Jesus
called his twelve disciples together and gave them authority to cast out evil spirits and to heal every kind of disease and illness. "

….though this was their first mission alone….they had been given the power to do what they had been called to do.

This was before Pentecost when the Holy Spirit rained down fire…but the power of Christ had been breathed on them for this first mission. You see It was important that they have these powers because Jesus’s plan was that His mission of the Kingdom would be extended through them.

In the earlier part of the chapter he gave them their check off list with specific instructions for who to go to, how to find lodging, what not to take with them….how to respond when they met with opposition…and then he offers these final words  which is our text for today…a final reminder before he sent them out. Let me summarize the key points:

  • A student is not above the teacher, but is like the teacher. A servant is not above the master, but is like the master.

  • Do not be afraid. What is covered will be uncovered. What is secret will be made known. What is told in the dark will now be told in the light. What is whispered will be shouted aloud.

  • Do not be afraid of those who can kill the body, but those who can destroy the soul.

  • ll who acknowledge me, I will acknowledge before God. But those who deny me, I will deny.

  • I haven’t come for peace in the way that you understand. I have brought a sword to divide.

  • You must love me more than others. More even than father or mother. More even than son or daughter.

  • Take up your cross. Follow me. Be worthy of the call I extend to you. For if you only want to cling to your life, you may lose it. But if you let go of everything you hold dear, for my sake, you will find life.

Makes you want to step off the mission bus and get to it doesn’t it?

But you also have to put this in context.

Most scholars think that the Gospel of Matthew was the earliest of the Gospels, written somewhere between 50 and 70 AD. As the writer of Matthew was sitting down to record his memories of life with Jesus, the little community of believers that had formed—the church, you could call it—was in deep trouble. They had had a few years of experimental living as followers of Jesus, and the ways in which they insisted on living were flying in the face of the society and the Empire that ruled around them.

Because they called themselves Christians many of them had been disowned by their families.

They had lost jobs and social status; they had been ostracized in their communities. And now, by the time Matthew was writing, things were getting dire and dangerous. Being a Christian meant you might very well end up facing a hungry lion in the Coliseum, turned in to government leaders by people you knew and loved: neighbors, friends, colleagues . . . even your own family members.

If I were to ask you to raise your hands if you have ever been in harms way because of your faith in Jesus, likely very few hands would go up…you see, unlike the first century disciples….we do not face the potential of persecution and death as they did. 

Although there are places in the world where being known as a Christian could cost you your life, most of us will not face that decision likely in our lifetime.

But the call to discipleship does not lessen for us.  For the question would be, would we go that far? Is our love for Jesus that strong?  Is our belief that solid?

You see I believe that if we can say yes to that question, and then take a hard look at our lives today as 21st century Americans, in a land of the free and brave, we should be standing on the rooftops and shouting…as Jesus said…but it is not that easy is it?

For we live in a world that is still filled with suffering and sorrow and great challenges. We are faced with life circumstances that cause us to doubt the love of God and our love for him and fear builds within us.

More  often the question that  is shouted all around us every day is.  Why Lord? Why the heartache and pain and suffering and grief?” Why does it hurt so much?

And an answer may come back in a gentle whisper…”because love costs”…you see when you love as deeply as God loves, when you love the way God calls us to love, there are costs and sacrifices….often beyond our control. Someone has said it this way,, “to love deeply means sometimes we will hurt deeply.”

So Jesus, setting the stage for these first disciples….prepares them for the worst…realizing that human  fear can take over….….

and so right smack in the middle of this discourse of all the horrible things that might happen because of their love for Jesus, He gives those wonderful three verses of assurance…letting us know that we are not alone and thus, making this passage Good News this morning….it was Jesus’s “I love you no matter what, you can always come home line,”

Matthew 10:29-31 (NLT)
29  What is the price of two sparrows—one copper coin? But not a single sparrow can fall to the ground without your Father knowing it.
30  And the very hairs on your head are all numbered.
31  So don’t be afraid; you are more valuable to God than a whole flock of sparrows.

Did you hear that?  God says not a sparrow falls to the ground that I do not see…..You are valuable to me…..I know the number of hairs on your head….You have nothing to be afraid of.

Now this is a promise we can trust this morning…

Fear is debilitating isn’t it?

If I were to ask you all the things that have you trapped in fear this morning, the list might be long...

Fear of being rejected, fear for your children who have gotten on the wrong path, fear of not having enough money to pay the bills or fear of losing your job, fear of being alone, fear of what the future may hold for you, fear of bad health and even the fear of dying or someone close to you dying….

Three times in this passage Jesus says, DO NOT BE AFRAID….

There are all kinds of fears….we often hear the phrase that we are to fear the Lord, or we are to be in awe of the Lord….that is healthy fear….there is a fear that takes over when we are in immediate danger of something…adrenaline kicks in to keep us out of harms way….that is good fear,…..but the fear that traps us is usually the fear that we have no control over the outcome….trust has to kick in to remind us that one so much bigger and powerful than us is in control…

I ran into Sam James last week at a funeral and told him that I had been re-reading his book, “Servant on the Edge of History”.  Sam and his wife Rachel, long time member of this church were once missionaries in Vietnam during the war.  And in preparing for this sermon today… I was once again reminded of the relationship of fear and trust..in a story he shared in his book. Sam shares about an incident where he had been invited to share in a middle School the true meaning of Christmas to a mostly non Christian student body…he had decided to go even though it was a dangerous time to be an American on the roads.

…as he rounded a curve…he saw the VietCong road block ahead…and immediately he said his thoughts were,

 You are so stupid! You should have known better than to be out here!  It is so fraught with danger. Can you ever learn not to play the hero and get yourself in trouble?”

And then he says that he was seized with fear. He trembled all over. Panic began to surge his mind and all of a sudden, Psalm 91 came to his mind…”He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will abide in the shelter of the Almighty. I will say to the Lord, My refuge and my fortress…My God in whom I trust. For it is He who delivers you from the snares of the trapper, and from the deadly pestilence. He will cover you with his pinions and under His wings you may seek refuge, So Do not be afraid.”

And at that very moment…he said that God revealed to him that the secret place of the Almighty God is a place of total trust.  The antidote to fear is not courage or bravery…it is complete trust.

God miraculously God Sam out of that situation that day…you need to read his book to find out how…but the lesson learned that day for Sam in his words..” How wonderful to walk through the deep and frightening experiences of life and emerge on the other side with a new understanding of the reality of the presence of God.”

Jesus knew that we would be afraid.  And so He uses 2 illustrations to tell his followers that they need not fear because nothing goes unseen by God.

The first was the sparrow.

 Sparrows are some of the most plentiful, common birds in the world. Where you find people, you’ll find sparrows. They only live in populated areas because they are scavengers of leftovers. Sparrows hop up to you at the outdoor restaurant and wait for crumbs. They aren’t known for their beautiful colors or for their sweet songs. Jesus said two sparrows sell for a half a penny.

Jesus was making a point that God cares for the most common, unnoticed birds. Yet, He sees each one that falls.

And the second illustration was that of the hairs of your head.

God knows the number of hairs on your head….such an insignificant detail about us….do you know the number of hairs on your head?  (Well…for some that may be a little easier to answer)….but those that study these types of things called “hairologist” have determined that if you are truly blonde…you have about 145,000, brunettes about 120,000 and red heads about 90,000….(don’t even ask me the obvious question about why blondes have more hair?) that was as far as I got in my research….

The point is…..even that matters to God….

I think Jesus was saying to those first disciples…I called you out….to follow me…..and I send you out now….to share the good news of the kingdom….you have nothing to fear. And because of those 12 brave men, (who were all, with the exception of John,  eventually killed for their faith in sharing the gospel of Jesus) …we sit here this morning being asked the same question….will you follow me?

I don’t know what that may look like for you this morning…but I do know this….we are to be witnesses of Christ’s work in and through us…God has called us out individually and as a body of believers…to be a witness to the truth of the Gospel. A witness is simply someone who shares what he/she has seen and heard….and each of us in this room today who has claimed Jesus as Lord, has a story to tell of their encounter with Jesus. What is your story this morning?

There is one more truth and promise to trust in this passage from verse:27, “what you have heard whispered in your ears…now shout it from the rooftops.”

God has been whispering in the ears of his followers from the beginning of time…for those early disciples…it was out of necessity…to be undercover for a while, but once they had received the power…he said…shout it from the rooftops!

And here is the truth….God still seeks to communicate with us….and here is the promise..He will if we will be still and listen. “Psalm 46: Be Still and Know that I am God.”

We don’t do that well in our society.  Noise pollution has taken over…rarely do we have silence…..I mean complete silence.  I saw on Youtube this week about the quietest room in the world.  Turns out to be in Minneapolis Minnesota.  Orfield labatories received the Guinness Book of world records for having the quietest room…99.99% sound proof.  The longest someone has been able to stay in there is 45 minutes….you enter in the dark…it is so quiet you can hear  your heart beat, your lungs breath…and most people get disoriented and have a difficult time handling the silence.

God is whispering to us all the time. Judson Edwards, in his book Hidden Treasures, comments on this verse and says, “ God whispers…I wish that were not so. I wish God shouted. I wish that he was more audible and visible.”

But it is likely that if you have heard God lately…it has been in a whisper….we are to take those whispers and pray as we believe God with all our heart.

We are to take those whispers…and minister to “the least of these”…as if they were Jesus himself. 

We are to take those whispers and give our money as if the kingdom of God depends on our generosity.

We are to take those whispers and share the good news we have in our hearts until we run out of breath.

We are to take those whispers….those faint almost inaudible whispers and become fools for Jesus Christ.”

Here is a truth…when God whispers and we are listening..Our stories come alive.Life is complicated...following Jesus is not easy, nor is He easy to hear in the noisiness of our lives. You can trust that nothing happens to you that he does not see…and when you fall, He is there to pick you up….whispering in your ear.”You don’t have to be afraid”….it’s a promise you can trust.


Lynn Turner 2014
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