A fourth grader once asked his teacher how much the earth weighed. The teacher looked up the answer in an Encyclopedia. “Six thousand million, million tons,” she answered. The little boy thought for a minute and then asked, “Is that with or without people?” Viewed from one perspective, it might very well seem that people don’t really matter very much. After all, we are but microscopic inhabitants of a tiny planet orbiting a relatively obscure star in a small galaxy among the billions and billions of stars and galaxies that make up creation. Yet, from the viewpoint of a person, or from one of us—those other people do make a difference. Other people matter to us, their opinions matter, their opinions of us matter.
Did you know that the number one phobia in the Americas is public speaking; over 25% of the people interviewed said they feared speaking in front of a crowd. People are afraid of how other people feel about them. People are afraid of other people’s disapproval. People are afraid of other people’s criticism. People are afraid of being made fun of by others. We want approval. We want acceptance. We want validation. We want to be thought of highly by others. All of us want to be liked. Fear of others is not a modern phenomenon. People have always been concerned about what others think about them. In our gospel reading Jesus says not once, not twice, but three times to not be afraid. The context of our gospel is this, Jesus is sending out his disciples on their first mission trip and they are understandably nervous. Our gospel lesson is a series of bullet points for them and us to remember.
The very first fear he addresses for his disciples is their fear of what people think about them. They are worried about what people will say about them. Jesus does not tell them that everyone will love them. No, Jesus points out to his disciples that people, important people have attacked and slandered him. Jesus tells the disciples that if the religious leaders have called him, Jesus, Beelzebul, that is, the Lord of the Flies which has the connotation of the Lord of the Dung or the Lord of Manure or the Lord of Poop? Jesus says if they have called me this; guess what, people are going to call you bad names too!
Yes, they will call you bad names if you are my disciples. They may even make up bad things to say about you. But Jesus tells them, do not be afraid of them because nothing that is covered up will remain covered. Anything that is a secret will become known. In other words, if what is being said about you is a lie, at some point, people will find out that it was a lie. Jesus tells his disciples that the truth must come out. What he teaches them now must be told to everyone. He tells them not to worry about what others say about them.
Next Jesus addresses our concern for our physical well-being. We are worried about what other people can do to us. Now here in the States we do not have to worry so much that people are going to hurt us physically simply because we are Christians. But for the first time in my lifetime anyway, a man was mocked and dismissed because of his Christian views here in the United States. On June 7th, just two and half weeks ago, Senator Bernie Sanders attacked Russell Voight during a Senate Budget Committee nomination hearing for in fact holding to orthodox Christian beliefs. In 2016 Russell Voight had written the following, “Muslims do not simply have a deficient theology. They do not know God because they have rejected Jesus Christ his Son, and they stand condemned.” Bernie Sanders said that Voight’s statement expressed Islamophobia. Frankly, this is what we believe too. We believe Jesus who told us that He is the Way the Truth and the Life and that no one comes to the Father, that is, God, except through him. In our day and age, having such sort of absolutist beliefs is not acceptable. But we should remember it wasn’t acceptable in the times of Jesus either.
Shocking, still, neither Russell nor we are in physical danger because of our belief in Jesus. But certainly if we lived in North Korea, Somalia, Afghanistan or some other country like those we would be. Jesus warned his disciples about this sort of danger. Throughout history and up unto even now, people have been killed for believing in Jesus. Last year it was reported that 90,000 people were killed for their faith. This means that in 2016 every 6 minutes a man, woman, or child was killed for believing in Jesus. But he said, “Do not fear those who can kill the body but cannot kill the soul.” Jesus said people can only hurt our bodies; they can only hurt us physically. But God is the one who is in charge of your body and soul. We need to be concerned about what God thinks; we need to be concerned about getting His approval. So Jesus tells us that if we want to worry, we need to worry about your relationship with God. Why? Because we are beings who live eternally, therefore we need to take the long view. We as Christians, as disciples of Jesus need to remember that this world is not all that is. Our lives here are on earth are only the beginning.
So Jesus tells us not to be afraid. People may call us names. People may try to hurt us. But they can only call us names; they can only hurt us physically. God, our God, is keeping track of all that is going on. Jesus points out that God is aware of all the little sparrows and what happens to each of them. God is aware of even the hairs on your head. Now the average human head has about 100,000 hairs. Some of us have more and some well, some have a lot less. Did you know that the average woman with a thick head of hair will lose up to 100 hairs a day? She may lose more than that if her hair is long and becomes entangled in the brush or comb. The average man who shaves every day by the time he is 65 will have removed 23 feet of beard! And God keeps track of all that hair! Why? Because he is interested in you and in me, He cares about every detail of us. And because God is interested and God cares for us, we ought not to be afraid.
Then Jesus points out that he did not come to bring peace. And it is true. Just look at the situation between Senator Bernie Sanders and Russell Voight. As Christians we believe there is only one way to God and those who are not Christians will take offense. People will get angry at us.
Finally Jesus tells us that those who think they have found their lives here, that is, those people who are putting their hearts in the here and now in the world around us with things and people will lose it. They will lose it because this world is transitory. But those who lose their life for the sake of Jesus will find it because we are looking for our eternal home and hope.
You and I have chosen to follow Jesus. You and I are his disciples; we are learning from him and trying to follow what he tells us to do. Fear not Jesus tells us. Don’t be afraid of what other people may think of you. Don’t be afraid of their opinions. Don’t be ashamed of your Christian faith because we are loved by God and God cares about even the smallest part of us. Don’t be afraid because what happens here, what people think about us here is only temporary. We have an eternal home in the heavens! Most of our life is yet to come. Therefore let us choose courage; let choose to be known as Christians as followers of Jesus Christ. Amen