Saint Margaret’s Anglican Church
Jeremiah 20:7-13; Psalm 69: 8-11, (12-17), 18-20; Romans 6:1b-11; Matthew 10:24-39
“Have no fear.”
The names Sundar Singh and Bernard Mizeki might not mean anything to you, and that would not be surprising. Sundar lived during the latter part of the nineteenth century and early twentieth century and was originally a Sikh from northern India, a member of a religious faith based, like Christianity, in a form of monotheism. Bernard Mizeki, on the other hand, was originally from Mozambique in East Africa and lived during the late nineteenth century. What they have in common, in some sense, is our passage this morning from the Gospel of Matthew.
What they have in common, in other words, is their conversion to faith in Christ and a missionary zeal which led each of them in his own way to leave family and friends -- and old and cherished ways of doing things -- in order to spread the message of the Gospel, which they had come to love, among the peoples of their regions in India and Africa, respectively. Both were also by the way ardent Anglicans, having been brought to Christ by English clergy of the late colonial period. Bernard ended up being martyred for his faith in today’s Zimbabwe. Sundar seems simply to have disappeared on a missionary journey through desolate Tibetan territory.
The Church honours both of them annually in the calendar of saints during the month of June. And, those of us who meet on Zoom for daily Morning Prayer had the opportunity to spend some time this past week reflecting upon their lives and mission and love of the Gospel. So far, I have not heard back from any of our regular Morning Prayer participants that they too now intend to give up family and friends, and their cherished homes and customs, in order to become missionaries like Sundar and Bernard, although I suppose all things are possible.
Jesus, after all, sends out his Twelve Disciples, as they are called in the Gospel of Matthew, as missionaries. And as he does so, he first provides them words of instruction, admonishment, and encouragement, in what the scholars call his Mission or Missionary Discourse and Sermon. That is where we find ourselves this morning in our Gospel account: towards the end of the message our Lord has for the missionary disciples.
It is a message meant for us as well.
Our Lord reminds the disciples first and foremost that the work of the Gospel is a work or mission of servanthood, of giving of self. “A slave is not above the master,” he says. And, he tells them that the task before them will not be easy. I have the feeling Sundar and Bernard would heartily agree. Some people, our Lord intimates, will oppose you and frighten you. Others may want to kill you. And, it is entirely possible that they will succeed. Just ask Bernard. Indeed, following the Gospel path can even bring dissension among families: among parents, siblings, and others.
We see the truth of this in every age, I suppose, but perhaps particularly nowadays, as families and friends find themselves divided by issues of justice and peace; and how to achieve both. Pope Paul, the Sixth, decades ago famously proclaimed, “If you want peace, work for justice.” And, he was of course right. But he failed to also remind his hearers that, if you work for justice, sometimes you can expect all hell to break loose; if you will excuse the language. Such is the state of entrenched interests and demands in any age and society. Likely, it is just that of which our Lord is thinking, when he -- almost shockingly -- tells the disciples that, “I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.” Achieving the ultimate peace of the Gospel, in other words, always requires effort and sacrifice. It is a battle.
But in words which in some sense or form occur in Scripture -- both Hebrew and Christian -- more often than any other words I can think of, our Lord also tells the disciples and us, “Have no fear.” Sometimes easier said than done, to be sure. A priest friend of mine, for instance, recently posted on Facebook just three words: Worry, worry, worry; apparently forgetting our Lord’s three words: Have no fear. The Father, as Jesus tells us, looks after the sparrows in their flight. He knows the count of hairs on your head -- be it but two or three or in the hundreds of thousands. Reassuring and worth remembering, I should think, during these turbulent times of global disease, political turmoil, and economic hardship.
You and I may not be called to missionary duty in far-off places. Hard to say. But we are all called to missionary duty. Our Lord’s Missionary Discourse from the Gospel of Matthew is meant as much for us as it was for the disciples. We are called to be missioners of justice and peace. We are called upon to proclaim the truth of God’s infinite love and care. And we are challenged to live out the Gospel in our own day and age.
None of this is ever easy -- if we are doing it right -- whether we live in Northern India or East Africa or Central Europe. The only way to peace and life is through the Cross, through giving of self. But as scary as that may seem, we truly need not fear. “Those who find their life will lose it,” Jesus assures us, “and those who lose their life for my sake will find it." At least, it worked that way for Sundar Singh and Bernard Mizeki. I have the feeling it can work for us, too.
Have no fear.
The Rev. Dr. Frank Hegedűs