Stanley Hauerwas, that great provocateur and theologian famously said, “being a Christian should just scare the hell out of us.” One of the reasons we are not so scared has to do with the way in which the cultural waters that we all swim in encourage “religious” belief so long as that belief is kept a private matter. But what if the Christian faith bucks the demand to remain private? What if Jesus wants our entire life, and not only our entire life but the life of the world too?
Perhaps a recent example will provide some illumination here. A few weeks back there was a very public exchange between Senator Bernie Sanders and Russell Vought, a man nominated for deputy director in the Office of Management and Budget. Vought is also a Christian of evangelical persuasion. During a confirmation hearing, Senator Sanders objected to Vought’s nomination on the basis of an article Vought had written years ago in which he said that those who reject Jesus Christ “stand condemned.” “I would simply say, Mr Chairman,” concluded Sanders, “that this nominee is really not someone who this country is supposed to be about.”
Here in Canada one might think of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s recent edict whereby he declared that no one who was unwilling to be publicly pro-choice with respect to abortion need bother running as a candidate with the Liberal Party of Canada. A move that obviously puts many conscious Christians beyond the pale.
The vicious irony here is exposed as the modern Western value of “religious tolerance” is wielded as a sickle to cut down any and all who do not bow the knee to the religious claims of, in this case, the State.
But the response of both Sanders and Trudeau is telling for by it something is revealed about the gospel that we need to be reminded of always: it leaves absolutely nothing untouched and it simply refuses to be relegated to the sphere of our private life.
Being a Christian should just scare the hell out of us, because the invitation to follow Jesus is an invitation to give your whole life to his mission.
Is it any wonder then that in our reading from The Gospel According to St. Matthew we heard Jesus thrice command his disciples, “Do not be afraid,” (10:26, 28, 31). This is, in fact, the most oft repeated command in the Bible: Fear not (N.T. Wright).
Just prior to our reading Jesus gathered the twelve disciples together and gave them a share in his own authority (10:1). He then said that he is sending them out to proclaim the good news that, “the kingdom of heaven has come near,” (10:5ff). However, their message will not be welcomed everywhere they go (10:14). Indeed, the image that Jesus gives his disciples as he sends them out is that of sheep being sent out into the midst of wolves (10:16). As they are sent they will face trouble, because of their association with Jesus (10:17ff).
Jesus’ disciples are not permitted to sit back and enjoy his presence in the comfort of their own homes. No. They are, rather, sent out with a task: “What I say to you in the dark, tell in the light; and what you hear whispered, proclaim from the housetops,” (10:27). The disciples are to take what Jesus has told them and shout it from the housetops!
If you’re going to follow Jesus you can’t keep it to yourself. You’ve got to shout it out. You’ve got to let people know that Jesus loves them and died for them and that the best thing they can do is to give their lives to him. We might be tempted to cover over some of the parts that make us uncomfortable but we must resist this temptation. Parts like, “Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved,” (Acts 4:12) or other parts like an respect for the sanctity of human life from conception through to natural death. We must tell others that Jesus wants our life and all of it.
Christ has lavished his love on us here at St. Mary and St. Martha’s. You all can testify to this, I know it. We cannot afford to cover that up because that same love he wants to bestow upon others but how will they know if no one tells them?
And so he sends us out—you out—with his authority, with his saving message, so that others can come to know and love him as well. For God so loved Mount Dennis, for God so loved Weston, for God so loved Rockcliff Smyth, that he gave his only begotten Son to the end that all that believe in him should not perish but have everlasting life.
This is too good to keep to ourselves. We’ve got to shout it from the rooftop. Where can you represent Jesus in your daily life? Do not be ashamed of the gospel of Christ. Do not be afraid to stand up before others and say, “I’m with Jesus!” You all saw that tagline during the US election: “I’m with her.” Well we need some Anglicans to stand up in front of others and say, “I’m with him.” We’ve got to tell it like it is with the boldness of speech that only the Holy Spirit can give us. That is why we’re here. That is why God has planted us on the corner of Weston and Eglinton. This is the task that has been entrusted to the Church of St. Mary and St. Martha and to each one of us.
Now I realize that might seem a bit overwhelming and we might not know exactly where to start, but do not be afraid. And let me tell you, there is something that you can begin to do right now. Something that you can begin to do today. Do you know what that something is? Pray. Every new Christian is begotten in prayer. Who are you praying for? I want you to think of somebody you know that does not yet know the freedom that comes with knowing Christ. Pray for them and do not cease to do so. If you believe what you say you believe then you had better be praying for somebody!
Remember though, when you give your life to Jesus and make him your number one priority and go where he sends you and say what he’s told you to say, people might say some things about you. Some trouble might just come your way and, in some cases, threaten your livelihood or your very life. “If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul,” Jesus said, “how much more will they malign those of his household!” (10:25).
If you associate yourself with Jesus in public, some people will despise you. They may make a spectacle of you. They may dress you up as a monster and brand you with the most hideous of names. But they did it to Jesus first.
In the face of such opposition the temptation is always present for Christians to alter the message or to retreat to the private sphere in the interest of self-preservation. Being a Christian can scare the hell out of us and it’s in light of that that we need to hear again those life-giving words from our Lord: Do not be afraid. Fear not. Rather, in the face of trouble, trust. In the words of the Psalmist, “Keep watch over my life, for I am faithful; save your servant who puts his trust in you.”
For a time is coming when all that is secret and covered up will be made known and what will come to light on that day is the loyalty and faith of the disciples, their patience and perseverance. Though they were made to seem like fools, though their faith was made out to be futile, they will be vindicated in the end. Truth will out. So have no fear.
Do not fear also because even if those who oppose you do their worst, even if they kill you they cannot kill your soul. Jesus wants his disciples to know that their life consists of more than worldly security. Jesus wants them to know that the road they travel will not necessarily be a safe one. But he wants them to trust, to trust him, to trust that their lives are in the hand of his loving Father and no one can steal them away.
And there it is. There is perhaps the very root of our temptation to fear—when Christ calls us to himself he calls us to entrust our entire life to him. To give our whole life to him. The decision that we are faced with in Jesus Christ is God or nothing. In Christ, God has already staked his claim on you and he wants your life. He is jealous and he will not stand for half measures: “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; and whoever does not take up the cross and follow me is not worthy of me.” Jesus is here talking about priorities and our allegiance to him.
Christianity is about giving your whole life to God and that is a scary thing. Maybe it is something that you fear and that has hindered your own obedience to Christ. Yet those who give their life to God will discover that he gives it right back, reoriented in his Son.
To know this is to fear God, that is, to know the giver of life and to know ourselves as his creatures. And it is just such a fear of God, our heavenly Father, that liberates us from fear of all else. Fear God or fear everything. In the words of St. Augustine, “Let us fear therefore, that we may not fear.”
The same call of Christ which embraces everything and demands everything also offers everything and promises everything (Wright). This is the great paradox of the gospel: The harder we try to cling to life, the more we try to find it, the faster it slips through our fingers and is gone. Only when we finally relinquish control, only when we cease trying to save our lives and instead give our life totally to God, only when we lose our life in this sense do we find it.
May we entrust our whole life to the one who sends us out. May we boldly shout from the housetops what we have received from him. May we trust him when we face trouble. May we fear nothing at all but God. May we be liberated from the prison of self-preservation. And may we find our life in giving it away.