Dead fish go with the flow

There is a saying, ‘Only dead fish go with the flow!’

It’s not easy fighting against the current!

We were in Centre Parcs visiting my son and his family last week, one of the largest swimming pool complexes I’ve ever been to, and I was following my daughter-in-law through the circular rapids.

Afterwards as she led off into calmer waters, I somehow got caught up in the circular flow again. I struggled to hold on to the stairs, as I didn’t want to revisit the rapids, but the water already had a hold. I couldn’t even pull myself up the stairs and out. I just had to go with the flow, but I did make sure after that I headed for the calmer waters and out.

The disciples of Jesus in our gospel today are being prepared for the inevitable: to swim against the tide of human opinion.

They are being instructed to follow the master, and to proclaim the good news, and they are also being warned what it will entail.

And here is their master sharing with them bad news…

‘If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul how much more shall they call the household.’

Household; oikiakoi : members of the household of a government official

In other words if I, the commander and leader, must suffer then you who are members of my staff cannot escape either!

The themes in our gospel today imply that the way of the Gospel is not easy.

Disciples of any time and place may expect opposition and persecution.

What would be demanded of disciples of Jesus, would be a high order of loyalty, which might prove to be divisive and might ultimately demand the sacrifice, of one’s life.

Even now Jesus calls us to share not only his glory, but also his agony, his cause and his struggle.

It is a way of life not for the fainthearted or for those who give up easily.

There are three times within this short passage of scripture, that Jesus tells his disciples not to be afraid.

Firstly, are the words,

‘Have no fear of them…for nothing is covered up that will not be uncovered, and nothing secret that will not become unknown.’

Truth will triumph, of that be sure!

GOD SEES IT ALL. HE HOLDS AND GUARDS THE FUTURE. HIS TRUTH AND JUDGEMENT WILL PREVAIL.

Therefore both the power of the persecutor, and the faithful witness/ heroism of the true messenger will one day be seen at their true value, and each will have their reward.

So whatever they have heard Christ proclaim, they must obey his word and tell it to others fearlessly and boldly, proclaim what is true and right and just…

… in season and out of season, when it’s fashionable or unfashionable, whether welcome or unwelcome, in darkness or in light.

But first their duty is to listen to the Master, to know what his will is.

Secondly, we hear, ‘Do not fear those who can kill the body, but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.

Here is a warning to fear God’s power more than human power.

Once a famous preacher and theologian, called LATIMER, was once preaching before King Henry VIII, and he knew he was about to say something that the king would not like. So in the pulpit he conversed with himself out aloud. It went like this:-

‘Latimer! Latimer! Latimer! Be careful what you say, Henry the king is here!

He paused then continued;- ‘Latimer! Latimer! Latimer! Be careful what you say. The King of kings is here!

Whenever we speak of our faith, or on matters of faith today, we must bear in mind that we speak in the presence of God, for His sake and for the sake of his kingdom. We need to be bold. It has nothing to do with our own reputation, discomfort or own glory or satisfaction.

When another famous preacher called John Knox was buried, it was said of him, Here lies one who feared God so much that he never feared the face of any man.

Would that we could be like that, in our witness, and in the sharing of our own journeys of faith.

Sometimes we can present Christianity in such a soft and slushy way, it becomes unattractive to those who are looking for reality, courage, challenge and relevance in today’s world.

Sometimes we water the message down to say what others want to hear.

Let us not be afraid to tell it as it is.

Thirdly we are told,

‘Do not fear, you are of more value than many sparrows’

Song Quotation:

More than many sparrows, more than finest gold,

You’re worth more than people tell you,

So much more than people know.

Someone put a price on you,

Said ‘You’re worth dying for!’

Yes you’re precious in the eyes of the Lord.

When I read this part of the gospel where Jesus tells us we’re worth so much in God’s eyes, I imagined a little drama, an argument between three little angels,

And they were arguing about numbers,

5,000 no 6,000 no I say 7,000.

OK Let’s go and ask God,

And God says,

You’re all wrong, she did have 13, 879 hairs on her head, but four of them came out after she washed her hair so no it must be 13, 875.Yes today it is 13, 875.

It sounds ridiculous that Jesus suggests that God knows us in that kind of detail, but what he was stressing here is that he knows us intimately and loves us for who we are. And it’s a beautiful part of Jesus’ lesson to them and us today.

We are loved no matter what mistakes we make, but God moves us on so that we grow, he loves us too much to leave us there, where we were.

If then God love totally surrounds us, of whom should we be afraid?

But there’s always that temptation isn’t there to feel unworthy or unloved or guilty after reflecting on our lives and on our witnessing, but if we consider that Jesus here is saying these things to disciples who were all soon to let him down very badly indeed…and that they later recovered and went on in the strength of the Spirit of God, it gives us renewed hope that even though we fail or give up at times, God never gives up on us.

In the Old Testament reading, Jeremiah is going through a similar struggle within himself. His suffering is a direct result of his calling as a prophet; he has faithfully spoken out, and look where it has got him! He has been knocked back, ridiculed and insulted.

And yet… if he does not speak out for God, he says he is consumed within by the effort to hold it back. He is in a no win situation.

He says,

‘If I say, ‘I will not mention him, or speak any more in his name’ then within me there is something like a burning fire shut up in my bones. I am weary with holding it in, and I cannot.’

After urging the disciples three times not to fear, Jesus presents to them promises and rewards for true loyalty:-

‘Everyone who acknowledges me before others, I also will acknowledge before me Father in heaven…

but whoever denies me before others, I also will deny before my Father in heaven.

It is possible not only to deny Christ in our words and in our actions, but also by our SILENCES, those times when we could have spoken up and chose not to!

The early disciples even in the face of death and agony refused to deny their Master, had they done so there would be no Christian church today…

So what does that say to us for the sake of tomorrow’s church?

Here were people just like us, who knew that in believing and in following the way of Jesus, their friends, comrades and even their families might turn against them, and their life in Christ would prove very difficult indeed, so much so that that they really would need to swim against the flow.

Sometimes it’s hard not to go with the flow, sometimes it’s impossible and inevitable, like it was for me in the rapids, but if and when other chances or choices comes around, let us rather choose to be better prepared, to anticipate exactly what is ahead and steer ourselves towards a straighter course into the still waters of listening, loyalty and resolve; praying the Lord will give us strength for the tasks that lie ahead of each one of us in His service.

Lambeth Prayer: 1948

Almighty God,

give us grace to be not only hearers, but DOERS of your holy word;

not only to admire, but to OBEY thy doctrine,

not only to profess, but to PRACTISE thy religion,

not only to love, but to LIVE thy gospel.

So grant that what we learn of thy glory,

we may receive into our hearts, and show forth in our lives;

through Jesus Christ our lord. Amen