Don’t Be Afraid to Spread the Gospel (a sermon on Matthew 10:24-39)

This week a number of us at St. Margaret’s attended an event called ‘Launch Pad’, at which Michael Harvey spoke about our call as Christians to be an invitational church. Michael, as you may know, is the founder of the ‘Back to Church Sunday’ movement, which has taken root in churches all over the world. The basic idea of ‘Back to Church Sunday’ is very simple; on a Sunday in September, churches will hold a service to which members will invite friends and family who do not normally attend church. So the heart of ‘Back to Church Sunday’ is the simple act of invitation: one Christian going up to a non-churchgoing friend and saying, “Would you like to come to church with me?”

This is nothing new, of course! Christian churches have been doing this for years; when I was a teenager, in St. Leonard’s Church, Southminster in southeast England, we used to hold regular guest services, and we were encouraged to invite friends to join us on those days. Over and over again, it has been shown that this is by far the most effective way to reach people with the Christian message. I know a number of people who are Christians today, whose Christian journey began when a friend invited them to come to church with them. Michael Peers, who used to be the Primate of the Anglican Church of Canada, often told the story of how, when he was a university student in Ottawa, a friend invited him to church. Up until that point Michael had not been a churchgoer or a practicing Christian, but that day he began a journey that led him to faith in Christ, and eventually to offer himself for ordination as a priest.

Of course, the thing that holds us back most often is fear of rejection. At the launch pad events, Michael Harvey told the story of how, every day, he makes ten phone calls to church leaders and bishops around the world, asking if they would allow him to come to their diocese or region and talk with people about being an invitational church. Nine times out of ten, the answer is ‘no’. Michael says that he now knows that he has to get through nine ‘no’s before he will get to a ‘yes’. But most of us are terrified of that ‘no’ – so terrified that we won’t even try one invitation, let alone ten. We let fear paralyze us, instead of remembering the command from God that appears most often in the Bible: “Don’t be afraid”. Yes, that is the command from God that is repeated most often in the entire Bible.

So I find it interesting that our gospel reading for today picks up this theme! In Matthew chapter 10, Jesus warns his disciples that they will certainly face opposition, and then he says, “So have no fear of them; for nothing is covered up that will not be uncovered, and nothing secret that will not become known” (Matthew 10:26). A bit later on he says, “Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul” (v.28). And then, talking about how not even a sparrow can fall to the ground without our Father in heaven noticing, he says, “So do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows” (v.31).

I think in order to understand what Jesus is saying to us here, we need to take a step back for a minute and look at the big picture of this chapter of Matthew. In fact, we need to go even further back. Look with me at the last few verses of Matthew chapter 9, verses 35-38:

Then Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and curing every disease and every sickness. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the labourers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out labourers into his harvest”.

Read the rest here.

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