St Francis, Terriers - Trinity 11 (07.08.2016)

Tony Dickinson

What are you afraid of?

People are frightened of lots of things. We’ve listed some of them. How many of you are scared of them?

Now, for all of you who put your hands up to any of these things, there is a special message in this morning’s Gospel.

Can anyone tell me what it is? What did Jesus say to his disciples, right at the beginning of our Gospel reading?

“Do not be afraid!” That is what Jesus said to his disciples. That is what he says to us, too, in all our struggles to follow him, even if we don’t get it right first time.

“Do not be afraid!” But why shouldn’t we be afraid? The world is a frightening place. Yesterday evening about a dozen people gathered here to pray for Syria, where some really horrid things are going on. Newspaper and news programmes during the past month have been full of frightening stories. Why shouldn’t we be afraid?

Jesus tells us why. He tells his disciples (and that includes us) “It is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” Whatever happens, God is in control. Whatever happens, God can bring good out of bad (though it may take a very long time). Whatever happens, we are part of God’s purposes for his world.

So, let’s keep on doing the things that God wants us to do. Things like welcoming strangers, taking care of sick people, helping those who are in need (that’s what “give alms” means), caring for God’s creation – and not worrying too much about the cost. Be like St Francis, in other words. And “Do not be afraid!”

“Do not be afraid,” whatever the newspapers may tell us, whatever we may see on TV or hear on the radio, or pick up on-line. Do not be afraid of the things, or the people, they tell us to fear.

Instead, be ready. Be ready to meet Jesus. He comes to us in those same people, people who are hungry, or homeless, or poor. He comes to us in outsiders, in prisoners and refugees. He comes to us in the people who use food-banks. In each of them Jesus knocks on the door of our heart. Mother Teresa of Calcutta used to say of the people for whom she and her sisters cared, “The dying, the crippled, the mentally ill, the unwanted, the unloved – they are Jesus in disguise.”

We met Jesus in disguise many times when we were in Italy last month. We met him in the man waiting all day outside the supermarket, helping shoppers to find a trolley in exchange for a tip. We met him in the older guy sitting on the church steps, holding out one of those cardboard coffee cups that you can’t recycle in the hope that passers-by would drop some of their small change into it. We met him in the African members of the congregation at the Church of the Holy Ghost, the Anglican Church in Genoa. Most of them are refugees who live in one of the big camps on the edge of the city.

We meet him, too, in High Wycombe. We meet him in the busker, in the woman selling “The Big Issue” outside Poundworld, in the people who sit all day on the benches in All Saints’ churchyard. We meet him in the GP’s waiting room, and in the patients at the Hospice. And we meet him in one another, especially when we gather round this table where he serves us with the bread and wine through which he shares with us his own life.

So, “do not be afraid”, because God is with us: in the unwanted, in the unloved, in the unwell, in the unlikely, God is with us. To him, Father, Son and Holy Spirit…