Wolves? Good or bad? Are they all that? And no I don’t mean the team that plays at Molineux. Well yes they are bad. No, only kidding but for first century Palestine, wolves are bad. They were unlikely to kill the shepherd but as a pack would certainly kill a fair amount of your livestock which at best would be inconvenient, at worst catastrophic.
It’s not just the loss of something to eat for your family or a source of clothing, but the loss of your sheep represents a loss of income, status and respect within society and within your family.
And because of that the first line of the reading today has been troubling me over the last week. It’s been playing on my mind a little. Obviously you may be coming to these verses for the first time, or maybe not really thinking about it much. But what has been niggerling away in the back of my mind, is, given the importance of sheep, given the knowledge of the danger wolves represent to said sheep, why on earth does the Good Shepherd say “I am sending you out like sheep among wolves”
What shepherd worth his reputation would do a thing like that? Why purposely send His sheep out to a place or within a group where is it highly likely that it won’t go well for them?
Read the verses again. Matthew 10: 16-20 “I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves. 17 Be on your guard; you will be handed over to the local councils and be flogged in the synagogues. 18 On my account you will be brought before governors and kings as witnesses to them and to the Gentiles. 19 But when they arrest you, do not worry about what to say or how to say it. At that time you will be given what to say, 20 for it will not be you speaking, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.
The important few words in this discourse, for me anyway, are v18 b as witnesses to them and to the Gentiles… this is a call to share our faith but without the “uber victorious, rabble rousing mass hysteria” that comes from “we will take over this land in the name of the Lord”. Now, I am not saying I do not think that may happen but I believe these verses are rooted in the sensible and realistic experiences of most Christians and the struggles that we all encounter when sharing our faith, and if we are honest, when we try in vain to share the Gospel with others.
Before we go any further though, I thought I would play a song that has been bouncing around my head ever since I started …. “There may be trouble ahead”
You weren’t expecting that but first of all we are taught to be aware that if we are witnesses we should expect trouble. I begin to wonder that if we “do not expect trouble” we are deluded and our view of sin and the fallenness of humankind may be distorted. And if we are not prepared to face that trouble we should give up now. Really I do mean that. If we are not prepared for the difficulties that come when we share our faith then we are likely to stop anyway, so save yourself from all the grief and trouble and stop now. If you are prepared for the trouble then please keep listening. Or even if you’re just intrigued, keep listening.
There are three references to trouble or danger in the verses. Wolves, flogging and being arrested. I would be interested to know how many of us have faced any of these three. And I really do not mean experiencing them at an away game in the West Midlands.
However we all have things that stop us from sharing the Good News with others. Stop and think about that now….
Ok so what are those things that stop you?
Psychologists say how people react in emergencies depends on a variety of factors, most of them tied to human instinct. … Researchers say when emergencies strike, most people become extremely tense and agitated. Their attention focuses exclusively on the danger and their thoughts become simple and methodical.
Their responses are normally one of Flight or fight. Run, run as fast as you can or stand and face what is in front of you. That in normal circumstances is the response. That instinct deep within us when faced with difficulties. For each of us that will be different. One thing that would never trouble someone would give another all kinds of worries and stress.
If, when faced with sharing your faith, and there may well have been opportunities even in the last week, if your reaction is to run like the wind then these are the verses for you.
Once we accept that we will have trouble, as sheep sent out amongst wolves, we can then expect help from the one who sends us.
Sticking with the Shepherd theme. When they send the sheep out they can expect they may be trouble, but the sheep still must go. They must wander and feed. Without traversing whatever hill and dale, and remember it would have been very different that the Yorkshire shepherd, they will not learn to survive or be useful unless they do.
When a coach sends out a Football team unprepared, onto the field, the likelihood is they will fail. As a group they will need input, teaching, encouragement and, to learn, they may well need more than a few games to get things right.
I was once told that as a father my job was to get my children ready for the world. To prepare them for both the troubles and the good out there. To give them a safe place to return but ultimately they must move on to maturity and become adults. That means they will need to leave the safety of home and face the world and all that it holds for them.
Jesus knows that the disciples will need to learn what it is to share the gospel with others will mean. Not to sugar coat it by saying all will be well but to give not just a fair assessment but to encourage maturity and the fight response in them. Why? Because He is the one sending.
V16 I am sending – Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” Jn 20:21 We are sent just as Jesus was sent. By the father and with the power of heaven with us.
I do as I see the father Jn 5:19 We are sent on Jesus’ account. With His blessing and with His help. We are not sent in an abstract give it a go… attitude but one where our mission is very much a part of the same mission given to Jesus Himself.
20 for it will not be you speaking, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you. – For I did not speak on my own, but the Father who sent me commanded me to say all that I have spoken. Jn 12:49 – Our words are from the very same place where Jesus received His. The power of them is the same as we give witness to the Gospel. And the encouragement is “do not worry (not generally but specifically) about what you will say” Our help is always there if we stand and not flea.
If you are not prepared for the trouble, then it’s best if you don’t bother. Equally if you are not expecting help then it will also be hard to begin.
You can be encouraged by what you hear and by others actions but no one but the Holy spirit can make the change in you, so you can face the danger and respond, knowing help is there. And when you do, change is going to happen
Expect to change
Let’s go back to what we heard earlier about our response to trouble. Psychologists say how people react in emergencies depends on a variety of factors, most of them tied to human instinct. … Researchers say when emergencies strike, most people become extremely tense and agitated. Their attention focuses exclusively on the danger and their thoughts become simple and methodical. In their focus of the danger their response is either Flight or fight.
Facing and conquering trouble or difficulties is not found in concentrating on the actual trouble but in how we may overcome it. Seeing what we can do, no matter how small, to make it better/easier. No matter how small. Little by little we may learn, with God’s help, how to share our faith even though we are facing our own fears.
I would ask everyone here to remember when they first began to walk? I know I can’t remember I just know now I can. We might have false memories of what people have told us and we certainly remember when our children took their first steps but we don’t really. So can we remember how we got the position of being able to walk? Those failures, stumbles, bumps on the head and other areas of our bodies? No? But you can walk now can’t you.
Take one fear at a time and with God’s help face it. Allow God to send us and try, try again. It will not be immediate because there will be many fears and troubles you will have to face and learn from. However there will be change and a change that will make a huge difference to you, the church and those that hear your witness to the kingdom of God
Our freedom was hard won. In the face of danger, struggle, flogging and imprisonment it was fought for and delivered. We do not face our troubles alone but with the very power of heaven, the promise of God and the holy spirit working within us. The same power that raised Jesus from the dead. We become braver and more and more hopeful in our conversations, and more like Christ, each fear we overcome, each time we witness and every time we stand instead of running.
The opportunities are always there, we know we have missed them and sometimes beaten ourselves up when we didn’t respond. It may not be a direct question asked by someone about your faith, it may be the Holy Spirit showing you someone who is in need of a coffee and eventually when we’re over this current situation, an arm around them. A gentle word spoken in grace. Not a treatise in theology but a tale of how God has changed you.
Now that last one is scary but it is worth not running away from because in the end we triumph over our fears by the blood of the Lamb and it is the word of our testimony; that is so powerful.
Let’s spend a few moments in quiet asking God to continue to speak to all of us and then we will take communion together.
Communion for the scattered
We are the people of God, we are the body of Christ. We are scattered, and the body of Christ is broken, but as we gather at this table, the body of Christ is remembered.
So together we gather to remember, and to share together in breaking bread and drinking wine, in remembrance of the death of Christ.
On the night on which Jesus was betrayed, he sat at supper with his disciples.
While they were eating, he took a piece of bread,
said a blessing broke it, and gave it to them with the words,
‘This is my body. It is for you. Do this to remember me.’
Later, he took a cup of wine, saying,
‘This cup is God’s new covenant, sealed with my blood.
Drink from it, all of you, to remember me’.
So now, following Jesus’ example and command, we take this bread and this wine, the ordinary things of the world which Christ will make special.
And as he said a prayer before sharing, let us do so too
God of all those who are scattered and broken, you call us to wholeness.
We thank you for the love demonstrated in giving your son, that we might have the light of the world shine upon us.
We thank you that in Christ you see the uncertainty, the fear and the sin, of our world; but your light continues to show the way.
We thank you for bread and wine, symbols and signs for us today, that your light will always be there for your people and for the world, forever.
Let us share in that hope in breaking bread and taking wine together
“I am the light for the world! Follow me, and you won’t be walking in the dark. You will have the light that gives life.”
This light continues to shine in this time together. In our lives as we live it shines as we live in it and know that because of Christ’s sacrifice we no longer live in darkness.