Shout It From The Rooftops

Shout it from the RooftopsMatthew 10: 26-31 Have no fear of them; for nothing is covered up that will not be uncovered, and nothing secret that will not become known. What I say to you in the dark, tell in the light; and what you hear whispered, proclaim from the housetops. Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground unperceived by your Father. And even the hairs of your head are all counted. So do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows.

I grew up on Fairmount Avenue in Sunbury, Pennsylvania. Every house on our street had a front porch where our families would gather to talk after supper. Often special news would pass from one porch to the next until it made the rounds of the entire neighborhood. Did you hear..? ”Did you hear…? Did you hear…?

That seems terribly slow and limited in present-day society where news goes viral and is spread throughout the entire world with great speed, but it was very effective when I was young.

In Jesus day, the roof was their front porch. The animals or shops were on the first floor, the living quarters on the second, and the place where your family would relax in the cool of the evening was the roof. News would travel from rooftop to roof top. “Did you hear…? Did you hear…? Did you hear?

So what is this good news Jesus tells us to shout from the rooftops? What is the Gospel we are to spread? It is important to remember this very basic Christian message: “Do not be afraid. God loves you,” “Do not be afraid. God loves you,” “Do not be afraid. God loves you.”

Why would people get so excited about this simple proclamation? Too often the sermons we hear in Church make you wonder. Just last week I heard a well- known preacher say this meant we should be courteous to other people, such as returning their phone calls. That is a pretty insulting way to respond to our loving Savior’s giving his life for us.

On the other hand, I, also, heard two lay people nail it last week. Mary Jo’s Frontline Devotion on Wednesday spoke of how much this passage meant when her hair fell out in clumps with chemotherapy cancer treatment. It gave her strength to hear God was aware of what was happening, to remember he knew the exact number of hairs she was losing. She wrote, “Immersed in a moment of crisis, scooping up handfuls of my own hair, Jesus spoke to me again. So like my hair, I let go and gave up the cancer and all its baggage to God.”

Later Penny spoke of how the passage brought comfort and courage to her family in the past seven years when Jim was cast out by many for revealing the truth on which a free democratic society depends. She spoke of the anxiety of not knowing what would happen, of how being made an outsider is akin to death. This passage and the one about not being anxious about tomorrow gave hope as it promised nothing would ever separate them from God’s love.

The Gospel message we are to shout from the rooftops is about life and death matters. Jesus is talking about God’s promise to those facing death. When he uses words such as “covered up,” “spoken in secret,” “whispered in dark of night,” and “those who can kill your body,” he is speaking to people facing martyrdom, people who have taken up their crosses to follow him.

It makes me think of a kid who grew up in my parish and is now leading the graduate assistants’ uprising at Berkeley, protesting how our great universities abuse their adjunct professors with unjust conditions and wages. I watched a video taken at a sit down. After some police brutality, she spoke to the crowd. Without electronic amplification, her words were passed from those in the front back through the group. “Do not be afraid,” “ Do not be afraid,” “Do not be afraid.” “Justice is on our side,” “Justice is on our side,” “Justice is on our side.” “We shall be all right, if we remain united in our cause.” “We shall be all right…”

There is a lot out there to fear. Terrorists are trying to kill us. All we do in fear just makes matters worse. All sorts of people are gathering information that bad guys can use to abuse us. Strangers shoot up our children’s schools. The separation of rich and poor might mean our children might not be able to support their families. Dangerous new diseases could result in a world-wide plague. Rogue nations are developing nuclear weapons that could destroy our cities. Other ethnic groups are gaining the majority and might take away our privileges.

I got insight into this last one at my grandchildren’s graduation. I saw all sots of Hispanics, Asians, Africans at the Magruder graduation and parties. Caucasians looked to be the minority down here. Then I went to a Lancaster County graduation where just about everyone was white. A lot of Pennsylvanians are frightened by this and respond in fear by passing laws that make it hard for ethnic groups to vote, restrictions born of the same fear as the old Jim Crowe laws.

The Gospel speaks to those fears. It claims fear is the opposite of love. Fear is what prevents us from doing God’s will. Fear is the obstacle to making a better world. Fear is what stops us from sharing and helping people in need. Fear is what makes bullies. Fear is what makes wars. And perhaps the greatest human fear is the haunting fear that we might not be lovable, that we might be left alone, abandoned just when we need help.

Christianity claims love casts out fear and opens the future to its full potential. Back in divinity school I heard one of the greatest rational thinkers of the last century cite this passage. He was taking questions in class when a student asked if he personally believed in life after death. After a short pause, he said he was inclined to believe, not because of some great rational argument, but because of what Jesus said in this passage. If the Ruler of the Universe loves us, in such an intimate fashion as to know the number of hairs on our heads, then all things, even life after death, are possible.

Christianity is not about great rational arguments. It is a news story passed from one believer to another; good news that speaks to our hearts, “ Do not be afraid. God loves you.” “Do not be afraid. God loves you.” “Do not be afraid. God loves you.”

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