The Revd Lisa Bewick, Curate at St John's Waterloo and Cathedral Education Officer
“Even the hairs on your head are counted. So do not be afraid”
These words always strike me. God knows how many hairs are on my head and – indeed – on each of yours. The hairs on the heads of every person have been counted by God.
The average human head has 100,000 hairs on it. I wondered how long it would take me to count to 100,000. Thankfully, I didn’t actually have to try it – YouTube had an answer - 40 hours. 40 hours for counting the hairs on one head.
And yet God has counted and God knows.
Every person is known by God and is precious in God’s sight.
This is not, however, reflected in the society we live in. There are too many people who are marginalised, voiceless, unseen and unheard.
Among them, the (estimated) 1.3 million children in this country who live in poverty and we cannot ignore the suffering and mistreatment endured by our black brothers and sisters in the United States, in our own country and, indeed, in nations across the globe.
In our Gospel reading, Jesus was commissioning his disciples and sending them out with the message of God’s Kingdom – a message of justice and love. A message that our world often seems to lack.
I have hope though.
And two things in the past week have particularly inspired that hope.
The first is this – during the summer holidays, the families of children entitled to free school meals will receive food vouchers. Without these, already struggling parents and carers would be struggling more.
This was not, however, a decision that the government easily or automatically made.
In fact, at first, the government said the voucher scheme would stop. It took a man with a message. His message to the politicians was ‘This is not about politics; this is about humanity.’
And this man, Marcus Rashford, changed the mind of the government. He changed the summer holiday for many, many families. And through his words and actions, Marcus Rashford, the Manchester United and England footballer said to those children & their families “I see you. I hear you. You matter.” A message that too often, too many of them do not hear.
The second thing was in the restarting of the Premier League. The English Football League has problems with racism and black players too often receive abuse. However, watching players come onto the pitch, each one of them with ‘Black Lives Matter’ on the back of their shirts; each one of them ‘taking the knee’ makes a powerful statement, I think.
Again, it’s the message, “I see you. I hear you. You matter.”
Of course, there is still more to be done. But this gives me hope. Hope that justice and love, the valuing of each person, can be established.
The players from every club in the league are united in one cause, putting aside their rivalry in a sport that can cause division
Arsenal or Tottenham; Chelsea or Millwall; a game of skill, enthralment and suspense or (in the case of the Premier League), 22 overpaid men running around after a ball?
It can set friend against friend; neighbour against neighbour; a man against his father; a daughter against her mother.
And, at the end of the day, football is just a game.
How much greater, then, the division that Jesus spoke about that would come as a result of the proclamation of the Kingdom of God. A man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law.
We might have expected gentler, more comforting words when it comes to proclaiming the message of the Kingdom. But the message is not always a gentle and comforting one. Establishing love and justice is challenging and disruptive. It threatens authority, power and corrupt structures. It demands transformation of hearts and minds and is deeply unsettling.
Not everyone is going to listen.
But that does not mean we stop trying.
Even in our society with all its flaws, there are glimmers of hope as small steps are taken towards addressing ingrained injustices. So we do not stop!
As we join in Christ’s mission to bring about the Kingdom through a message that is challenging, disruptive, subverts power and authority and even causes division, we remember that this is not done in our own strength, but in God’s strength. And as we face the messiness and injustices of our society, of our world, and try to work out how to live, how to proclaim the message in it, God says to us, “I see you. I hear you. You matter.” ‘Even the hairs on your head are counted. Do not be afraid.’