Thursday, November 18, 2010

You Will Be A Martyr

Sermon from November 14, 2010
(Pentecost 25 – Year C)
Luke 21: 5-19
St. Alban’s Episcopal Church, Waco, Texas

As many of you know, every summer, Susan and I lead a camp session at Camp Allen, the Episcopal retreat center for the Diocese of Texas, located near Navasota.
Each summer, Susan and I spend one week at camp with third and fourth grade kids and with teenaged counselors and staff.

The summer camp of 2007 is the camp session that we all remember as the “Camp of Harry Potter,” because the camp session began on the very day that the last volume in the Harry Potter book series was released.
Teen-aged counselors arrived at camp with the book Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows tucked under their arm, purchased at Barnes & Noble on their way to camp.
Mail that arrives for campers during the week usually consists of letters from grandparents and a box of cookies from parents.
But during this week of camp, the bulk of the mail for campers was from, with the Harry Potter book sent as a gift from parents.
Night after night, 8 and 9 year olds and teenagers, and even adults, stayed up ‘til all hours of the night in their cabins, reading the last Harry Potter book by flash light, to find out how the Harry Potter series turns out in the end.

Yet there was an agreement that was made at our campsite.
No one who got to the end of the book was to spoil the ending and tell others about how it all turned out for Harry Potter and his friends at Hogwarts.

However, after a few days, a rather annoying counselor stood up at lunch on a bench in the dining hall and yelled out:
“I finished the book last night
And I know how it all turns out.
Harry Potter dies in the end!”

The whole dining hall erupted in boos and hisses because she had spoiled the end of the story.
We wished that this annoying counselor had just kept her mouth shut.

I sometimes wish that Jesus had kept his mouth shut.
Yet Jesus stands up in the Temple in Jerusalem and tells us all how it is going to turn out for us.
Jesus stands up on a bench and tells us all how it is going to turn out, as he proclaims:

“You will be arrested and persecuted and hauled before kings and governors because of my name.
You will be betrayed by parents and relatives and friends.
Some of you will be put to death.
This will give you an opportunity to testify.”

Sometimes I wish that Jesus had just kept his mouth shut and not spoiled the ending.
And I really wish that Jesus had not spoiled the ending when I read this biblical passage in the original Greek language of the New Testament.

You see, we have translated Jesus’ statement as this.
“This will give you an opportunity to testify.”
But the actual Greek is:
“It will turn out for you – as a testimony, as a witness.”
And the word that we translate as testimony or witness is actually the word “martyrion,” a martyr.

Therefore, Jesus stands up in the Temple in Jerusalem and spoils the ending of our story, proclaiming:
“It will turn out for you - that you will be a martyr.”

A martyr is someone who is killed for their faith.
It can make us uncomfortable to think that we have been crucified and buried with Christ in our Baptism, already resurrected to a new life across the river.
It can make us uncomfortable to think about being killed for our faith.
Yet I think that our discomfort comes because we have lived within the confines of comfy, upper-middle class American Christianity for too long.

In the first century, most Christians certainly understood that being crucified in our Baptism and being killed physically went hand in hand.
Most early followers of Jesus understood all too well that Jesus was not spoiling the end of the story by telling them that they would be martyrs for the faith.
For gosh sakes, St. Stephen, the first martyr, was killed by stoning.
Then James was beheaded, Peter was crucified upside down and Paul was killed in Rome.
Jesus is just stating the obvious when he spoils the end of the story and tells his followers:
It will turn out for you - that you will be a martyr.

A little later in Christian history,
A 22-year old persecuted woman named Perpetua had a tiny baby and yet she would not recant her Christian faith.
So Perpetua was killed, ripped apart by wild beasts in the city of Carthage in the year 203.
A man named Alban lived in Britain in the 3rd century and converted to Christianity.
Alban was hauled in front of a Roman judge, yet he would not recant his Christian faith.
So Alban was killed, having his head chopped off.
A preacher named Martin Luther King, Jr. insisted that he had a dream where people would not be judged by the color of their skin, a dream of justice and dignity for every human being, a Christian belief that he would not recant.
So Dr. King was killed, shot dead on the balcony of a Memphis motel.

You see, my friends, it is the norm, not the exception, that we can expect to be killed for our Christian faith.
We should expect to be hauled in front of kings and governors – and in front of our bosses and supervisors – so that we may insist that everyone, Greek or Jew, slave or free, men or women, everyone should be treated equally.
We should expect for our friends and relatives to think that we have gone wacko on religion for worshiping a man who is killed on a cross in order to bring us abundant life.
We should expect, like many of our brothers and sisters in other countries today, to be willing to die for our faith.
Because being a witness, a testimony, a martyr, for Jesus is not the exception, but the norm, for Christian faith and living.

And we make a witness, a testimony to our faith, every time that we celebrate the sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation in this church.
At every Baptism and Confirmation, we reaffirm our faith that Jesus is Lord and Savior of our lives.

And I believe that we do a disservice to those who are newly baptized and confirmed to then throw them a nice reception in the parish hall with finger sandwiches and fruit punch in tiny glass cups.
Instead, we should tell those who are baptized and confirmed the same thing that Jesus stands up and tells to us, his followers.
We should stand up and spoil the end of the story for all who profess that they are Christians, saying:
It will turn out for you - that you will be a martyr.

Now I realize that most of us are not going to be up against a firing squad of persecution in this coming week.
Yet just because we might not be physically threatened with death does not mean that we still cannot be a testimony, a witness, a martyr for the Faith.

For example, when you see someone being bullied or picked on or laughed at because they are different, for whatever reason, then speak up and rebuke that bully, even if it might cost you your reputation or your very life.
Because being a real Christian means that we are to be a testimony, a witness, a martyr even, to defend the dignity of every human being.

Jesus stands up in the Temple and tells us that by standing firm for faith and for love, you will gain an abundant and eternal and resurrected life.
Jesus has already spoiled the end of your faith story.
It will turn out for you - that you will be a martyr.


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