When the Gospel is Weak God Raises up Martyrs

CopticThis was a reflection from last year during Lent, I still find it thought provoking today.  I just wanted to share it….. Enjoy:

I’m very troubled these days.  The Communion of Evangelical Episcopal Churches, the very community in which I’m ordained a priest asked its members to do two things for lent.  First, we’re asked to wear a cross in a very visible way so our Christianity cannot be hidden.  Secondly, we’re asked to pray for the persecuted Christians in the world.  So many of them have died simply because they follow Christ.  In the United States we take for granted the freedom to publicly practice our faith.  After only four days of doing what appeared to be two simple things I’m troubled with where it has led me.

Reflecting on the persecuted Christians led me to think about the 21 Coptic men who were beheaded by ISIS (This occurred Feb.12th, 2015) .  Each one at their death voiced the words “Lord Jesus Christ.”  What a powerful witness to the faith!  I never thought I would live to see such a display of martyrdom.  I’ve always known people were suffering for their faith, but the fact this has been so publicly displayed makes the persecutions very “real.”  It has led me to question my commitment to the Christian faith.  Do I have the strength to die for the Lord as  these men did?  We are so comfortable in our American Christian experience bickering over how worship services should look and whether the coffee is warm enough at the cafe in the church lobby that we forget the Christian experience is about much deeper things.  We are caught up in sermons reducing the Christian message to lectures about whether or not Christ rose from the dead to those saying our love for Jesus will bring prosperity, wealth, and psychological comfort.  What a weak Christianity we embrace……  How lifeless the Gospel is when it’s merely something to entertain those who walk in our churches instead of offering them eternal life by embracing the way of the cross.

Reflecting on these 21 Saints who gave their lives for their Lord causes me to think of how little we give ourselves over to something bigger.  So many of us don’t know what it means to transcend our isolated individual existence.  As I write this I’m watching the movie “Glory” which portrays the story of an African American union regiment in the Civil War.  As I watch the battle scenes I think, “Why would these men volunteer to march into a storm of led fully knowing their chances of surviving are small?  What causes soldiers of any generation to charge forward knowing they’re likely to be killed or maimed for life?  All I can think is somehow, knowingly or not, they transcend their individual experiences to be a part of something bigger.  In some way they overcome their “individual selves” to embrace their “corporate selves.”  The soldiers in this movie decided they were part of something bigger and therefore overcame their fear and transcended their individual sensibilities to embrace something bigger.

While I don’t know what these 21 men were thinking as they were being killed, I can imagine in some way they transcended their individual Christian lives to embrace the sense they were part of something bigger.  They believed they were part of the body of Christ.  Somehow they felt their martyrdom was not an individual experience, but a martyrdom of the whole body of Christ.  Their martyrdom is our martyrdom and we must claim it as our own.  Regardless if one is Coptic, Greek, Roman, Anglican, or any other flavor of Christianity, we must recognize the body of Christ is being persecuted, not a separate Christian group with which we are loosely connected.  This Sunday every church should proclaim the life giving Gospel that empowered these men to proclaim Christ as they died.   Churches must cleanse themselves of the weak Gospel feeding the egos of pastors, celebrities, and middle class executives and replace it with one reminding all of us we’re part of something bigger than ourselves.  Christians can no longer see themselves as separate islands in an ocean of denominations; they are simply Christians.  Christians who are going to their death because they are followers of Christ, the God and savior of all.

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