Cruce Tectum

Cruce tectum, hidden under the cross, a blog for Epiphany Lutheran Church, Dorr, Michigan

Location: Moscow, Idaho

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Second Sunday after Pentecost

Second Sunday after Pentecost (A—Proper 7)

June 22, 2014
Text: Matt. 10:5a, 21-33

            Miriam Ibrahim sits on death row in a Sudanese prison, as we speak, awaiting punishment by flogging followed by her execution by hanging.  Her crime?  She is a Christian.  The formal charge is apostasy.  The Islamic Sudanese government claims that Miriam converted to Christianity, which is illegal, and punishable by death.  In reality, her Christian mother raised her in the faith of Jesus after her Islamic father abandoned her.  Miriam grew up, became a doctor, married a Christian who is also a United States citizen.  They had a son.  She became pregnant with a daughter.  Then the Sudanese government arrested her and convicted her, first of adultery, because they do not recognize marriage to a Christian man (thus the flogging), and again, of apostasy, because Miriam confesses Jesus Christ.  She can renounce her Christian faith at any time and she will be released.  But she will not do it.  She believes what Jesus says in our Holy Gospel: “everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven, but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven” (Matt. 10:32-33; ESV).  Miriam recently gave birth to her daughter in her prison cell, her legs chained together through the labor.  She has been forced to keep her children with her in prison until she is executed.  The infant mortality rate in this prison is one per day in the summer, according to the U.N.
            If you think it can’t happen here, you haven’t been paying attention.  There are things you cannot say as a Christian without being called a hater and a bigot.  In this country where we value our religious freedom, Christians are forced to pay for things that violate the deepest principles of our faith.  Our own courts have forced Christian business people to provide services that violate their conscience.  This is not a Democrat verses Republican thing.  This is just the reality.  Christianity is being officially censured.  Now, we have not yet been called upon to suffer as our sister Miriam has.  We have not yet been imprisoned.  We have not yet had to shed our blood or give our lives.  But if you don’t think it’s coming, I’d love to hear your theory about how that will all work out.  And when it does come, what will you do?  There will be an easy way out of the persecution.  It is the same option open to Miriam.  Just renounce Jesus and all the trouble goes away.  Just compromise your convictions.  Just waffle on Christian teaching.  Don’t be so stubborn about holding to what the Bible teaches.  Shut up, pay up, and you can go your merry way.
            But that is not an option for you, dear Christian.  No, like our sister Miriam, you believe what Jesus says to you this morning: “everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven, but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven.”  Our Lord has told us ahead of time that we will have to suffer.  Do not think that you are immune.  Jesus says our own family members will persecute us: “Brother will deliver brother over to death, and the father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death” (v. 21).  You’ve probably been to family dinners where the tension is high because of disagreements about abortion or gay marriage or something like that, and you may have kept your Christian mouth shut because you didn’t want to add to the conflict.  Jesus says, though, you’ll be hated by all for His Name’s sake (v. 22), which is to say, because you bear His Name (Christian), because you’re Baptized into the Name He gives you, the Name of God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  And because you speak in His Name, when the Lord opens your lips in confession, confession of a Christ the world despises.  You can’t avoid it, beloved.  A disciple is not above his Teacher, nor a servant above his Master (v. 24).  If they hated Jesus, they will hate you.  If they crucified Jesus, they will persecute you.  But there is the Promise: “the one who endures to the end will be saved” (v. 22).
            Endurance is a gift of the Holy Spirit.  It is given by grace.  It is free to you, a gift of your Baptism.  We always talk about how we don’t know what we’ll do or what we’ll say until we’re in the moment, until we’re actually suffering persecution, and I suppose that is true in some sense.  The old sinful flesh will always want to take the easy way out.  There are Christians who have messed up on this.  They renounced their faith in time of peril.  Some abandoned Christ forever.  Others repented and came back to take up their cross.  But you are baptized.  You do have the Holy Spirit.  And Jesus did promise that you don’t have to worry ahead of time what you will say because the Holy Spirit will teach you what you should say and give you the words (Matt. 10:19; Luke 12:12).  In fact, He’s already taught you the words.  You know the Creed.  That’s the confession.  Just confess it, and confess it unto death. 
            After all, you know that your persecutors can only kill your body, and as Jesus says, “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” (Matt. 10:28).  That’s God.  Fear God.  Do not fear man.  And trust God.  He’s your Father.  He will not let you perish.  He has numbered your every hair follicle (v. 30).  If not even a sparrow falls to the ground apart from your Father, surely you, who are of more value than many sparrows (v. 31), can trust in the protection and providence of the God who loves you so deeply that He gave His only Son, Jesus, into death for you, to make you His own child.  If that’s true (and it is), you have nothing to fear.  Jesus says to go and proclaim His Word from the housetops.  Confess Christ.  Speak the truth in love.  Be like the Prophet Jeremiah and speak the Lord’s Word to those who hate you.  And then take it, whatever it is the unbelieving world has to dish out.  Because all they can do is what they are doing to our sister Miriam.  That’s the worst that can happen.  It sounds really bad to our lazy, apathetic flesh.  But think about it.  Because you are in Jesus, who died for you and is risen from the dead, when you die, you go on living.  They can’t really kill you.  You go to heaven.  And even the death of your body is only temporary.  Jesus will raise it up again, and then you can’t be flogged.  Then you can’t be hanged.  Then you can’t be persecuted, because then the old order of things has passed away and the new has come in Christ.
            In the meantime, practice what you’re going to do.  Practice the choice you will make under persecution.  We American Christians have been lulled into apathy and complacency.  We just don’t realize what is at stake when we compromise with the world.  Opportunities to practice faithfulness abound.  You just don’t recognize them.  You’re not going to like this, but it needs to be said.  When you have to choose between Church and inconsequential things (like sleeping in, or the lake, or sports, or whatever), and you choose those inconsequential things over Church, I want you to think about something.  If that’s what you do when the stakes are low, what are you going to do when the stakes are high?  When you have to choose between Church and your life on this earth?  What happens when you are in prison with Miriam?  And what about your children and grandchildren?  What priorities are you teaching them?  It is summer and these things have to be considered.  Practice what you’re going to do now, while the stakes are low.  If you can’t make it on Sunday, come on Wednesday.  Just come.  If you’re on vacation, find a Church.  Look on the Missouri Synod’s website.  There’s a congregation locator.  Or ask me.  I’ll help you find one.  But you need to go to Church.  After all, this is where the Holy Spirit teaches you what you shall say in that hour, when the persecution comes.  This is where the Holy Spirit teaches you the faith and keeps you in Jesus.  He keeps you steadfast.  He keeps you so that you endure to the end and are saved.  That’s the Promise. 

            Our sister Miriam will be released, of that I have absolutely no doubt.  I pray for her release daily, and I ask you to do the same, and to pray for the millions of Christian brothers and sisters who are suffering active persecution for the faith.  Miriam will either be released from prison because of the intense international pressure on the Sudanese government (and really, God’s mercy and your prayers), or she will be released when the holy angels carry her to the arms of the Savior in heaven.  Then Jesus will acknowledge her before the Father: “This one is mine, dear Father.  This one is Yours, dear Father.  She endured to the end.  She has won the martyr’s crown.”  So also you.  You will endure to the end, because that is the promise.  You may escape imprisonment, bloodshed, and death here on earth.  Or you may not.  Maybe the worst you’ll have to suffer is the tension around the family table.  That’s up to God.  But just confess.  Confess Christ and trust it all to Him.  Because you will be released from your suffering, too, should it come upon you.  God will keep you.  “He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it” (1 Thess. 5:24).  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.           


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