[for the audio version of this sermon click on the above link]
We make our beginning in the Name of God the Father and in the Name of God the Son and in the Name of God the Holy Spirit and all those who know they are of one flesh with their spouse and of One Body with Christ said … AMEN!
The world does continue to push on the Body of Christ. That is the way it has been and will continue to be. I’ve said this before, but there were more Christian martyrs in the twentieth century than in the previous 1900 years of the Christian church, combined. The twenty-first century, is beginning to seem like it will exceed the previous one.
We remember brothers and sisters in Jesus who were singled out in the shootings at Umpqua Community College. Another incident that hits close to home for us.
Since I saw the readings for this Sunday and especially since Thursday when reports of the tragic events in Umpqua came out, I have really felt led to remember that yes, Jesus was certainly quoting God in Genesis that a man and woman become one flesh when they are married within the church. We who are in Jesus are part of the Body of Christ, This is not “one-flesh”, but it certainly does say to us that when those who are in Christ, are part of the Body of Christ as those who died in Umpqua are, that we feel something of what they were subjected to. I wish I could really convey what this means, and this is more than empathy. We’re all human, we all have some empathetic understanding of what it means to be killed or to die. But for us who are part of the Body of Christ this treatment that we are seeing of Christians has to transcend just this feeling of just human empathy. When we become aware of those who are part of the Body of Christ who die because of their witness to Christ, there must be an emotion that runs through the entire Body, exceeding empathy that understands the communion we have with those who have died witnessing to Jesus. When we take communion, the true Body and Blood of Christ, we are making a statement that we are very much a part of the Body of Jesus. The Body of Jesus is His church. You can’t be in communion with Jesus unless you are in communion with His Body and His Body is His Church, us, all brothers and sisters in Jesus. I am not making some call to action either. I’m not trying to sensationalize this like some others are. I’m certainly not endorsing Ron Ramsey’s call for Christians to get gun permits. The church has gone through periods like this before. The Acts church was sorely persecuted, starting with Stephen who was taken out and stoned when he stood before the Sanhedrin and proclaimed that Jesus is Messiah, God the Son. The church is going through persecution. Our society today has turned against Christ, Jesus told us that there would be those in the world who would murder Christians thinking they are serving God. Clearly we are seeing a realization of that prophesy. Our society is straight out teaching that the church is somehow evil, the enemy. I’m not saying that anyone, who is credible, is saying that Christians should be killed, but it is clear that in the United States the church of Jesus, the Body of Christ is being portrayed as somehow evil and the enemy. I really have pondered over what I am trying to convey in this sermon. Really wrestled with trying not stir people into a frenzy, create fear and feelings of chaos. That is not how we are supposed to feel as Christians. We are told not to be fearful, we are told that God is in control. God is in control and we should have no doubt that all we see around us is under His control. Christians have suffered martyrdom all through history. We have to come to grips with that realization, that just because we here in this part of the world, are so incredibly privileged, that we are not immune to what is going on around us. That we do need to have a revitalized realization that we are part of the Body of Christ, and that those in this country, in Umpqua, Charleston SC, Columbine Colorado, even right next door in Bart Township, and certainly those Christians in Iraq, China, Africa, India, Syria, are suffering for the cause of Christ. It will probably sound outright bizarre that we trust that this is all to the glory of Jesus. I really don’t want to think that way. But it is hard for me to dismiss. Too often we have seen an amazing growth of the Church because of those who suffered martyrdom. Many who might not come to know eternal salvation in Christ, have been saved because of the sacrifice of others.
The church in eastern Europe suffered severe persecution up until the fall of communism. Now we see a remarkable revitalization of the church in Russia and eastern Europe. Hundreds of Muslims are becoming Christians in what was the communist part of Germany twenty years ago. The church in China is still being actively persecuted and yet there are estimates that there will be more Christians in China than any other country in the world in the next twenty years. Tertullian, a father of the church, said that “The more you mow us down, the more numerous we grow”, “the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church”. Tertullian was a Roman who died in 225 AD, he saw some of the most vicious persecutions of Christians in history. These persecutions started under the Roman Emperor Nero in 64 AD and lasted until 313 AD when Constantine made Christianity the official religion of the empire. In all these persecutions from Rome up to the present day in China and eastern Europe, Christians have never responded with violence. Jesus was completely innocent and holy and He suffered a violent death, even praying that God the Father would forgive those who persecuted Him because they did not know what they’re doing. Today, there are those being indoctrinated in our society to hate Christians. We cannot respond in hate. Jesus showed love and forgiveness even while He was undergoing the agony of the cross. For us to respond in hate and violence would be sin, and would be an unfaithful witness to the church, the Body of Christ. We are about forgiveness, we are about life. We must respond in true love and forgiveness in order to faithfully witness to Jesus. He died in order that our sins would be forgiven and that we would be saved who are lost in our sin. Certainly we have seen that martyrs all through history up until right now have died so that, as Tertullian said, their blood would be the seed that others might be a part of the church of Christ, to be a part of the Body of Christ, to be saved because others have died. Jesus modeled true courage for all who are in Him. We must show that courage now. We must be in prayer for those who hate us because of our faithfulness to Jesus and His church. Many continue to be led away from true life in Jesus and even if we suffer it must be so that others will come to know Christ and be saved to life, life more abundant in Jesus, eternal life in the resurrection. One of the things that our different prayer groups here have committed to, is to keep a list of those they know who have not been saved in Jesus. I ask all of you here today to put together a list of those who you know who are not saved in Christ. Some of those might be people who you consider to be hostile to you personally. All the more reason why they should be included. Jesus told us in the Sermon on the Mount: “ESV Matthew 5:43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” It will not be easy, but certainly Jesus did not take the easy way out for us.
The peace of God which surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. Amin and Shalom