Jesus said, "I have told you all this to keep your faith from
being shaken. Not only will they expel you from synagogues, a time will
come when anyone who puts you to death will claim to be serving God! All
this they will do to you because they knew neither the Father nor me. But
I have told you these things that when their hour comes, you may remember
my telling you of them."
My friends, these words from today's Gospel reading are quite grim.
Jesus was preparing his disciples for upcoming persecution. The disciples
of Jesus would be looked upon as, at the beginning, a heretical Jewish
sect. Because they would be looked upon as heretics in the eyes of so many
of the Jews, they would be persecuted. Jesus tells his disciples to be
ready for that. "You will be put out of the synagogues. You will be no
longer welcome. Indeed, there will come a time when people will put you
to death and think they are doing a service for God". Remember St. Paul,
before his conversion, was breathing threats of slaughter on his way to
Damascus to round up these heretical Christians and to bring them back
to Jerusalem for trial as heretics, the penalty of which was death.
What John was preparing his readers for was persecution. John had already
begun to encounter persecution himself. He was already a witness of much
more diabolical persecution than the Jews could muster. Nero, Domition,
these Roman emperors could really be persecutors on a scale that would
boggle men's eyes. Persecution, right from the beginning, was to be a part
of a Christians life. There was no escape from it. Why?
Why persecution? I think we all have answers that we have formulated
over the years. Why would God allow the Church in one age after another
to be so persecuted? Why martyrs by the hundreds, by the thousands, all
the way down to our own time? Why? We think, "Well, God is scourging his
Church for wrongdoing." Perhaps. But there is a much more subtle reason,
much more real reason why persecution happens. Jesus said it was going
to happen. That's one good reason.
But even more so, Jesus declares that he is going to send the Holy Spirit
to his disciples and he would bear witness to the truth. But his would
be an internal witness to them. The disciples, in turn, were to bear witness
to the truth externally, by the conduct of their lives; by all that they
said and did. Witness those words of St. Peter in the first reading today.
He calls for calmness, prayer and the constant love for one another through
unfeigned hospitality and the generous use of one's gifts for the glory
of God and of Christ.
What Jesus had in mind was this: "If they persecuted me, they will persecute
you as well." We are to identify with Jesus in suffering and in dying for
the truth. A few verses prior to this Jesus says this, "If you find that
the world hates you, know that it hated me before you. If you belonged
to the world, it would love you as its own. The reason it hates you is
that you do not belong to the world. But I chose you out of the world.
Remember what I told you. No slave is greater than his master. They will
persecute you as they have persecuted me. They will respect your words
as much as they respected mine. All this they will do to you because of
my name for they know nothing of him who sent me."
"If you find that the world hates you. . . ." When John uses the word
world, he means unbelievers, those who do not believe that Jesus was sent
by the Father into the world to reveal to us the Father's love, to reveal
our redemption. They would not accept this. John maintains that the Jews
did not accept it and considered these Christians who followed Jesus to
be upstart heretics who must be rooted out and orthodoxy preserved. So
all these people who would endure persecution as a sign that they bear
witness to the truth as Jesus bore witness to the truth.
Persecution is part and parcel of a Christian's life. Even if the Church
did not need to be scourged for its sins, there would still be persecution
because people do not accept the truth any more from the Church than they
do from Jesus himself. Remember Jesus said one time, "They will not be
convinced even if one should rise from the dead" (Luke 16:31).
Persecution is a part of a Christian's life. If we're living it properly,
there will be persecution. I don't intend us to become masochistic. I don't
intend us to say, "Isn't it wonderful that we can face persecution!" No,
God does not have that in mind for us. But God does have in mind that we
understand the reason why. God does have in mind the fact that you and
I endure persecution for bearing witness to the truth. There is hardly
a person here this morning that has not endured ridicule and derision for
what you believe. Perhaps we haven't been put to death, but there is a
kind of dying that we have to endure because we believe in the orthodoxy
They may not have put us out of the synagogue, but we were made to feel
unwelcome in the Church of our childhood. And it hurts. It is painful to
us that this would happen to us in the name of religion, in the name of
orthodoxy. This kind of persecution that you and I might feel is much more
than the ridicule of non-believers, the standup comedians on cable TV.
That kind of ridicule can just run right off our backs. But the other kind,
that involves the very essence of our belief from the time that we were
very young - to have that held up to ridicule, to be pointed out as heretics
or schismatics, those crazy Anglicans - that hurts. It's painful.
I have a brother who is a paragon of Roman Catholic faith, a former
grand knight in the Knights of Columbus and he considers what I have done
to be something terrible: that I had left the Roman Church because of a
man-made law that I could not abide. He considers me a heretic and we no
longer communicate. I've lost him. And that's painful.
I tell you this because each and every one of us to some degree or another
has experienced persecution. No, we haven't been hauled off and tied to
a stake and been made a barbecue for the emperor. The little deaths that
we endure hurt nonetheless and what are we to make of the them? Are we
to feel sorry for ourselves? Sulk in our corners? Abandon the truth of
our faith? Or are we to understand that Jesus warned us about this and
said, "If they persecuted me, they will persecute you as well. Identify
with that and I will give you the Holy Spirit, the Comforter, the Strengthener."
(That word comfort means strength in the Prayer Book.) I will give you
the Comforter, the Strengthener, in order to sustain you in the face of
whatever the world throws at you.
It's a hard thing to be persecuted. The Church has endured it for over
nineteen hundred years now, and will continue to do so until the end of
time. We also know that Jesus has overcome the world, the unbelievers.
Because he has overcome the world, we can share in that victory as well.
St. Paul, who also endured persecution, says this in the eighth chapter
of his letter to the Romans, "The Spirit himself gives witness with our
spirit that we are children of God. But if we are children, we are heirs
as well, heirs of God, heirs with Christ, if only we suffer with him so
as to be glorified with him" (Romans 8:16ff.). It's an integral part of
being a Christian. I think it has very little to do with God scourging
his Church for past sins. I think it has everything to do with what Jesus
promised. He has given us the Spirit in order that you and I might bear
witness to the truth in Christ Jesus
Please note: These sermons are offered for your meditation.
If you wish to use them for some other purpose or republish them, please
credit St. Dunstanís Church and Fr. Sisterman.