Our football coach in high school was not a particularly religious man (despite the number of times he used God’s name in the course of a day). He did however have a favorite scripture that he liked to quote. When we were tired and near the end of a practice session, he would call us all to the end zone for some intensive and painful calisthenics. The idea was that we would be so conditioned that we would not be tired in the fourth quarter of a game. He would say, “The one who endures to the end will be saved.”
Our coach was talking about physical stamina, but Jesus was talking about the spiritual stamina of faith under persecution. It frequently does involve physical endurance, but rests much more heavily on the strength of our spiritual union with Jesus Christ. Our lesson this morning is also one of the scripture readings from the Common of Saints that may be used on the commemoration of a martyr. The reason should be obvious because Jesus is telling about times of great persecution that lay ahead for his church. He intentionally sends us out as sheep among wolves.
The language makes things seem dire, as Jesus tells us that there will be betrayals within families and his followers will be dragged before governors and kings. Such things have happened in the history of the church, and they are currently happening in our world today. It doesn’t sell papers or make good headlines in the western world, but there are Christians who are martyred everyday for no other reason than their faith in Jesus Christ.
Martyrdom seems so far removed and alien to those of us who live in the world of the old Christendom. However, in the new Christendom, where Christianity is exploding and spreading, conflict and martyrdom are more common than we know. (Read The Next Christendom, The Coming of Global Christianity by Philip Jenkins, Oxford, 2002.) If you would like to help those Christians who are being persecuted, visit Voice of the Martyrs web site, www.Persecution.com.
While the situation of our own faith life may not be as dire as those of Christians in other parts of the world, it still is not easy to be a Christian. Depending on whom you let know you are a Christian, people’s reactions vary. Some other Christians will probably be supportive and want to talk with you about your faith. There are some Christians who do not like to be around those who express their faith, and they may treat you like you are a “holier than thou Jesus freak.” There are others who will ridicule and go out of their way to make things difficult for you. Of course, most of us can avoid this by not letting anyone know that we are a Christian.
Then again, there may be no persecution of your faith from outside of yourself. It may be that the persecution is self-imposed by the desire to fit in with everyone else and live like the world. As more and more people try to force Christianity out of the public arena, it becomes more difficult to live out our faith in our daily lives. People of faith may not seem to fit in; but then we are not supposed to fit in. We are to be in the world, but not of the world. We must be in the world in order to share the good news message of Christ. We must not be of the world, for the same reason.
The great thing about being a Christian is that we are not left alone. We have the Holy Spirit of the Living God within us. The promises that Jesus makes in our text today apply to us in everyday life. We may not be hauled before governors or kings, but if we are willing, the Spirit of our Father will speak through us every day.