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Monday, October 29, 2012

Facing Persecution (John 15-16)

Sermon by: Quay Youngblood
October 28, 2012
Some Music Used
Prelude: "O For a Thousand Tongues to Sing" (Jan Sanborn)
Song of Praise: "O For a Thousand Tongues to Sing" (Wesley; D. Crowder)
Hymn of Praise: "Holy Bible, Word Divine" (ST. GEORGE'S, WINDSOR)
The Word through Drama: "Good Little Christian Girl" (Sr. High Girls)
Offering of Music: "I Want Jesus to Walk With Me" (piano, arr. Bobby White)
Song of Sending: "A Mighty Fortress is Our God" (EIN FESTE BERG)
Postlude: "A Mighty Fortress" (Michael Praetorius)

"Facing Persecution"
(Left-click to play; or right-click to save)
Text: John 15:18-16:4; 2 Corinthians 11:23-28; 1 Peter 4:12-13 

**Sermon audio is also accessible as a free podcast in iTunes - search for "Good Shepherd Sermons or Robert Austell"**

In the past few weeks, Robert has talked to us about the value and joy of being in Christian community. There is really nothing like it and it is a dress rehearsal of the great community that awaits us in heaven in God’s presence. Unfortunately, there is a flip side to being a believer in Jesus Christ.  That is today’s text. If you get disturbed by what I am saying, I only ask that you hang in there. It really will be well in the end.

There aren’t too many Sunday’s at Good Shepherd when there isn’t a sign up table in the gathering area – Crop walk, adult game night, family retreat, White gift program. But did you know that when you signed on and called yourself a Christian, you also signed up for something else? Persecution!!

In our scripture passage this morning, John relays Jesus words warning his disciples of their coming persecution. The passage is found in the middle of a passage know as the Olivet Discourse, Jesus speaking to his disciples after He celebrated his last Passover with them and was on his way to his arrest in the Garden. In the verses just before this morning’s text, Jesus has told his disciples not to let their heart’s be troubled, that should not be fearful, that when he goes away, a helper will come, how much he loves them and his joy may be in them to that their joy will be complete.

After this wonderful, reassuring talk, he then warns them that the world will hate them! They will be persecuted, drug from the synagogue, outcasts and even killed in the name of God. Oh boy! Where do I sign up? He even admits he waited until now, three years after they began walking with him before telling them this. I don’t think you would tell a new Christian this is what they have signed up for.

If we are to believe what non-Biblical but historically reliable sources tell us about what happened to the disciples, we know that Jesus warning were accurate. They met their fate in various heinous ways –stabbing, thrown from a roof top, boiled in oil and Peter hung from a cross albeit upside down because he said he was unworthy to die as Jesus did. We also know that other early Christians faced all kinds of persecution at the hands of Emperors Nero and Domitian. This would make it easy to dismiss this warning as specific to the disciples and early Christians. But Jesus message is timeless.

Let’s  take a walk through history, starting even in time before Christ. There are numerous examples in the Old Testament of people who made the choice to listen to God, even when it brought persecution upon them. The first person that came to my mind was Jeremiah. Day after day he stood alone, calling on the people of Judah to repent. Even after the majority had been carried off to Babylon he continued to preach repentance while under house arrest in Jerusalem. He was thrown into a well in Egypt where he died because the people refused to hear his message.

Other Old Testament people come to mind that were stood and did as God commanded while being persecuted: Elijah, Job, Noah and I am feel sure you name more.

We will come back to the New Testament but let’s jump to October, 1517. This was actually was inspired to talk about persecution. This is Reformation Sunday when the Protestant Church commemorates what is commonly thought of as the beginning of the Reformation. You probably know the events:  Martin Luther, Roman Catholic priest and professor, wrote a letter protesting the sale of indulgences by the Roman Catholic church.  The letter was nailed to the front door of the church in Wittenberg,  Germany on October 31 and is more popularly known as the 95 Theses. His main point was that only God can forgive sins and it is through faith in Jesus Christ alone. You can’t buy or earn your way into God’s favor. He also objected to the edicts of the church which stood in direct opposition to scripture. From those two Latin phrases  “sola scriptura” or scripture alone and “sola  fide” or faith alone. These ideas are the basis of the reformed faith we profess.

But what drew me to this scripture in John was what happened to Martin Luther after he posted the 95 Theses. Luther was branded a heretic and ordered to stand before the Diet of Worms. I wish the children were still in here because they like me when I was there age thought this meant he was fed a steady diet of worms. “Diet” actually means “a formal deliberative process” which was held in Worms. Luther was held as prisoner of this assembly for 4 months. When he was allowed to speak in his defense he gave an historic speech:

“Unless I am convinced by the testimony of the Scriptures or by clear reason (for I do not trust either in the pope or in councils alone, since it is well known that they have often erred and contradicted themselves), I am bound by the Scriptures I have quoted and my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and will not recant anything, since it is neither safe nor right to go against conscience. May God help me. Amen”

Luther was found by the Diet to be a heretic. Now his ideas don’t sound very radical to us that have grown up in this reformed tradition but let me tell you what Luther faced. Another reformer who lived approximately 100 years before Luther was named Jan Hus. He too was labeled a heretic and burned at the stake.
While Luther was being transported out of Worms, he was taken by an unknown band which had been sent by a friend and hidden away in as castle at Wartburg. In this seclusion, he translated the New Testament into German, the first time it has been translated out of Greek into a language of the common people.
Its hard for me to imagine a church without the reformed faith. Luther’s courage in the face of persecution made it happen. Or a Bible not in a language I can’t understand or speak.

Luther wasn’t the only one. Tyndale House publishers was named for William Tyndale. He provoked the church by translating the Bible into English. He was strangled to death and his body burned. Remember Jesus’ words “a time is coming when anyone who kills you will think he is offering service to God.”
Dietrich Bonheoffer spent the last 2 years of his life in a Nazi jail and was hung just before the Allies liberated Germany for his Biblically based opposition to Hitler.

Angela McCaskill was suspended last month from her job at Gallaudet University In Maryland for signing a petition that expressed her beliefs.
This summer, I heard  from a theology student who is preparing to enter the ministry. His family had come here from Vietnam. His father had just been released after 20 months in prison  for telling others about Jesus Christ.

Right now, Christians in China, Southern Sudan, Nigeria, North Korea, Egypt and many other nations are laying their lives on the line literally to worship Jesus Christ.

We can see from Paul’s letter the Corinthians that he suffered numerous physical and mental persecutions. Its interesting that he didn’t really think it was all that important for him to discuss and was even embarrassed that he felt forced to use his persecutions to justify his ministry. Paul even used his persecution as an opportunity to advance the gospel by demanding as a Roman citizen that he be brought before the Roman Emperor knowing that doing so would lead to his execution. “Now they are without excuse”.

Its easy to see why as we sit in the comfort of this sanctuary in this country why Jesus’ words seems strange to us. So do they apply or were these ancient warnings from Jesus as some would say outdated and not relevant.  I think the reason it doesn’t seem relevant to me is I don’t live my faith on the edge. I kind of keep it tucked back somewhere to pull out when its convenient. Perhaps if I stepped out more boldly I would experience persecution, maybe not physically but mentally and socially.

Even if I don’t suffer from persecution now because of my timidity, there may be a time when you and I do face persecution. I doubt the Puritans and Pilgrims ever thought they would have to leave England to escape persecution. So even if it never comes upon us in a harsh manner the way some of our brothers and sisters around the world are facing it, we need to need to be prepared.

How? I really didn’t stop to count how many ways I will mention so if it’s not three, it may not be very Presbyterian. The first is to know what it is you believe and why. Peter puts it this way: “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect keeping a clear conscience so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their behavior.”  Let me state this another way: If you were asked if you were a Christian, could you first say yes and then tell why? Could you do it if doing so might put you in jail?

The second way is prayer. Don’t wait until it happens. Ask God now to prepare you to withstand any persecution that may come your way. Make it such a habit that if you get caught up in persecution, it will be the first thing that comes to mind.

Third, believe what Jesus told his disciples. “Be on you guard against men; they will hand you over to the local councils and flog you in their synagogues. On my account you will be brought before governors and kings as witnesses to them (remember what happened to Paul?)  and to the Gentiles. Bit when they arrest you, do not worry about what to say or how to say it. At that time you will be given what to say, for it will not be you speaking, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.”  In the scripture this morning and   all of Jesus teachings, we are promised the Holy Spirit. Depend on him to be there! It’s called  faith!

Did I just contradict myself?  I had just said be prepared and now it says not to worry. I believe we can reconcile the two like this: When you need it, the Holy Spirit will bring to mind what it is you have studied and know and the proper things to say.

Fourth, be obedient. In the military, they train for hours to follow orders so that in the heat of battle, they will now how to react. Its practice so that you will have discipline to follow through.

I have to go back now and pick up on the obvious. Its right in front of us and its so easy to miss. None, not even one other person has suffered persecution more that Jesus himself. And no one has ever deserved it less. There is a strange twist o words in Jesus speech. He says “This is to fulfill what is written in their law ‘they hated me without reason’”. I understand that they had no reason to hate him. The word that puzzled me was the phrase “their law”. Jesus is actually quoting Psalm 35 and 69.I think by calling it their law, he was pointing out that they were incorrectly applying God’s word by making it a law.

So if we are to be persecuted like Jesus, we must strive to be more like Jesus. We must be imitators. We must live in the world but not as the world. We must avoid unwholesome activity which may cause us to be labeled boring. We must avoid crude talk which gets us labeled prudes.  We must avoid being consumed with things which become false idols which will make you appear poor.. Sometimes we have to swim against the tide of popular opinion which will get us labeled rebels. We must help those less fortunate than us because that will make us do gooders. We must trust in God which will get us labeled as ignorant. Boring, prude,, simpleton, rebel, do-gooder, ignorant, poor: all of the things Jesus and the disciples were called.

Here is a question you and I need to ask ourselves: If you were arrested and charged with being a Christian, would there be enough witnesses and evidence to convict?

Now it gets even harder:  not only must we must endure persecution, we are told elsewhere to do it with a good attitude. Really?  Jesus didn’t look forward to his persecution. Earlier in John, he said “Now my heart is troubled and what shall I say? Father, save me from this hour? No it was for this very reason I came to this hour. Father, glorify you name.”

It’s easy to  have the fruits of the spirit when things are going well. What about when you face trials and persecution. The subjects come up again and again in the gospels, Paul’s letters part of which we read; James said “count it pure joy, my brothers whenever you face trials  of many kinds”.; Peter says “dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice that you are participating in the sufferings of Christ.” Wherever right suffering is mentioned in the Bible it is coupled with joy or an acknowledgement that it’s for God’s glory.

Now if you tuned out because all this talk about suffering and persecution were not what you came to hear, start listening again. Why did we sign up for persecution? Paul says “I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead.”  It’s because by suffering like Christ, we can share in his resurrection.

James says  that the trials produce perseverance which helps us grow into maturity or more like Christ. We become the people God intended us to be.

Peter says trials and persecution come our way so that your faith may prove to be genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.” We join in the heavenly worship that is promised in the new heaven and the new earth. In continuation of Peter’s early exhortations to endure suffering it is “so you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed.” A joy like no other you can ever experience on earth and a joy that never ends.

And finally from Romans: “I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.” We can’t even begin to imagine how wonderful its going to be to spend eternity in God’s presence. It will be well worth the price.

You may never have a denomination named for you but you never know who else might be watching!! We know who for sure is!

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