The Rev’d Roger Elks
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Hello, welcome to the reflection for this Wednesday in November. I’ve going to talk this this morning about persecution. I wonder if you’ve ever had experience of persecution? I hope not. Maybe we can remember back to school when we felt persecuted or bullied, maybe because we were in a minority. And being a minority is probably a good place to start if we’re looking for persecution, not that you would be. Maybe you felt a little bit persecuted by others over the more recent years of different political debates. And it seems the more extreme that one feels one’s views are politically, the more one attracts persecution. Most of us are probably comfortable just in the middle ground, not necessarily because it’s where we believe we should be, but it’s just the place that avoids that sort of persecution and angst with others. Well, the Christian church cannot avoid being persecuted.
And Jesus warned the church of this and our reading from Luke 21 just explain some of Jesus words for us. Jesus has been talking about the end times and then he says, this is Luke 21, verse 12,
12 ‘But before all this, they will seize you and persecute you. They will hand you over to synagogues and put you in prison, and you will be brought before kings and governors, and all on account of my name. 13 And so you will bear testimony to me. 14 But make up your mind not to worry beforehand how you will defend yourselves. 15 For I will give you words and wisdom that none of your adversaries will be able to resist or contradict. 16 You will be betrayed even by parents, brothers and sisters, relatives and friends, and they will put some of you to death. 17 Everyone will hate you because of me. 18 But not a hair of your head will perish. 19 Stand firm, and you will win life.
Luke’s gospel was probably written about 85 A.D., and you have to remember that Nero really started the serious persecution of Christians around 64 A.D. after the great fire of Rome. And then Emperor Damation, who was the emperor at this time of writing, also continued that persecution of Christians and Jews. There were laws against being a Christian, and you can actually be taxed just for being a Jew. And Christians were put to death because of their faith. So it’s not surprising, is it, that Christian texts written in that period focus quite a lot on persecution, talking to the church of that day, reminding them of Jesus’ words and predictions, but words of hope as well.
Persecution is a bit like health, isn’t it? We take it for granted until it turns up, we take our freedom for granted until it is taken away from us, just like our health. Until something happens, we think we’re going to be alright forever. But it is true that the church suffers and it is suffering today in many parts of the world. And we here in comfortable North Devon just take our freedom for granted, don’t we? And yet part of us is suffering. In Paul’s fantastic exposition of the church being a body of many parts joined together in Christ, he says this in one Corinthians, 12v26. “If one part suffers, every part suffers with it.”
And there is large parts of the Christian church around the world that are suffering, and you and I need to engage in that suffering somehow as well. One of the ways of doing that is being connected with some of the organizations that support and provide resources about the persecuted church.
And I’m going to share, if I can, my screen with you to help you to understand. This is a website by an organization called Open Doors and Opendoorsuk.org, and it’s an organization that’s been running for many years and really gives wonderful information, difficult information to read, but how to get involved in the persecuted church. And there’s a little map here that shows in different colors where the church is being persecuted. And you can see the top five places, North Korea, Afghanistan, Somalia, Libya, Pakistan. And you can look by country, by country. You can get resources, you can offer to help in whatever ways they allow. And certainly you can pray and be involved. The Barnabas Trust is another organization; Barnabas the encourager.
So we’re called as Christians to have empathy, that’s just not sympathy, which is being part of the suffering, but empathy, putting ourselves in the place of others, feeling their pain with them, caring and being part of it, hearing the stories that are hard to hear and to read, entering into the discomfort of the part of the church that is suffering, to the suffer with it. Verse 19 of Luke 21 says to the Christians in the face of persecution to “stand firm”. And we are to stand firm as a church. We stand firm with our brothers and sisters in North Korea and those other parts of the world. Let’s give thanks for the freedom and the privileges that you and I enjoy and take for granted. And let’s enter into the knowledge, the prayers, the life, the suffering of others.
We’re going to pray our Collect it in a few moments. And when we close our eyes in prayer, if you do, one of the things that we pray for is that when we open our eyes, the world is a different place, not just because God has changed the world through our prayers, but because he has changed our vision. We can see things in a new way. We can begin to see things, see the world, as God sees it, as Jesus calls us to see it.
And again, back to this text of Luke, 21, he calls the church not to worry. (v14), but to have wisdom (v15), the wisdom that comes from the Holy Spirit.
So let’s close our eyes and let’s pray.
Stir up, O Lord,
the wills of your faithful people;
that they, plenteously bringing forth the fruit of good works,
may by you be plenteously rewarded;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.