The Rev’d Penny Body
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Gospel Mark 13 verses 5 to 13
5 Jesus said to them: “Watch out that no one deceives you. 6 Many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am he,’ and will deceive many. 7 When you hear of wars and rumours of wars, do not be alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. 8 Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be earthquakes in various places, and famines. These are the beginning of birth pains.
9 “You must be on your guard. You will be handed over to the local councils and flogged in the synagogues. On account of me you will stand before governors and kings as witnesses to them. 10 And the gospel must first be preached to all nations.
11 Whenever you are arrested and brought to trial, do not worry beforehand about what to say. Just say whatever is given you at the time, for it is not you speaking, but the Holy Spirit.
12 “Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child. Children will rebel against their parents and have them put to death. 13 Everyone will hate you because of me, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved.
There’s a lot in our reading today. We have warnings to watch out for heretics and references to the end times and thus of the coming again of Jesus and dawn of the new age. There is the persecution to be endured for standing up for Jesus and preaching the gospel, and the sadness of families pitted against each other for its sake.
The Gospel – the Good News – with – as we saw last week – its focus on believing in Jesus – the One sent by God – and its emphasis on being good news for the poor – with justice, mercy and freedom at its heart – was and is always going to irritate and even incite violence in those in power who have vested interests in the status quo for whatever reason. But it also saves lives, changes minds and the courses of history.
Being a Christian is not always an easy path and is often costly – even to the point of death. Yet those who walk in this way are following in the way of Jesus himself who suffered persecution, torture and death, for our sake.
The Christians Jesus is speaking of have unequivocally nailed their colours to the mast and declared their allegiance to Jesus Christ their Lord, all that he stands for, and all that he preaches. They stand under Jesus’s banner and are prepared to be prosecuted, persecuted to and to suffer dreadfully for the sake of the gospel. They are prepared to be hated, even by their own families, for their faith.
And yet – they are never alone. Through his resurrection Jesus walks with them – and us. And in their direst need, they are not to worry about what to say because the Holy Spirit will be with them, and will give them the words to say. And they can know that at the end of all their trials they will be saved. Jesus will come – there will be a new heaven and a new earth – all mourning and tears will be wiped away.
In our own time there is still a great need for speaking truth to power for the sake of justice for the poor and the oppressed, of reducing inequality of health care among the nations, particularly as we have seen in the great suffering in India this past week, of addressing self interest in so many forms as it impinges on our ability to tackle climate change and so much more. And of course it’s not only the church who speaks in this way.
We can think of the democracy activists demonstrating and suffering now in Hong Kong, Myanmar and Russia – and so many men, women and children over the years including Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Malala Yousafzai, Rosa Parks, Oscar Romero – to name but a very few. And many of these have been and still are persecuted, imprisoned and even killed because of their challenge of the established order.
None of us knows how we will each react when placed under huge stress and trial. But I think the example of all those who have gone before us, in early Christians times, and more recently, can give us courage to speak out when we see injustice, to stand alongside others who are fighting for basic rights and freedom from oppression and to play our part in preaching the gospel to all nations.
And like them, as we stand under Jesus’s banner, we can know too that we are not alone – Jesus through his Holy Spirit is always with us, guiding, protecting and giving us the words we need to speak – and we are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses.
The Collect for the Fourth Sunday of Easter
faithful shepherd of your Father’s sheep:
teach us to hear your voice
and to follow your command,
that all your people may be gathered into one flock,
to the glory of God the Father.