Prepared by Carl Schaefer
For the Mohicanville Community Church
Scriptures: John 15: 18-19
Hebrews 11: 32-40
Rev. 2: 26
John 15: 18-19 “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you.”
Hebrews 12: 32-38 “Do I need to give more examples? I do not have time to tell you about Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, Samuel, and the prophets. Through their faith they defeated kingdoms, They did what was right, received God’s promises, and shut the mouths of lions. They stopped great fires and were saved from being killed with swords. They were weak, and yet were made strong. They were powerful in battle and defeated other armies. Women received their dead relatives raised back to life. Others were tortured and refused to accept their freedom so they could be raised from the dead to a better life. Some were laughed at and beaten. Others were put in chains and thrown into prison. They were stoned to death, they were cut in half, and they were killed with swords. Some wore the skins of sheep and goats. They were poor and abused and treated badly. The world was not good enough for them. The wandered in deserts and mountains, living in caves and holds in the earth.”
Hebrews 12: 39-40 “All these people are known for their faith, but none of them received what God had promised. God planned to give us something better so that they would be made perfect, but only together with us.”
“But God put the body together and gave more honor to the parts that need so our body would not be divided. God wanted the different parts to care the same for each other. If one part of the body suffers, all the other parts suffer with it. Or if one part of our body is honored, all the other parts share its honor. Together you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of that body.”
Revelations: 2: 26: “I will give power over the nation to everyone who wins the victory and continues to be obedient to me until the end.”
Play Video “Christian Persecution” – the world was not worthy of them.
For each of us faith is and has been a personal journey; we have come to know Jesus Christ by different paths. For some of us, it has been easy to be faithful – church and Sunday School on Sundays, prayers at bedtime, devotions including reading Scriptures, but for others only the scars, both emotional and physical, would give testimony to the difficult road to be like the rabbi – Jesus Christ. In this same regard, it would seem almost romantic to look back on the original 12, walking with Jesus and being taught for three years by the master, but then they too became part of the martyrs, in the words of Scripture, “…the world did not deserve.” And while since the beginning of the resurrection, we are all one in Christ representing the entire body of all believer – the body of Christ, we have not all had the same choices, same opportunities, same freedoms to exercise our faith.
For myself, I have taken my trips to church on Sunday for granted. Yes, like many of you, life has not always been easy, but when it came to expressing my faith, I have been more my own obstacle vs. what challenges the world has presented. I have been blessed even through the loss of my first career in corporate America, the loss of my first wife to cancer, and some deep personal challenges. I say again, unlike many who have given much even their lives to remain faithful, I have been blessed. For many in the world-wide body of Christ there is great suffering going on, even as we share this worship service together this morning.
It is estimated that during the 20th century, over 25,000,000 Christians have been martyred for their faith – more than in the 1900 years that have preceded this moment; martyrs – as recorded in Hebrews, who “refused to accept their freedom so they could be raised from the dead to a better life.” April 20th, 1999 will be forever burned into my memory, the day that Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold killed 12 students and 1 teacher including a fellow student named Rachel Scott who was shot in cold blood after she declared that she would not give up her freedom in Christ for the freedom of this world. She was asked, “Do you believe?” and she said, “Yes!”
Paul said in his 1st letter to the church of Corinth (1 Corinthians 12: 24b-27), ““But God put the body together and gave more honor to the parts that need so our body would not be divided. God wanted the different parts to care the same for each other. If one part of the body suffers, all the other parts suffer with it. Or if one part of our body is honored, all the other parts share its honor. Together you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of that body.”
We are just one part of that body of Christ, so if one of us suffers, Paul would suggest that the entire body suffers. Yet, why am I not feeling the pain. Here is just one example in Africa:
The Christian bishops, chiefs, commanders, clergy and people of Sudan declared, on May 16, 1983, that they would not abandon God as God had revealed himself to them under threat of Shariah Law imposed by the fundamentalist Islamic government in Khartoum. Until a peace treaty was signed on January 9, 2005, the Episcopal Church of the Province of the Sudan suffered from persecution and devastation through twenty-two years of civil war. Two and a half million people were killed, half of whom were members of this church. Many clergy and lay leaders were singled out because of their religious leadership in their communities. No buildings, including churches and schools, are left standing in an area the size of Alaska. Four million people are internally displaced, and a million are scattered around Africa and beyond in the Sudanese Diaspora. Twenty-two of the twenty-four dioceses exist in exile in Uganda or Kenya, and the majority of the clergy are unpaid. Only 5% of the population of Southern Sudan was Christian in 1983. Today over 85% of that region of six million is now mostly Episcopalian or Roman Catholic.
Persecution of the Church has been most intense since 1985. Deliberate attempts to eliminate a viable Christian presence are extreme and include bombing of Sunday church services; destruction of churches, hospitals, schools, mission bases and Christian villages; massacres and mutilation; and murder of pastors and leaders. Persecution has been especially severe in the Nuba Mountains. Whole areas have been laid waste and lands seized and given to Arabized northerners. Despite this, the number of Christians is growing—from 1.6 million in 1980 to 11 million in 2010.
Even as recently as January 26, this was posted: “Sharing Christ could land pastors in prison as Sudan's Ministry of Guidance and Religious Endowments has threatened to arrest church leaders if they carry out evangelistic activities and fail to provide their names and contact information.
The threats were sent by letter to church leaders of the Sudan Presbyterian Evangelical Church (SPEC) shortly after the New Year. It arrived just a few days after Sudan's President Omar al-Bashir, who is wanted by the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity in Darfur, told cheering crowds that following the secession of the largely non-Islamic South Sudan last July, the country's constitution will be more deeply entrenched in Shariah, or Islamic, law.
These events harken back to the time of Emperor Domitian (AD 81-96) who conducted an extremely bloody and widespread campaign directed at Christians throughout the Empire – a time, according to tradition, when the gospel writer John was on the island of Patmost writing the gospel. During his reign, thousands of Christians were martyred and during this period many saught safe haven in the cave cities of Cappadocia located in modern day Turkey.
(Here is one account taken out of context from the series “Walk as Jesus Walked,” led by Ray Vanderlan. Let’s take a look.)
The underground city of Derinkuyu in Cappadocia covers more than a square kilometer. It is believed to be the largest of twenty-five such communities in the region. The complex comprises twenty levels of chambers that as deep as 280 feet below the surface. The name of this particular underground city, Derinkuyu, means, “deep well,” which is appropriate because a deep, working well provided some of its water supply. The well also served as an air shaft to help circulate air in the massive complex where as many as 10,000 people may have lived. A labyrinth of narrow passages and vertical shafts connected the hundreds of chambers in this complex. Other tunnels, as yet unopened, are believed to connect this complex to similar underground communities more than five miles away.
Derinkuyu started simply. Residents of the town on the surface would carve out a room under their homes to provide safe hiding places should an enemy appear. These rooms had hidden entrances, traps and stone doors that made them difficult for an enemy to find or to move through. As needed, residents hollowed our new rooms and passageways. During thousands of years and numerous periods of persecution, these hiding places were enlarged and joined to form the large underground complexes we see today.
Yet despite this history and the modern day persecution of Christians, we seem relatively unaffected –silent the martyrdom that is still taking place today. How can we deny that the Body of Christ is suffering. How does it affect us? What can we do?
From the armcahairs of our daily lives, and from the comfortable pews where and when we worship, we simply must not forget those that have and are currently martyring for the faith. If we cannot go to their place of suffering, we can offer both financial aide as well as, and if not more importantly, our prayers.
O God, steadfast in the midst of persecution, by whose providence the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church: As the martyrs of the ages refused to abandon Christ even in the face of torture and death, and so by their sacrifice brought forth a plenteous harvest, may we, too, be steadfast in our faith in Jesus Christ; who with thee and the Holy Spirit livest and reignest, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
End Service with video: “The World was not worthy of them.”
The Offering Music: Play the “Martyr’s Song”