Courage of Christian Witness
Throughout the year, the Southern New England Conference of the United Church of Christ produces the Daily Lectionary for use by churches. These are the suggested readings for Thursday, March 5th: Psalm 121; Isaiah 51:1-3; and 2 Timothy 1:3-7. I would encourage you to read these short selections as part of your Lenten practice.
Today is the 250th anniversary of the Boston Massacre. While being harassed by a mob in Boston, British soldiers shot several people and killed five. The event was heavily publicized by leading Patriots such as Paul Revere and Samuel Adams who used the event to stoke anti-British sentiment in the Colonies.
When I go to Boston, if I’m anywhere near the Granary Burial Ground, I like to pay my respects at the grave of Sam Adams by leaving a couple of pennies on his headstone. Sam Adams was a Patriot leader and the governor of Massachusetts for several terms. He could have been buried anywhere. He chose, however, to be buried alongside the ones who died in the Boston Massacre. He honoured their sacrifice. They stood their ground unarmed in front of weapons aimed at them.
The original Greek word for Christian witness is μάρτυς (martyr). A Christian martyr is like Stephen in the Acts of the Apostles who dies rather than reject Christ (Acts 7). Christian martyrdom is to follow Jesus regardless of the cost. A martyr imitates Jesus, which means that a martyr is often bravely non-violent.
Remember in the Passion accounts of Jesus’ arrest that an unnamed follower of Jesus strikes-out with a sword to protect Jesus from assault (John alone, in a different tradition than the Synopitcs, names the sword-wielder as Peter.). Jesus’ response is clear and defiant: “‘No more of this!’” (Luke 22:51) Religious martyrdom has become associated with the savagery of “more of this,” but for Christ and Christian to be a martyr, to be a witness, is to imitate Christ.
In today’s selection from 2 Timothy, we hear the advice offered to a young follower: “God did not give us a spirit of cowardice, but rather a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline.” Christian bravery is the bravery of the cross. It is to take the abuses of the world, but not to become like the world. It is the bravery of following Jesus’ example and living the “power of love” and maintaining the “self-discipline” to not revert to the all too natural instinct of anger and vengeance.
These are hard lessons. Jesus is a difficult example to imitate. This is the reason to honour the ideal of Christian witness and to strive toward it. May our contemplation of Jesus-crucified help us to nurture our God-given “spirit of power.”
Faith, love and chitchat.
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