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11-13-19 - Faith On Trial

(You can listen to this reflection here. Sunday's gospel reading is here.)

I may have overdone the “end of the world” stuff the past two days. Yes, Jesus refers to wars and famines and portents of the end, but that is not his focus. He is preparing his followers for hard times to come, when the structures of their faith are torn away, and they face persecution from both Jewish leaders and Romans for their belief in Christ.

"But before all this occurs, they will arrest you and persecute you; they will hand you over to synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors because of my name.” He says they will be betrayed by family and friends and handed over, and, “some of you will die.” But there’s an upside: this will give them a chance to testify. Then he adds a strange instruction: don’t prepare. “So make up your minds not to prepare your defense in advance; for I will give you words and a wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to withstand or contradict.”

Few of us are challenged to defend our faith. I have heard testimony from African clergy who have faced bitter persecution and bombed churches and death threats. But most Christians I know are more likely to be mocked than persecuted for their faith. “Why do you bother with that?”

What would you answer? What do you say when people ask why you believe in Christ? As the old saw goes, “If you were on trial for being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict you?” Name some of that evidence.

We may not have to stand up for our faith very often, but there are occasions when we are called to testify in other ways – to stand for justice, to speak truth to those who have the power to change things. Recent years have offered many occasions for gathering in marches or protests, to insist on equal access to resources and equal protection from harm. People have learned how to contact elected officials to push for sensible legislation. Churches and dioceses are learning to be strategic in seeking progress on particular issues. These are all ways of being visible as followers of Christ.

There are times I bear witness just as a regular citizen. But if it’s an issue on which Jesus spoke clearly, I will wear my collar and bear witness to the stance my faith community and others take on that issue, whether it’s poverty, housing, protection from gun violence, immigration justice, to name a few. And if I am called upon to speak, or am interviewed on camera, or asked how my faith informs my position, I know that Jesus, who has promised to be with me through His Spirit, will be right there. And he can be pretty persuasive.

After all, it’s not our job to represent God, or even to make other people believe in God. It’s up to us to make the introductions, to speak of the love and truth we experience. The Spirit will do the rest.

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