August 30, 2020

Thoughtful spot – Trinity 12 – Revd Michael Beesley

Passage: St Matthew 16 vv.21-28


Jeremiah 15 vv.15-21: Jeremiah asks God why, when he’s being true to his calling to speak God’s word to Israel, he has to face so much suffering at the hands of his persecutors. Jeremiah hears God say He will strengthen him so that his wicked and ruthless enemies will not overcome him.    

Romans 12 vv.9-21 St Paul encourages the Christians in Rome to be loving and faithful to each other; and even to show love to those who persecute them. He says let God be the ultimate judge of those who oppose them. They should show care for such people; and never respond to evil with evil, but overcome evil with good..

St Matthew 16 vv.21-28: Jesus tells His disciples that He’s going to face great suffering at the hands of the religious leaders in Jerusalem, They will kill him, but He will rise again. When Peter says this can’t be true. Jesus tells him if he and the other disciples are committed to Him, they must be prepared to face the same fate. If they do so, God will bless them in heaven.

Today’s Bible readings are very challenging. They say that if we are true to faith in God and Jesus, we may have to face opposition, suffering and even life-threatening persecution.

First we heard Jeremiah tell God he couldn’t understand why he had to face painful persecution for speaking God’s Word to the people of Israel.

Yes, of course, Jeremiah must have understood he was never going to be popular for telling the people they’d been forced into exile in Babylon because they’d abandoned their faith in God and not kept His commandments.

He thought surely God would protect him from persecution.

God reassures Jeremiah that He’ll keep him safe from those who oppose him.

St Paul tells the Christians in Rome that they must keep God’s commandments by loving one another and doing no wrong.

He says they must be patient if they have to suffer for it.

He says as well as giving hospitality to strangers, they must bless and help their enemies if they need food or drink. He goes on to say they must never repay evil with evil, but overcome evil with good.

In the Gospel reading from St Matthew, we heard Jesus apply similar thoughts about what was going to happen to Him. He tells His disciples that He has to go to Jerusalem where he will face suffering and death at the hands of the rulers and religious authorities; but He will be raised from death.

Peter is so shocked by this that he says surely God will never allow it. Jesus tells Peter quite sharply that he’s thinking wrongly like the devil, and does not understand God’s ways of overcoming evil with love.

Jesus goes on to say anyone who is truly committed to Him must be prepared to take up their cross and suffer for it, even if it means losing their life.

If they do this, they will be given new life in the glory of The Father in heaven.

So, here we are faced with the hard fact that living a life of faith can involve suffering and may even mean being prepared to lose our life for it at the hand of persecutors.

We are blessed in our predominantly secular United Kingdom that although Christians may at times face ridicule and hurtful opposition, even from family members, friends and work colleagues, we do not face the persecution and suffering experienced by many committed Christians in other parts of the world.

Here’s just one example. When ISIS captured the Nineveh plains in northern Iraq in 2014, terrorised Christian residents fled in fear of their lives.

Six years later, despite liberation from ISIS, many Christians still face persecution and are leaving Iraq – meaning that the presence of Christianity which has been in that country for 2000 years could be under threat

A 1987 census showed there were 1.4 million Christians in Iraq, but following the threat by ISIS and the continuing political instability, there are now, according to The Centre for the Study of Global Christianity, only 200,000,.

As numbers rapidly decrease, a committed Christian, Maryam Binyamen said in an interview she feels hopeless: She said, “We are facing total extinction. The church or the government can do nothing about it. No opportunities. No jobs. No security. This is sad.”

But there is hope through what Christians are doing through St George’s Church in Baghdad. They are an example of St Paul’s teaching as they provide food and medical care for Muslims, Christians and others in that part of the city.

They have founded a Christian charity called “The Foundation for Relief and Reconciliation in the Middle East”. It aims to rebuild lives and restore hope in the Middle East. They support minority communities and the disadvantaged. They confront injustice, mistrust, poverty and exclusion. They encourage open communication between Christians and Muslims.

They give practical support through education, training and a medical centre which last year provided free care for 22,000 people of any religion or none.

What a wonderful example this is of putting into practice St Paul’s words: “If your enemies are hungry, feed them. If they are thirsty, give them something to drink… Do not overcome evil with evil, but overcome evil with good”.

These Christians know they could be the target for ISIS-like extremists, as other churches in Iraq have been. They are also committed to Jesus’ words: “If anyone wants to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.”

We may not have to face the suffering and persecution for our faith as many Christians do around the world; but we can follow the example of St George’s Church in Baghdad if we take up our cross and commit ourselves to care for people of all kinds of background, race or creed.

In particular, we can follow St Paul’s teaching to overcome evil with good.

Maybe there’s someone in our family, neighbourhood or at work whose attitudes and behaviours threaten us. Maybe they’ve done something to upset us, or they just seem aloof and uncaring.

What could we do to overcome the tensions between us? Perhaps, by offering them our constant support and friendship, even if they seem to reject it?

In a minute of silence, bring to mind someone whose attitudes and actions seem to conflict with your own beliefs and values. Tell Jesus about your difficulties with this person. Hear what He says He wants you to do about it, and reassures you He’ll always be with you to overcome evil with good

Finally, take heart from these reassuring words from Charles Everest’s hymn.

Take up your cross, the Saviour said;

     let not its weight fill your weak spirit with alarm;

     Christ's strength shall bear your spirit up

     and brace your heart and nerve your arm. Amen