Those of you with extremely good eyesight will by now have read the caption on the poster on the pulpit in front of me.
The poster poses a question which is topical at the moment in the aftermath of the Louise Woodward trial in Boston. It is also quite relevant in the light of our gospel reading this morning.
It says this:-
‘If you were arrested for being a Christian would there be enough evidence to convict you?’
It’s a good question! Let us ask it of ourselves.
Can you imagine how we would feel sitting in the dock, having to listen to witnesses give their testimony about us, giving first hand evidence of the way we have, or have not lived our lives as Christians?
Imagine a whole host of witnesses ready to take the stand, a husband , children, parents, colleagues, those who know us best..... what kind of evidence would they give?
Would we be considered guilty and convicted of being Christians?
Or might we be fully exhonerated and shamefully set free, because there was not enough evidence?
Might the jury give a verdict of reasonable doubt?
Wouldn’t it be very sad if no-one could find any evidence of our faith at all?
The question on this poster may seem far fetched to us, but in some countries today there really are Christians on trial because of their faith.
Indeed it’s been reckoned that during this century alone, more Christians have been killed for their faith than in all the previous centuries combined.
I don’t know about you , but I find that horrific.
Despite all the stories of persecution throughout the ages, where Christian men and women have held out and stood firm in their faith, through excruciating pain and mental anguish ..............the tortures still go on. . . only now they are more refined, more sophisticated, and more barbaric. You would think that in this modern world, with all its ideals and talk of humanity and enlightenment, we would find more compassion, more of a sense of responsibility towards one another, more love, but sadly that is not so.
In recent years there has been recorded some of the worst atrocities of our time against Christians, and that is not even taking into account others also hounded for being of a different race, belief or political persuasion.
The persecution that Jesus prophesied, began to be fulfilled a short time after his death, but this was only the birth pangs of what was still yet to come in this era of history spoken of in the epistles as “the last days” a period which would lead to the end of human history.
We remember Jesus’ words in John’s gospel,
“ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also!” and also in our gospel reading this morning:-“ You will be handed over to the courts, you will be flogged in synagogues, you will be summoned to appear before governors and kings on my behalf.........”
And so it has continued, and will continue until Christ returns to earth.
Persecution is defined as ‘harrassment or injury aganst another, for reasons of religion or race’
Who knows that for us persecution isn’t just around the next corner, for us in this country?
Jesus warned his disciples quite clearly, “When” ...these things happen.... not “ if they ever do”.....
We were told to expect trials and tribulations as Christians, yet so many of us respond with surprise and shock when it does happen.
I often wonder how our faith would stand up under the same trials that many others have to face around the world, today ?
We so often forget that countless believers have laid down their lives for the cause.
And yet it has been the blood of these precious saints that has watered the fields of the harvest, and accelerated the growth of Christianity around the world.
John read out a list of those who had died over the last year in this community, at our memorial service a couple of weeks ago.
Imagine a similar list of unknown martyrs who have died recently.
This would be appropriate this morning;
with names such as :-
Feroz Masih, Pastor Ishak, Azubuike, Yahaya Tsalibi, .... but the list would be far too long.
Listen to this true story set in Kiangsi, in China, only 20 years ago. Two Christian girls, Chiu-Chin Hsui (CHOO CHIN SOO) and Ho-Hsiu-Tzu
(HO-SOO SOO) and their pastor were sentenced to death. They were mocked and scorned for being so foolish as to die for an unseen God. Then the guards promised the pastor that if he would shoot the girls, they would release him.
The girls waited patiently in their prison cells for the moment of their execution. They prayed quietly together. Soon the guards came for them and led them out. A fellow prisoner who watched the execution through the barred windows of his prison cell, said that their faces were beautiful beyond belief, infinitely sad but sweet.
They were placed against a wall, and their pastor was brought forward by two guards who placed him close in front of the girls and put a pistol in his hand.
The girls whispered to each other, then bowed respectfully to their pastor. And this is what one of them said:
“Before being shot by you, we wish to thank you heartily for what you have meant to us. You baptized us, you taught us the way of eternal life, you gave us Holy Communion with the same hand in which you now have a gun.
May God reward you for all that you have done for us. You also taught us that Christians are sometimes weak and commit terrible sins, but they can be forgiven again. When you regret what you are about to do to us, do not despair like Judas, but repent like Peter. God bless you, and remember that our last thought of you was not one of indignation against your failure.
Everyone passes through hours of darkness. We die with gratitude.”
They bowed again to their pastor, closed their eyes, and stood silently waiting.
The pastor had obviously hardened his heart- he raised the pistol and shot them.
No sooner had they fallen to the ground, then the communist guards put him against the wall for immediate execution. As they shot him, no-one heard words of repentance, only the sound of screaming.
Scripture tells us not to fear those who kill the body, but those who can kill the soul. It tells us not to be afraid of what words we will say, that we will be given the right words. It tells us not to fear like those who have no hope , but to stand firm to the end, because what we have been given is no less than, eternal life.
In ancient times an emperor could tell if you were a Christian by whether you would sprinkle a few grains of incense in tribute to him.
In the Far East not so long ago they set carved crosses into the pavements and anyone who refused to walk upon them as they passed by was immediately recognised as a Christian and arrested.
What is the real acid test as to whether a person is a Christian or not?
Perhaps the answer lies in the song which says “And they’ll know we are Christians by our love”
I don’t know what it was about that story that touched you, but these two girls were without doubt, guilty of being Christians. For me it was their love, their willingness to forgive, their radiant and beautiful faces alight with the love of Christ. They passed the acid test. They died with compassion in their hearts for the man who was about to kill them, they were full of gratitude that he had given them life in the first place.
When we stand before God , on the great Day of Judgement, I believe that we will be judged not on how many deeds we have done in God’s name, as our motives for working so hard may be faulty, I believe the great question will be how much we have loved?
We are all of us, in the dock this morning! Innocent or Guilty?