My head is full of images these days; images that I can’t seem to shake, try as I might. Images of beheadings, of children torn from their families, of whole villages being wiped out because of their refusal to deny their faith in Christ Jesus. So, when the Voice of the Martyrs newsletter arrived in the mail with a plea for prayers and support, I almost threw it away, unopened. I didn’t want one more atrocious image, one more terrible story in my mind to have to try to forget. But, the cover drew me in. “Deny or Die.” was written over a backdrop of a church on fire; the cross on the steeple in stark contrast with the flames. And, as I read the heartbreaking stories of Christians who were persecuted for their faith and somehow lived to tell about it, I couldn’t help but be moved by their courage. I wondered if I would have the courage to stand by my faith in the face of certain death.
Every year, at the end of October, we Lutherans celebrate that Martin Luther, our founder, had the courage to stand up for what he felt was right in the sight of God, even if it meant that he might be kicked out of the Church, or even killed for it. He was smuggled away, and lived in exile for nearly a year, but never lost his faith. He said, “Faith is a living, daring confidence in God’s grace, so sure and certain that believers would stake their lives on it a thousand times.” It is this living, daring confidence in God’s grace that is at the heart of what we Lutherans stand for.
Lutherans define grace as God’s undeserved favor, by which God sent his son, Jesus, to save us, not because of anything we have or can do to earn it, but simply because God loves us. We believe that we are saved by grace alone, through faith alone, and, the love relationship we have with God because of what Jesus did for us is so wonderful, as the example of the Christian martyrs reminds us, it is worth dying for.
I thank God for that reminder. It gives me the courage to look the sad reality of the evil in this world in the face, instead of wanting to look the other way. It moves me to want to find ways that I can love and support my brothers and sisters in Christ who are being persecuted for their faith. And, while I really can’t know what I would do if I found myself in the same situation, the reminder that it is God’s grace that gave them the strength to persevere gives me the hope, that, if that day were to come, God’s grace will be sufficient for me, too. Thank you, Jesus, for that!
Grace be with you all, Pastor Barb <><
For by grace you have been saved through faith,
and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God. Ephesians 2:8