Message for Sunday 18 August 2019: “Enduring Faith”

Hebrews 11:29 – 12:2 is a reminder that life is perilous. Following God often entails persecution, therefore, today’s message reveals people of faith suffering at the hands of evil.

Regarding the ancient followers of God, “They were stoned to death, they were sawn in two, they were killed by the sword; they went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, persecuted, tormented–…” (Hebrews 11:37). Then as now, evil is prolific, so deep and wide that without God it is almost impossible to maintain hope. In the New Testament period almost two-thousand years ago it was the Roman Empire that persecuted Christians, at least until the early fourth-century when the faith was not only tolerated but became the official state religion. How ironic that Christianity experienced a transformation over centuries to become wedded to the world’s greatest political power.

There is much good in the world, yet a plague of evil continually wounds humanity. God’s children live and grow as they draw strength from their inexhaustible faith arsenal. Considering politics and religion, history reveals that there is always some king, emperor, dictator or other political or religious leader who is persecuting, torturing and killing people who represent God’s love. The righteous who’ve embraced God have often been victimized by authorities who feel threatened by the Truth.

The grisly tortures of early Christians in the Roman Coliseum may seem comfortably distant but persecution remains unrelenting. In one of history’s greatest ironies, a peculiar, self-described brand of modern “Christian” now occupies the contemporary equivalent of that ancient arena seat. As if resurrecting a twisted, more virulent form of the Roman Empire, the modern persecutors sling a hijacked religion by reviving the hate that once consumed true believers in the Roman arenas. In the world’s supposed beacon of democracy, perpetrators again squat in stadium seats and church pews while applauding the evil consuming the innocent. Instead of slinging the ancient Latin language, today’s hate propagators curse and stammer in plain English, gleefully inciting violence against their victims.

Over centuries evil has evolved through subtle and cunning ways. Malignant souls find new methods of creatively oppressing the poor and vulnerable. The gist is that the sick and exploited are denied compassion, as are their justice-seeking defenders. Volatile political rhetoric often ignites destructive emotions as perpetrators weaponize their vote and their religion. It’s no wonder that today’s message from Hebrews serves as a reminder that taking a stand against darkness risks ridicule and death.

The terror imposed by ancient Rome pales in comparison to what happened in the twentieth-century “Christian” nations of Italy and Germany, both of which embraced domination by home-grown Fascist governments, comprised of Catholic and Protestant majority populations. Starting in 1939 and extending for over five horrific years, World War II was unleashed by Fascists who set the world aflame, as the architects of the Holocaust amassed millions of casualties during the world’s most devastating conflict.

Hence the cry to the faithful, to people of good conscience who must now rise lest the seeds of destruction again threaten to germinate. We must not become complacent and allow history to repeat itself. Throughout many Western nations there is a rise of nationalistic sentiment, new strains of old-style Fascism with all the usual trappings of frenzied, radicalized crowds. Truth and justice-loving people everywhere are horrified as duped persons fill stadiums chanting slogans, fed by a toxic brew of fear, ignorance and anger.

As always, laws and policies fed by bad religion and despotic leaders dehumanize and scapegoat vulnerable populations. Harm is magnified when maniacal, sociopathic elected officials and their appointed lackies feed prejudice with lying, rabid rhetoric. Alongside threats to the rule of law and with clear signs of a return to authoritarian government, people who defend decency and compassion must unleash their voices, pens and votes to confront and defeat the rising darkness—before it is again too late.

God’s mighty hand guides and sustains the righteous during a recurrent, bitter struggle against evil. False political and religious messiahs with insatiable narcissistic egos unleash the tongues of millions of supporters, who spew venom that would again impose genocidal atrocities. The founders of the United States understood at least some of these perils, which is why the Constitution pioneered secular rule while preserving the right to practice peaceful religion, unfettered by an incestuous, corrupting authoritarian government.

As tainted as is contemporary political culture, the emphasis shines on challenges from within bad religion, which also feeds carnage and horror. History reveals that if you disagree with the prevailing theological view, you risk dismissal as a heretic and condemnation as an apostate. God’s faithful remnant in both ancient and modern times have borne horrendous tortures. Despite being burned alive, drawn and quartered, starved and beaten, the truth prevails. Old Testament prophets endured condemnation when their message didn’t please the base masses. Even Jesus met death from a religious establishment which conspired with political leaders in his execution. Bodies have been crushed and crucified but faith endures.

While it’s unhealthy to dwell on negativity, it is equally bad to deny reality and remain silent. It is necessary to know what’s going on, including the cost of following God. Throughout the ages people who embrace truth are punished by those who impose death and destruction, mayhem and madness. Thankfully, God’s liberating Spirit can set anyone free, both perpetrator and victim (and we need to pray for both). Even in our righteous anger we must avoid turning ourselves into the very monsters that threaten life and livelihood.

Today’s topic is gritty, but there’s no legitimate substitute for a reality review. It is irresponsible and negligent to avoid calling attention to unsavory truths, especially given the consistent pattern of persecution and suffering against God’s people. Clear-eyed progress demands that things be seen for what they are and not sugar-coated for the sake of a pandering politeness. After all, the tongues of the evil are unrestrained. So, how much more must proclamations of love and liberty overcome shouts from the den of darkness.

A monumental insight in today’s message is that even God’s people suffer, often at the hands of an entrenched, false faith peddled by deceived persons wielding political power. Some who call themselves “Christian” and who wave the banner of patriotism, nationalism and racism reveal attitudes and actions that transcend simple hypocrisy and instead incite the demons of demagoguery. Despite the ordeals, the Almighty empowers you. Choose to persevere and remain joyous despite hate dressed in religious language. Even during the present distress, God’s Spirit illuminates you as a beacon of love and truth.

Aside from being persecuted for who you are or for your faith, perhaps you are enduring a bad situation in physical health, dysfunctional relationships, financial hardship or a myriad of other obstacles. Whatever you face, take comfort in knowing that God can strengthen you; you are neither alone nor forgotten. Take respite in God’s care. Are friends or relatives who’ve been seduced by the darkness not supporting you? God is here to bring restoration when no one else is willing or able to do so.

No matter who you are or what perils you face, God can redeem you. Ultimately no one is getting out of this earth alive, at least not physically. But don’t feel defeated or allow darkness to infect your soul. Rise and be joyful knowing that your spirit is safeguarded against all threats. Triumph over authoritarian, hateful government and toxic religion. Remain confident that nothing can separate you from the love of God that endures forever.

–Reverend Larry Hoxey

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