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Martyrdom: No Shrinking Back

Hebrews 10:35-39

Rev. Kurt Hering

+ Perpetua & Felicias, Martyrs +
Trinity Lutheran Church  
Layton, Utah


right-click to download MP3 of this sermon

Thu, Mar 7, 2013 

Preaching to the saints of the Lutheran Church at Christ-Elkhart and Faith-Hugoton in Kansas since February 8, 2015. All sermons prior to that date were preached either at Trinity Lutheran Church-Layton or First Lutheran Church-Tooele, Utah.

Like Perpetua and Felicitas, we are baptized into martyrdom.

Like Stephen, as servants of the Word, we are called and sent into martyrdom.

This is not a martyrdom we seek, but, like faith it is a gift of God, not of works, lest any of us should boast.

Thus martyrdom, again like, faith, is not a choice or decision of men, but the will of God. I suppose one could go so far as to say martyrdom is the destiny of faith and faith is the life of martyrdom.

To hear and/or read the entire sermon preached to the Utah Circuit pastors for the commemoration of Perpetua & Felicitas, Martyrs, click on the MP3 link provided above.

The audio begins with the Old Testament Reading. The sermon begins at the 5:24 point of the mp3 file.

A servant of the Word and His folk,

Pastor Hering

For those of you who prefer to read or read along while listening, the preaching manuscript follows below.

Nota bene: Sermons are meant to be heard. Bullet points in the manuscript are explained and filled out during the preaching, so you will need ot listen to the audio file to get the full effect.

+ Perpetua and Felicitas, Martyrs +

7 March AD 203

At the dawn of the Third Century, Roman emperor Septimus Severus banned conversions to Christianity. Among those disobeying that edict were Vibia Perpetua, a young noblewoman, and her maidservant Felicitas. Both were jailed at Carthage in North Africa along with three fellow Christians, Saturus and his pupils Revocatus and Saturninus.

Perpetua and at least some of the others had not completed catechesis and weren't yet baptized when arrested. Evidently, they received Holy Baptism before being taken to prison. She was also a new mother and a fairly recent widow. Felicitas (or Felicity) was near the end of her own pregnancy when arrested.

During their imprisonment, Perpetua and Felicitas witnessed to their faith with such conviction that the officer in charge became a follower of Jesus. For some time, doubts remained about their fates, but Perpetua had a vision of a golden ladder guarded by a fierce dragon. She climbed it, stepping on the dragon's head to do so. At the top, she found a green meadow with many white-robed figures. In their midst stood a Shepherd, who welcomed her and gave her cheese from the sheep's milk. She awoke understanding that martyrdom was assured but that she would triumph.

Perpetua's father came to plead that she recant her confession of faith and renounce Jesus Christ. This she steadfastly refused.

Roman law forbade the execution of pregnant women and Felicitas feared that Perpetua and the men being held at the same time would face martyrdom but leave her behind. However, she gave birth two days before the scheduled execution and was allowed to join her companions in the arena on 7 March.

The women first made arrangements for the well-being of their children. This was possible because the imperial decree only concerned recent converts to Christianity (or Judaism). Since those entrusted with their children's care were believers of long standing, they were safe from persecution, at least for the time being.

The accounts say that the five were first scourged at the crowd's urging. Then the men faced a boar, a bear, and a leopard while a wild cow was set against the women. After they were all injured, Perpetua and Felicity exchanged the kiss of peace before the Romans put them to the sword. One tradition holds that Perpetua showed mercy to her captors by guiding the sword of a trembling young gladiator to her own heart because he could not bear to put her to death.

The martyrs were interred in Carthage in North Africa and the story spread throughout Christendom. Later, a basilica was erected over their tomb. The story of the martyrdom of Saint Perpetua, Saint Felicitas, and their faithful companions has served for centuries as encouragement to persecuted Christians.

+++

This is the week of Oculi.

Introit

P: MY EYES || are ever toward | the | LORD,*

for he will pluck my feet out | of | the | net.

C: Turn to me and be gracious | to | me,*

for I am lonely and | af- | flic-| ted.

Tract

C: To you I lift | up my eyes,*

O you who are enthroned in the | heavens!

Behold, as the eyes of servants look to the hand

of their | master,*

so our eyes look to the LORD our God, till he

has mercy up- | on us.

Acts 7: 51-56 "You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you always resist the Holy Spirit. As your fathers did, so do you. 52 Which of the prophets did your fathers not persecute? And they killed those who announced beforehand the coming of the Righteous One, whom you have now betrayed and murdered, 53 you who received the law as delivered by angels and did not keep it."

54 Now when they heard these things they were enraged, and they ground their teeth at him. 55 But he, full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. 56 And he said, "Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God."

+++

Like Perpetua and Felicitas, we are baptized into martyrdom.

Like Stephen, as servants of the Word, we are called and sent into martyrdom.

This is not a martyrdom we seek, but, like faith it is a gift of God, not of works, lest any of us should boast.

Thus martyrdom, again like, faith, is not a choice or decision of men, but the will of God.

I suppose one could go so far as to say martyrdom is the destiny of faith and faith is the life of martyrdom.

All of it—faith, life, martyrdom—is found in, with, and under the body of Christ. Thus it is not ours, but His. And again as such martyrdom is nothing we need or ought seek out, but something into which we are baptized and ordained that will seek us out soon enough as we preach, teach, and sacrament the Word to the people entrusted to our care, calling them to repent and be baptized; to confess and be absolved; to be delivered from their sin and go and sin no more.

This ministry is not always well received. In fact, apart from the Holy Spirit it never is. So what we find is that it is not particularly appealing to those no yet of our faith community. And all too often it even causes distress and fracture amongst the faithful in our congregations when hard decisions have to be made in regard to the practice of our faith.

Unlike the early church martyrs we do not face the beasts We do face the prospect of folks voting with their feet and pocketbooks. We do not face the court of an emperor holding the sword over our heads. But we do face the court of public opinion. We do not face the stake and flames. We do face the all too real possibility of being fired.

This is our martyrdom. And we do not like it very much, nor are we very good at it. We are too advanced and enlightened for such things. We like to decide and have control over the hills we're going to die on.

I'd like to propose that in light of the issues that face our churches, our district, our synod—the things that we like to put easy little labels on, like "Church Growth," "Contemporary Worship," "Transforming Church Network," Dispute Resolution Process,"—maybe we ought to take a look at these issues from the perspective of martyrdom: what it is that we are called into. Are we trying to ameliorate things for folks, take the sting out of ministry, and make it more appealing to the world and our recalcitrant sheep to avoid martyrdom? And, in the name of casuistry and "erring on the side of grace," are we telling ourselves we do it so we can live to fight another day?

But when it comes to the Word we've been given to handle and the practice of the doctrine that has been handed down to us for the sake of the sheep under our care, that's not our hill. It's Christ's. And we have no choice.

I don't know about you, but my biggest mistakes over the years, the ones that still haunt me and keep me awake at night are the ones where I have given in, bypassing proper teaching and discipline and officiating ceremonies in places and at times where I ought not, baptizing or communing those who I had not had the opportunity to catechize or examine, because I was afraid of losing a person, family, or more as a friend or member.

Casuistry is not about choosing to err on the side of grace. It is about faithfully exercising the office of the ministry in rightly applying Law and Gospel at the proper time and never shrinking back for the sake of saving our own necks.

Hebrews 10:35-39 Therefore do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward. 36 For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God you may receive what is promised. 37 For,

"Yet a little while,

and the coming one will come and will not delay;

38 but my righteous one shall live by faith,

and if he shrinks back,

my soul has no pleasure in him."

39 But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who have faith and preserve their souls.

+++



Insofar as this sermon is a true proclamation of the Holy Gospel of Jesus Christ, it belongs to Him and His Church. Therefore its use is free to all who deem it worthy and beneficial.



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