Without a doubt most people listening to God speaking of the “just one” being beset can easily identify the just one as Jesus. But since it is God speaking to us today, we can also come to the conclusion that he is speaking about any Christian who dares to publically stand up for what they believe. So the question for us believers in today’s culture is how far we will go to publically stand up for what we believe.
Recently in my diocese our Bishop joined with a Baptist pastor who for years has stood outside a Planned Parenthood Clinic protesting abortion. Our bishop after the recent video revelations of the horror of abortion techniques and the selling of body parts of aborted children, called for Catholics in our diocese to join him and that pastors community to publically protest Planned Parenthood. One would have expect a much larger turnout because sanctify of life is so deeply part of who we are as Christians. Why are we so unresponsive in standing up for what we believe?
Have we become believers of convenience? We will go to church or do works of mercy when they do not conflict with our other priorities. Just check out our churches on a football Saturday or Sunday. Parking is easy, seats are plentiful and there is a quick mass so those who do show up can miss only a portion of the game. It is not just football; it is our kids’ sports schedule, or a multitude of other activities that are more important priorities, Church can wait.
Here is a hard truth, the just are being besieged in our communities while we are busy with other things. I was listening to a story just this week about a high school football coach who after ever game goes to the center of the field and kneels in prayer. He does this on his own without shame giving God thanks for the game, the safety of the players, for humility in defeat or victory, for the support of fans, trainers, spirit teams and bands. He never has made a request for anyone else to join him. Yet large numbers of his own team members as well as opposing team members gather with him.
His current status as head coach is now in jeopardy because he dared to publically pray and others voluntarily joined him. Can praying with players be a cause of termination? Yes it was for one coach in Arizona one year ago. In another case Americans United demanded that Arizona schools remove a text book on government. That text book has references of the founding fathers coming to North America for religious freedom. In another case, a reference to God in a letter to students cost a Pennsylvania professor his job. The Freedom from Religion Foundation is challenging state universities appointing Chaplin’s to the football teams. These stories are just a few of the 1118 law suits or threats of law suits this year in the United States.
The just are being besieged. All the while we are snug and safe in our community of faith. We have Sunday liturgies, we continue to have programs and we continue to serve the needy. We go to bible studies, gather with our small groups and we visit the sick. Surely we are standing up for what we believe. What more can be required of us?
Have we taken the time to listen to the call of our God to take up our cross and follow him? Have we not heard Christ say that we would be persecuted for his name? These challenges to our display of faith are relentless and we must also be relentless in our pursuit of discipleship. We need to “proclaim the word; be persistent whether it is convenient or inconvenient.”
Did Jesus die for our sins just so we could be comfortable in our churches? Jesus challenged the religious leaders of his day. He called them white washed tombs, lovers of self, seekers of praise whose hearts were not centered on him and more. Did Christ come to us so that we would become them? Or did he come to make disciples? He went to the cross so we could become heirs of the kingdom, sons and daughters, filled with the presence of our God and proclaiming the good news of salvation to all we meet. He came not to have us be like those he chastised but to be like him.
My brothers and sisters we are facing a world that is determined to have Christianity silenced. We are witnessing the destruction of Christianity in Iraq, in Egypt and other foreign countries. We have closed our eyes to the silencing of it in our own communities for it is not threatening us. But the truth is that it is threatening the life of our parishes for we have lost our witness to the people who desperately need to encounter the savior.
Perhaps we have relied too heavily on the promise of God that the gates of hell will not prevail against his church. Perhaps we have relied too heavily on the clergy and religious to do the work of kingdom building. Could it be that God has gifted us with all we need to prevail against the gates of hell and has called us to a mission to fight evil in all forms. Perhaps the evil we face is named comfort or lethargy or indifference or pride.
Our call was to take up our cross and follow him. That does not sound like comfort to me; it sounds like it is going to be a hard task. But it is a task that he has equipped us for by the out pouring of the Spirit. It is a task he has told us would be full of trials and tribulation but we would be filled with peace.
Why should we do this hard and possibly costly witness of our faith? Jesus answered this question when he sent the disciples out on their first mission telling them to “proclaim the kingdom of God” (Mt. 10ff). He during that conversation spoke of all the dangers we will face by going out to proclaim the kingdom. Then he tells us why we should be proclaimers of the kingdom – “Everyone who acknowledges me before others I will acknowledge before my heavenly Father. But whoever denies me before others, I will deny before my heavenly Father.” (Mt. 10:32-33). Those others are not the people sitting with us each Sunday. They are the people who watch a football coach publically acknowledge God after each game.