Mark 13:9-13

“As for yourselves, beware; for they will hand you over to councils; and you will be beaten in synagogues; and you will stand before governors and kings because of me, as a testimony to them. And the good news must first be proclaimed to all nations. When they bring you to trial and hand you over, do not worry beforehand about what you are to say; but say whatever is given you at that time, for it is not you who speak, but the Holy Spirit. Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death; and you will be hated by all because of my name. But the one who endures to the end will be saved.” Mark 13:9-13

It is fashionable for some people to say that the Christian faith has long been under assault in the United States. Such complaints range from the design of Starbucks coffee cups to public policies and laws that some Christians find objectionable. Most recently, the public health initiative to ban or discourage large gatherings of people, including Sunday morning worship services, have been denounced as “anti-Christian.” Such charges demean a phrase like “under assault.”

In fact, there are places in the world where it is exceedingly dangerous to be a Christian. Places like Pakistan where church buildings have been bombed. India, where people have been killed for converting to Christianity. El Salvador, where a death squad entered a church and killed Bishop Oscar Romero while he was celebrating Mass. Saudi Arabia, where pastors serving international congregations have to register as “postal workers.” Places in Africa and the Middle East where minority Christians live in fear of majority Muslims.

Yet even in those places, it isn’t just about theology or Christian discipleship. It is always about tribalism, about political power, about domination, about scapegoating.

In the first century after Jesus, the Christian movement was a tiny minority. Despite the outlandish numbers in the book of Acts, according to Rodney Stark, a sociologist at Baylor University, in The Rise of Christianity, there were less than 8,000 Christians in the world by the end of the first century. In every age, minority status invites majority oppression.

It is easy to imagine that those who first heard or read the book of Mark would have seen their life experience reflected in what we will hear from the 13th chapter. The aftermath of the disaster in Jerusalem would have continued to echo. For the dominant culture, from the perspective of Rome, the death of Jesus was a political act. He was an insurrectionist whose followers challenged the supremacy of Caesar. It was his impact on the hearts and minds of his followers that needed to be snuffed out. But they couldn’t do it.

Martin Luther used to teach that people can’t confuse the “public” church with what he called the “hidden” church. Such an idea gives rise to a line like “sitting in a garage doesn’t make you a car.” (Probable Corollary: Standing in a pulpit doesn’t make you a pastor.) Luther’s distinction is less about how humans respond to God and more about the mystery of God’s work in the world. God can’t be stopped.

The coronavirus has spread so widely now that it is the rare person who can’t name a friend or loved one who hasn’t gotten sick or even died. When Mark was written, it would have been a rare Christian who couldn’t tell stories of friends or loved ones who had suffered because they followed Jesus. Yet they kept the faith. They trusted the promise that “the one who endures to the end will be saved.”

Let us pray: Dear Lord, keep us strong in the faith. Let us not be distracted by attackers or swayed by the shifting sands of public opinion. Give us the courage to speak truth to power. Protect those who live in fear because of their faith. Help us endure to the end. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

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