The Trial of the Truth
St. James the Elder, Apostle
25 July 2019
"What will you do if there is a direct persecution of the Christian church? Are you ready to confess to death?" I can't recount the number of times I have been asked this question in my life and perhaps countless times more I have queried myself with it. Will I stand fast and confess when the church's enemies begin to confiscate her property, constrain by hate speech codes her preaching, fine or jail her leaders. How will I reply when jackbooted tolerationism tries to silence the divine truth? I pray for the strength to be faithful unto death, that I might win the crown of life (Rev 2:10). In so far as it depends on me, I don't know how I will reply when called to account for the hope that is in me. I am not so full of myself to say that I know the answer to this question in advance.
 
When interviewed before a game, a football coach will often testify that his team had a "great week of practice," as though that guarantees a positive outcome in the game. But more than one fan has been disappointed after this positive prognostication on the part of a coach. The game day sometimes puts the lie to all preparations. The team that did not practice well sometimes emerges victorious, driven on by a desire to triumph and the roar of the crowd. Preparation is important, but it is not everything. In fact, our God promises to be with us when we are called to confess our hope. Insofar as it depends on Him, by the power of His Holy Spirit, I have no doubt that I shall confess faithfully. He promises to be with His people in the moment of truth. He has proven Himself constantly ready on that day. Thus it was at Cyprian's time that the Carthaginian church confessed that the suffering and death of Christ paid for all sins, even though property was confiscated, torture applied, and judicial murders worked. Cyprian himself, while eluding an earlier persecution, confessed to death in 258 A.D.
 
Only when a storm comes do we know how well the house is founded. Only in the clutch does the wrestler know if he has the strength and skill to overcome his opponent. This is why we welcome the challenge of our faith. This is why we approach the battlefield when our enemy demands that we enter the contest against all his earthly power. With fear? Yes. With passionate prayer? Yes. With agony? Yes. With confidence that Christ Himself so prepared for His suffering in just this way in the garden, which He sowed with great drops of blood (Lk 22:44). Yes. With the trust that He who has suffered will be with us in our agony (Heb 2:14-15). Yes.
 
We pray that such an auto de fé would never be expected of us. But while we await the good pleasure of our heavenly Father, we should confess our faith where the only penalty is rebuke and rejection. This is practice week. If we cannot withstand smirks, furled brows, outright mockery, and verbal abuse, we will never endure what may yet come. So let us confess while there is still daylight. Let us face the trial of adversity while we can confess the truth. Now.

Rev. Dr. Scott R. Murray
Memorial Lutheran Church

   Cyprian of Carthage
"Abraham pleased God, who, so that he might please God (Rm 4:3) did not shrink even from losing his son, or from doing an act of parricide (Gn 22:1-18). You, who cannot endure to lose your son by the law and lot of mortality, what would you do if you were asked to slay your son? The fear and faith of God ought to make you prepared for everything, even if it should be the loss of private property, the constant and cruel harassment of your limbs by agonizing disorders, the deadly and mournful wrench from wife, from children, from departing dear ones. Let not these things be offenses to you, but battles. Do not let them weaken nor break the Christian's faith, but rather show forth his strength in the struggle, since all the injury inflicted by present troubles is to be despised in the assurance of future blessings.
 
"Unless the battle has preceded, there cannot be a victory. When there shall have been, after the battle, the victory, then also the crown is given to the victors. For the ship's helmsman is recognized in the tempest. In the warfare the soldier is proved. It is a meaningless display when there is no danger. Struggle in adversity is the trial of the truth. The tree that is deeply founded in its root is not moved by the onset of winds. The ship which is constructed of solid timbers is beaten by the waves and is not shattered. When the threshing floor brings out the corn, the strong and robust grains despise the winds, while the empty chaff is carried away by the blast that falls upon it."

Cyprian, 
On Mortality, 12
Acts 11:27-12:5

Now in these days prophets came down from Jerusalem to Antioch. And one of them named Agabus stood up and foretold by the Spirit that there would be a great famine over all the world (this took place in the days of Claudius). So the disciples determined, every one according to his ability, to send relief to the brothers living in Judea. And they did so, sending it to the elders by the hand of Barnabas and Saul.

About that time Herod the king laid violent hands on some who belonged to the church. He killed James the brother of John with the sword, and when he saw that it pleased the Jews, he proceeded to arrest Peter also. This was during the days of Unleavened Bread. And when he had seized him, he put him in prison, delivering him over to four squads of soldiers to guard him, intending after the Passover to bring him out to the people. So Peter was kept in prison, but earnest prayer for him was made to God by the church. (ESV)
Collect for St. James the Elder, Apostle
O gracious God, we remember before you today your servant and apostle James, first among the Twelve to suffer martyrdom for the name of Jesus Christ. We pray that you would pour out upon the leaders of your Church that spirit of self-denying service by which they may have true authority among your people; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
 
For the catechumens of Memorial Lutheran Church, that they would be encouraged in their faith and enabled to confess Christ, when called to account
 
For good weather, that we might be blessed by the earth's good fruits each in their due season
 
For Bob Schreiner, that the Lord Jesus would grant him strength and confidence of faith through the Holy Spirit
 
For all marriages, that they would be signs in the world of Christ's love for His bride, the church
Art: DÜRER, Albrecht The Apostle James the Elder (1516)
Memorial Lutheran Church
smurray@mlchouston.org
http://www.mlchouston.org
© Scott Murray 2018
Memorial Lutheran Church, 5800 Westheimer Rd., Houston, TX 77057
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