BIBLE READINGS:††† Romans 6: 12-23††††† Matthew 10: 40-42
The day was June 3rd, 1886. The place was Namugongo, Uganda. An event is about to take place that will change the shape of Christianity in this country for all time. Thirty-two men have been told to place loyalty to the king over loyalty to Christ. For their refusal to deny their faith, they are burned to death. These men are now known as The Martyrs of Uganda.
In 1877, nine years earlier, a handful of Roman Catholic and Anglican missionaries arrived in Uganda. They had permission to preach only to the members of the court by order of King Mutesa. Mutesa's successor was King Mwanga. He became angry when he learned that the converts to Christianity placed loyalty to Christ over loyalty to the king. In 1885 he began killing anyone who went near a Christian Mission. When he couldn't stop them from going to the Missions he decided to systematically wipe Christianity from Uganda. These thirty men were all converts to Christianity. They were also pages to the court.
Mwanga thought this mass execution would have the desired effect of turning everyone away from Christianity. In reality, it had the opposite effect. The thirty men walked to their deaths. As they walked they sang hymns and they prayed for their enemies. The people watching were inspired and they started to seek more information from the Christians who were still present. Within just a few years, Christianity had spread throughout the land. The martyrs showed the people that Christianity was not just a white man's religion but was truly African. Most of the missionary work was done by Africans and not white missionaries. Presently, Uganda has the largest percentage of professed Christians of any nation in Africa. Christianity is so strong that it even survived the persecution by the military dictatorship of Idi Amin in the 1970's almost one hundred years later.
We don't understand this kind of Christianity very well in Australia. As a matter of fact we don't understand many parts of the world at all. In fact, we have a name for those areas. We call them the "Third World." We call ourselves the "First World." It is almost as if we believe these people are on another planet.
Why else would we use the term "Third World"?
It is difficult for us to grasp their situation because of our own. We do not understand abject poverty where thousands have no income. We do not understand the lack of or non-existence of health care in other areas of the world. We do not know what it is like to be really hungry or thirsty. After all, health care, adequate shelter, food and transportation are aspects of our every day life. We pretty much eat what we want, go where we want, live where we want, and get angry if we have to wait in line for more than thirty seconds.
Furthermore, we have grown apathetic about our faith. All mainline denominations are in decline. They have been in decline since the late 1950's. The start of this decline corresponds to a growth in our country of economic and social well-being. It spans all religions, political parties and their influences. It goes beyond the Vietnam War, the Hippie Generation and the Feminist Movement. Churches were involved in all of these things, but the decline went on. The decline was not due to arguments over these issues or over politics. The decline was due predominantly to one issue. We felt we didn't need God.
Just as it was then so it is now. We have everything we need. We got it on our own. We pulled ourselves up by our own boot straps and we have persevered. God did not build or buy my house. God did not buy my car. God does not provide for my needs or my familyís needs; I do. These ideas mean we feel we don't need God.
In fact, we do need God because like it or not we are not in charge of our own destiny. Too many factors influence our well-being that are way out of our control. Let me give one very clear example. Can anyone of us control the price of petrol? The price of petrol has gone up and no-one seems able to control it. If anyone of us can stop it, I know everyone would appreciate it. If we can't control this simple commodity, then how can we possibly control other more important aspects of our lives? The reality is we can't.
However, we can place our trust and our faith in the One who created us and loves us. In the reading from Matthew's Gospel the disciples are called to be radical missionaries. The word radical does not mean they are to pull crazy stunts, preach loudly on street comers, or scare people into following Jesus Christ. Being a radical missionary means placing one's whole trust in God and not in the structures of the world around us. In the reading, the disciples are even warned about the family structures. It is not the place to put all faith and trust. At the time of this writing in Matthew's community, family members were turning over other family members to the leaders of the synagogue for believing in Jesus Christ. As a result, they were disciplined, punished and even thrown out of the synagogue for their beliefs. They were persecuted by their own family, friends, and business associates for their religious belief in God.
Still today, human structures and institutions fail those who place all faith in them. We have all seen what happens to people who place all their trust for retirement in various super funds and retirement plans. We have also seen what can happen within families. Even family structures fail as members turn against one another due to various positions on issues.
There is one place where we can put all faith and trust. We can place our faith and trust in God through Jesus Christ. Jesus promises us eternal life. Jesus is not talking about just the here and now. Jesus is talking about eternity. To that end, what we do here matters. What we believe matters. What we share with other people about God matters. For our belief in God has eternal significance. We canít say we are followers of Jesus Christ and not love others and treat them with respect and dignity. We canít claim to believe in Jesus Christ and live in isolation calling others names that separate us from them. We canít claim to be faithful to the Gospel of Jesus Christ and proclaim the crucifixion didnít happen and the resurrection didnít occur. We either believe that Jesus Christ is our Lord and Saviour, and live into that belief in our lives, or we don't.
Like the disciples in Matthew's Gospel and like the Martyrs of Uganda we are called to a radical discipleship. We are called to radical faith and radical love. We are called to a hope that transcends this world and yet pervades this world. The one thing we have to realize is that we are called to make this decision every day. Every day when we wake up we have been given a gift, the gift of life for some part of that day. On that day, we are asked to choose what we believe in and what we will serve. We will believe in the one true and loving God? Or will we believe in our own devices and the institutions of the world? The choice this day and every day is ours. Amen