St. John 16.vv.1-11

~ Jesus declared, "I have said these things to you to keep you from stumbling. They will put you out of the synagogues. Indeed, an hour is coming when those who kill you will think that by doing so they are offering worship to God. And they will do this because they have not known the Father or me. But I have told you these things so that when their hour comes you may remember that I told you about them. I did not say these things to you from the beginning, because I was with you. But now I am going to him who sent me; yet none of you asks me, "Where are you going?". But because I have said these things to you, sorrow has filled your hearts. Nevertheless I tell you the truth; it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. And when he comes, he will prove the world wrong about sin and righteousness and judgement: about sin, because they do not believe in me; about righteousness, because I am going to the Father and you will see me no longer; about judgement, because the ruler of this world has been condemned." ~

As St. Polycarp (mid second century AD) was on his way to martyrdom, he was urged by his enemies to recant, to deny Christ and thereby save his life. His reply was, "Eighty and six years I have served Him and He has done me no harm, how then can I deny my King who has saved me?". In this same spirit died many of the Christian martyrs.

We are bidden to pray for courage, strength and steadfastness in the face of persecution and suffering for the Gospels' sake. Since, however, few of us Christians in the Western World have suffered or are suffering for the faith, we may well say "What is all this to me?". The answer is very simple, it is "Everything!" for since God is Love we too must love, and love and suffering are so inextricably linked that suffering is bound to be the lot of all true Christian people.

The message of the Old Testament is that God sees the suffering of His faithful people, He has compassion (not simply pity) on them. He is their Rock, their Fortress, He helps them in their affliction, they may have trust and confidence in Him.

In the New Testament Acts 7.vv54-60 we read of Stephen, the first martyr of the Christian era, not only facing martyrdom bravely but, like his Master Jesus Christ, forgiving his persecutors praying that they might be forgiven.

The Gospel reading (John 16.vv.1-11) shows Jesus predicting persecution and suffering for His followers. None could say "Lord, you might have warned us"; not once but many times Jesus foretold the sufferings His followers would experience - the glory could not be without the Cross. Jesus promised, however, that by His Holy Spirit He would be ever with them to guide, uphold, strengthen and comfort them. It is important to realise that the word "Comforter" used so often for the Holy Spirit is all too often too weak a word associated with a "soothing hand" rather than the robust and powerful force implicit in the word comfort, for comfort is an intensive form of "fort" (cf fortress, fortitude) a strong and strengthening factor.

The rushing mighty wind of Pentecost, the flame and wind that swept away all doubts and fears are all attributes of God's mighty power and help.

Christian people know how much they need the power and protection of God's Spirit and if anyone should imagine that he or she could succeed without it they are mistaken. So too those who imagine that they can be loyal and steadfast witnesses to the faith without suffering should think again, for all who love inevitably suffer.

All Christian people are faced by enemies without and within. From within, if we are to follow Christ we must fight the forces of pride, jealousy, hatred, love of self comfort, greed, lethargy, impurity, acquiescence in evil.

From without, we witness in a hostile environment pressures to conform to the standards and norms of a "naughty" world where honesty, purity, compassion, love are often set at naught.

The dangers we face are more subtle than outright persecution but every bit as real and involve us in suffering, if not in persecution.

Jesus predicted suffering for His people even as He suffered on the Cross but "Lo, I am with you always even to the end of the world", said He, Thanks be to God.

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