What do you think it means to me a martyr? There’s the classical definition, which I offer to your courtesy of Google: a martyr is “a person who is killed because of their religious or other beliefs.” In the earliest days of Christianity, people became martyrs because they would not renounce their religious beliefs. On Monday, an 85 year old Catholic priest was martyred at the altar of his church in Normandy. Every day, Christians, Muslims, Jews, Buddhists, Hindus, and every other faith tradition you can think of become martyrs. People lose their lives for their faith. We don’t talk about them, the nameless who die. But every one of them die because they refuse to renounce their faith.
In the early days of Christianity, there was prestige to being a martyr. That prestige is now reserved for special deaths. Like that of French Reverend Jacques Hamel. But being a martyr means more than death because of your religious beliefs.
Being a martyr can also mean losing something of great value because of your faith.
I know that you all have come to expect light hearted sermons from me, about such simple and fun things as terrorism, racism, homophobia, and the Christian response to all three. For those who know me, you know that today is Harry Potter’s birthday and there’s a new Harry Potter book out today, common knowledge would say I’m going to talk about that. But instead, I like to keep you all on your toes. So, I’m going to continue in the light hearted vein of my last several sermons today, and talk about martyrdom. More specifically, I want to rethink martyrdom and what it means to be a martyr.
I am, in many ways, a product of my generation. And as such, I want to know how things are relevant to me, to my life. I have to tell you, stories of martyrs from 2,000 years ago, aren’t relevant to me. Quite honestly, neither is the death of an 85 year old French Catholic priest. Let’s be real for a moment, the chances that I, or you, will become a “martyr” in the traditional sense, are slim to none.
Today, we are going to talk about what does matter to us. And I am letting you know up front, I am calling on all of you to become martyrs.
This does not mean that I am asking anyone to lay down their life; and I will not do that. Nor does this mean that I’m going to ask you to give up things with monetary value. But I am going to ask you to make sacrifices, and changes. I am going to do so because that is what Christ has called me to do. Christ, and the Episcopal Church, have called me to the priesthood because I’m good with change. And it’s time for things to change. Hopefully, by making changes, our lives will be richer and fuller, our relationship with God stronger, and the memory of all the martyrs who have come before us will be honored.
What do you think it means to lose something of great value because of your faith? When I read this section of Paul’s Epistle to the Colossians, and the Gospel of Luke, what I hear is a call to give up things of great value to be better able to follow Christ. Jesus is discussing changing how you view and understand wealth and material goods. Paul is calling on his followers to rethink how they approach daily life.
I’m going to make things a bit more modern for us today. Jesus and Paul were both trying to teach people how to live faithful lives in First century Palestine. We are not in first century Palestine. We are not even in modern Palestine, though it has certainly been hot enough this week to create confusion.
We are in Georgetown. One of the wealthiest sections of one of the wealthiest and most powerful cities, in one of the most powerful nations on Earth. Talking about barns and storing grain are not relevant to us right now. The metaphors of the parable are still relevant. And so is the overall moral of the story: having a better relationship with God and how do you accomplish that.
I propose to you today, as we sit in this church, in this city, in this country, that this ancient texts call on us in these modern times, to stop caring so much about what other people think about us. We must martyr ourselves of the value of public opinion. In place of the adoration of others point at us, we must point adoration at others. Our focus must become outward, instead of inward.
In these stories, and in so many of the Biblical stories, particularly from the New Testament, what we see is a call from Christ, and Paul, to not think the way society tells us to think. We must use our own eyes to view the world, while remembering that God views the world through our eyes.
Society says to be powerful. To accumulate wealth. Store it away. Let others worry about themselves. Society says to be popular is the goal. Celebrity is sought after. Longed for. Lusted for. And why? Why does that matter? It matters because society says it matters.
When God calls your name, and a recap of your life is required of you, what will you say? A common and reasonable response would be: “I lived a good life. And all these people loved me.”
My response, I hope, will be: “I lived a good life. And I loved all of these people.”
I challenge you today to make that your response as well. In order to do this, we must rid ourselves of the “me first” mindset. Thinking of ourselves first, and really caring about what others think is very highly valued in our society. You must get rid of that. And you must do so because of your faith.
You must become a martyr.
That’s a terrifying thought. At least it is to me. The word, martyr, almost seems to float on the air after it’s said. Great loss is associated with that word. Loss of life. Of wealth. Of love.
But today, if you recall way back to when I started talking, I said I wanted to rethink martyrdom. And I really, really do want to rethink this word.
In chaplain world, I spend a lot of time with people who often need to view things from a different perspective. And that’s what we need to do here too.
We need to rethink the association of martyr with loss. Because the very essence of the word means that you are willingly sacrificing something for something bigger.
I made a huge sacrifice to be in this pulpit. I gave up my life as I had always known it. A promising legal career. My entire life changed, dramatically, and wonderfully. I willingly made that sacrifice, for my faith. And it was hard. And confusing. And awkward. And has been, hands down, the best decision I have ever made, ever.
I became a martyr. I am a martyr. Society looks at me and says I’m crazy for giving up a career to go to seminary. I’m constantly asked by people with befuddled looks how I went from being a lawyer to being a chaplain.
Society says my decision was questionable at best, and probably quite stupid. But putting aside what society will think or say in order to follow what God asks of me is the best decision I have ever made.
And it will be for you too.
This doesn’t start with a total change of perspective of the world. It starts with opening your eyes to how what others think of you impacts what decisions you make. How do societal norms influence your decisions and your daily life? Become aware of yourself. And how you became who and what you are. And why. Start there. And then we’ll talk about the big changes. The changes that might make people on the outside scratch their heads.
I said it earlier, and I’ll say it now too: when I stand before the gates of Heaven, I want to be able to look at God and say “I lived a good life. And I loved all of these people!”
People might love me back, and that’s great. Because it means there’s more love in the world.
Let your actions speak the words of your faith. Proclaim your faith in how you live your life. And in what you live your life for.