Thursday, October 30, 2014

October 30 - Marcellus of Tangier, Martyr, Centurion, Loyal to a Higher Power

Everybody loves a parade, right? Well maybe not everybody. You see, Marcellus knew that Maximian's birthday was approaching but he wasn't looking forward to the festivities. Of course, he was careful to reveal this to nobody except those closest to him--his secret Christian brothers and sisters. When they gathered, Marcellus spoke of his anxieties for the coming celebration and his brothers and sisters offered comforting and inspiring words for him. They would not share in his decision or its consequences but they suffered similar threats and anxieties as Christians were persecuted and repressed by the Roman Empire.

Marcellus remained nervous as he stood in front his own soldiers near the end of the parade route. Maximian was being conveyed along the road on the way to the temple where sacrifice would be made in his honor. The expectation, soundly fulfilled by every unit of soldiers he had already passed, was for the soldiers to kneel before their lord Maximian as he passed. Marcellus swallowed hard as he saw Maximian's entourage approach and heard the rustling sound of the soldiers around him dropping to their knees in loyalty to Maximian. Marcellus remained standing and could hear gasps around him as people silently willed him to kneel. The people began to fear for him as he refused to kneel and removed his belt.As he dropped it, it clattered on the stone. The soldiers around him lifted their eyes enough to see what had caused the noise and were confused to find Marcellus removing and dropping his weapons, as well. If that wasn't enough, Marcellus removed the vine insignia that represented his loyalty to and status in the Empire and dropped it to the ground as Maximian passed.He was immediately seized by the Praetorian guard and hurried away from the crowd. His weapons, belt, rank, status, and history remained on the ground in the place where he had refused to kneel.

He was brought before a judge who ordered him to be taken to another judge. The praetorian guard conferred among themselves about the judge who was to decide Marcellus' fate. They knew that this judge was known to be merciful to Christians--even Christian soldiers who had defected--and so they conspired to avoid this possibility for lenience. Instead, they brought him before one of their leaders. He was beaten and tried. When asked how he plead, he responded that he had laid down his worldly rank instead of denying his loyalty to Jesus Christ. He proclaimed his faith over the jeers of the assembled guards and when asked if he could not be loyal to both he insisted that he could only be supremely loyal to his slaughtered King and Savior. They beheaded him as a traitor to their lord Maximian but only made him a martyr in the name of his Lord Jesus.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

October 29 - James Hannington, Martyr, Missionary

It may not be fair to say that James was a poor student but it is fair to say that he was a very erratic student. His attendance was fairly regular but his grades seemed unpredictable and his tutors had a variety of opinions on his strengths and weaknesses. He dropped out of his formal education at the age of fifteen to work in his father's business. It was here that he worked primarily with numbers and relatively rarely had intensive interaction with other people. Though he never intimated displeasure with the job, it's safe to assume he didn't feel called to it given his erratic past and his eventual departure from the position. Instead, James felt called into the ministry. More specifically, James felt a calling to be a minister in the Anglican church.

He entered again into the academic world so that he might receive the degree needed to be ordained a priest. He was no better a student this time than he had been previously but he was slightly more determined to continue because of the firm hand of his calling at his back. As he approached graduation, his mother died and his life lost some of its luster for quite some time. His grief and his sober reflection pushed him to be a better student and he eventually graduated and was ordained as a deacon and given to a small parish in England. Several years later, he heard a story of missionaries to Africa who had been martyred because of their missionary calling.

Perhaps he was tired of the parish life. Perhaps he felt God's distinct calling yet again. Regardless, he soon enlisted to go to Africa with the Church Mission Society. He arrived in Zanzibar with six other missionaries in 1882. It was not an easy calling by any means. As they traveled, preached, and tried to meet the needs of the people they were coming into contact with, they suffered physical and emotional setbacks because of the changes in climate and diet.Having contracted dysentery and a fever that persisted regardless of treatment, James returned to England in 1883 against his wishes but with sound medical advice. James left his heart behind in Africa, however, and soon found himself returning in 1884 having been ordained Bishop of Eastern Equatorial Africa.

He arrived with a party of missionaries and they committed to reaching out to the people of Uganda. They traveled into Uganda and found that their arrival was an unwelcome one for the rulers. King Mwanga II sent word that the missionaries were to be captured and imprisoned.When the missionaries arrived in Busoga, they were seized and held captive. They were held captive as their fate was decided. Eventually Mwanga decided to have them killed and sent word that they should be executed. One by one, the missionaries were dragged from the cell and put to the tip of a spear. Finally, James was brought out and stabbed on both sides in the abdomen. He slowly and painfully died. With his last breath, he drew one of his executioners to him and said, "Go, tell Mwanga I have purchased the road to Uganda with my blood."

Other missionaries would follow for like James, they saw the powerful witness of a martyr for those caught up in the flame of the life of a missionary. James became a model like the one who had modeled the missionary life for him. He died at the hands of the people he was desperate to reach and love but, in doing so, he provided a stream of missionaries and prayers that would eventually bring about the redemption of some of those whom he loved and who hated him.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

October 28 - Simon the Zealot, Apostle, Martyr

He had known it was going to happen. He had told Jesus repeatedly that he was hitting too close to home with the powerful and influential people. It seemed that Jesus didn't care if he upset the people with enough power to do something about it. In one way, Simon admired that kind of fearless provocation of the powerful and yet, he also knew what happened to people who irritated and provoked Rome. He had scars and old wounds to remind him. He had memories of friends and compatriots who had spilled their blood in resistance to Rome and Rome's allies. Now, Jesus hung from a cross. It was humiliating! Simon couldn't understand how this was appropriate for somebody who proclaimed the dawning of a new Kingdom.

For Simon, it had always been clear that Rome was the enemy--that Rome was the problem. As a member of the Zealots, Simon was very familiar with a philosophy of resistance at every turn to repel the occupying Roman forces. If Rome wanted to stay in Israel, the Zealots meant to make them pay for it with their blood and eventual fear. Known as "dagger men," the Zealots manipulated their small numbers to their advantage and began targeting the powerful for assassination. Willing to sacrifice themselves to shed enemy blood, they knew well that powerful people died as easily as any other when their throat was slit.

Zealots like Simon forsook and forbade any appeasement to the Romans. Tax collectors and Jews who cooperated with the Roman Empire were additional targets for the sharp blades of the Zealots. Though they may not have expressed it, their hope was to overturn Roman dominance of Israel and replace it with their own control. When Jesus began preaching about a "new Kingdom," Simon took notice. It sounded as if Jesus might be advocating resistance to Rome. In a way, Jesus was but it didn't look like what Simon was expecting. So, when he was arrested, Simon surely wondered if this would be the moment that Jesus would direct his many followers to rise up and overthrow the Romans. When Jesus was whipped and beaten, Simon surely wondered if he would turn on his torturers and bring judgment upon Rome and its allies. When Jesus carried his cross on the road to his crucifixion, Simon surely recognized the throngs of people around him and wondered if Jesus might not start the revolution then. What Simon surely didn't expect was for Jesus to die and offer forgiveness to the people who had killed him.

Simon couldn't help but look back at how he had changed by following after and listening to Jesus. Simon had spent time with the other apostles--even Matthew the tax collector--and had not felt the need to punish them for any of their cooperation with Rome. Simon had heard Jesus tell people that they should not only walk the one mile that a Roman solider could compel them to walk. Rather, they should walk more of their own will to love the soldier who expected only hate and resistance. The Zealots would have advised you to plant a dagger in the back of the soldier at the first opportunity so that you might deal with your enemies, but Jesus was saying to forgive and love them for no other reason than that they were your enemy and brother.Simon had seen Jesus talk about judgment and a new Kingdom but had also seen Jesus offer grace and mercy as signs of the coming of the new Kingdom. It didn't make sense from a Zealot frame of mind and, yet, Simon somehow knew that Jesus was right.

The Zealot way of resistance only brought more violence and domination. By wielding daggers against their enemies, Simon saw that the Zealots had also wounded themselves. Jesus died on a cross not in resistance of the Roman power but because of a love more furious than the great raging zeal of the Zealots. Simon clearly saw into the heart of Jesus' new Kingdom's way of looking at things:Love Wins. Simon was there when Jesus rose from the dead and finally understood victory in a way that proclaimed good news instead of different bad news. He could not truly be called a Zealot anymore because he had given up the path of violence and vengeance and chosen the path of peace and love for enemies.

Monday, October 27, 2014

October 27 - Clarence Jordan, Farmer, Founder of Koinonia Farm, Opponent of the Status Quo

Southern Baptist Theological Seminary had hosted many people before Clarence and would host many after him but Clarence Jordan was something different. In 1938, Clarence had just received his Ph.D. in New Testament and felt equipped to do whatever it was that God was calling him to. The challenge, of course, is that what had seemed so clear for so many years was suddenly cloudier. This further calling had descended upon Clarence as he studied the scripture and would not let him go. He was challenged by what he read and translated and would not allow himself to rationalize away its scandal and strength. Clarence was challenged and rebuked by the stories he enveloped himself in and found his increasing discomfort with the status quo a powerful witness to the possibility of redemption.

Clarence had been raised in a small city in Georgia named Talbotton. It seems that Clarence was always disgusted with the racism that he found everywhere he looked. Further, he was confused by the poverty of the communities around him. He didn't get why "the way things are" included a lack for people that the Church claimed to love and care for. He didn't get "the way things are." He studied agriculture at the University of Georgia so that he could use his mind to carry knowledge back to the people who needed it but couldn't afford to go and get it. In other words, he hoped to be a vessel of grace and equality for a people so far from the source. This was his path--taking farming knowledge back to poor rural farmers--for many years but he was changed when he began to see a more essential and more fundamental problem: the spiritual roots of poverty.

Not wanting to simply apply a bandage to a wound with a deep cause, Clarence went to Southern to learn and prepare to address spiritual concerns and the spiritual foundation of the system that fed on the lives of the poor. It would be no use to fix the symptoms of the problem if the disease of a broken system was allowed to incubate within society. With degree in hand and his new wife, he moved back to Georgia to begin his life's work--to continue in the path of God's calling. He and his wife joined with former American Baptist Missionaries to found a community called "Koinonia Farm." This community was racially equal. Further, they rejected all violence and materialism. They lived together sharing everything and invited any who were truly willing to take up their cross to come and live and work on the farm. This was not received well by the powers in Georgia. They were investigated. They were harassed and threatened. They were called Communists. Yet, they didn't seek recourse in political power. Instead, they insisted that the only way to change the region, the nation, and the world was to live out a different life in sight of the "the way things are." They lived equality instead of demanding that others do so. Their impact is not easily overstated.

Clarence translated the New Testament into English in a translation called the "Cotton Patch" translations. For Clarence, the process of translation was about more than words or phrases but also the context of the scripture. In the Cotton Patch Gospels, Jesus was born in Gainesville, condemned by the politicians in Atlanta and Washington, D.C., and was lynched. This was a powerful difference that challenged people in new ways. The scripture as Clarence translated it was not something you could simply put down and out of mind. It stuck in your brain because it shared your context. Clarence was a prolific writer and translator until the day he died in 1969.