29 July 2016
To die is gain
Dan Tyler is pastor for students and young adults at St George's Church, Leeds
On 28 October 313AD the world was changed.
Against overwhelming odds, but with newly-discovered Christian faith in his bosom, Constantine won a battle to become emperor of Western Europe. Within 12 years he had become the first emperor in a generation to unite the whole Roman Empire and he had done it with Jesus' name at the very centre.
If you've lived in the West then being part of the Church has made your life more comfortable ever since. But it was never supposed to be this way.
As Paul put it: "For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain" (Philippians 1:21).
The heroes of the early Church were the martyrs, not like the men who rub shoulders with culture's elites today. The early Church had Polycarp martyred at 86, but we have Rick Warren brilliantly praying at Obama's inauguration; they had Felicity and Perpetua – two young mothers thrown to the wild animals, but we have bishops serving in the House of Lords.
Tuesday's shocking murder of Father Jacques Hamel at 85 – simply for being a Christian – reminds us that the gospel is offensive. It reminds us that the Church is not safe. It reminds us that the world needs Jesus.
The gospel is the news that Jesus, in his life, death and resurrection, has achieved something for us that was desperately needed and beyond our ability to achieve. We need his victory over death because we're dying. We need his victory over sin because we're sin-addicts. We need his victory over evil because evil not only invades our world, it permeates to the very core of our ego.
The gospel is offensive because it opens people's eyes to the truth that they are dying sin-addicts with evil hearts. It is offensive because we were told that we can be whoever we want to be. We were told 'nothing is impossible', 'just do it'. And when our eyes are opened to the truth that we can't, our psyche is wounded.
When damaged people are offended they do dreadful things – from Nero, Domitian and Diocletian to Nazis, Daesh, and the disillusioned person down your road. The gospel is offensive and we will see more damaged people doing dreadful things to the Church of Jesus before he returns.
Father Jacques Hamel was a priest near a city called Rouen. I'm a pastor in Leeds, and it's unnervingly easy to imagine a similar tragedy here. We've received communiqués on security in light of the attack and there is a heightened sense of nervousness around.
I'm struck by the reminder that the Church is uncomfortable. It is not safe to leave your phone lying around on a Sunday, it is not safe to leave the door open on a Tuesday. But it was not safe to pray in Gethsemane, it was not safe to bear witness to Christ in the amphitheatre.
It was not and is not safe to be a Christian.
Because he didn't pursue the safe and comfortable, Jesus won a victory over sin, over evil and over death.
If we are willing to live shared lives then the victory of Christ will shine brighter even as the darkness deepens. If we are willing to live shared lives: to live with open doors when it's not safe, to live with open hearts when we've been hurt before, to live with open hands when we will be taken advantage of, we won't feel comfortable but we will certainly "shine like stars in the universe as we hold out the word of life" (Philippians 2:15).
The challenge to you today? Recognise the reality of whatever danger you're in and choose to stand for the gospel anyway because the world needs it and Jesus is with you.