“M” is for Martyr (March 9, 2012)

…Opening To…

So daily dying to the way of self, so daily living to your way of love, we walk the road, Lord Jesus, that you trod, knowing ourselves baptized into your death: so we are dead and live with you in God. (Thomas H. Cain, from The Hymnal 1982)

…Listening In…

As they battered him with stones, Stephen prayed, “Lord Jesus, accept my life!” Falling to his knees, he shouted, “Lord, don’t hold this sin against them!” Then he died. (Acts 7:59-60; context)

…Filling Up…

This Lent, we are exploring our faith by running through the alphabet. Today, “M” is for martyr. This is by far the most misunderstood word in our whole Lenten alphabet this year. Sadly, in our modern context, the word “martyr” crops up most often in connection with two other words: “suicide bomber.” The twisted version of Islam that produces these murderers claims them as “martyrs,” and the media picks up the language. But this is far from what a martyr is.

“Martyr” comes from the Greek word for “witness” or “testimony.” Stephen, the first martyr of the nascent Christian religion talks for the better part of two chapters of the book of Acts before he dies. He tells the religious authorities their own story, he witnesses to Jesus, and he does it all knowing that he would be stoned for it. His death or “martyrdom” was a byproduct and extension of his witness. He was willing to die for what he believed in. And then he did.

Because the linkage with death has been grafted into the word “martyr,” we often forget that the witness in the face of all odds is what makes the martyr truly great. The courage to tell the truth, the faith that God gives strength, the endurance to see things through to the end – these are the marks that make a martyr.

Even we who may not be called to give what Lincoln called “the last full measure of devotion” can learn from the example of the martyrs. In God, we can find the courage, the faith, and the endurance to see our trials through to the end.

In a wonderful episode of The West Wing, President Bartlet says, “We don’t need martyrs, we need heroes. A hero would die for his country, but he’d much rather live for it.” The sentiment is nice, but Bartlet has it wrong. A martyr would die for his faith, but he’d much rather live for it – live and continue to be a witness.

…Praying For…

Dear God, your Son died and rose again to remove the sting of death. Help me to live my faith to the fullest so that, when I come to die, I find that I have served you all my days. In Jesus Christ’s name I pray. Amen.

…Sending Out…

I leave this moment with you, God, thankful that you continue to shine your light in my heart and mind, that I may continue to know you better through every way that you choose to reveal yourself.

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