Sermon for 4 Easter Yr C, 2/05/2004
Based on Rev 7:9-17
By Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson
Pastor of Grace Lutheran Church, &
Chaplain of the Good Samaritan Society’s
South Ridge Village, Medicine Hat, Alberta
In our second lesson today, John of Patmos reminds the churches in the province of Asia that God is with them in the midst of persecution. Around that time, Christians living in the province of Asia were under a great deal of persecution. John of Patmos gives his readers a message of encouragement and hope—in the end, God is victorious, God will deliver the people out of their persecution. It was the power, presence, victory and hope that we all have in Jesus our Christ that John of Patmos wanted to share with the Christians in Asia. However, in order for him to share this message with them; he had to write the book of Revelation by using images and symbolic language. This style of writing is called apocalyptic literature. Apocalyptic literature was usually written during periods of persecution; when Jews and Christians could not speak clearly and directly to those who persecuted them. If they did speak clearly and directly, then their persecutors would kill them. Therefore, they wrote about their faith and those who persecuted them indirectly; by using various images and symbols that were understood by their audience. It was like a secret code language, today we might call it “underground literature or counter-cultural literature.”
For example, in our text today, when John of Patmos speaks of those who are clothed in white robes; he is referring to those who have been saved and made pure by Christ; the Christian martyrs who will remain loyal to Christ through the persecution; the Christian martyrs who refuse to worship the Roman emperor as a god. In this context, John encouraged the Christians of Asia to remain loyal to Jesus Christ; at the end of the persecution there was victory over death, the earthly rulers, and the powers of evil. The victory belonged to the loyal Christians who shared in Christ’s death and resurrection.
The issue of loyalty to Christ is equally as important for Christians today as it was for those second century Christians in Asia. Christ’s power and presence among the loyal Christians of Asia gave them strength to survive and even grow under their persecution—the same is true today as well. The following example bears faithful witness to Christ’s power and presence among loyal Christians today.
He Huaizhu was such a staunch Communist that even the love letters she exchanged with her husband were filled with references to the party and Chairman Mao.
But at the end of her life, as China became increasingly capitalistic, she felt herself losing faith in her ideology. She questioned the materialism and the obsession with money that she saw around her in the new China.
As she lay dying of cancer, she met a Christian woman in hospital who volunteered to take care of her family. The woman, a barely literate labourer, visited her home, gave He Huaizhu massages and made meals for the family.
A month before her death, He Huaizhu abandoned her Communist faith and became a Christian believer, like an estimated one million Chinese people every year. Her conversion is part of an extraordinary surge of religious belief that Beijing is struggling to keep under tight rein.
Her 34-year-old son, Hu Wei, told his mother’s story to explain why he is a regular worshipper at a Protestant church in Beijing. He converted to Christianity the same day as his mother in 2001. “When she was dying, her only wish was that I should become a Christian,” he said. “She was not a follower of communism any more because it lacked love.”
His religious beliefs, he says, have helped him survive the hardships of daily life in China, including a recent bout of unemployment. “I’m experiencing a hard period and sometimes I feel so helpless. But I always stay happy because God is with me.”
According to official statistics, there are about 15 million Protestants and five million Roman Catholics in China. But the true number is much greater—as many as 80 million by some estimates, including millions of Christians who worship in secret underground “house churches,” despite strict controls on and persecution of the unofficial churches. By comparison, less than four million Christians existed in all of China in 1949 when the Communists came to power.
Some analysts predict that, at the current rate of growth, Christians could represent as much as one-third of China’s population within the next three decades. “China is in the process of becoming Christianized,” concludes a new book, Jesus in Beijing, by David Aikman, Time magazine’s former Beijing bureau chief. Former president Jiang Zemin once privately told friends that he would like Christianity to become China’s official religion, according to sources in the book. 1
In the midst of persecution and isolation from the outside world, Chinese Christians have remained loyal to Jesus Christ. They too share in Christ’s victory over death, the earthly powers, and all evil powers.
So, the message of encouragement and hope that John of Patmos addressed to the Christians in Asia long ago is also our message today. John emphasises Christ’s constant presence among those who are persecuted. Christ gives persecuted Christians the strength to hang in there; to persevere; and finally to be led through the persecution into a new life and a new state of existence. Into a new understanding and experience of the fullness of Christ’s grace; which shall be filled with heavenly hope and joy without end. Amen.
1 Cited from: The Globe And Mail, Saturday, February 21, 2004, “Jesus challenging Marx for soul of China,” by Geoffrey York, p. A3.