Readings: Zeph. 3:14–20, Rom. 8:33–39 & Jn. 12:20–32
Japan entered the fray of World War 2 when it launched an attack on Pearl Harbour on 7 December 1941. In January 1942 the Japanese army invaded Papua New Guinea, capturing the strategic city of Rabaul on 23 January.
At that time the Anglican Bishop of Papua New Guinea, Bishop Philip Strong, encouraged Anglican mission staff in Papua New Guinea to remain at their posts, although he later counselled young female missionaries to leave the country if they wished. The missionaries were convinced that their voluntary departure would be inconsistent with their duty, and they decided to stay. One of them wrote to his father: “If I don’t come out of it, just rest content that I tried to do my job faithfully.”
On 22 July the Japanese landed at Gona on the North-East coast of Papua, where an Anglican Mission Station and Hospital were established. The Mission personnel consisted of the Reverend James Benson, Sister May Hayman and Miss Mavis Parkinson, and when the invading Japanese approached, they sought safety inland. The two women were captured and killed by the Japanese about 1 September; the bodies were exhumed and given a Christian burial in February 1943. The Reverend James Benson was taken prisoner and was later found alive after three years.
At Sangara, thirty miles inland from Gona, the Reverend Vivian Redlich was stationed; with him were a mission nurse, Sister Margery Brenchley, and a teacher, Miss Lilla Lashmar. About eight miles further on at Isivita, were the Reverend Henry Holland and Mr. John Duffill. In late July, unfriendly local natives, led by a notorious criminal, made known to the Japanese the whereabouts of the missionaries. All five were captured, taken to Buna, and were beheaded on the beach.
The facts were gathered first from entries in Japanese diaries found on dead soldiers, and verified later by an official investigation. Eleven Anglicans – Papuans, English and Australians – were martyred, as were 15 Lutherans, 24 Methodists and 188 Roman Catholics.
The term ‘martyr’, which has become synonymous with someone who suffers persecution and death for their religious beliefs, is derived from the Greek word martus which itself means a witness. So we can say that Christian martyrs, have been people who have borne witness to Jesus Christ. And they have been people who were unafraid to publicly proclaim their witness to Christ, even in the face of persecution and death.
In today’s passage from the Gospel of John, Jesus says to those listening to him, some of who are his disciples and others who aren’t, “24 Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. 25 Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life”.
Scholar, Andreas Köstenberger, suggests the analogy that Jesus uses of a grain of wheat that falls into the ground and, dying, produces much fruit, to describe the effect that his own death will have, is a model of selfless sacrifice that is willing to let go of the things of this world (one’s body and life), and which will help preserve one’s life in the world to come.
Another scholar, Francis Moloney, argues that, “Those who wish to come to eternal life must, like Jesus, be prepared to lay down their lives in self-gift (v. 25)”. But, Moloney also says, “There is more to this self-gift than generosity. The disciple of Jesus is called to reverse the attitude of Jesus’ opponents who are unable to accept the revelation of God the Father in and through Jesus”.
I think we see both in the example of the Martyrs of Papua New Guinea. Their refusal to leave their posts, and to continue their ministry, in the face of imminent risk and danger, was an example of both selfless sacrifice, and also a clear demonstration of their belief that God the Father has been revealed to us in and through the person of Jesus Christ.
We may not ever be called to bear witness to Jesus Christ in the same way as the Martyrs of Papua New Guinea, but nonetheless we are still called to bear witness to him in our own lives and in our own community. So how de we bear witness to Jesus Christ in our own lives and in our own community? I think we can find the answer to that question in our own Parish Mission Action Plan.
You might remember in last week’s sermon that I read out for you the Mission Statement of our parish here at St Andrew’s Aberfeldie. Before I read it out again for you now, let me first read for you our Vision Statement. It says: “To become a visible community of Christ-like disciples, building a spiritual legacy of encouragement and hope”:
Surely to be Christ-like means we should be imitators of Jesus himself. Living in love, as Jesus loves us, putting others and their needs first, ahead of our own. Which is just what Jesus did, when he offered himself on the cross as a sacrifice for us and the whole world. That was the message of my sermon from two weeks ago.
Let me now read for you again our Parish Mission Statement: “Loving God; Living our Faith and making the Word of God fully known in the local community.”
As I said last Sunday, “Making the Word of God fully known in the local community, requires us to proclaim the gospel. Our Parish Mission Action Plan outlines the strategies that we are employing to do this. We are proclaiming the gospel in the face of those powers who would love nothing more than to see Christianity slowly die out. So let us follow the advice that Paul gave to the church in Ephesus. Let us stand firm, and put on the armour of God to protect us. And let us pray.”
And so this morning I would ask you to reflect. Reflect on the words of our Parish Vision Statement, Mission Statement and Values, which I have laminated and placed on the two external noticeboards and also on the noticeboard at the back of the church.
And I would ask you to read, and reflect on, the Parish Mission Action Plan, which I have also laminated and placed on the noticeboard at the back of the church.
Become familiar with the ‘Strategies’ of the Mission Action Plan, and embrace them as your own, so that we here at St Andrew’s, can bear witness to Jesus Christ in our community.