For the second year in a row, the Cathedral parish I serve has received permission from our bishop to transfer the Feast Day commemorating the Martyrs of Sudan to a Sunday. We do this for many reasons, including the fact that we have a number of young Sudanese men and women who are members of our Cathedral parish (part of the Lost Boys and Girls), and also because of the relationship we are cultivating with Bishop Ezekiel Diing of the Diocese of Twich East in Sudan.
Listening this morning as our preacher recounted the terrible story of persecution, torture and death dished out by Islamic extremists to Sudanese Christians who refused to renounce Jesus as Lord and Savior by converting to Islam, I was struck by the dissonance between those horrible events and the comfortable existence most of us enjoy.
Educated and culturally sophisticated as we Episcopalians tend to be, we celebrate the freedom of "living the questions," taking pride in differentiating ourselves from all those "fundamentalists" and "simple believers" by cultivating an identity as "thinking Christians." We know enough to assume for ourselves the authority to pick and choose the doctrines and the scriptures that we deem normative, sifting the wheat from the tares of Christianity, or even embracing "progressivism" to the point of moving beyond the core tenets of the Christian faith altogether. We do it for the sake of "relevance." And we do it from the comfort and security of our armchairs, laptops, and Sunday school classrooms.
While we live the questions, the Martyrs of Sudan and the Lost Boys and Girls of Sudan are examples of what it means to live the answers of the Christian faith without comfort and security. As with all the Christian martyrs, theirs is a faith whose paramount concern is not about insuring that we are "thinking Christians" or about "salvaging" or "revising" Christianity so that it's relevant to persons who don't believe in it anyway or who are outright hostile towards it. Their primary concern is being faithful to the God who proves His faithfulness to us in Jesus Christ by bearing witness in their own lives and, if need be, in their deaths, to the love, mercy, and glory of God. They remind us that being disciples of Jesus Christ is not an academic exercise or a thought-experiment. Instead, it's a way of life that entails absolute commitment to the risen Jesus as Lord and Savior in the company of other disciples. That can sometimes be risky and dangerous, and even lead to torture, death, and diaspora.
As with our nation, so too in the Church: the comforts and freedoms we enjoy are luxuries that were bought with a price (and sometimes a terrible price) by predecessors, most especially including confessors and martyrs. We are able to live the questions of faith because others suffered and died for the answers of the Christian faith. We do well to remember their examples lest we get so carried away with the permission to ask questions that we confuse our liberty with license.