Christ Church Cathedral, Grafton
The Martyrs of PNG
2 September 2018
In today’s Gospel—chosen for the festival of the PNG Martyrs—we have a classic piece of spiritual wisdom from Jesus:
“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. Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.” (John 12:24–25 NRSV)
This saying happens to be one of my favourite biblical texts. It has always touched me profoundly.
These words take us deep into the mystery of the truth that Jesus lived, and the truth that we are called to live as well.
To be a solitary and self-sufficient figure—even if we could do that, which mostly we cannot—is to be lonely and pointless. To survive at all costs, might mean that we die without any meaning to our existence at all.
The point of being alive is not to survive, but to serve.
This was a theme to which Jesus and his first followers returned time and again.
Here in John 12 the saying about the grain of wheat is followed by the aphorism about losing life in order to find it. Those who cling to their own existence, who prize it above all else, find that they lose what they most value. Those who dismiss their own importance and live for others, will find they have saved their own life and—in the process—fashioned a life that is worth having lived.
In the Synoptic tradition, Jesus calls on his followers to take up their cross. This metaphor does not refer to personal hardships, aching backs or broken hearts. It proclaims a terrible truth: that the path to life is only open to those who are willing to die for something bigger and greater than themselves.
In Philippians 2 we find an early Christian hymn that celebrates Jesus as the one who understands that true divinity is not about snatching power and grasping for privilege.
Each time we gather at the Table of Jesus this profound spiritual truth is acted out for us: the broken bread, the wine poured out, Jesus’ own life given to us, and through us to others.
It is not hard to see why the lectionary committee chose this passage for the feast of the PNG Martyrs, those seeds that fell into the rich soil of PNG and became a vast number of people claiming their own identity as people of God.
And here we are still in the shadow of the recent political upheavals, as people have snatched at power and privilege in our national parliament, seeking to have it all for themselves and those who think like they do. The wisdom of Jesus seems to find few ears that are willing to hear in the halls of power.
It was ever thus, of course.
Those who killed Jesus and those who demanded the death of the PNG martyrs, were powerful and privileged in their own contexts.
This counter-cultural wisdom that Jesus both lived and taught intersects with our local celebrations of Fathers’ Day here in this part of the world.
That wisdom is central to our aspirations as fathers and our expectations of our fathers.
The fathers we most admire, are men who understand this principle.
The fathers we most aspire to be, are men who live out this spiritual principle.
As it happens, I first became a father on this day in 1974. It was not Fathers’ Day that year, but my eldest daughter’s birthday and the feast of the PNG martyrs are forever tied together in my mind.
In our prayers today we shall remember the PNG martyrs but we also pray for the fathers in our community. We pray that God will grant wisdom and strength to every man who is a father to someone else: fathers and grandfathers, husbands and friends, brothers and uncles.
We are at our best as fathers when we forget our own needs for the sake of our children.
We are at our best as people of faith when we learn the secret of the grain that falls.
As a generous faith community in the heart of Grafton since 1842, we are at our best when we forget about our own survival and spend ourselves for the sake of others.
This morning as we come to the Table of Jesus to receive the life that he gives away for the sake of the world, let’s seek the grace to live for others and not for ourselves.