Will you dare?Feast of James Hannington and the Martyrs of Uganda
Missouri School for Ministry
Saturday, October 29, 2005
A couple of years ago, a young man in the congregation I was serving committed suicide in jail the evening before he was to plead guilty to killing his mother. As I was dealing with the grief and the guilt, asking myself what more I could have done, a colleague and friend sent me this note:
"If we had known the joys and the terrible sorrows of the priesthood, would we have ever dared say yes to the call of God?"
I've been thinking about that note this week while I've been thinking about the life of James Hannington. Because I've been wondering if James Hannington, born in 1847 to a prosperous Congregationalist merchant family in Sussex, England, educated in Oxford, ordained in the Church of England in 1874, made bishop of Eastern Equatorial Africa at the age of 37, only to die a few months later with his 50 porterson this date in 1885--I wonder if he knew what was to come, if he would have dared say yes to the call of God?
But how many of us, as we envision our ministries, lay and ordained as leaders in congregations, remember that vocation as a disciple always includes crucifixion? Martyrdom is not the province of ordained missionaries in colonial times alone. I've also been thinking of a Lutheran church I know, whose original lay leadership was excommunicated and shunned by the Missouri Synod church when they challenged that congregation's idea of the Bible and mission. Exercising our vocations in the world and in the congregation risks the loss of precious relationships, careers--risks conflict, loneliness, even arrest and death.
So what can we learn from James Hannington to prepare and sustain us for those moments of sorrow that are a part of Christian life?
Hannington kept a diary during his last week while he was kept prisoner. While confiding his fears about his likely death, he expressed confidence in the next chapter, particularly naming certain Psalms as his guide and comfort. Psalms 27, 28 and 30 sustained him through starvation and physical abuse.
Hannington faced and uncertain earthly future, enduring to a terrible end because he knew the story. He knew the story told in Hebrew Scriptures and Christian witness and he knew the story did not end in slavery or at the foot of the cross. He expected to be gathered with all those gone before who dared say "yes" to the call of God and wrote that he looked forward to being "in sweet converse with the Lamb."
We tell his story so we can connect it with our stories, to our joys and sorrows. He is reported to have said "tell your master the road to Uganda has been purchased with my blood." He could say that because, through God's grace, he knew he was strengthened by the Author of our one Great Story, a story that will enter all of us here in a few moments through Christ's Body and Blood.
God is calling each one of us to be part of that story. Without knowing the joys and sorrows that lie ahead--will you dare say "yes" to the call of God?
(Information for this sermon found in Lesser Feasts and Fasts and at this website.)