Last week it was reported that Youcef Nadarkhani, a Christian pastor in Iran pictured here with his family, has been convicted on charges of apostasy from Islam and has been sentenced to death.
The Gottesdienst Sabre of Boldness award is intended to honor people just like these.
If I didn't say it clearly enough in my post-acceptance post on Intrepid Lutherans, let me state it now for the record: the award I was given by Gottesdienst back in January is not about me. It’s not about how “righteous” or how “brave” I am (that’s the somewhat humorous part of the award, actually), and it certainly isn't about how “bad” anyone in the WELS is.
The honor of this award is that I get to wear a lapel pin in honor of “them.”
From the Gottesdienst blog regarding the Sabre award (from 2010):
- Fourth, and this one is really important: the Sabre of Boldness is not given to the kind of person we have determined to be most worthy of all, because we know we could never make such an assessment. The Sabre lapel pin is actually two crossed sabers: one for the recipient, and the other—which is really the more important—is for all the unrecognized heroes of the faith we wish to honor. The recipient wears the pin on their behalf. We could not possibly know who they all are, but we know they are legion.
Most important among them are those who have become martyrs for the faith, who were deemed worthy by Almighty God to suffer to the point of blood. Here we could speak of Deacon Joseph Mabior, who last August became the victim of the violent Islamist campaign against Christians in South Sudan, when attackers rushed at him and shot him twice in the legs. Or we could speak of thirty men and women from the town who covered him with their own bodies in a failed attempt to protect him. All thirty died. Or the 185, mostly women and children, who also died in militia attacks there last August, apparently for no other reason than that they were Christians (World, November 7, 2009, 52-53).
Or of seven family members in Pakistan who died in August, six of them burned to death by a taunting Muslim mob that had broken into their house and shot the grandfather dead, just because they were Christians, part of the tiny Christian minority there. Or of the Christians in Iran who are routinely persecuted and ordered by government officials to renounce their faith and return to Islam.
Or the community of 350 Christians in Algeria, where Muslim extremists tried to prevent them with death threats from celebrating Christmas in their rented building only last month.
We could go on to stories from Laos, Nigeria, Indonesia, China, and elsewhere. And these are only the ones that make the news. If we are to believe the data from World Christian Database, there are in the world over 450 Christian martyrs daily on average.
Listen, the Sabre of Boldness is most especially meant to be about them, not us. And to remind us of the true nature of Christian confession—martyria in the Greek—lest we forget, amid the luxuries of American Christian freedom.
So here, in our own little way, we just pick somebody out from among us, to bear the Sabre this year, mostly for them.
And this from the Gottesdienst blog regarding the Sabre award (from 2011):
- But this award is not about us (i.e., the editors) or about them, really (i.e., the Sabre recipients). It’s about all the unsung heroes of the faith which are routinely missed, in the handing out of awards. There’s a little lapel pin we give to the recipient, because we don’t have the cash to hand out real sabers, and the pin has two crossed sabers: one for the recipient, and the other for all those heroes who go unmentioned, because we don’t know them. They confess the faith, they persist, they don’t back down, and for it they suffer. In some cases the suffering is quite physical, such as North Korea, China, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Egypt, and Sudan – places you should all add to your congregation’s Sunday prayer list – where people are brutalized and killed by angry mobs who cannot abide their Christian confession. In other cases, it’s more subtle, though no less real: the loss of livelihood or the threat of it, the loss of friends or status, or the loss of reputation, something the catechism tells us is one of the worst things you can lose. They get the sniffed-at treatment, the turned up noses, the complaints that they are evil, malignant, or insufferable, all because they would not compromise the faith they knew to be right, in the face of sometimes tremendous pressures from without and within. They’re people like Moses, with enemies like the sons of Korah, who rise against them and say, “You take too much upon you, seeing all the congregation are holy, every one of them, and the LORD is among them: why then do you lift up yourselves above the congregation of the LORD?” And like Moses, they humbly suffer such abuse, and perhaps wish they could be somewhere else, or do something else, but they know that they cannot be unfaithful to their Lord. And they’re all over the place, indeed all over the world, and they silently suffer for their faith. And we salute them all tonight.
That’s what the Sabre is about, really. But we do like to choose one bearer, to carry it, as it were, each year, on behalf of them all.
So let us pray for people like "them," all of them who walk the martyr's path for the confession of Christ. And let us all (I include myself) be careful that we don’t allow ourselves to be used by the devil to become persecutors of others.