Today we honor Perpetua and her companions, martyrs at Carthage in 202. Petpetua was a young widow with a small child and several slaves. Along with other Christians preparing for baptism, they were arrested when they refused to offer sacrifice to the divinity of the Emperor. They suffered under miserable conditions in a prison. But Perpetua had these incredible dreams about heaven that encouraged her in her resolve and her insistence on declaring her Christianity. She and her companions were put in an arena with a leopard, boar, bear, and savage cow. Perpetua encouraged them, but eventually all were put to death by a sword.
Our lessons today all warn of a similar fate for us. Jesus tells his disciples they will be tortured and put to death; hated, betrayed and abused. We know from people like Perpetua and the disciples that this was the reality for many Christians and for many years. But today, I think martyrs are always a little hard to relate to. Who among us in risking our lives by telling someone we are Christian? Who among us will be tortured for our faith or even for being here in this church today? The life of a martyr is so foreign that we rarely feel connected.
But I think what Pepetua invites us to do today is to consider the ways that our faith puts us in risky situation: the racist joke someone makes that we refuse to laugh at because we know all people to be children of God; the gun-control march we walk in because we see the violent ways we have turned on one another and we refuse to allow one more child of God to be killed so that we have the right to accumulate assault weapons. These may not lead to death or even suffering. If anything, they may lead to disagreements, exclusion from certain social circles, or embarrassment.
When Perpetua and her companions were being mangled by animals, she stated to her friends, “Stand fast in the faith and love one another.” In order to truly love one another, we will have to take risks, we will have to face discomfort. Perpetua died in suffering, but her love of God and love of neighbor never died. We too can let go of our selves and love God and neighbor, even when it is uncomfortable. Amen.