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Sunday Devotion: 30 August 2020 (Octave of Martyrs of New Guinea – 2 September)

Sunday Devotions

To whom do we look for honour?

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Written by clergy and lay people across our Diocesan community, ‘Sunday Devotions’ is a column of short reflections based on a Lectionary reading of the day, suitable for small group discussion or personal use.

Main Readings (Martyrs of New Guinea, Wednesday 2 September): Zephaniah 3.14-20; Psalm 130; Romans 8.33-39; John 12.20-32

Main Readings (Sunday 30 August): Exodus 3.1-15; Psalm 105.1-6, 23-26; Romans 12.9-21; Matthew 16.21-28; [Jeremiah 15.15-21; Psalm 26.1-8]

Supplementary Readings (Sunday 30 August): Psalm 75; Matthew 17.14-27; Exodus 11; Psalm 63; Romans 12.1-8

“Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also. Whoever serves me, the Father will honour.” (John 12.26)

When I was the rector of St James’, Toowoomba, I became aware of a part of our Church’s history that I hadn’t properly known. It was the history of the 12 Anglican World War II New Guinea martyrs. Parish priest Fr John Barge went from St James’ to the island of New Britain in 1936, eventually being appointed to the small village of Lumielo on the south west coast in 1943, and was the last Anglican martyred by the Japanese forces. He was one of the 12, four of who came from our Diocese.

In John 12.23-26 Jesus responds to the enquiring Greeks by speaking of glory, eternal life and honour. Are these words that you associate with the Martyrs of New Guinea? Should they have stayed on regardless? Should they have left when they had the opportunity? They made their decisions in the heat of war, in the context of their time and in their understanding of mission and the needs of the people they served. We know that some were betrayed. We best honour these people by respecting their Christian stance, not by assessing them against modern standards.

Probably none of the martyrs thought that their lives would be held up as examples and their stories retold 80 years after their death. It has taken decades of research and reflection to find out the ever-increasing complexity of what happened. Their actions were not for personal honour. Thus, they are honoured first by God, the Anglican Communion and by the memorials around Australia.

Being a servant of Christ constantly challenges our perceived self-importance – we need to find value in service, not in what others might believe.

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