Jesus told the twelve disciples, "See, I am sending you out like sheep into the midst of wolves; so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. Beware of them, for they will hand you over to councils and flog you in their synagogues; and you will be dragged before governors and kings because of me, as a testimony to them and the Gentiles. When they hand you over, do not worry about how you are to speak or what you are to say; for what you are to say will be given to you at that time; for it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you. Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death; and you will be hated by all because of my name. But the one who endures to the end will be saved. " Matthew 10:16-22
Today we celebrate the feast day of Thomas Becket. Thomas Becket was Archbishop of Canterbury from 1162 until his murder in 1170. He is venerated as a saint and martyr by both the Catholic Church and the Anglican Communion. He engaged in conflict with Henry II of England over the rights and privileges of the Church and was murdered by followers of the king in Canterbury Cathedral. Soon after his death, he was canonized by Pope Alexander III. When Mark and I visited Canterbury several years ago, we were amazed by the way our guides relished their graphic retelling of his murder, and the miracles that are attributed to him. The stories are both riveting and horrifying.
Thomas fought the crown and the crown won, for the time. By riding the world of a sore spot, they created a martyr for the faith. No one else is regaled with such vigor at Canterbury, although one is surrounded by tombs of great kings and soaring architecture. A simple, honest clergyman somehow captures everyone's spirit and imagination. We are invited to see our ministries, whether lay or ordained, through the lens of folks like Thomas. Not popular, nor loved by royalty, he lived the Gospel and died horribly. And yet, his story lives, his examples hold, while we never know of the ones who did as they were told, the ones who towed the line and followed men rather than God.
Today, may we give thanks for the pastors and spiritual leaders who have shunned politics and popularity for God's service. May we recognize the dangers in our midst and not fear for God is with us. May we be courageous like Thomas to stand up to human authority for God's justice and compassion, and may we not worry about popularity but rather pursue faithfulness. May love be our guide as we live this day.
O God, our strength and our salvation, you called your servant Thomas Becket to be a shepherd of your people and a defender of your Church: Keep your household from all evil and raise up among us faithful pastors and leaders who are wise in the ways of the Gospel; through Jesus Christ the shepherd of our souls, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.