PENTECOST: the birthday of the Church. The day when the Holy Spirit came upon Jesus' disciples changing their lives for ever, making their faith so strong that they could withstand all torture, persecution and go out with confidence to tell people about Jesus. As I was thinking about this, my mind wandered to the stories told by Richard Wurmbrand in his book Tortured for Christ, 1967.
Born in 1909 and died in 2001, Richard Wurmbrand had far from an easy life. He was from childhood a hardened atheist and grew up with a bitterness towards religion, yet he always felt drawn to look in churches. He didn’t understand, until one day when he prayed.
Unbeknown to Richard, in a mountain village of Romania, an old carpenter asked God to bring him a person and he would do his best to bring him to Christ. Richard was that person. The old man gave him a Bible that "was written not so much in letters, but in flames of love fired by the old man’s prayers". As Richard read it, he wept weep over it comparing his bad life with Jesus’, his impurity with Jesus’ purity, his hatred with Jesus’ love and still Jesus accepted him as one of his own.
Richard was ordained and he and his wife started up a Lutheran Church in Romania. As prisoners of faith, they survived the beatings from the Nazis and tortures of the Communist regime.
"In the ensuing years, in several different prisons, they broke four vertebrae in my back, and many other bones. They carved me in a dozen places. They burned and cut 18 holes in my body. Doctors in Oslo, seeing all this and the scars of the lung tuberculosis which I also had, declared that my being alive today is a pure miracle.
"I believe God performed this wonder so that you could hear my voice crying out on behalf of the Underground Church behind the Iron Curtain."
Was it pure chance that Richard found the old carpenter? Was it chance that he survived extreme conditions of torture and illness? Christ was more important to him than anything else, than any torture, suffering or pain. This is what Pentecost is all about.
Christians are called to live a life following Jesus which sets hearts on fire with his love, a love which transcends all that humanity can throw at them; and they still come out loving their enemies who persecute them. Happy Birthday to the Church.
The Rev Jenny Savage