“Would the witness please take the stand?”
Sunday 28 April 2019
During the ordinary times of the Church’s year, the three readings set by the lectionary each Sunday are selected in this general way. The gospel is the continuation of the reading of the gospel which has been set for the liturgical year. This year, it is the gospel of Luke. The first reading is generally from the Old Testament, and it is selected because it is related in some way to the gospel of the day. The second reading, from the New Testament, is not related specifically to either of the other readings and tends to provide us with portions of a particular epistle over several weeks and then move on to another epistle and do the same thing.
But that is during the ordinary Sundays of the year. These Sundays in the season of Easter are quite different. Here the readings are specifically chosen with close thematic linkages. In today’s readings, the most emphatic thematic link is that of witnessing – witnessing to the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
In the reading from Acts, Peter tells us that: “we are witnesses to these things”. In the reading from the book of Revelation, we are told that Jesus Christ is “the faithful witness”. And while the reading from John’s gospel does not use the word “witness” specifically, the notion clearly underlies the text.
I tried to come up with an understanding of what a witness was without referring to a dictionary definition. What I came up with was that, in a courtroom situation, a witness is someone who has something to offer that will assist the court to make a good decision on the matter before it. In that vein then, a Christian witness is someone who has something to offer that will assist those trying to make a decision in relation to faith in Christ. We are those witnesses. We have something to offer.
Unfortunately, one of the most insidious by-products of the secular age and culture in which we live is that we are being told all of the time that society at large will tolerate our belief system as long as we keep it as a personal matter and don’t try to have any impact on the larger community. The trouble is, we Christians have too easily accepted this compromise and, in the process, have abandoned our commission to be witnesses so that we can gain acceptance from the broader secular society.
I suspect we are tempted into this mindset because witnessing to Christ just looks too difficult. I found this list of twelve tips on how we can witness to Christ in our lives in a non-threatening way in my research for this sermon and I’d like to share them with you.
Firstly, do your job well. No matter whether you are still employed in the paid workforce or not, you have in your mind a notion of what your job is. I suppose what this is really getting at is, don’t divorce your ordinary life from the work of Christ. Let others see that your faith in Christ permeates your whole life. I guess to put it simply – do what you do, do well!
Secondly, avoid using clichéd phrases that have no meaning to those who are not already believers. They can be a real turn off. Work at developing the ability to talk about the things of faith in everyday language.
Thirdly, be loving. That might sound like a statement of the bleeding obvious, but it actually needs to be said. Love everyone, at least in terms of silently wishing them well. Our love for others should result in action and we Christians should be identifiable by our commitment to the service of others and the kindness that characterises our dealings with people.
Fourthly, be respectful and courteous. This might sound really banal, but just plain good manners towards others demonstrates that we consider each person as unique and valuable – someone born in the image of God. Our courtesy should extend to all, including the people who serve us in shops and businesses in our daily lives.
Fifthly, be hospitable. What is hospitality but the willingness to be welcoming and warm to others? It is an openness to share with others that makes them feel special and valued. It is a virtue that we can find regularly praised throughout the scriptures.
Sixthly, and very obviously, know the Gospel and practice it. Make it our habit to regularly read the gospels and let them become a lens through which we assess our personal behaviour. Let them open to us the person of Jesus of Nazareth in such a way that we live no longer for ourselves, but for him.
The seventh tip is don’t seek to be the centre attention. We don’t have to dominate groups in which we socialise for the leaven of the gospel to have its effect. Consider that the practice of the virtues of humility and modesty has its own witnessing effect for those around us who are constantly drawn by the false idols of fame and success.
The eighth tip is a little subtle, but nonetheless important. Defer, defer, defer. Plainly this does not apply to matters of faith or Christian morality. We should not compromise in those regards. However, there is something powerful in being able to let others take the limelight rather than having to impose our own ways in all things. It is something like that extremely difficult aspect of parenting, where, out of love for the child, the parent allows room for a mistake to be made so that a lesson may be learnt.
Ninthly, answer questions simply, directly and honestly. We have the great example of Jesus who often answered the most difficult of questions, not with great academic treatises, but with simple stories taken from life situations. We need to remember that many of the people that are struggling with unbelief do not have the theological concepts available to them that we might ordinarily use to underpin our own understanding of our faith.
Tenthly, avoid all illusion and pretence. Don’t make out that we are what we are not. And what we are not is perfect. This extends to admitting any doubts we have – but at the same time, pointing out how we attempt to resolve those doubts and moments of weakness of faith.
The eleventh tip is almost too obvious to mention – be joyful and happy. Surely if our faith really means something to us, it gives us the hope and confidence to trust in God, no matter what twists and turns take place in our lives. This confidence and hope should provide us with true joy and happiness, not some surface level counterfeit. If we are constantly seen by others as grouchy and morose, what possible witness to hope of Jesus’ resurrection are we providing.
Lastly, be content not to do it all. The work of changing people’s hearts is God’s, not ours. We are but his instruments – which probably brings us back to the start – do what you do, do well and let God.
You will note that following these tips is not rocket science – it is doable by each one of us – provided we are immersed in prayer that the Holy Spirit might inspire each of us to live our daily lives as witnesses to the risen Christ.
Fr Allan Paulsen
Priest in Charge