from Dean’s address Sunday 28th May 9am service
HOMILY on WITNESS 2017.
EARLY IN THEIR planning for this service the young folk hit on the fact that the word “witness” occurred in a few of the readings that were set for today, and one of them asked, “What’s a witness?”
And that led to a fairly prosaic explanation something along the lines of “someone who saw what happened and can give an accurate account to someone else who wasn’t there at the time but needs to know—like the police.”
But from that prosaic definition grew the idea of how well does the simplistic definition work to explain the more spiritualized, specialist concept of witness as we use it in Christian circles?
Then, as the value of the idea of the ordinary meaning of the word “witness” grew so too did the idea of a short thriller of a play about the witness of the crime—in this case the stealing of the cheese!
And the hanging question—so how do you be a “good witness”? What’s it take to be a good witness?
Now this might show how much attention I did or didn’t play to the script! TO BE A GOOD WITNESS you have to: we’ll make a short list. But as we do—I want you to make the “translation” to being a witness for Jesus and the good news about Jesus. But we’ll start with what the “play” threw up.
To be a good witness?
You had to have been there, at the event. You have to have seen. You have to be in some proximity. Proximity counts. Some nominal Christians—census Christians—think studied-neglect of Jesus won’t impact the quality of their “Christian” walk. It seems obvious—if you haven’t experienced an encounter with Jesus—seek one! Pray the Chichester prayer (Richard Bishop of Chichester) made eminently singable by Godspell—Day by day, may I see thee more clearly, love thee more dearly, follow thee more nearly, day by day. To be a good witness you need to see clearly, follow closely.
What can threaten good witness quality? Distraction. Fidget spinners. What? I didn’t hear you—I was spinning my fidget. “Trivial pursuits” was the name of a top-selling board game. But sometimes we give free rein to trivial pursuits. I remember through my twenties giving an inordinate amount of time to the chrome plating of various parts of a 1970 red Ford Capri that I had ‘inherited’ from my mum. I spent hours crawling through car wreckers and swap meets searching for the perfect chrome plates wheel arch ornaments; chrome plated “over-riders”, chrome plates air filters, chrome plated fuel caps. I found the perfect side fake air-vents! I even had the boring old exhaust manifold replaced with “extractors” and toyed with the idea of having these chrome-plated! Then in 2005, Merri was born and it was time to say good-bye to the obsession. Our “Trivial pursuits” can drown-out witness to the main attraction. For witness to the goodnews of Jesus, cull your life’s fidget-spinning.
To be a good witness it helps to know your area. Know its vocabulary. In a court of law—people who were there, who had proximity, who weren’t distracted but don’t know the plain preferred language of how to describe what happened are often ignored or discounted—or pulled apart by defense lawyers. Good witnesses know their field and can discuss it competently.
St Peter in the part of 1 Peter we read last week described this as “Always be prepared to give an account to those who ask for the reason of the hope that is within you. Yet do it with all gentleness and humility” “Always be ready to make your defence [or give an answer] to anyone who demands from you an account of the hope that is in you; 16 yet do it with gentleness and reverence [respect]”
This little Gem from 1 Peter has got some hidden treasure that might need some teasing out—It assumes that people will see your distinctiveness and your hope. If the horse don’t make that first hurdle, the race is over—they won’t enquire.
But let’s assume they see the difference and that they see the hope… could you tell me what are the top 10 reasons you live with a desire to see Christ more clearly, love him more dearly and follow him more nearly, day by day? What are the top 10 reasons you live with a desire to see Christ more clearly, love him more dearly and follow him? To be a Christian is to follow and love Jesus? Why do you love Jesus? Top ten reasons?
Here are mine.
They ain’t necessary the most theological or philosophical…but this is why I love Jesus, not “why I voted for him” nor “why I barrack for his team”. This is why I love Jesus.
Not necessarily in order of importance!
- I love Jesus because, among his twelve disciples, he has chosen a Jewish zealot called Simon—basically a patriotic “terrorist” with nationalist political tendencies and probably a dagger in his boot saved for opportune moments to dispatch Roman collaborators—and the pacifist Jesus has called him—clearly in terms of human resources, Jesus loves a challenge; and Jesus’ also has on “team-Jesus”, a Roman-paid tax-collector called Matthew. I love that Jesus would live-out his preaching about God’s impartiality so conspicuously and in such a “bring-it-on” sort of way. No hint of “conflict avoidance” strategies.
- I love Jesus because with a brief to save the cosmos, he takes time on the cross to make sure that his mum’s alright and will be looked after.
- I love Jesus, for the fact that, as the saviour of the world, the one whom St John and St Paul describe as present at Creation, he hasn’t got a denarius on him.
I’ve imagined endearing conversations disciples might have had with Jesus. “Jesus, it’s a three-day journey; have you got a handkerchief?” “No, I thought I’d borrow yours if snotty occasions arose.” “Jesus, have you got a diary?” “No, I don’t need one… I’ve got my dad’s old tape measure.”
- I love Jesus because when he’s reaching for some memorable metaphor or illustration of the Kingdom of God—he recalls the action of a woman in a kitchen mixing yeast into the dough to make bread. This tells me that –one—he spent time in kitchens, not the typical domain of first century Jewish men, and—two—that he was paying attention to what went on in there and—three—he perhaps even gave a hand, as we tend to remember more clearly those things we have done, more than what we just saw.
- I love Jesus because he loses his appetite after having a stimulating theological conversations with foreign woman. I love that as a first century adult Jewish male, Jesus has intelligent, theologically-demanding conversations with Samaritan women, Syro-Phonoecian women, Roman centurions… people from all walks.
- I love that Jesus cooks for his disciples. I love it that it’s “fish …on the beach”. I love that Jesus washes his disciples’ feet and serves as a table-waiter. I love it that though he is our great High King, he slums it like a servant.
- I love Jesus for his culinary sense. I already mentioned “fish…on the beach.” Red wine (“the best” if he’s had a hand at making it) and good bread to accompany it—and a priceless explanation in his words of sacramental institution that means his followers would eat them together frequently for millenia.
- I love Jesus when he lets the Emmaus disciples go on and on with their whole—“you should have met this guy” speech. I’d like to believe that there was an Aramaic or Hebrew equivalent to the expression “Ta-Daah!” and that Jesus used it frequently (with jazz hands) in the forty days from Resurrection to Ascension, but that the disciples edited it out of the gospel tradition because of their recidivist stuffiness.
- I love that Jesus can weep openly and publically at the death of his beloved friend Lazarus.
- I love that among the worst things that Jesus’ critics could raise with him were that he went to too many parties and hung out with the wrong sort of people”. I love Jesus because, even when I’m “the wrong sort of people”, Jesus just loves to hang with me, and promises that he’ll always hang with me.
I love him, because he first loved me.
It not hard to be a good witness when the object of that witness, and the events of that witness are so attractive, so engaging, demands so completely our undivided attention, so unforgettable.
Let us pray.
Thanks be to you, my Lord Jesus Christ,
for all the benefits you have given me,
for all the pains and insults you have borne for me.
O most merciful redeemer, friend and brother,
may I know thee more clearly,
love thee more dearly,
and follow thee more nearly, day by day.