Saturday, April 18, 2015

'So Great a Cloud of Witnesses': Some Thoughts for the Third Sunday of Easter (19 April 2015)

I apologize to my readers for offering only the skeleton of a sermon for tomorrow.  Sometimes the needs of the congregation take precedence over the needs of their rector to write a more coherent text.  May the Holy Spirit animate us all tomorrow.

RCL Easter 3B
19 April 2015

Saint Faith’s Anglican Church
Vancouver BC
You are witnesses of these things.  Luke 24.48

In order for any credible system of justice to function there are certain essentials.  Among these essentials is the necessity of reliable witnesses.

Reliable witnesses have experience that is germane to the issue being decided by the courts.

Reliable witnesses are able to give evidence clearly and consistently.

It is always helpful for there to be more than one witness in order to examine the issue from more than one perspective.

In today’s gospel Jesus appears after his resurrection to a group of his disciples.  After reminding them that all he has done is in accordance with the Law, the Prophets and the Psalms, Jesus then utters a very simple statement that lies at the centre of our vocation as evangelists:  ‘You are witnesses of these things.’  (Luke 24.48 NRSV)  The Revised English Bible translates this verse, ‘You are to be witnesses to it all.’

Whether Jesus is speaking of the present or the future, what is important to note is that being a disciple of Jesus means bearing witness to ‘these things’. 

And what are ‘these things’?

The first generation of believers shared a common experience of the new life of God made known to them in the resurrection of Jesus.  The task that Jesus now assigned them was to give voice to this experience clearly, consistently and in as many voices as possible.

They were to look at the life, ministry and teaching of Jesus through the lens of the resurrection.  All that he had said and done in the years leading up to that last week in Jerusalem took on new significance.

To aid in the clarity and consistency of their witness, the documents we know as the New Testament came into existence.  But the early Christians were also willing to preserve the testimony of a multitude of witnesses:  four gospels rather than one, letters from a variety of apostolic writers including Paul and the followers of Peter and John.

But these documents and the traditions of faith and practice which emerged over the centuries were not meant to replace the primary vehicle to carry the good news of God in Jesus of Nazareth:  the living human voices of Jesus’ disciples over the centuries and throughout the world.

Every day of our lives you and I give evidence before a jury of our peers, some of whom are mildly sympathetic, some skeptical, some indifferent, some hostile.

We can, and should, share the stories of faith found in the Scriptures as Jesus did with his first followers.

We can, and should, share the stories of our successes and our failures as Christians over the centuries have attempted to follow the way, the truth and the life made known to us in Jesus.

But more convincing than all this is the witness we give in the day-to-day conduct of our lives.

Even as these words leave my mouth, I realize how simple and obvious the meaning they convey is.

But this simple and obvious truth cannot be repeated too often.  G. K. Chesterton, the English writer and theologian, once wrote that   “The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting.  It has been found difficult; and left untried.”

Jesus’ words in today’s gospel remind us that we live daily in the ‘court of public opinion’.  Our failures to live up to the Christian ideal are more often than not the subject of front-page stories; our successes often relegated to less-read sections of whatever form of media we read.

So, today I invite you to join me in pondering three questions:

How have you experienced the new life of Jesus in your own life?

What do you need to bear witness to this experience with clarity and consistency?

Who is the ‘jury’ to whom you have been summoned to witness?

I hope that you will share your answers with me, but more importantly, that you share them with each other so that we can become that ‘great cloud of witnesses’ our world needs. 

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