In this sermon preached in St Mary’s Comberton, the Revd David Newton asks what it means for us to be witnesses to God’s story.
I’m sure many of you will be familiar with the start of the film Love, Actually. And if you’ve never seen it – buy it now! I indulged Sally again this Christmas time, and watched it with her for the umpteenth time.
It starts with the dulcet tones of Hugh Grant as a voiceover, whilst some lovely images of people re-uniting at airports play out. Parted lovers, friends and family, all emotionally re-united.
Every time I watch the film it reminds me of waiting at Gatwick airport for Sally one time. Whilst there a lady came through customs and out into arrivals. She spotted her lover and ran over to him, at which point, he gets down on one knee and gets a ring out. A photographer appears, the crowd all start clapping and they embrace.
It was a sweet thing to witness, and despite my exceedingly poor memory for events, I still remember that little moment.
Moving away from the sick inducing… I remember witnessing (albeit on TV) that glorious moment in English sport in 2003. We were in the Rugby World Cup Final against Australia. It was 17 all in injury time. Johnny Wilkinson stands posed, waiting a few paces further back from the ruck than normal, and you know what might just be about to happen. A drop goal secures victory.
I’m not massively into rugby and yet that moment stands out. I was caught up in the euphoria of the crowd actually present, and in the knowledge that across the land people were celebrating. People at pubs who had just met embraced and cried ‘we did it.’
Of course, there wasn’t really much ‘we’ about it. Martin Johnson and the team did it. But we somehow felt involved.
This wasn’t just witnessing something that happened ‘out there’ but something that impacted and in a strange way involved us as the English public.
Then, more recently, I witnessed the birth of my children. Not just an event I observed from a distance, but something that has turned my life on its head.
‘Witnessing’ is a crucial part of our existence as humans.
We can’t help but be witnesses to those key events that have shaped us. I witness to the event of the birth of my children every time I speak their name, or struggle to focus in a meeting because I’m tired, or arrive at someone’s house with baby sick on my shoulder.
Our passages both pick up on this idea of witnessing and suggests that whatever else we might be witnesses to – whether events wonderful or harrowing – we are now all also witnesses to the events of Jesus’ life, death, resurrection and ascension.
‘You are witnesses of these things’ Jesus says to the disciples in Luke.
In Acts Peter proclaims… ‘you killed the Author of life, whom God raised from the dead. To this we are witnesses.’
To this we are witnesses.
Those of you who read 4m (the Comberton church bulletin) a few months ago you know that I think quite a lot of this little word ‘witness’. I see it a lovely way of expressing our primary vocation as Christians.
Our ‘mission’ is to witness to the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. This story that has been handed down to us, and is not just an event that happens out there, but rather somehow has involved us and caught us up in it and left us forever changed… ‘to this we are witnesses.’
Part of the beauty of this little word is that it reminds us that the story is not about us, does not rely on us, and does not revolve around us. We’re witnesses to the action.
We’re witnesses to God’s story – his work and love in the world as poured out in Jesus Christ. The language of ‘witness’ reminds us it’s not our job to save the world, to make all things okay in the end – it’s God’s. The pressure is off! Get rid of that saviour complex! We witness to someone else’s work.
We are witnesses to this… to the life of Jesus and the impact of that life on our lives.
But if we’re honest being a witness it’s always easy itself. There are plenty of contexts where a court witness might well be terrified to testify. And for us too… we might me scared to witness to Christ.
Our great temptation as Christians of course is to witness to the church rather than Jesus; to tell about how wonderful the church is, or even just talk about what the church does and your role in it.
But if we just talk about the church we can make it sound like just another voluntary organisation, like the bowls club or the WI. The church is of course part of the story of Jesus’ risen life amongst us, but at heart we’re not church people – we’re Jesus people.
We witness to Jesus.
Let me end by being a bit more practical… and say this: a witness can’t be silent. Actions can and do speak, but at some point, we need to open our mouths and tell people the wonderful, glorious mind blowing story of Jesus Christ and his life in our midst.
It’s not always easy, but there are many things that can help us. Here are three:
First. Be ready….
Have a think about your story. Perhaps you could talk about the joy or peace of God which got you through a hard time. Perhaps you could talk about that faithful presence you know holds you. Perhaps you could talk of knowing of God’s forgiveness through Jesus. We all have a story to tell of Jesus at work in our lives.
Second. Be bold…
I wonder if you’ve ever offered to pray for a friend indeed. I bet you’d be surprised by their response – most people are more open to it that you might think. Or I wonder if you’ve ever simply told someone that ‘God loves them.’ There’s a place, not just to wait to be asked about our faith in Jesus Christ, but to speak out.
Third. Be rooted…
Keep coming back to the life of Jesus to whom we witness. Having met with him, having been captivated by him, we can’t help but be witnesses. That is just what we are. Stay rooted in him, stay close to him, and then naturally we each will find that you are a witness.
Be ready. Be bold. Be rooted.
Jesus death, resurrection and risen life amongst us – as Peter says ‘To this we are witnesses’.