January 19, 2020
Categorised in: Sermons
Preached by Canon Andy Trenier using Ezekiel 2.1 – 3.4 and Galatians 1.11-24 at Mattins on Sunday 19th January 2020, the Second Sunday of Epiphany.
I was up in court again- and it was still the first term of my curacy.
The questions were coming in thick and fast and strangely,
it was hard to just tell the truth of my experience.
Oh!… I should explain- I was a witness.
(( Phew (says the new boss).))
And that is the only time I have done it.
What struck me was the extraordinary importance of offering a testimony
so that people can see – and believe-
something to which they were not actually present.
“Our eyes- are more accurate witnesses than our ears” Said Heraclitus
It seems to me that in life, as in court,
the credibility of the witness, him or herself-
is as important as the evidence being presented.
If we accept the fact that Christian faith doesn’t really do ‘spectators’ we find that we too are called into the witness box
… and our credibility is under scrutiny.
“That which was from the beginning, which we have heard,
which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched–this we proclaim concerning the Word of life.”
This morning we have heard of two fellow witnesses- a prophet & an apostle.
Both are an encouragement to us to offer a good and faithful witness
to inspire faith in those who we know and meet in our daily lives.
I wonder, though, how do you react to the charge to witness
to the Word and Words of God?
Ezekial Ate them- weirdly.
Jesus claimed to BE them- astonishingly.
Paul proclaimed them- boldly.
I wonder if you’ve ever considered yourself or as a witness?
Or even as a prophet?
It isn’t such a ridiculous question you know!
A prophet is -after all- NOT a fortune teller.
A prophet is simply another kind of WITNESS-
Whose task is SEE clearly, and to help others SEE CLEARLY TOO.
The prophets job is to help people notice and see the difference between
the Present which is ours and the future, which is God’s.
the difference between Gods view and ours,
the difference- however dimply glimpsed –God makes in our human lives.
That DIFFERENCE- which might also be perceived as a GAP- and which exists for all of us.
It is the GAP between present and future,
between brokenness and reconciliation
between fear and serenity
between God and us,
… our life with and without God
The greatest thing a human soul ever does in the world is to perceive that gap clearly…. “to see clearly” said Ruskin …
“ is poetry, prophecy, and religion all in one”.
That GAP is the “infinite qualitative difference”, as Karl Barth put it,
which God makes up in Christ.
It is the place that we Christians – as with all people-
experience life in all its fragility
But the crossing of which also allows us to taste life in all its fullness.
The Christian hope is that we do experience the repairing of that breach
in our own lives and each of us is called into the witness stand
to lend credibility to that claim-
however incomplete that it may be for us-
“That which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at
and our hands have touched–this we proclaim concerning the Word of life.”
According to the Hampshire Chronicle this week, a recent survey has shown that Winchester is one of Britain’s least religious places.
“The bigger story of that survey was that the world is a much more religious place than the western secular imagination often recognises.)
However, for those of us who- we boldly claim- “can see”
are, here, a minority… and our credibility as witness is under scrutiny.
As a cautionary tale- let me remind us of the fragility of that credibility.
This week- as many of us will have seen- the credibility of the church took a grave hit in a two part BBC expose of abuse in the church,
and the church’s mis-handling of those cases
and of their mistreatment of the victims.
If you haven’t watched it- I urge you to do so.
Not least so that we can finally put an end to the idea that a bit of safeguarding training or a more cautious approach to the care of vulnerable people
is somehow inconvenient red tape
instead of a crucial- and primary- aspect of our Christian witness.
Of course, the most important aspect of that whole sorry mess, is not, the reputation of the church. In fact, it was protecting the church’s reputation that so misled Archbishop Carey and his colleagues. ….
-the most important aspect, of course, was and is ensuring care of victims.
Nevertheless- reflecting on those events-
and watching with resigned sadness- the reaction to their retelling-
brings home the fact, that it is by the actions and attitudes of Christians
the God and his Church is judged.
As Beckett put it- “God is a witness that cannot be sworn”.
It is therefore down to us- and the church-
to offer a credible witness to Him.
I wonder how we feel about that?
It is a tough calling-
and it appears that around here we have ground to make up –
I wonder- as you think about it now-
what are your reactions to that calling?
The good news-of course- is that I lied….. just a little.
Not- that that isn’t our calling.
Not that that survey isn’t true.
Not that the recent history of the church has given us the worst of head starts.
My white lie was when I said it is down to us- and the church-
to offer a credible witness to Him.
That is- at best- only partly true.
The good news is that we don’t believe in a God who is detached-
Who dwells beyond that chasm of time and space.
That is not the God we have seen and heard and touched.
We believe in God Father- Son- and HOLY SPIRIT
And crucially- we believe and confess in our creeds-
that it is the HOLY SPIRIT- the PARACLETE- THE ADVOCATE
who predominantly witnesses to God.
The Holy Spirit – in and through- and beyond the life of the Church
whatever the present reputation or faithfulness of that church
DOES and CONTINUES to sweep people off their feet
Draw them to God
And inspire them in the Christian Way.
It is like having someone else in the witness box with us.
Someone much more believable. Much nicer.
Another- much better- advocate to plead the cause.
Our calling then- remains crucial-
is now made possible.
A bit like the curate in the second week of his curacy
we don’t have to be expert witnesses
We just have to be faithful ones.
All we actually need to do share our stories with warmth, intelligence, integrity
To offer our witness testimony
And tell others with words and lives
whatever we have seen, known, glimpsed.
You will need to EAT the Word.
To imbibe the Bible- to soak up the sacraments and to prioritise prayer…..
We will need- together- to live HOLY and DISTINCTIVE lives .
And we all need to be much much more deliberate and bold
in evangelising and sharing faithfully what has been given to us.
But the pressure is off- you are now free to do so with JOY.
We don’t need to make breach the gap
IT HAS ALREADY BEEN DONE.
But we are called to witness faithfully to what difference that has made for us.
We don’t speak OUR OWN WORDS
But we are called to speak HIS words to them…
I pray that you will consider carefully
what that might mean for you today.
So that ultimately, whether they hear or refuse to hear –
even so the people of Winchester
shall know that prophets have been among them.