We have two readings today. The first, just one verse, describes our purpose as Christ-followers and how we are empowered to do so.
The second, a little longer, describes a powerful instance of St Paul fulfilling that purpose. The good news of Christ’s great risen presence is good news for everyone – and as we ‘get it’ we are not allowed to keep it just to ourselves. The risen Christ is always where he has always been – right here in this world, and where he is intended by God best to be revealed through the very best of who we are and what we do – you know, as we are given by God’s Spirit to be Christ’s witnesses.
God is Spirit, but scripture tells us that God has chosen to fill all matter with God’s own Sacred Presence that we may know who and what God is. Our growth in Christ is all about us coming to discover this holiness: with us and others, and everywhere, and to live lives that allow that discovery to be made manifest.
Jesus, we believe, is the perfect exemplar/example of what that Holiness in humanity looks like. By his birth, life, teachings, death and resurrection, Jesus reveals a God as a life essence only ever more loving, more ‘with’ us, more healing, more forgiving, releasing, empowering than anything we could ever come up with ourselves. That’s what Paul was demonstrating by dismissing the idols on Mars Hill as he spoke to those Athenian elders.
He was speaking about a God who in Jesus has revealed that even the best of what we can come up with by ourselves, in our own strength, or even the worst of our living, even our hot & condemning screams for his crucifixion and death, cannot bind.
Here is the God whom we see in Jesus Christ and his teachings loves lavishly, recklessly, widely, inclusively, the God who, like a prodigal father, rushes to welcome home their decadent child, the God who deeply and completely understands our failures, even when, like Peter, we choose to deny all knowledge of anything that is sacred, this is the God who concentrates Grace especially on those who know the least about God: God wanting especially them to know how precious they are, how deeply loved they are, this is the God who focusses mostly on the most marginalised, the most suffering, the most impoverished, the most grieving, the most oppressed, the God who is always mostly about using the faithful to bring comfort, hope, freedom.
Our task – as Christ-followers – is to allow ourselves to be sufficiently Spirit-empowered to find ways to live as creatively as possible in order best to
bear witness to this God-soaked reality.
As I said, this is what Christ intends for Christian living to be most essentially all about…
Christianity is not just about saying how we love the historical Jesus, but about how we are given to love those issues and people and things he loved, and so come to be aligned with the life-rhythms of the risen Christ…
That’s us being the Christ-witnesses that we are instructed to be! And notice how it’s not only to those most familiar to us, those close by, people like us, but also, explicitly, to bear that witness to those who are not so much like us and probably never will be, and even to those who we may never even meet or know. That’s what our being a witness to those ‘in Jerusalem’ and ‘in Judea’ and ‘Samaria’, and to the ‘ends of the earth’ means’.
And how exactly are we to do that? Remember that lovely saying ascribed to Mother Theresa that we are to ‘use words only if we have to’.?, meaning our witnessing needs to be as 1 John 3:18 says: ‘more than just words but to show itself in our actions…’ Now, of course, while that is so very true, in today’s text we see Paul having to use words.
I’ve always been intrigued and challenged by that text in 1 Peter 3:15 where we are told: Always (to) be ready to defend your confidence [in God] when anyone asks you to explain it. …and how we are to, make our defence with gentleness and respect.
There’s a wonderful scene in the 1990s sitcom ‘Mad About You’ with Helen Hunt and Paul Reiser as the Paul and Jamie Bachman. Ira Bachman, Paul’s cousin and landlord, also a declared agnostic, atheist and bored, lapsed Jew with time on his hands, wanders into a hospital chapel. He’s met by William Christopher who was doing a guest spot as Fr Mulcahy from MASH (remember?), now appearing as the hospital chaplain. ‘Can I help you?’ . When told that Ira Bachman has time and that this was an opportunity for Fr Mulhany to ‘sell him. Give him his spiel’ , the response was: ‘Oh no, we don’t do that, but can I get you anything? A glass of water?’ Thank God our witnessing is NEVER to be confused with our trying to sell anything! We are not called to be salesmen, but witnesses!
But then as witnesses, we do need to bear witness.
In terms of what we believe, what we say and what we do! We are bearing witness all the time. The ‘Good News’ that we glimpse in Christ and get to embrace, and be embraced by, is meant to be Good News that is shared. We can’t be with Christ if we are unwilling to move with Christ into Christ’s world as part of Christ’s Good News.
Swiss theologian, Emil Brunner, once wrote “The Church exists by mission, as a fire exists by burning.” Just as a pile of sticks is not a fire until there are flames, people are not the Church until there is a commitment to being Christ’s witnesses: our witnessing being the Mission of God. To what ‘mission’ does your life bear witness, because you do know that your life is being used all the time to bear witness to something! How intentional are you sharing that witness?
Fr Mulcahy was bearing witness in that hospital chapel to Christ’s Spirit by a simple act of no-pressure kindness, just the offer of honest helpfulness. For a world with still so much homophobia, misogyny, greed, a world still always so instinctively grasping at self-preservation, is it our witness that we march to the rhythm of a different, infinitely better drum: a rhythm that is loving, generously inclusive, selfless?
‘Evangelism’ is such a loaded word but that’s too bad because, reach down under how it has tended to be used, and it is actually very beautiful. Eu (good) Angelion (news). Being ‘Evangelical’ should be all about our living as witnesses to the Good News of sacred holiness and purpose and presence for all people and all creation. It begins in God’s determination to have us, like ET, to be filled with God’s love-light: the light of God’s justice, compassion, healing forgiveness, merciful love. Us as God’s shining people. It’s what God does, and still intends to do through us: flooding the world with truth.
God would have people know that!
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