Called to pray, read and learn. Sent to tell, serve and give.
As a student I used to take the bus to college. As I was standing at the bus stop with my friend Tony, we had a ringside view of a traffic accident – nothing serious, just one of those slow-motion shunts that happen regularly in any city. We gave our names to the drivers, and a week or two later we received witness-statement forms to complete. After we’d done so, we compared notes, and found that our accounts differed substantially. Neither of us thought that this was a problem. We argued the toss over a coffee, and then we sent our forms off and thought no more about it. We didn’t amend or change what we had written, because we had been asked to give an account as we remembered it. We were not advocates for one or other point of view. We were witnesses.
Being a witness is not a stressful occupation. All you have to do is say what you have seen and heard, as it seems to you. If others have a different perspective, so be it.
In the Bible the experience is the same.
1 John begins: “We announce to you what existed from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have seen and our hands handled, about the word of life. The life was revealed, and we have seen, and we testify and announce to you the eternal life that was with the Father and was revealed to us. What we have seen and heard, we also announce it to you so that you can have fellowship with us. Our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ. We are writing these things so that our joy can be complete.”
In 2 Peter the writer says: “[Jesus] received honour and glory from God the Father when a voice came to him from the magnificent glory, saying, ‘This is my dearly loved Son, with whom I am well-pleased.’ We ourselves heard this voice from heaven while we were with him on the holy mountain.”
In the Diocese of Liverpool we’re asking God for a bigger church so that we can make a bigger difference, and we say “More people knowing Jesus, more justice in the world”. And if you choose to be a disciple, and to follow our Diocesan Rule of Life, then among other things you are sent by God to be a witness, in the places you know and to the people you know. More people will know Jesus, as you witness to him. They don’t need to be impressed, and they don’t need to be persuaded. It is the Holy Spirit who impresses and persuades people; the Holy Spirit who convicts of sin and assures forgiveness; the Holy Spirit who converts people to Christ.
They don’t need to be impressed, and they don’t need to be persuaded. But they do need to be told. God has arranged the world that way.
In Romans St Paul says this:
“All who call on the Lord’s name will be saved. But how can they call on someone they don’t have faith in? And how can they have faith in someone they haven’t heard of? And how can they hear without a preacher? And how can they preach unless they are sent…?”
Some are sent to preach, but all are sent to witness. In 1 Peter the writer says this, and he writes for all in his church: “Always be ready with an explanation for anyone who asks you why it is that you’re so hopeful.” Being ready with an explanation, when the witness-statement is requested; that’s a core part of any disciple’s life.
As with every dimension of our Rule of Life, I will be pointing in future weeks to some of the wonderful resources and tools that every part of the Church has developed – resources to help people tell their friends about their faith and about their Lord. But in this short piece, as you’ve seen, I just want to underline two things. Firstly, if you’re a disciple then you’re sent to tell others as a witness would. And secondly, being a witness is easy and light. God asks you to give what you have, not what you don’t have.
Some people worry that they’d better have all the answers ready before they dare admit to being a Christian. Good luck with that. Some of the simplest questions – a child’s questions – can’t be answered snappily and glibly. If they are answered that way, the answers will not be believed, and will not deserve to be believed. If a six-year-old asks “Why did my granny have to die?” or if a sixty-year-old asks “Why are people suffering if God is good?” then the mystery of existence opens up right in front of you. And yes, great minds have thought about this and great books have been written to explore and advocate the answers. But for a witness the response can be as simple as “I don’t know. Life’s a mystery to me too. But what I do know is that God is real, and God’s love makes a difference to me, and I meet other Christians to worship God and to help people all I can”. And in the moment of witnessing, God will take your answer – yes, yours; your own, honest answer – and will use it to grow the church.
Being ready with an explanation. Being sent to tell, and to be honest, and to bring your friend to meet God and to meet God’s people. That’s part of our Rule of Life. I shall pray for you, and I ask your prayers for me, as we do that together.