Wikio - Top Blogs - Religion and belief

Thursday, 2 June 2016

Witnessing like Justin Martyr

Here is the sermon that I preached at St Martin-in-the-Fields on Wednesday at Choral Eucharist:

Today the Church remembers Justin Martyr. He was born of a pagan family at the beginning of the 2nd century in Palestine. As a young man he explored many different philosophies before at the age of 30 embracing Christianity. He continued to wear the distinctive dress of a professional philosopher, and taught Christianity as a philosophy first at Ephesus, and later at Rome. He became an outstanding apologist for the Christian faith, and is honoured as the first Christian thinker to enter into serious dialogue with the other intellectual disciplines of his day, including Judaism. He always sought to reconcile the claims of faith and reason. At Rome in about 165, he and some of his disciples were denounced as Christians, and beheaded. The authentic record of their martyrdom based on an official court report has survived. Traditionally, Justin is often surnamed 'Martyr' because of his two-fold witness to Christ, through his apologetic writings and his manner of death.

Like St Paul, Justin preached the message about the cross. To him it was the wisdom of God, while to others it seemed either a stumbling block to belief or an expression of foolishness (1 Corinthians 1. 18-25). The experience of Paul and Justin was one which had been predicted by Jesus himself. In John 15, we read: ‘If the world hates you, be aware that it hated me before it hated you. If you belonged to the world, the world would love you as its own. Because you do not belong to the world therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you, “Servants are not greater than their master.” If they persecuted me, they will persecute you.”

When Jesus uses this language of separation in John’s Gospel between his disciples and the world, Stephen Verney suggests that Jesus is speaking about two different levels or orders to reality. What he means by this are different patterns of society, each with a different centre or ruling power. In the first, “the ruling principle is the dictator ME, my ego-centric ego, and the pattern of society is people competing with, manipulating and trying to control each other.” In the second, “the ruling principle is the Spirit of Love, and the pattern of society is one of compassion – people giving to each other what they really are, and accepting what others are, recognising their differences, and sharing their vulnerability.”

These two orders or patterns for society are at war with each other and we are caught up in the struggle that results. Choosing our side in this struggle is a key question for us as human beings, the question being “so urgent that our survival depends on finding the answer.” Verney writes that: “we can see in our world order the terrible consequences of our ego-centricity. We have projected it into our institutions, where it has swollen up into a positive force of evil. We are all imprisoned together, in a system of competing nation states, on the edge of a catastrophe which could destroy all life on our planet.”

Justin was a witness to Christ in his day and time through his apologetic writings and his manner of death. We are called to do the same. The missiologist Lesslie Newbigin has argued this is what is “at the heart of the biblical vision of the human situation, that the believer is a witness who gives his testimony in a trial.” “Testimony, or witness, is a kind of utterance different from the statement of a fact that is self-evident or can be demonstrated from self-evident premises. It is not a logically inescapable “truth of reason”. A witness makes his or her statement as part of a trial in which the truth is at stake, in which the question: “What is the truth?” is being argued; it is not, while the trial proceeds, presumed to be common knowledge ... The witness stakes his or her being and life on a statement which can be contradicted ... The final proof of the statement will not be available until the trial is over and the judge has pronounced the verdict.”

Where is the trial? It is all around us, it is life itself? In all situations we encounter, there is challenge to our faith and there is a need for us to testify in words and actions to our belief in Christ. Whenever people act as though human beings are entirely self-reliant, there is a challenge to our faith. Whenever people argue that suffering and disasters mean that there cannot be a good God, we are on the witness stand. Whenever people claim that scientific advances or psychological insights can explain away belief in God, we are in the courtroom. Whenever a response of love is called for, our witness is at stake.

What is the content of our testimony? We know that we cannot prove the existence and love of God in any way that is self-evident to all people, just as atheists are unable to prove that God does not exist. Therefore, we are in a debate or trial in which the only evidence available is that of testimony and where we are called to be witnesses of all that we have experienced of God’s love and presence. We are not called to prove anything, to be erudite or experienced public speakers, or to have answers to every question that we may be asked. All we are asked to be are witnesses who give testimony by telling our story of encountering Jesus; to say this is how Jesus made himself real to me and this is the difference that it has made. To be witnesses “to the living God, traces of whose presence and actions have been granted in the events which are recounted.” All we need to do is to tell our story.


Delirious? - Now Is The Time.

No comments: