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Thursday, 5 January 2017

One shall tell another

Here is my homily from yesterday's lunchtime Eucharist at St Martin-in-the-Fields:

‘One shall tell another
And he shall tell his friend
Husbands, wives and children
Shall come following on
From house to house in families
Shall more be gathered in
And lights will shine in every street
So warm and welcoming

Come on in and taste the new wine
The wine of the kingdom
The wine of the kingdom of God’

One Shall Tell Another (The wine of the Kingdom) is a hymn by Graham Kendrick from the 1980's, but one which accurately describes what happens in today's Gospel reading (John 1. 35 - 42).

John the Baptist tells Andrew and another disciple that Jesus is the coming Messiah. The two disciples spend the day with Jesus and then Andrew tells his brother Peter that Jesus is the Messiah. John tells Andrew and his fellow disciple, Andrew tells Peter, and so it goes on. One shall tell another and he shall tell his friend. This is how the Good News spreads. In our day and time, we call it gossiping the Gospel.

But what is it that we tell? What is it that we pass on? What is it that we gossip? There are times in our journey as Christians when he don't share our faith with others - perhaps because we are afraid to do so in what seems a hostile culture or, perhaps, because we are afraid of saying the wrong thing. In some churches courses are run to encourage people to share their faith and to know the right thing to say. But that is not what we see happening here. These disciples simply pass on the news that Jesus is the expected Messiah. They point others to him and tell others what they have experienced in meeting him.

The missiologist Lesslie Newbigin says that this is the mark of a true witness; “the function of a witness is not to develop conclusions out of already known data, but simply to point to, report, affirm” the new reality that the witness has seen and heard. This is also what John’s Gospel, as a whole, sets out to do and what it wants those who read it, like us, to become. Newbigin writes: “[John] points his hearers to Jesus (e.g., 1:29ff., 36ff.; 3:27ff.); Jesus draws his hearers to himself. But these hearers will in turn become witnesses through whom others may believe (15:27; 17:20; 20:31), for the purpose is that not some but all … may come to faith.”

So we are to be witnesses like the writer of the Gospel, like John the Baptist, like Andrew, like Peter, this is our calling as Christians. And this is essentially a simple task. We are not asked to become fluent in all the doctrines of the Christian faith or to have an answer for every question that people ask about Christianity. We don’t have to understand or be able to explain the key doctrines of the Christian faith. We don’t have to be able to tell people the two ways to live or to have memorized the sinner’s prayer or to have tracts to be able to hand out in order to be witnesses to Jesus. All we need to do is to tell our story.

We are to be witnesses to what we have seen and heard about Jesus; to be “a witness to the living God, traces of whose presence and actions have been granted in the events which are recounted.” Witnesses are those who have seen or experienced a particular event or sign or happening and who then tell the story of what they have seen or heard as testimony to others.

That is what Jesus calls us to do; to tell our stories of encountering him to others. No more, no less. The focus is not on us and our lives but on him and what we know of him and have experienced of him in our lives. So instead of needing to memorize a Gospel presentation, all we need to do to be a witness is to tell our story; this is how I came to know Jesus and this is what he has come to mean to me.


Larry Norman - Sweet Song Of Salvation.

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