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Monday, 29 June 2020

Witnesses who give testimony in a trial

Here's the reflection I shared in today's lunchtime Eucharist for St Martin-in-the-Fields:

“I have been used for many years to studying the histories of other times, and to examining and weighing the evidence of those who have written about them, and I know of no one fact in the history of mankind which is proved by better and fuller evidence of every sort, to the understanding of a fair inquirer, than the great sign which God has given us that Christ died and rose again from the dead.” Professor Thomas Arnold

“Is not the nature of Christ, in the words of the New Testament, enough to pierce to the soul anyone with a soul to be pierced? … he still looms over the world, his message still clear, his pity still infinite, his consolation still effective, his words still full of glory, wisdom and love.” Bernard Levin

“I believe there is no one lovelier, deeper, more sympathetic and more perfect than Jesus. I say to myself, with jealous love, that not only is there no one else like him but there never could be anyone like him.” Fyodor Dostoevsky

“In that dramatic scene on Calvary’s hill three men were crucified. All three were crucified for the same crime - the crime of extremism. Two were extremists for immorality, and thus fell below their environment. The other, Jesus Christ, was an extremist for love, truth and goodness, and thereby rose above his environment. Perhaps the South, the nation and the world are in dire need of creative extremists.” Martin Luther King Jr

"Where was Mother Teresa's Jesus? He was in the Bible, in the church, in her prayer, in the Eucharist, in her sisters, in the heart of everyone she met, and especially in the poorest of the poor and the lowest of the low. Jesus was in disguise in each one of them. Jesus was behind the foundation of her order. Jesus was behind all that she did.” Mother Teresa

“A man who was merely a man and said the sort of thing Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic—on a level with the man who says he is a poached egg—or else he would be the Devil of Hell. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse. You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call Him Lord and God … however strange or terrifying or unlikely it may seem, I have to accept the view that he was and is God.” C. S. Lewis

“Brothers and sisters, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand … For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.” Saint Paul

“Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know. This man was handed over to you by God’s set purpose and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross. But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him.” Saint Peter

“You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” Saint Peter

All those testimonies to Jesus that you have just heard stem from the one testimony that we have just listened to, the moment when Peter speaks out his belief that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of the living God (Matthew 16: 13-20). Jesus calls Peter ‘the rock’ and he is the rock because he was the first to testify to Jesus and all the millions of people that have followed him in testifying to Jesus have built on the foundation of the testimony that Peter originally gave.

Testimony is what is given by a witness in a trial. A witness makes his or her statement as part of a trial in which the truth is at stake and where the question, ‘What is the truth?’ is what is being argued. Lesslie Newbigin has argued that 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.”

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.

But we are not alone in being witnesses. We are one with millions of others who have testified to the reality and presence of Jesus Christ in their lives. No courtroom on earth could cope with the number of witnesses to Christ who could be called by the defence. That is why the writer of Hebrews says, “Since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith.”

This is what Peter began by saying, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” We are part of the witness that has been built on that rock. So let us be encouraged today by the incredible numbers of others testifying to Christ and let us be challenged to add our own testimony in words and actions to those of our brothers and sisters in Christ because every day in every situation we face, we and our faith are ‘on trial’.


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