Sermon for Easter 3 – Year B – 2015
Sunday April 19th
1 John 3:1-7
‘You are witnesses of these things . . .’
In my family there is a certain question which we have learned not to ask, because to ask it would to be met with a chorus of correction. The question is one often asked of children – ‘What do you want to be when you grow up?’
And the correction is simply this – ‘it’s not what you want to be, it’s what do you want to do!’ However much work is tied up with identity in the World, and how often in casual conversation with a stranger we ask – what do you do for a living – a subtle way in which we value some people higher than others, I still remember the pain of a wonderful man I knew who kept it hidden from most people he knew that his work was as a bus cleaner . . . indeed we may well ask how many of us know people engaged in the menial work without which our comfortable lives would quickly fall to pieces, I still also remember the horror of a very well qualified friend when they learned that one of my highly educated daughters was training to be a nurse . . . So perhaps it is not surprising that we confuse that which we do for a living with who we are, whereas more subtly it is Lives Lived that reveal the truth about us. And, as with aspiring to highly paid careers, it is that upon which we fix our eyes and our hopes that in the end reveals our essence.
Over the last couple of weeks we have reflected on the terrifying fact of the resurrection of Jesus. I must admit that last Sunday as we celebrated communion, I was almost overcome by it. For ‘if Christ be raised from the dead’ then the World is not as we think, and as Christians we have the most significant of Vocations in bearing witness to that fact, that the death AND resurrection of Jesus changes everything.
As I have said before, all too often we are left saying, Good Friday changes everything – but without Easter Day, there is no Good to that Friday, it is just another Friday like thousands of others. Nothing is changed and those Christian narratives which place the emphasis upon the cross for the here and now, as the thing to which we must respond, leave the story dangerously half told, and the people of God half baptised. Placed down into the waters of Baptism, but with no one to draw them up out – death of the Old self, but no sign of the new, until after we die. But the Resurrection of Jesus comes crashing in to our present existence. The Resurrected Jesus terrifies his disciples and then eats grilled fish – he invites Thomas to put his fingers and hands in his open wounds. He does these things not purely to persuade the disciples that he is risen – his emphasis on the Physical proclaims them that New Life has come into being, that the worlds narratives of Sin and Death have been triumphantly renounced. The Life to which John the Evangelist bears witness takes on flesh and blood, it cannot be known apart from it.
The Gospel is no disembodied message of hope for life after we die – it is the total metamorphosis of life before the end of our physical bodies. It is at once utterly challenging, but also utterly compelling. It is at once both terrifying, and yet the source of exultant Joy.
It is New Life in Jesus Christ – and for us as Christians, that gives each one of us, and the Church together a Vocation unlike any other. A doing and a call to a new being.
The doing of Christian life is very very simple, yet utterly challenging. ‘You’ says the Risen Jesus, ‘are witnesses of these things’ Witnesses.
It is a word which loses some of its resonance for us – it is a largely passive word in our language – we see something happen. It only becomes active IF we are called to give an account of what we have witnessed.
But the word ‘Witness’ of course in the Christian tradition has a far deeper more engaged meaning – it is Active – it is Participatory. Something to which the realisation that ‘witness’ and ‘martyr’ are one and the same word in the language of the scriptures, bears eloquent witness. To witness is to give your life for . . . we note such language in Paul when he calls the Roman church to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Our Being – our Existence is given over to God in response to, as witnessing to what God has done for us in and through Jesus Christ. The meaning of each and every moment of our Life has been named – it is Witness – Martyr
For too long in the church, witness has been reduced to ‘speaking about Jesus’ as and when the opportunity arises – and given our shyness in this regard, witness has all but disappeared – yet the biblical vision of witness as giving our lives for the truth of the Gospel – takes us way way beyond all of this. To be a witness is to lay down our lives in testimony to the one who laid down his life for us. It is our whole existence, we receive the New Life of the Risen Christ and so become witnesses. In living through and out of the glorious reality of the Resurrection, our Radically New Lives become vessels of witness.
See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are. The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him.
We Are children of God – that is through the Sacrament of Baptism – we have been included in the death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ and now become participants in the very Life of God in and through His Son. In other words, our Lives, our Baptismal identity is a New Life , which sets us apart – Insofar as our lives as Christians do not make sense to those amongst whom we live – we reveal the World’s hostility to the God who so loved the World that he gave his only Son – ‘The Reason the world does not know us, is that it did not know Him’
The Church in her anxiety about what seems to be happening rushes after the false God of relevance, seeking at every opportunity to become more and more like the World – but that is to abandon our baptismal vocation – to bear the same reviling that Christ suffers from the World for the Love of the World – we do not hear the Words of Jesus – Woe to you when all men speak well of you. ‘Ah how relevant and rational – how up to date your church seems . . .’ In seeking to make sense to the world in which we live, we abandon our discipleship – our commitment to Jesus and deny our true parenthood.
But for those who do not do so, God has something truly breathtaking in store. It is the very vision of God which is the source of our Life. Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this: when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is.The old St Iranaeus said – The Glory of God is a Man fully alive – may people have taken hold of this and thought that it therefore justifies our lives as they are, but no, for he goes on ‘and the glory of man is the vision of God . . .’ What is it to be fully alive – but to have our vision consumed by the Living God – we will see him as he is . . . where is our vision? Where are we looking?? Perhaps that old childhood question is appropriate . . . ‘what Will you be when you grow up??
Perhaps it is time, perhaps it is Always time for the church to remember its identity – its God given Vocation of being those living witnesses to the Life of Jesus Christ – radically free in the world – for the sake of the world and to the everlasting glory of God the Father. Time to grow up