Show and Tell With Jesus
Sermon for Third Sunday of Easter – 18 April 2021 – St John the Baptist Felixstowe
Text: Then [Jesus] opened their minds to understand the scriptures, 46and he said to them, ‘Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, 47and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. 48You are witnesses of these things. (Luke 24v45-48)
God give you peace my Sisters and Brothers.
Have you ever appeared in court as a witness? Or perhaps been on Jury Duty? It can be an interesting experience.
When I was a teenager I had a holiday job working in a Fish and Chip shop that looked onto the roundabout at the end of Gosport High Street where from where people took the foot and cycle ferry across the harbour to Portsmouth. While I was serving a customer a motorbike came onto the roundabout without stopping and crashed into a car bringing the town to a standstill. No one was injured but once the Police arrived they came into the shop to ask if anyone had seen the accident. I said ‘yes’ and, because the accident was contested, I had to appear in the Magistrates Court to say what I had seen. It was not too onerous. It meant I had a day trip from the Royal Hospital School in Holbrook to appear in court, avoided a much hated Cross Country run, and the Police gave me £5 to buy a sandwich on the way back to Ipswich. Win-Win all the way!
Nothing very remarkable in that you may say but what stuck with me was the responses of my two co-workers who saw the accident as well. One of them, a homely woman with whom I got on well, told the Police Officer that she hadn’t seen anything at all, even though we had moments before been speaking to each other about it. The other, a bloke who was a little bit of a jobsworth, taught me some new swear words when he saw the accident but then scarpered out to the back kitchen of the shop as soon as the Police Officer entered!
It was a moment of growing up realising that, even though good people saw something happen, they were not prepared to stand as a witness and ‘Promise to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth’.
These two adults were supposed to be in charge but they left me, a child, to bear witness on their behalf. Sadly, many Christians to this day imitate my two co-workers.
In our Gospel reading Jesus appears to the Disciples in the Upper Room and gives them a ‘Show and Tell’ of the last three days and the previous thirty years. He shows them his wounds, He tells them that this was supposed to happen. He shows them the Scriptures and He tells them to go and tell others about the hope of repentance and the joy of forgiveness.
Easy enough one may think. Who wouldn’t want to offer people a chance to have a second, a seventh. or even a seventy times seventh chance at living life the right way up? But it seems that, even amongst the disciples who were there, this was a hard pill to swallow.
I have very good friends who are faithful Christians who don’t let other people know that they are Christian. They appear to be embarrassed about their faith and are frightened to tell others in case they are ridiculed or challenged. At least I hope that is the case otherwise choosing to not stand up and be, as Jesus reminds His disciples, ‘witnesses of these things,’ is a sad commentary on their commitment to giving freely that which they have freely received (Matthew 10v8).
Or am I being too harsh?
Do we keep quiet about our faith because we have never been taught (or were told it was the vicar’s job) to tell others about it?
Do we keep quiet about our faith because we do not know enough about it to be able to ‘give an account of the hope that is within us’ (1 Peter 3v15)?
Do we keep quiet about our faith because we will immediately be asked to prove our faithfulness by being more forgiving, more loving, more tolerant, more patient, more… pretty much anything that we want to become but don’t always manage because the journey is hard and other people so unrepentant and unforgiving?
Do we keep quiet about our faith because we, and this was the reason why I kept quiet about my faith during my late teen years, because it can be a lonely furrow to plough if your friends and your family are not with you on the journey? (P.S. this is one of the reasons why God gives us the church to be our family).
The problem begins with the word Jesus uses to describe his disciples. In the Greek of Luke’s time witnesses were people who gave legal testimony – much as my teenage self and others here have done. The rubber hits the road in what, because of the Gospel, has happened to the meaning of that Greek word.
In New Testament Greek a witness is a μάρτυρας a martyr. And we all know what happens to martyrs… As Desmond Tutu used to remind us when he was Bishop of Johannesburg. ‘Always remember that to become a saint you usually have to die first’. And that is what happened. All of the Twelve disciples, save John, died because they ‘Promised to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth’. Alban the first known Christian in Britain, a Roman soldier, was a martyr. In fact until November 397 when Martin of Tours was canonised, the church would not proclaim anyone to be a saint unless they were a martyr and had died for being people who had shown and told the faith.
Perhaps a deeper reason why we are not always ready to ‘give an account of the hope that is within us’ is that we do not want to die yet? Make no mistake embarrassment, marginalisation by your friends, and your family wondering why you waste your time coming to church can feel like a living death. or some keeping quiet about their faith is a self-defence mechanism that helps them survive if not thrive.
Now, I don’t want a flurry of martyrdoms in Felixstowe – though please do remember in prayer those who are to this day persecuted and killed for their faith to this day. (The Seven Martyrs of the Melanesian Brotherhood, whose feast we keep next Saturday are such a case). However I do want us to learn how to ‘Show and Tell’ this wonderful Good News that we have been freely given so that we may give it freely to others.
First, just as Jesus did when he opened the Scriptures for his disciples, we need to know our way around the Bible, our Workshop Manual.
If we aren’t reading the Bible regularly we aren’t learning the faith regularly (sadly the last time many Christians actively learnt about their faith was at Confirmation classes).
If we aren’t learning the faith regularly it is difficult to live the faith routinely.
And if we aren’t living the faith routinely no one is ever going to ask us about our faith.
Decide now to have a set plan for reading the Bible every day. Many ways are available. Come to St John’s for Morning Prayer at 9am from Monday to Friday – or join in the Livestream on Facebook. Read the three or four daily passages set out each in Parish News. Sign up for some Bible Reading notes. There are a whole plethora of them – Bible Reading Fellowship notes kept me on the straight and narrow during my footloose and fancy free days in Cape Town. And if all else fails read and take to heart the daily #txt4today that I publish on Facebook and Twitter.
If we let the Scriptures teach us how to live our lives we will begin to show others the difference repentance and forgiveness has made to us and they will become ready to hear us tell the Good News.
And that is the second sticking point. If someone came up to the average Christian and asked what they believed many would find themselves hard pressed to tell the Old Old Story of .Jesus and His Love. Which is sad because if we do want to tell the story there are so many different ways of doing this without ending up sounding like we are part of a door-to-door sales team, a chugger (charity mugger – one of those lovely young people who accosts people in Hamilton Road asking for just £2 a month for a worthy cause) or, worst of all, someone from a Call Centre who has a fixed script from which they will not err.
Let me recommend two ways to tell the Gospel that are easier to use and are not formulaic at all. The first is the Church Army resource called Faith Pictures. It is easy to find on the Internet – just type ‘Church Army Faith Pictures’ and work through it yourself. Or get in touch with Andrew Payne, our Diocesan Trainer of Evangelists and he will be happy to talk you through it.
But, as this is a ‘Show and Tell’ sermon, let me ‘show’ you how I ‘tell’ the Good News of God’s Love. Based on a short story called ‘A Book Without Words’ I use five cards that I always keep in my wallet.
[For readers of this sermon please visit my blog ‘A Card Carrying Evangelical’ to find a description of what can be done with the five cards. In church I will be asking members of the congregation to pick a card and then will attempt to tell the Good News from their starting point not mine]
On the evening of the Day of Resurrection Jesus told his shocked half-believing disciples ‘You are witnesses of these things’ and tells them to spread repentance and forgiveness around like confetti. Who would not, having heard this news themselves, want to share it with others?
Friends please let’s not be like those two adults with whom I worked in a Fish and Chip Shop in Gosport a lifetime ago.
May we refuse to hide in the back kitchens of our lives.
May we, when asked, be ever ready to ‘give an account of the hope that is within us’.
May we be so brim-full of the knowledge of God’s love that whenever anyone meets us and rubs up against all that the only thing that will spill out from us to them will be love, joy, and peace, patience kindness, and generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. (Galatians 5v22-23).
May we become people who show the love of God in our lives so deeply and completely that we will find people each day asking us to tell them Old Old Story of .Jesus and His Love.
[This blog ‘Show and Tell With Jesus’ is copyright © Andrew Dotchin 2021 and may be reproduced without charge on condition that the source is acknowledged]