This week we celebrate the Feast of St Peter and St Paul on June 29th and the collect for the day is:
Almighty God, whose blessed apostles Peter and Paul glorified you by their martyrdom: Grant that your Church, instructed by their teaching and example, and knit together in unity by your Spirit, may ever stand firm upon the one foundation, which is Jesus Christ our Lord; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.
What a powerful prayer. Grant that your Church, instructed by the Apostles teaching and example, and knit together in unity by your Spirit, may ever stand firm upon the one foundation, which is Jesus Christ our Lord. If only the Church would live up to that principle, that prayer, it would be the credible witness I believe Jesus calls us to be. Unfortunately, the Church has not lived up to the testimony of Paul in his writing to young Timothy: “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” I think Paul was saying to the early church, remain a credible witness to the world around you: To our family, to our neighbours, to the church universal.
The church in 2021 is certainly facing an identity crisis. As a leader in the church I find it more and more difficult to proclaim that we are a credible witness. For it becomes a pretty tall order as we continue to hear of atrocities associated with the Residential Schools and the finding of more and more unmarked graves. The Christian Church has been scarred deeply by people who were part of the Church and yet “have not” been credible witnesses.
I recently read an article by Rev Dr. Brenda Salter Mcneil who said:
Statistics show that people aren’t coming to church in the way they used to, and that is in part because our credibility has been tarnished with the world, with the very people we’re trying to reach for Jesus. They’re not listening to us in the same way they used to because this generation has had it with people who say one thing and do another.
She continued, “Credibility is gained when you live what you call your testimony. Your testimony is that Jesus died so that the wall of hostility for people was abolished, so that there’s now no separation between people, and that bound, free, Greek, Jew, male, and female — somehow we’re all now connected because of Jesus Christ. That’s my testimony. Then credibility demands that we demonstrate that, that we show it.”
She went on to say that reconciliation is scary. If it weren’t, everybody would be doing it. Reconciliation is not easy. Sometimes people will do it because they want to feel good about themselves, or they’re hoping that the people they go to reconcile with will receive them with gladness. That can’t be assured.
It’s a risk to encounter people who have been hurt by society, marginalized and discriminated against. We can’t assume that because we’re good Christians and have come to be helpful or to do reconciliation, everyone will think we’re well-intended and reciprocate. It might be that those people will be antagonistic, very hurt, and therefore hurt us, not because we’re doing anything wrong, but because we represent a lot of people who have.
So what does it mean to be a credible witness here at St. Andrews. We are to be credible witnesses to the Gospel. What does that involve? It certainly means that we uphold the testimony of the Bible and the great cloud of witnesses who have gone before (Hebrews 11). To look at the teachings of the Apostles with a firm foundation upon the life, death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus. It also means that we recognize our role not only as stewards of the Gospel, but to live up to the great commandment to love God with all our heart, soul, mind and body and to love our neighbours as ourself.
Two Important questions to ask: what would Jesus do? And what does the teachings and example of the Apostles teach us? Our witness must be credible. Jesus told us that all men would know that we are his disciples if we had love for one another. The lack of love amongst ourselves is a denial of the Gospel. The fruit of the Spirit is evidence that we have the Holy Spirit. When the Lord’s people have love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control, then we are credible witnesses. Scriptural and Spirit-filled witness leads to sensational results!
You would think that having these gifts and pointing to Christ, our witness would not only be credible but accepted. But that is not necessarily the case. The hurt, anger, frustration of what the Christian church was part of, runs a way too deep. It begins to manifest itself in the toppling of the statue of Queen Victoria at the Legislature, the burning of Roman Catholic Churches in British Columbia, the red hand prints placed on the door of the Cathedral in Saskatoon. As a country, as a church we got it wrong and as a church, we need to struggle with how do we handle the past sins of those who were in leadership roles.
The Book of Revelation speaks of a weak and apparently dead and defeated Church. But the Revelator, encourages the early church: Don’t give up! There is a greater power. As CS Lewis so beautifully described in the resurrection of Aslan in The Chronicles of Narnia, “there is a deeper magic before the dawn of time”.
That is who we bear witness to. We need to remember that. We are not bearing witness to our ‘values’, or our country, or our church, or our traditions and certainly not to ourselves. Our witness is to Christ. We can be confident that this witness to Christ will bear fruit, and the seed of the Word of God, will not return to him empty. He will see the travail of his soul and be satisfied (Ps 22).