Summary: Jesus' 'Great Commission' applies to all; we must get up and get out and share our faith with the help and strength of God so that the number in 'the great cloud of witnesses' can increase and morality and behaviour in society be improved in ways that pol
Hebrews 12: 1
Sermon: Witnesses and witnessing
According to the Bible we are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses.
I don’t think this means that we are living our lives on a stage
and that the angels and all of God’s people who have died and gone to be with the Lord
are up above looking down on us
as if they were in the Gallery of a theatre.
The word ‘witness’ can be a noun or a verb.
A ‘witness’ (noun) is defined as a person who has seen or can give first-hand evidence
of some event,
or a person who testifies, especially in a court of law,
to events or facts within his or her own knowledge.
To ‘witness’ (verb) means to see or be present at or know at first hand,
to give evidence of or about, and to attest to the genuineness of something.
In the context of Christianity and today’s Scripture reading,
we ask who make up the ‘cloud of witnesses’ that surround us,
and the answer is those who have personal knowledge of God and Jesus Christ,
and have individual and personal experience of forgiveness and salvation,
not people whose parents were Christians
or people who knew people of faith,
or who went to church at some time
or who were Christened years before,
or who passed an exam in RE.
A witness cannot be someone who says
‘I learned about X from someone, and believe it to be true’;
that would be second-hand,
and what in Law is called ‘hearsay’.
To be a valid and worthwhile witness, someone must be able to say ‘I saw it’
or ‘I heard it’, or ‘I experienced it’,
and that is the same with God and the Gospel and salvation.
No one can be a true Christian just because they know someone else who is one,
or because their parents were Christians,
or their wife or husband or grandparent.
A Christian is someone who has personal knowledge
and personal experience of Jesus Christ,
and is individually and personally born again of the Holy Spirit
and can personally Witness and Testify that Jesus is Lord.
If we are such, then not only are we surrounded by a ‘great cloud of witnesses’
but one day, in God’s plan and timing,
we should have in our hearts the assurance
that we will be part of that heavenly gathering.
Statistics recently published show that while 12% of the population of the U.K.
attended church on a regular basis in 1979, only 7 1/2% did so in 1999.
As we walk through any town or large city anywhere in the country
we can see buildings that once were used for Christian worship
now being used for other purposes.
In our own area churches which once had their own minister
are now linked or united and some have only half or even a third of a minister’s time.
Our churches are sometimes called places for the grey hair and the nay hair’,
and it is true that the majority of churches are not reaching the majority of teenagers,
nor single young men and women, nor young marrieds.
The worst-case scenario is that many churches will close,
in the not-too-distant future,
and some of these will become warehouses, wine bars or worse.
Yet, in the Irvine, at the Cross on Bank Street,
Sikhs have bought a disused warehouse and turned it into a Gurdwara
where they meet to worship at least every Saturday.
So, if we can be brutally honest for a minute, let us ask ourselves: “Does it matter?”
I mean, if people don’t believe in God or an after-life,
if they are ‘good people’, does church-going matter?
Would it really matter if all the churches in the country closed down
and those who wanted to could read their Bibles and say their prayers
in their own homes?
If ’Universalists’ are right,
that is, people who believe in a God who loves everyone
and who would never send anyone to Hell
(OK except maybe Hitler, or Osama Bin Laden, but certainly not anyone we know),
then what differ¬ence does it make whether a person goes to church or not,
believes in God or not,
believes the Bible is true or a load of Fairy Stories,
because at the end of life we all end up in the same place.
If people believe Christianity is just one world religion
and all the others are equally valid ways to God or the gods,
then does it matter whether someone is a Christian or a Buddhist or a tree-worshipper?
Can anyone become a member of ‘the great cloud of witnesses’
just by being a decent person,
not committing a crime,
by paying their taxes and bills on time,
regardless of what they believe or disbelieve?