Let me tell you a little about my week.
On Wednesday morning I saw a man sitting on a milk crate by the door to the chapel. I went to talk to him and he wanted to know if I was a Catholic priest. I said, “No” and he began to talk about clergy who had abused the children in their care. He said, “It gives God a bad name.”
On Thursday and Friday it was my privilege to go to a sleepover at Bishop’s Court. Of course it wasn’t just a sleepover, it was a two day briefing on Connect 09 which is a new concept for evangelism in the diocese of Sydney. It was about praying for the people in our streets and suburbs, connecting with them in some way and then expecting God to work in their lives to bring them to Christ and the church. I must say that Peter Jensen was a very good host, a very good leader of small groups and a very good listener to what we said to him.
On Saturday I had breakfast at Scrambled, the café around the corner. While I was eating my poached eggs I heard about a man who was always talking about the way God was working in his life. His conversation was sprinkled with references to Jesus and he said “Praise God” many times. Unfortunately it was found that he had been making false entries in the accounts and defrauding the company he was working for.
But, all during this week I have been thinking about the service book we have been using during Lent, in particular the bit where we say the Ten Commandments. When we get to commandment number nine we said, “Do not tell lies” and “Let every one speak the truth.”
In the bible, this commandment is “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbour.”
This commandment means you shall not stand up as a witness in a court of law and give false evidence against your neighbour. If you do, the person may be convicted of a crime they did not commit. Or they might escape punishment for something that they did do. At the very least, false witness will damage someone’s reputation. It will damage the reputation of the people involved and it will damage the reputation of the court. These are bad things, but the real crime is against God. God is a God of truth and justice and if anybody speaks falsehood, lies and injustice, then God’s kingdom of justice, righteousness and truth is offended.
But there are other ways of bearing witness than standing up in court to give evidence. We can bear witness to our nationality or our employment by wearing special clothes. A Scot could wear a kilt, a Japanese could wear a kimono and you might expect an Australian to wear an Akubra hat. You’d expect a police officer to look like a police officer, a fireman to look like a fireman, and if you saw a bloke in shorts with a bright orange vest hanging on to the back of a truck then you’d expect them to be garbos and empty your rubbish bins. In other words, the things that a person does bears witness to who and what they are.
The readings we have heard today from the bible bear witness to Jesus the Christ, Jesus the Messiah. Jesus has been telling his disciples that the Christ of God must go to Jerusalem, be handed over to the chief priests and the lawyers, and then be crucified. Today and in the week ahead we remember that Jesus bore true witness to the fact that he is the Christ. If Jesus had arrived in Jerusalem with an army, that would have been false witness. If Jesus had come down from the cross he would have amazed the chief priests and the scribes, but it would have been a false witness to himself, to the world and to God.
When Jesus died on the cross he bore true witness to us that he is the Son of God, the Messiah. If he had not died, then it would have been a false witness, and we would not be saved. There would have been no resurrection and we would have no hope. But because Jesus was true to God, to himself and to us, he bore a true witness and we are saved. Death does not save us, but because Jesus’ death was a true witness to God’s love and mercy, then we know that the death of Jesus really does save us.
Which gets us back to what happened to me during the week. When the bloke at the chapel door said that abusive clergy give God a bad name, he was right. They have born false witness against their neighbours in a terrible way. How can people trust God if God’s servants behave in this way? And the accountant who was always speaking of God and Jesus. When he falsified the books he falsified his witness. Would you become a Christian if the only person who told you, “I am a Christian, Praise God” then proceeded to steal your money?
So now we come to the Archbishop and Connect 09. Connect 09 is not a program to follow or an event that will happen only in 2009. It is actually a call for all Christians to bear true witness to their neighbours. The Archbishop didn’t call us over to Darling Point to give orders or to make threats. Peter Jensen sincerely wants us to bear true witness to the faith that is in us.
When we say, “Do not tell lies” and “Let everyone speak the truth” that is not what the ninth commandments says. It says, “Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour.” And even that is not enough. Jesus, through his life, his words and his actions bore true witness for all his neighbours, that is, all the people of the world.
Now it is up to us. We are the body of Christ, whose spirit is with us. How do we bear witness to who we are as Christians? Will our actions give God a good name? Are we doing and saying what is Godly and Christlike? When we do something, can we say proudly, “I do this to bear true witness that I am a follower of Christ.” I think these are good questions to ask, especially now in Holy Week when Christ is showing us how he bore true witness.