Sunday, August 07, 2016

Eying the eyewitnesses

Sermon preached at Our Lady of Walsingham and St Francis on the eleventh Sunday after Trinity

The most common reason that people give for not believing in God is that there is no evidence for His existence. For us Christians, that’s a bit odd because we have plenty of evidence if we think about it.

This doesn’t mean that we get to criticise them for their belief, but rather we should try to understand why they feel like this.

What do they need for them to see that God not only exists but loves them dearly?

Ideally, in order to say that something exists, they need some form of reliable evidence. It used to be said that all swans were white and that you’d be laughed at if you said that there was such thing a black swan. It was only when explorers found black swans in Australia that people could believe in the existence of black swans even if they hadn’t gone to Australia to see them for themselves. They trusted the testimony of the explorers.

It’s only in recent times that we can see black swans for ourselves. So what about those people who didn’t believe the original explorers? Are they really justified in not believing in black swans?

The same is true of historical events. If we do not believe the eye-witness testimony of an event, are we justified in believing that the event didn’t occur.


What many people don’t realise about the Holy Scriptures is that they were collated by the Church and finalised into what we understand to be the Bible by the fourth Century. What books made it into the Bible? St Justin Martyr tells us in the first century after the Resurrection that the Christians were reading the letters of St Paul and the Memoirs of the Apostles. These Memoirs we know to be the Gospels. Essentially, the rule has always been that the New Testament contains Gospels and letter from all those who were eyewitnesses to Our Lord.

Let’s listen to St Paul’s epistle to the Corinthians again:
BRETHREN, I declare unto you the Gospel which I preached unto you, which also ye have received, and wherein ye stand: by which also ye are saved, if ye keep in memory what I preached unto you, unless ye have believed in vain. For I delivered unto you first of all, that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins, according to the Scriptures; and that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day, according to the Scriptures; and that he was seen of Cephas; then of the twelve: after that, he was seen of above five hundred brethren at once; of whom the greater part remain unto this present, but some are fallen asleep: after that, he was seen of James; then of all the Apostles: and last of all, he was seen of me also, as of one born out of due time. For I am the least of the Apostles, that am not meet to be called an Apostle, because I persecuted the Church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am: and his grace which was bestowed upon me was not in vain; but I laboured more abundantly than they all; yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me. Therefore whether it were I or they, so we preach, and so ye believed.

When people dismiss the Bible, they do so because they see it as mythology, but forget (or need to be taught) that, actually, the entire New Testament is a collection of historical documents bearing witness to the life and teaching of Our Lord. These documents were written while the eyewitnesses were alive and have been copied very reliably down the centuries. If someone rejects the New Testament as historical text, then they might as well just reject all references to Julius Caesar and then say that he never existed.

But why do this? Why do people not want to accept this testimony?

The reason is probably because believing
will change their lives in a way that they don’t want. So many people have a negative view of Christianity now that they just don’t want the facts to be true, and who can blame them?

What do we do?

There is only one thing we can do and that is become better Christians and bear witness to Him by living our faith deeply and truly seeking Our Lord. If people know that we are Christian and are living lives of faithfulness to Our Lord’s teaching, seeking to bring love, goodness, light, joy and peace to the world, then they will see our testimony in what we believe. If we shout, make snide comments, live a holier-than-thou attitude to life, then we will do more harm than good, not just to ourselves, but also to those around us who need to find Christ.

Let us just worry about serving God, and let Him show His presence in us as He sees fit.

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