Sunday morning April 18th 2021
A warm welcome to worship on the third Sunday of Easter.
Hymn 30 I waited for the Lord our God
Prayer of Approach
Stepping into the turmoil of life,
You bring peace, Risen presence.
Your calm voice chases away the darkness and distress
of doubt and fear,
bringing new light and insight
to life and death.
In an upper room,
You make the extraordinary experience of resurrection
an everyday encounter,
and in the passage of all living things
through birth, growth and death,
we notice the possibility of new beginnings.
Your words of peace still our hurry.
Your story is to be savoured,
to fill imaginations,
to dream of what is possible.
In the peace Your passion for creation is revealed,
as Your love heals the division humanity creates
between one another,
amidst the world around,
between heaven and earth.
With Your woundedness
we are made whole,
and prepared to be the witnesses
of Christ’s continuing purpose in our time.
In whose name we further pray together saying…
Hymn 702 Lord who in thy perfect wisdom
Readings: Luke 24:36-48
36 While they were talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” 37 They were startled and terrified, and thought that they were seeing a ghost. 38 He said to them, “Why are you frightened, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? 39 Look at my hands and my feet; see that it is I myself. Touch me and see; for a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.” 40 And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet. 41 While in their joy they were disbelieving and still wondering, he said to them, “Have you anything here to eat?” 42 They gave him a piece of broiled fish, 43 and he took it and ate in their presence.
44 Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you—that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled.” 45 Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, 46 and he said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, 47 and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. 48 You are witnesses of these things.
12 When Peter saw it, he addressed the people, “You Israelites, why do you wonder at this, or why do you stare at us, as though by our own power or piety we had made him walk? 13 The God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, the God of our ancestors has glorified his servant Jesus, whom you handed over and rejected in the presence of Pilate, though he had decided to release him. 14 But you rejected the Holy and Righteous One and asked to have a murderer given to you, 15 and you killed the Author of life, whom God raised from the dead. To this we are witnesses. 16 And by faith in his name, his name itself has made this man strong, whom you see and know; and the faith that is through Jesus has given him this perfect health in the presence of all of you.
17 “And now, friends, I know that you acted in ignorance, as did also your rulers. 18 In this way God fulfilled what he had foretold through all the prophets, that his Messiah would suffer. 19 Repent therefore, and turn to God so that your sins may be wiped out.
Anthem: Alleluia canon William Boyce
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, Amen
I don’t know if any of you have ever seen the film Turner and Hooch, but if you like funny, thrill a minute, detective films with large slobbery dogs, it is a must for you. In the film, Turner, played by Tom Hanks, is an American policeman who is investigating a murder. His only witness to the murder is the victim’s dog, Hooch, a French mastiff, who is very large, very slobbery, and very badly behaved.
Turner hopes that Hooch will be able to identify the murderer, but he is totally ignorant about dogs and so enlists the help of a very attractive young female vet. She tells him that Hooch will indeed know who murdered his owner and be able to identify him but no, he isn’t going to be able to pick his face out of a line up of photographs.
As the film progresses, Hooch does indeed come across the killer and gets very worked up and aggressive. He gives chase and although the killer escapes at that point, Turner realises that the reason for Hooch’s unprovoked aggressive behaviour must be because this is the person who murdered his owner. I won’t spoil the rest of the film for you, other than to say that you will need a box of tissues for the end.
But the film does raise some interesting questions about what it means to be a witness. The dog in the film has seen the murder of his master, and in that sense is clearly a “witness” to the crime. And yet that turns out to be only a part of what being a “witness” involves. To be of use, to have any effect, what the witness has seen and experienced must also somehow be communicated to others. It is not merely a question of passive knowledge but of actively passing on what you know. And I suppose that in some sense not being able or willing to pass that knowledge on raises a question about whether a person really is a proper witness at all.
We see this clearly in the law courts, where witnesses are expected to have been good observers but also to be able to give accurate and clear accounts of what they know. And this may apply not just to what a witness knows about an event, but also to what they know of the character of the parties to the case or what they conclude on the basis of expert scientific knowledge.
Sometimes witnesses are called upon to certify and attest to the genuineness of a document, so we have witnesses at weddings who sign the marriage register or witnesses to the signing of a will, who confirm that it is really the testator who is making the will. Much may depend on proper witnessing in such cases, as fans of Agatha Christie will remember from her famous detective novel Why Didn’t They Ask Evans?
With the role of the witness being so important in so many ways, it is hardly surprising that witnessing occupies a central place in the Bible as well, particularly in the New Testament. And the same issues arise in the Biblical story as we have noticed already: witnessing involves both passive observation and active communication. One without the other really isn’t good enough.
In both our readings, from Luke and from Acts, the disciples are described as being witnesses. In Luke we read about one of the resurrection appearances, one of the times when Jesus appears suddenly in the midst of the disciples, demonstrates his humanity by eating a piece of broiled fish, and demonstrates that he is indeed Jesus by showing them the wounds of his crucifixion. He then points out to the disciples that they are the witnesses to his crucifixion and resurrection. They have seen it happen.
In the reading from Acts, Peter has just healed a lame man who used to sit at the gate of the Temple. Everyone is amazed at this, and Peter, using the opportunity of having their attention, tells them about what he knows of Jesus and of how he was crucified but then raised to life again. And in the course of his speech Peter actually uses the phrase “we are witnesses” to this.
Notice that Peter does not say “we were witnesses”; he says “we are witnesses”, and Bible commentators point out that that way of putting it is repeated many times in the New Testament. Peter in effect is saying “It is not just a matter of what we saw happening in the past; it is about what is happening now and what we are doing now.”
So we can see in these two readings the double role of the witness. In the first reading, it is purely a passive term. Jesus’ resurrection is simply something which the disciples have seen for themselves. But in the reading from Acts, Peter is doing something with what he has witnessed – he is healing in the name of the risen Lord Jesus and he is telling other people about the resurrection.
And this turn from passivity to action marks the whole of Peter’s life from then on. He dedicates himself to being an active witness to the Christian message and it is this active witnessing which eventually leads to him being put to death in Rome. He becomes, in fact, a “martyr”. This word “martyr” is an important one in Christian history, although nowadays in English we have almost completely lost our sense of what it really means.
But in fact in the original Greek a “martyr” was precisely a “witness”, as we see for example in the Greek version of Luke 24:48, when Jesus tells his disciples: “ὑμεῖς ἐστε μάρτυρες τούτων”---“You are witnesses of these things”. And no doubt Jesus realised, even if the disciples may not have, that for some being a witness would even mean dying for their faith because they were people who testified to the truth and stuck to that truth no matter what was done to them. And so we come to our modern English meaning of a martyr as “a person bearing witness to his or her religious beliefs by refusing to renounce them even in death.” Clearly, for all of them there was a great deal more in their witnessing than merely being passive observers.
We may be inclined to think nowadays that the situation of the first disciples was a special case and that we are in a different situation. After all, unlike the disciples, we were not eye witnesses to the resurrection. But I think that looking at it that way is rather too narrow, because those disciples themselves were not witnessing merely to an event---the Resurrection---but also to the effect of that event, the effect of that event on their own lives and on the lives of all who came into contact with the redeeming power of the Christian message.
And in that respect we are no different. We also are witnesses to the redeeming power of Christ in our own lives and in the lives of other people. And just as with the original disciples, being a witness in our case is not merely about passive observation but also active communication.
I suspect that many of us may not feel altogether comfortable with that role. But perhaps that’s because our understanding of what it means to witness is too limited. To witness to our faith does not necessarily mean that we have to stand on street corners preaching to the unconverted, most of whom would probably rush by on the other side of the road. It doesn’t mean that we have to go round knocking on people’s doors, as some evangelical groups do.
But it does mean not being shy with other people when the occasion arises but instead being open about what we believe and why we believe it. Perhaps even more importantly, it means trying to live our lives in the way we think Jesus would want us to, so that our whole life becomes a living witness to the power of His message guiding all we do.
Hymn 642 Ye that know the Lord is gracious
Prayer of Thanksgiving and Intercession
Your living presence is celebrated
at city gates and market squares,
by those in need of healing and those who are amazed,
in heart and minds.
In moments of wonder and unexpected changes,
our senses are disrupted by the extraordinary,
so that suddenly we see You
standing in our midst
speaking words of peace
and inspiring Your world to discover the possibility
of the kingdom of heaven
in the ordinary of the world.
Help us to enjoy our moments of wonder.
In a world where explanation and logic could chip away at faith,
may we marvel at the growing knowledge of science,
and the wonder it creates
from starlit skies,
to molecules and atoms,
giving intimate knowledge of a creation
so full of opportunities
to delve into discovering more of God.
Thrill us with the mystery of what we are yet to know
so that it expands our desire
to notice You in unexpected ways and places.
In this journey through a pandemic,
we give thanks for all those who have offered signs of resurrection
in their work and commitments.
We pray for doctors, nurses and support staff
who tirelessly care for those who enter their view,
at times with potential harm to themselves.
We pray for the scientific community
as it continues research and development
in care and prevention.
We pray for those who are the recipients of care,
and notice the wide range of people
whose health has been affected
by being unable to receive treatment and support.
Help us to recognise that while the virus has world-wide impact,
we are not equal in immunisation programmes.
Help us to notice those communities
who will be the last to receive the support they need
and to work towards the fairer share of wealth and resources,
so that Your risen Presence reveals the kingdom in every land.
Christ of life and death and resurrection,
we celebrate those who have shared this life with us,
allowing us to meet you in simple words and actions.
We grieve with those
who mourn the death of loved ones.
May we be those who share the memories and love
that allows hope to rise from loss.
In the name of Jesus Christ,
Your risen One.
Hymn 248 For my sake and the gospel’s, go
Christ is risen in our world,
alive in our hearts, our conversations, and our activities.
He bears God’s love ready for the world to share.
May we share all we know as Christ’s people.
And the blessing of God Almighty,
Father, Son and Holy Spirit
be with you all,
now and always.
Closing voluntary: William Boyce Gavotte
Sacrament of Holy Communion
As Covid rates are low in the area, churches have reopened and many people have been vaccinated, we have decided to celebrate the Sacrament of Holy Communion at Twynholm on April 25th and at Gatehouse on May 2nd. This will be a slightly different communion service from our usual one as we are still operating under Covid restrictions. In particular, our numbers are still limited. If we have too many people for the distancing requirements, and this is only likely to happen at Gatehouse, then we will take your name and reserve a place for you for the following Sunday and I will repeat the communion then. Of course, if we are not over-subscribed, then the service on May 9th will just be a normal service.