Blessed Lord, who caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning: help us so to hear them, to read, mark, learn and inwardly digest them that, through patience, and the comfort of your holy word, we may embrace and for ever hold fast the hope of everlasting life, which you have given us in our Saviour Jesus Christ, who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.
Merciful God, teach us to be faithful in change and uncertainty, that trusting in your word and obeying your will we may enter the unfailing joy of Jesus Christ our Lord.
God of all grace, your Son Jesus Christ fed the hungry with the bread of his life and the word of his kingdom: renew your people with your heavenly grace, and in all our weakness sustain us by your true and living bread; who is alive and reigns, now and for ever.
Ho, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and you that have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labour for that which does not satisfy? Listen carefully to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food. Incline your ear, and come to me; listen, so that you may live. I will make with you an everlasting covenant, my steadfast, sure love for David. See, I made him a witness to the peoples, a leader and commander for the peoples. See, you shall call nations that you do not know, and nations that do not know you shall run to you, because of the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, for he has glorified you. Seek the Lord while he may be found, call upon him while he is near; let the wicked forsake their way, and the unrighteous their thoughts; let them return to the Lord, that he may have mercy on them, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon. For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts. For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return there until they have watered the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and succeed in the thing for which I sent it.
7 The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul;
the testimony of the Lord is sure and gives wisdom to the simple.
8 The statutes of the Lord are right and rejoice the heart;
the commandment of the Lord is pure and gives light to the eyes.
9 The fear of the Lord is clean and endures for ever;
the judgements of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.
10 More to be desired are they than gold, more than much fine gold,
sweeter also than honey, dripping from the honeycomb.
11 By them also is your servant taught
and in keeping them there is great reward.
12 Who can tell how often they offend?
O cleanse me from my secret faults!
13 Keep your servant also from presumptuous sins lest they get dominion over me;
so shall I be undefiled, and innocent of great offence.
14 Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight,
O Lord, my strength and my redeemer.
But as for you, continue in what you have learned and firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it, and how from childhood you have known the sacred writings that are able to instruct you for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, so that everyone who belongs to God may be proficient, equipped for every good work.
In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I solemnly urge you: proclaim the message; be persistent whether the time is favourable or unfavourable; convince, rebuke, and encourage, with the utmost patience in teaching. For the time is coming when people will not put up with sound doctrine, but having itching ears, they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own desires, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander away to myths. As for you, always be sober, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, carry out your ministry fully.
II Timothy 3:14-4:5
But I have a testimony greater than John’s. The works that the Father has given me to complete, the very works that I am doing, testify on my behalf that the Father has sent me. And the Father who sent me has himself testified on my behalf. You have never heard his voice or seen his form, and you do not have his word abiding in you, because you do not believe him whom he has sent.
You search the scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that testify on my behalf. Yet you refuse to come to me to have life. I do not accept glory from human beings. But I know that you do not have the love of God in you. I have come in my Father’s name, and you do not accept me; if another comes in his own name, you will accept him. How can you believe when you accept glory from one another and do not seek the glory that comes from the one who alone is God? Do not think that I will accuse you before the Father; your accuser is Moses, on whom you have set your hope. If you believed Moses, you would believe me, for he wrote about me. But if you do not believe what he wrote, how will you believe what I say?’
Sermon on Last Sunday of Trinity – Bible Sunday
“But I have a testimony greater than John’s.” – What is this testimony? It makes me wonder about these words of Jesus. What could be greater than John’s statement that the Kingdom of God was close at hand, that it was time to amend our ways in the world? Jesus proclaimed the nearness of the Kingdom just as John did, didn’t he? This is the message which the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church still proclaims, a message which certainly resonates to the depths of our souls, doesn’t it? Especially in these times of covid when we are so confused.
I wonder, what do you make of these words of Jesus? On their own, they make no sense, do they? What if I said, “I have something to tell you, something that is more significant than anything Bill might say, maybe even more important than anything Bishop Rachel could say. What would you reply? Would it be that “Yeah, yeah” we thought about a few weeks ago? That cynical double positive that is a real negative. Or would you hear me out and then perhaps say, “No, no.” meaning an emphatic, “No!” – that you could never countenance such a bold statement ever.
I think the same thing might have happened when Jesus said those words. Would anyone believe that Jesus would gainsay the message of that prophet John. No one could believe that Jesus should want to overwrite the Testament which came from Moses, those tablets handed directly to Israel on that mountaintop so long ago.
So what do you think a testimony is?
We can all think of judicial testimony and all that entails. We imagine Perry Mason as he delves into the testimony of a witness in court. Then there are all those other modern legal eagles on the small screen. They pursue evidence of an event (dire and extreme at the very least). Then a person puts him- or her- self on the witness stand and testifies to the facts of the case. Isn’t that what the policeman advises? “The facts, nothing but the facts.” As a witness in court we swear to tell the truth and nothing but the truth. That is the most important thing, isn’t it? Only the truth will do as we tell the story to which we bear witness and testify. – On the witness stand, we are in some ways just like the saint-martyrs of the Church, those who told about the foundation of their lives without any fear of the reactions of others. We do the same when we tell the truth without prejudice and certainly without any of the modern spin on events to obfuscate and deflect away from what is significant and true. I think we are just like the saints when we bear witness and testify.
There is another way we use the word testimony. Don’t we speak of a “last will and testament”? Normally, this is where we divide the spoils of life among family and friends, hoping none of it goes to the Chancellor. It is our last chance to do something we want with our wealth. But when we read about wills in novels or see them read out in tv dramas, it is not just about goods and chattels, is it? No, in these wills there are observations made about life and the recipients of the largess. “My dear wife” is graphically described often as quite the opposite to that epithet, and the descriptions go on through all the family and each of the hangers-on who had somehow attached themselves to the person whose last chance of witnessing to them the will is. This is prophecy in a broad sense, speaking the truth without reserve for its own sake, not for any prosaic purpose. Its purpose could perhaps be to testify to a higher purpose of life, a witness to God before all humanity.
Jesus says that his testimony comprises his works and deeds just as much as it is his words which create his testimony. His testimony stands bold in the world and yet no one pays attention to it, just as we do not acknowledge God who sent Jesus and, I would say, each one of us into the world. If Jesus has a testimony to proclaim by his very existence, don’t we? Don’t we proclaim by our lives what we believe and feel fundamentally – that essential belief that often we do not even acknowledge to ourselves?
Testimony is a conundrum, isn’t it? Whether we like it or not, we testify to our ownmost possibility through the whole of life. We tell the world by our very lives just what is at the heart of them, words and actions sum up who we are and what we ultimately believe. Our testimony.
Testimony is also something that happens in Church, in those “tent meetings” like those held by John Wesley or Billy Graham, those great evangelical gatherings where the fire of religion is stoked and the dross of life is burned away to allow a new life in God. We also testify in that evangelical tradition despite the fact that we are Anglican. The “meeting tent” may not be our expression of faith, but we have gathered here today to give testimony to that higher purpose of our lives. We may not be struck down by the Spirit, we may not speak in tongues, there may be no extraordinary, miraculous events during our worship, but we bear witness to the divine in our lives, one way or another just by being here.
And that brings me to our celebration today. We should be thinking about the testimony the Testaments of the Bible. As we sit here in this building, especially this morning, we should meditate on the fact of the bible.
“All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, so that everyone who belongs to God may be proficient, equipped for every good work.”
This verse of the bible is often quoted to prove the Bible’s own infallibility, but I don’t want to enter that discussion. I want to address what we do with the bible. Do we take it to heart? Do we allow the bible to teach us? Do we compare our actions with those characters in it in order to correct our misdeeds or to train us in righteousness? Do we let the bible or any other external authority equip us for every good work we might claim for ourselves? – I don’t think we do. – I imagine we all proclaim ourselves sufficient unto the day. There is, we say, no power in the world to correct us or to control us. We proclaim our free will but never behave as if we follow any higher principle – at least that is what my life indicates. What about yours? This verse and the phrase in our collect for today, “to hear them, to read, mark, learn and inwardly digest them” should make us focus on this book of books.
Let’s consider the Bible to be a source book for life. There are stories about trials and tribulations, there are stories about people who fail miserably in what they should be. However, it does show us what righteous deeds can look like explicitly. The Bible does provide us with thoughts to ponder about life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, let alone the aim of salvation.
So we have testimonies clearly in our lives and in the Bible, but we obscure them so very often that the lessons we should learn are half forgotten. We remember the God of Love, but ignore the God of righteous judgement and sometimes quite the reverse. We remember partially, don’t we? — I contend that “to hear, to read, mark, learn and inwardly digest” Holy Scripture would remind us of the variety of life and how to live. It would “equip us for every good work.” We might be able to remember everything. All life, good and bad, is revealed in Scripture. The bible is full of characters we meet every day. So why don’t we open our Bibles and learn about the world around us?
Let us proclaim our testimony prophetically, as the martyrs of the Church have done before us, like John Wesley and Billy Graham. Let us remember everything and so bear witness, testifying to the message of hope we have heard by speaking the truth with love as Holy Scripture encourages us. Perhaps, then, we all might be able to say with Jesus, “I have a testimony greater than John’s.”