Is there enough evidence to convict you of being a Christian? By Archdeacon Richard Brand

At our Parish Communion on Sunday at St John’s Itchen Abbas we had some technical problems with zoom (for which many apologies and from which we have learned) but the service was led very kindly by Archdeacon Richard Brand who gave the following talk

John 1.6-8,19-28

Come Holy Spirit: what we know not, teach us; what we have not, grant us; what we are not, make us; for your love’s sake. Amen.

It can be attractive in life to hedge our bets; not to put all our eggs into one basket; to ride two horses at the same time for as long as possible; to have a second string to our bow.

We may think this is just the way of those younger, some of whom seem to have an extraordinary capacity not to commit to things, just in case they get a better offer at the last minute. But then, older generations never had the pressure of FOMO – the fear of missing out – of seeing on your phone fantastic photos of the amazing time all your friends are having somewhere else.

Of course, it’s not just the younger generation, many of us know how impossible it can be when trying to arrange an event of some kind when so few people buy tickets before the day.

This tendency not to commit or at least not until we need to, or until it’s convenient to us, happens is many areas of our lives; so it’s not surprising that many of us do it with our faith as well. For many people God is the ultimate fall-back plan, safety net or insurance policy.

However, there may be a problem. I think there is often something within us that means we play a kind of double bluff: fooling ourselves that God is this safety net when, if pushed, we may have our doubts.

John the Baptist confronts our beliefs and our doubts on this third Sunday of Advent. And surely the question, the reality, is this:

If we believe God is God, then that should change our lives.                                      If they aren’t changed, then we are believing in something else.

It is this kind of message and starkness of confrontation which comes through the figure of John the Baptist; an uncompromising figure with an uncompromising message, a message declared more powerfully in Matthew’s gospel:


         “Do not presume to say for yourselves…”

         “Even now the axe is lying at the root of the tree…”

But also a figure with a remarkably positive reminder of our calling.

I wonder if you have come across the poster that reads:

If you were accused of being a Christian,

         would there be enough evidence to convict you? 

The challenge of John the Baptist is a personal challenge. It’s not a historic challenge to the Jews or to others not heeding Jesus. It’s not a message to the Church to set its house in order. It is to us: to me, to you.

It’s a reminder about the public nature of faith, the relational nature of faith, the calling of God. For if no one can ‘convict’ us of faith, is our Christian faith actually making any difference in the world? And if it’s not, what’s the value of such a faith?

Currently our diocese is having to work through the greatest cuts and changes it has made for decades, perhaps longer. Guiding the discernment and decision making process is the vision of ensuring we are a Church seeking sustainable growth for the common good. Not a vision of shoring up the faith of the remnant; or ensuring the survivors have what they need to see them through. No; sustainable growth and for the common good; that is in service of others, the world, God calls us to serve.

Many of you will know that John in his gospel has major motifs and ideas. ‘Signs’ is one of them. The miracles he chooses to retell are called ‘signs’ not miracles in John; because they are not about how wonderful the act is, they are about how wonderful God is: they point to God.

Today we read of John the Baptist’s first appearance. In John’s gospel we are told there was a man whose name was John. And then that ‘he came as a witness to testify to the light’. Nothing about his rather extraordinary clothing choices and even more odd dietary habits. No; the important thing about this man in Johannine terms is that he came as a witness, a sign to Jesus; a pointer to the love of God.

One of my favourite rabbinical stories is a story of a rabbi who during a holy Sabbath meal turned to his disciples and asked them, “Where does God live?”

The disciples were stunned by the strangeness of the question, “What does the rabbi mean, “Where does God live?” Where does God not live? Surely we are taught that there is no place where God isn’t present. He fills the heavens and the earth.”

No,” said the rabbi, “You have not understood. God lives where we let him in.”

There are some who have been given the wonderful gift of evangelists; who can preach and speak and tell stories and share their faith in an open and powerful way. They are a great gift to the Church but they are not most of us. There are some who have been given the wonderful gift of leadership; who so naturally engender followers in the Christian journey, but they are not most of us. Most of us will speak loudest and most eloquently through our quiet actions. Actions of saying the right thing that needs to be said: speaking for the voiceless; telling of forgiveness; unnecessary words of kindness. Actions of doing the right thing: practical care for the vulnerable, frail and needy; acts of kindness to neighbours who had previously been strangers; generosity which goes the extra mile. Actions which let God in.

So here’s the good news: the call, the challenge to be signs, pointers to God is not a call to be someone else or someone other than who we are.

Here’s the… perhaps harder news: we don’t always live up to our best selves. We are sometimes less than we can be; maybe less than we should be.

If you were accused of being a Christian,

         would there be enough evidence to convict you? 

Where does God live? He lives where we let him in.

So may it be.


John 1

There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light.

19 This is the testimony given by John when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, “Who are you?” 20 He confessed and did not deny it, but confessed, “I am not the Messiah.” 21 And they asked him, “What then? Are you Elijah?” He said, “I am not.” “Are you the prophet?” He answered, “No.” 22 Then they said to him, “Who are you? Let us have an answer for those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?” 23 He said, 

“I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, 

‘Make straight the way of the Lord,’ ” 

as the prophet Isaiah said. 

24 Now they had been sent from the Pharisees. 25 They asked him, “Why then are you baptizing if you are neither the Messiah, nor Elijah, nor the prophet?” 26 John answered them, “I baptize with water. Among you stands one whom you do not know, 27 the one who is coming after me; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandal.” 28 This took place in Bethany across the Jordan where John was baptizing. 

 The Holy Bible: New Revised Standard Version. (1989). (Jn 1:6–28). Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers.





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