3rd Sunday of Easter Luke 24:36b-48 April 15, 2018
Prayer: Holy and gracious God, you raised Christ from the dead and lifted him up in glory and honor. Let the words of scripture concerning your Son burn within our hearts and open our minds to recognize him in the breaking of bread. Amen
Last Sunday I made mention of spending time in Washington DC where I lived at a Catholic seminary for the Order of St. Paul, the Paulists.
One of the other experiences I encountered while studying in DC involved taking a class at Howard Divinity School, a seminary made up primarily of Black Baptists. Whereas living with the Paulist provided me the opportunity to be the lone Lutheran surrounded by Catholics; my time at Howard gave me the opportunity to be the “White boy” of the class—and the only Lutheran.
Just for the record I truly believe everyone, and when I say everyone, I mean white folks in particular, ought to have the experience of being a minority for an extended amount of time. Trust me, it will be a teachable moment in matters of empathy and cultural sensitivity. But that’s not what I want to talk about this morning. I want to talk about being a witness.
Washington DC is a great place to find exciting worship. And for this white bread Lutheran I was looking for something different. So when I was invited to attend worship with one of my Howard classmates at his church I jumped at the invitation. [Let me stop right there for a moment—did you notice what I just said, ‘I was invited” and I went.
In the spirit of evangelism, this is what it looks like. You invite someone and there is reasonable chance they will accept your invitation as I did.]
So I went to church with this classmate. It was not Lutheran, it was Baptist. Once again, I was the White Boy, and it was OK. The service was wonderful. The music was amazing. The congregation was fully engaged. But here is the thing that really grabbed my attention and the thing that has stuck with me, it is a practice you will find in the churches of some of our more charismatic brothers and sisters in Christ and it centers around the preacher lifting up a repeated refrain: “Can I get a witness?” And the common reply was a boisterous “Amen!” from someone in the congregation.
Just for fun, let’s give this a try…Can I get a witness? OK…
So, what is a witness? That is the question for this morning and what does it have to do to us?
If you have ever watched one of those legal courtroom TV show like Perry Mason (for the senior’s in the house) or Law & Order (for a more contemporary crowd) you might recall those scenes where a lawyer has a person on the stand and they are asked to tell the court what they saw, what they heard and or what they experienced, nothing more.
In a court of law this is what a witness is and what a witness does. He or she tells what they have seen, heard and/or experienced. So what does this have to do with you and me?
Well, allow me to remind you of the final verse of today’s Gospel reading where Jesus says to the disciples, “You are witnesses to these things.” I should also mention that this is not a command as in “You shall be witnesses”, but rather this is a flat out statement of who we are—You are a witness. We are witnesses of these things concerning the death and resurrection of Jesus. We might be good witness or we might be lousy witnesses, it does not matter, we are still witnesses.
So if you are thinking to yourself, what am I supposed to give witness to? The answer is relatively simple, we are to be part of God’s ongoing plan of telling the story of Jesus life, death and resurrection. We are to give witness to the call for repentance and forgiveness in the name of Jesus. We are to give witness to God’s mission to take this good news to the ends of the earth so that all might know and experience the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. Ok, so maybe not that simple on account of the inconvenient fact that we ourselves did not see or hear or experience the life, death and resurrection of Jesus first hand. We were not there. We have been dependent on the witness of others, generations of others who have shared the old, old story of Jesus and his love.
I came across a story about a radio station down in Atlanta. It was a popular radio station and one of its radio personalities was a folksy DJ who hosted a call in show. I would imagine he was probably a southern version of Boone and Erickson from WCCO—for those of you who are familiar. But here is the thing, the times they were a changing and they fired the poor guy and brought in a Howard Stern clone to shake the place up with off color antics and rude and obnoxious behavior. The guy they hired was not real fond of anything smacking of Christianity and religion. As a resulted he constantly belittled anyone and anything that struck him as religious and offered up frequent diatribes.
The teller of this story, the witness, if you will, told of reading in a religious journal some time later that the radio “shock jock” had professed belief in Christ. The DJ was converted after leaving the station in a contract dispute and taking a job as a car salesman. In an address to a church convention he said he was impressed by the quiet witness of fellow salesman. Hmmm. “quiet witness.” I wonder if the other salesman was a Lutheran? You are a witness, whether you like it or not. It has been my experience that I tend to be somewhat hesitant on account of the fact that we don’t feel comfortable sharing something that we haven’t entirely figured out yet.
And this brings us to the Good News. I mentioned this to the Tuesday Morning Bible Study group that I have found a new favorite Bible verses. It is found in verse 41 where Luke tells us that “While in their joy they were disbelieving and still wondering,”
Here is why I like this verse, I like it because it tells me that doubts are not a bad thing.
Take note of the fact that Jesus does not scold or belittle the disciples in their inability to wrap their heads around this whole resurrection thing, and who can blame them?
For the disciples the whole idea of someone returning from the dead—well it just wasn’t done. True, Jesus gave them a bit of a foretaste when he raised Lazarus from the dead, but by and large this was new territory. Even today, we struggle with it. Sure, we hear about the occasional person who has one of those near death experiences on the operating table or in the ambulance, but those were momentary at best—not three days.
So, first bit of good news, doubts are OK, doubts are reasonable. And let’s be honest, doubts are really helpful seeds if we are going to grow in our faith, mature in our faith.
Child-like faith is cute and wonderful, but childish faith is not. At some point we all have to move beyond the spiritual Gerbers Baby Food and sink out teeth into the real meat and potatoes of life and faith.
Second bit of good news: there are some who hold to the notion that we have to fully grasp and understand every aspect of what the Bible presents—or at least give the outward appearance that we got it together. This is not necessary. Some will hold to the notion that we are to believe and accept everything without question and with no questions asked. I don’t believe that is a prerequisite for faith for faith is living with the assurance of things not seen, trusting that which we do not fully understand or grasp.
The good news here is that this particular verse allows us to stand undecided and full of joy at the same time. This is not an either/or scenario, but rather it is a both/and. Joy and doubt do not have issue with one another, they are actually rather compatible.
I believe this is important because many of us have gotten the impression that we have to have all of our theological ducks in a row before we can faithfully give witness.
And when this is the line of thought our witnessing falls short because the truth is, we will never fully comprehend the magnitude and mystery of God’s ways and the gifts of grace. And to think we have is sheer arrogance.
So, how are we to give witness when we are not first-hand witnesses to the life, death and resurrection? Well, the best way to give witness is to consider what you have seen.
Have you seen the hungry being fed? Have you seen the lonely being nurtured by others?
Have you seen the sick being cared for and healed? If you have you have seen the Christ.
Can I get a witness?
Have you heard the words, “I love you spoken to you?” Have you heard forgiveness being offered? And have you heard of lives being transformed by the love and grace of God? If so, you have heard the voice of Jesus. Can I get a witness?
Have you ever experienced the beauty of God’s creation in a sunrise, the bounty of a harvest, the birth of a child? Have you ever experienced the joy of a homecoming after a frightful night, the return of a prodigal child, the welcoming embrace of a foolish and prodigal parent? Have you ever experienced the kindness of a stranger, the helping hand of someone unexpected, the cup of cold water to quench your parched throat? If you have, you have encountered the risen Christ. Can I get a witness?
The truth is whenever we quietly live our lives demonstrating the fruits of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, generosity, self-control and faithfulness, we are in fact giving witness. Whenever we share our concern for others, when we offer to pray for others, when we offer to help in any way possible, we are giving witness.
I believe it was Augustine, a theologian of the early church who made the observation: preach the gospel at all times and if necessary, use words. The good news for us this morning is that for us to be good witnesses simply asks that we be willing to tell the old, old story of Jesus and his love, and if necessary, use words.
Another favorite passage of scripture is the parable of the sower who generously and perhaps even foolishly scatters seeds in every which direction seemingly clueless as to where the seeds might land. As witnesses, I believe we too are called to scatter the good news of Jesus here and there, randomly and generously, never knowing where our efforts might take root and blossom. When we behave like the witnesses we are called to be who knows what might happen. As witnesses we need only trust that God has got this and from that point on it is up to others to draw their own conclusions in God’s own good time. Amen
[Want to actually hear the sermon? Go to zionmilaca.org and click “Hear the sermon” under Pastor Blenkush's picture.]
[Feedback is always appreciated.]Pastor Stephen Blenkush
Zion Lutheran Church
Milaca MN 56353
Love like Jesus!