Sermon text: Luke 24: 36b-38
Recently I watched a TV series on the Second World War called World War II in HD. The series was produced by the History Channel about a decade ago using newly discovered film from the era that was enhanced into high-definition quality.
However, as impressive as it was to see these scenes, the movie footage wasn’t the true star of this documentary. The true stars were the interviews and the diary entries and the letters from 12 participants in the war. They were soldiers, sailors, airmen, reporters, and nurses. The producers utilized their words to and reflections to tell the story instead of the normal cadre of history professors.
As a result, the words of these 12 men and women gave more definition to the war than any enhanced news reel footage could. These people testified to the truth of their own experience in in the Pacific and in Europe, of how the war changed them, and how they continued to carry those memories through the rest of their lives. They had an authentic perspective to what happened. They were witnesses.
This week Jesus calls his disciples to be witnesses. I really don’t think there’s any way to get around it: we are called to be witnesses. We are called to testify to what God has done and what God is still doing. We are called to be witnesses to each other and to all the world in and through Jesus.
And here’s what I think is really beautiful about Luke’s account of this scene: even though the disciples don’t believe—or at the very least they are experiencing faith as this mixture of joy and doubt and wonder—they are still called to be witnesses.
And if that’s true for them, then it’s certainly true for us. Part of being an Easter people is being witnesses.
We think of two things when we hear witness. First, there’s courtroom drama and jury duty and legal proceedings, people who swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. Second, there’s the witnessing that Jesus calls us to, although we’ve usually experienced that through people of street corners with signs of damnation and megaphones and televangelists who generally come off as moneygrubbing and disingenuous.
The thought of being a witness for Jesus probably isn’t a term that crosses our minds. In all honesty “witnessing,” sharing your personal experience, can frighten people. We don’t think we can witness, or we have had a bad experience on the receiving end of someone else’s witness, or we just don’t know what to say, or we just don’t want to talk to people. The list can go on and on. But I actually think that we do witness all the time, and it’s time we start recognizing that.
I’m talking about “life-style evangelism.” What I mean is that we bear witness to things that are important to us all the time, but they might not be faith related. We bear witness to great movies or TV programs we’ve seen and want others to enjoy. We bear witness to the accomplishments and failures of our sports teams. We bear witness to the important events in our family and work lives. We bear witness to the things that matter to us all the time. It’s what they did with the World War II documentary.
If we can be witnesses in the rest of our lives, then why are we so cautious with our faith? It’s not all that different. Witnessing does not mean shoving our faith down someone’s throat or even threatening them with eternal hellfire and damnation if they don’t believe like we do. It doesn’t mean browbeating people with bible verses and internet memes. This isn’t about judgment; it is simply telling others where we sense God’s activity. How did we see God at home or work, at church or the grocery store, through a stranger or a friend, a doctor or a neighbor…or…even through ourselves?
Bearing witness is nothing more than saying where you think God is at work in your life and the world. We bear witness all the time; we’re just not used to thinking about doing it in terms of our faith.
So here’s what I want us to do today. I want you to turn to a neighbor and witness to something that you’re used to talking about.
For me, I’ll use my dog Otto. I talk about Otto all the time. He has been my faithful and energetic companion for the past six years. Otto is a yellow lab who has traded some of his brain cells in for friendliness. He loves to snuggle. He loves to greet people in the church office. His favorite place on earth is Camp Sequanota, but he’s just as happy in any outdoor setting.
Hear that, that’s me witnessing about my dog. Now I’d like you to turn to a neighbor and share something you like to talk about.
What makes a good witness? I think it’s speaking with candor, simply, conversationally, about something that you are passionate about. Is there only one way to do it? No. Does it have to be perfect? Absolutely not. I mean, what is perfect when you’re sharing news of something you love? Witnessing is easier than we think.
Okay, now I want to try something else. I want us to engage in conversation again, but this time I want us to talk about faith. Where have you sensed God at work in the world? Whether in your personal lives, through work or school or the church or through someone else’s life? Wherever, however.
Example: Recently I’ve had conversations on the sidewalk with strangers about the flamingos in our church’s flowerbeds. It gave me the opportunity to share with them the story of our youth group, the national youth gathering, and how God is at work in the lives of our youth.
Now you do it—where have you seen God in action?
I know this may seem new, but we can really do this. We can all witness to how God is at work in our lives.
Now here’s the amazing thing. There’s 60 of us talking here this morning, sharing our stories of God for only a few minutes. It would a year of preaching in order to come close to the amount of witnessing you have done here today. Through your simple witnessing you actually did quite a lot to share the gospel.
I believe we all can do this, because we are all experts on how faith shapes our everyday lives. Because we’re all working at this faith thing together. All Christians have a lot to contribute to the conversation in terms of how faith is lived out in our daily lives.
You see, this is an essential skill for us as people of God. The first disciples were charged to be witnesses to the risen Christ, so they had the unimaginable task of telling the good news of how God came to us in Jesus, how he was executed, and three days later he rose from the grave. It’s a story that is earth-shattering. It is a story that they could barely believe, despite the fact that they were living it. But they told the story. And generation after generation the church has continued this story. And now it is our turn to continue in the story as we witness to God’s action.
So there you have it. Resurrected people witness. Perhaps we don’t witness with great confidence, but who knows—before long, maybe we too, in our joy, and in our disbelief and wonder, can hear and respond to Jesus’ call. We too will be witnesses of these things. AMEN