Saturday, May 5, 2012

Can I Get a Witness?

Sermon preached April 22, 2012

Texts: Luke 24:36-49

Play Marvin Gaye, “Can I Get a Witness.”
So, if you did not catch this the first time, here is how this card trick goes, and I will include a link to a youtube version when I post my sermon on-line:
Jack the Bounty Hunter card trick
So here is how this trick works. Find a jack and set it aside. Deal two piles of fifteen cards and cut each pile. Have a card chosen from the remaining cards. Place it on one of your piles and I will place one pile on top. Place the jack on one of my piles and place your pile on top. Put the piles together. Then make piles with every other card, always keeping the pile with the jack. When only two cards are left – it should be the jack and the chosen card.
Can I get a witness? You are witnesses of these things.
Witnessing. That is a loaded word in religious contexts. At one point in my Christian journey, to go witnessing meant hitting the streets with Christian literature to distribute to people walking by, and being willing to share the story of the gospel with them. Being a rather shy adolescent at the time, this terrified me, but I understood it at the time as part of my Christian obligation. Maybe that’s what religious witnessing connotes for you, too.
Sometimes the model for religious witnessing is something like what Jesus is portrayed as doing here in Luke 24. It seems as if Jesus takes the whole Bible story and explains it all. There are those whose idea of witnessing entails stringing together a long list of Bible passages to convince another of their understanding of Christian faith.
To be sure, grappling with the Bible is an essential part of our Christian journey of faith, our journey with Jesus. As mystifying as the Bible is sometimes, and challenging as some of its texts are, the long-term testimony of those on the Christian journey of faith is that our journey is enriched when we grapple with the Bible.
Such grappling with the Bible, important and necessary as that is for our lives, is not the stuff of giving Christian witness. To what are the disciples witnesses in Luke 24? The presence of Jesus in their midst. Look, see, touch and see. Jesus says, “Peace be with you.” Jesus “opened their minds to understanding the scriptures.”
And who are these disciples who are witnesses? “In their joy they were disbelieving and still wondering.” These disciples sound a bit like you and me, don’t they?
One of the problems we have when we think about what it means to discuss our faith – to witness about our faith, is that we think we need to have it all together. We think that we have to have a nice prepared presentation, that it should be filled with Bible quotes, that we should not have any questions ourselves, that our job is to convince others of the rightness of our faith and the wrongness of being outside of it.
None of that is true. When Jesus says, “you are witnesses of these things” and when he encourages their continuing witness, what they are witnessing to, what they are sharing is their own stories – stories of joy and disbelief and wonder, stories of a Jesus who is present in their lives opening their minds and bringing a bit of peace.
That’s what we are invited to share with others, too – our experience of God in Jesus, a Jesus who brings some peace, some joy, who opens our minds and causes us to wonder. We can share our own grappling with disbelief along the way.
Here is where the Jack the Detective card trick comes in. I can do this card trick. I know it works. I am not sure why it works.
My relationship with Jesus “works.” I can tell you about that. I may not be able to explain everything about that relationship. I mean how is it that someone who died about two thousand years ago seems present and real – the face of God, the side of God turned toward me? If you want, I can offer some good theological and philosophical reflections on that making use of the philosophy of language, biblical hermeneutics based in historical-critical analysis, existential philosophy, psychoanalytic psychology, and process theology – but that is not what most people are interested in!
What most people want to know is whether a relationship with Jesus, the Christian journey of faith, being part of a Jesus community (church) makes any difference in life. Is there really some joy and peace to be found on this way? Are minds really opened up on this way? Are faith, hope and love really central to this way? Yes, yes, yes.
That’s what I witness to. Being on the journey of life with Jesus is not always easy – but the Christian journey of faith, the Christian connection with God and community helps me ask better questions, helps me struggle with important issues personally and globally. I see the world more clearly and broadly and richly because of this journey. I grow because of this journey; it has given me an intense passion for learning. I hear the cries of the world more deeply because of this journey, and am able to respond to some. I care for the planet more because of this journey. Being on the journey with Jesus has not made me perfect. I make mistakes. I hurt others. Even then, this journey helps me say “I am sorry.” It teaches me about forgiveness, my need for it and my need to struggle with it.
The journey with Jesus just seems to work. I can witness that, and I want to share that because I want other people’s lives to work, too.
There is more, though. There is a wonderful quote attributed to St. Francis of Assisi, though he probably did not himself say it. “Preach the gospel at all times, when necessary use words.” Preach the gospel at all times, when necessary use words.
I have spent a lot of time on the witnessing with words part this morning because that is what I think we struggle with the most. Many of us have been victims of hit and run or ambush religious witnessing and it is the last thing we want to do. Don’t do it. But there are times in the course of our lives when we may have the opportunity to simply say – God, Jesus, church work for me. Do that.
Yet our most common and most powerful witnessing is with the quality of our lives. We can say all we want, but it will be in our lives where people will see what might work with this Jesus way. I can explain the card trick all I want, but it is after you see if a few times, that you know it works. Being a witness is less about crafting words than about shaping a life, working with the Spirit of God, the Spirit of Jesus to shape our lives so that we live with a certain sense of adventure, express a certain kind of joy, face the crises in our lives with a measure of courage and hope, face the crises in the world with a measure of courage and hope, don’t grow weary in doing good, care about the hungry and poor, befriend the hurting, work for a better world, tend the garden of the earth (a good reminder on Earth Day weekend), live more lovingly.
Can I get a witness? We are witnesses – like it or not. May we be good witnesses with our words and with our lives. Amen.

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