We Are Witnesses 4/11/10

We Are Witnesses

Acts 5:27-32 and John 20:19-31

  1. We are a people of stories.  Part of a very large narrative that spans its way all throughout the Bible and continuing through ‘modern’ history to today.
    1. Our two passages give us a glimpse of the beginnings of the church in 1st century Jerusalem.  In John, the disciples are living in the aftermath of the death and resurrection of Christ.  And in Acts, the apostles have been brought before the Sanhedrin to answer for their ‘offenses’ that include telling the good news of Christ and doing healings.
  2. A witness is an observer, a bystander, and an onlooker. 
    1. Last week, during Holy Week, we were again witnesses to the terrible events that took place two thousand years ago.  We were witness once more to the depths to which Christ was willing to go for the people that he loves, the people that he helped to create, and the people with whom he lived and breathed and moved.
    2. In a legal sense, a witness is someone who has firsthand knowledge about a significant event (often a crime) through their senses. 
      1. The disciples hiding in the Upper Room were witnesses to something that they still don’t quite understand.  They witnessed Christ’s resurrection, or at least the effects of that resurrection.  They saw and believed.  When Thomas returned, they tried to explain what they saw, but Thomas, understandably had some difficulty with this … Think about your most meaningful faith experience – is it hard to explain and put into words?  Perhaps this might help us understand where Thomas comes from…
      2. But Thomas didn’t see or feel.  He wanted to experience Christ’s resurrection presence … and so Jesus invites him to do both those things just a week later.  Jesus used that as an opportunity to talk about belief as something that is not confined to those first century witnesses.  Jesus is talking to us!
      3. How do we experience Christ’s presence in our worship?  (diversity of experience and faith journey)  Are there ways in which we could invite the Thomases of the world to come and experience the faith that is so important to us?  How do we include the people who haven’t had the same experiences that we have?
    3. Thomas and the disciples are witnesses, in this sense, a noun – a person.  Legally, witnesses help certify important considerations, which leads us to an important second understanding of witness, the verbal aspect of witness.  To bear witness is an action.
      1. Witnessing (sometimes called evangelizing) is not an action that the ‘frozen chosen’ descendants of John Calvin are often comfortable doing.
      2. The scene in Acts, similar to a trial, show remarkable parables to the struggle the church today has when we differ over what is the truth.  Some there want to conserve the past traditions and memories while others present feel called to ‘help realize God’s dream for the future.’ 
      3. “Dianne Bergant astutely observes that the church finds itself in a situation today ‘that bears some resemblance to this earlier period. Our religious convictions and aspirations seem to be floundering, sometimes even languishing. The rapid pace of social change has caused many to relinquish any sense of religious purpose. The number of people not raised within a religious culture has increased sharply.’ The world needs resurrection witnesses, then, who can share the good news in ways that people, can hear and embrace a truth that will transform their lives.”[1]
      4. Presbyterians have typically been reserved in their sharing of a personal faith, and have historically been very ecumenically-oriented – sharing services with Lutherans, Methodists, Catholics, etc.  We understand that there are many ways to claim, as Thomas did, Jesus as “My Lord and My God.”  But that has sometimes worked against us …
      5. Witnessing, in Acts, leads to the persecution and martyrdom of more than a few disciples and apostles.  There is a sense in which sharing the truth of your faith will not make you popular … but I would also like to suggest that if there is some experience that has been life-changing for you, is it not somewhat selfish to not share that with others?
  3. What is the good news that you share as a follower of Jesus?
    1. What is the story of this congregation?  How have you experienced Christ?  What is the good news that is bursting forth from your faith journey as a congregation?
    2. We are a people of stories, the story of this congregation fits into the larger narrative of church’s proclaiming the resurrection of God and the presence of his kingdom in the here and now!  This is the good news!  Christ is alive!  Thanks be to God! Alleluia and Amen!


[1] Kate Huey, Weekly Seeds.  http://i.ucc.org/StretchYourMind/OpeningtheBible/WeeklySeeds/tabid/81/articleType/ArticleView/articleId/436/Resurrection-Witness-Apr-5-11.aspx


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