We Are Witnesses
"Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart
be acceptable to you, O Lord, my strength and my redeemer."
"We Are Witnesses"
Have you ever been afraid? Of course you have, we all have. We've all had those times like the little boy who came running into to the kitchen and asked his mother if he could watch a wildlife special on the educational channel. "Hurry, Mom, it's got lions and tigers and snakes and all kinds of wild animals. Please Mom, can I watch it?"
Mom said, "Well, sure, you know it's alright to watch that station. And that sounds like a wonderful program for a brave little guy like you to watch."
The little boy looked up at his mother and asked, "Will you come watch it with me?"
"I'm sorry," Mom said, "but Mommy's kind of busy right now."
"But Mom!" the little boy insisted, "You don't understand. You gotta watch it with me!! I'm too a-scared to watch it by myself." (1)
At other times we've been like the little boy who was in bed one night and hollered out to his Mom. "I'm afraid of the dark!"
Mom tried to relieve his fears by saying, "There's no reason to be afraid of the dark, God made the dark as well as the light!"
The little boy thought about it a minute and then said, "Yeah, but God made alligators, too!" (2)
Sometimes we're just afraid and want someone else's company throughout the adventure of life. Other times we're afraid and we don't really want our fears removed. We resist help from others or from God. We're like the second little boy and we find lots of reasons not to trust God.
The scripture tells us that the disciples experienced fear also. They had heard the good news of the resurrection. Some of them had made it out to the tomb and seen that it was empty. Two men had spoken with Jesus on the Road to Emmaus. Others had even seen the risen Christ when he stood in their midst, not once but twice. Thomas had even been asked if he wanted to touch the wounds. And yet here they were too a-scared to go on by themselves. And they were thinking of all kinds of excuses not to trust God's promises.
But the Son of God wasn't about to give up. He was alive. He had defeated both sin and death. He had wiped out the main source of all fear. And he wasn't about to let the disciples or his mission for them to become immobilized by their fear. So, Jesus just kept popping up all over the place like some Easter Jack out of the box. The stone had been rolled away, the tomb was empty and Jesus wanted them to be excited and empowered by this Good News.
I. WE ARE WITNESSES OF THE RESURRECTION:
A. The disciples used the Upper Room as their headquarters after the crucifixion and resurrection. They were gathered there because there really is safety in numbers. Together they could encourage one another. Besides, they hadn't quite figured out all of this stuff about the resurrection. All of a sudden, Jesus pops up out of nowhere. While they're talking and whispering about all these resurrection stories, suddenly, right in their midst, stands the one they were talking about. It was like talking about someone and turning around and that person is standing right there. They were startled and they were afraid. And who wouldn't be in that or a similar situation.
But the triumphant Christ simply says, "Peace be with you." And then he asked, "Why are you afraid? Why are you doubting? This is what I said would happen. This is how I said it would be. Why are you afraid?" Then he proceeded to show them his hands and side like he had done for Thomas. Why was it so hard for them to believe?
Well, haven't you ever been told some piece of news that puzzled you or that just didn't sink in right away? Back in 1980, Mary and I had been trying to have another child. We had Paul but we wanted a larger family. I came home from Seminary one Friday night ready to unwind and get ready for Sunday. I was sitting in my chair watching TV. Mary came in, sat in my lap and told me she thought she was pregnant. I don't remember what I said. I'm sure it was the appropriate thing but to be real honest, it wasn't until Monday morning when I was headed back to Dallas that it finally sank in. The more it sank in, the more excited I became. But it took awhile for the news to penetrate this thick head of mine.
I think that's what happened to the disciples. It wasn't that they didn't believe, it's just that the News of the Resurrection was so good it was almost too good to be true. Consequently, it took awhile for it sink in. And when it did, there was the risen Jesus standing right in their midst munching on bread and fish, to show that he wasn't a ghost, but alive and real just like them. And then he put the finishing touches on the whole purpose behind calling them to follow him. With crumbs in his beard and broiled fish in his hand, the risen Son of God said, "it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things."
B. The disciples carried the message of repentance and forgiveness of sin to the far reaches of the world. they proclaimed the Good News and witnessed to the Resurrection. And we are called to do the same. The Son of God calls us to be witnesses, too.
And we are witnesses. When we look through the eyes of faith, we see evidence of the risen Christ every day. Every time we give ourselves in ministry, every time we extend a helping hand, every time a meal is shared with someone in need, whether at the Night Shelter or within the membership of this Church we experience the resurrection. Every time the Bell Choir or the chime choir or the adult choir or the children's choir play or sing, we see signs of the resurrection. Every time someone makes an act of renewal or we baptize a baby, we see signs of the resurrection. The Risen Christ is with us, that's why we do these things. Just like the disciples, we are witnesses.
II. WE ARE GOD'S CHILDREN, NOW:
A. But we are more than witnesses, too. We have seen the risen Christ but that's not the whole message. That's only part of the message. The rest of the message is that the risen Christ has come to take away and forgive our sins.
Maybe you're familiar with Shel Silverstein. He's a modern poet who has written such things as "The Giving Tree" and a couple of books of poems. In his book, A Light In The Attic, he has a little poem that reads:
"If we had hinges on our heads
There wouldn't be no sin
'Cause we could take the bad stuff out.
And leave the good stuff in."
I wish it were that simple. The message of Christ is clear. We are sinners, that's why he came, that's why he suffered and died on the cross. That's why he was buried and rose from the grave. Jesus came to redeem us and set us free. It's my understanding that the verb "to save" means "to be made whole." When we sin, we become broken. We break our relationship with God and with others. And we break ourselves. Christ came to save us and make us whole again. Christ came to give us that second chance we all so desperately need, not because of anything we have done; not because we deserve a second chance. But simply because God loves us.
John's first letter tells us, "See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are." We are called the Children of God. Not by the world, not by Christ but by God himself. Through calling us children of God, God claims us and renews us and offers us new life. What better way to show us the depth and breadth and height of that love than to call us the Children of God, to claim us as God's own.
B. There was a little boy who put a paper sack over his head and then prayed: "Lord, I'll tell you what I did today, but I won't tell you who I am."
At times we're just like that little boy. We would gladly confess what we have done, if we didn't have to let God know who it was. That embarrassment is really what drives us, finally, to repentance. It is the shame that we feel for our sinfulness, for the wounds we have caused God, for the broken relationship we have caused. And the Good News is that, "Beloved, we are God's children NOW." We don't have to wait for some far off distant date. As God's children, NOW, we can claim our inheritance today. And our inheritance is forgiveness. God willingly forgives those who seek forgiveness and new life. God claims us as God's own, as one of God's children and takes the sack off our heads and our hearts.
And then, as children of God, we become living, breathing, visible, tangible, touchable witnesses of the resurrection. We are witnesses and we can humbly and joyfully say, "See what love God has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are."
III. CALLED TO INVITE OTHERS TO THE DANCE:
A. As the children of God we have been called to be witnesses. Which means that we're called to a life of tangible evangelism. We're called to invite others to experience the love of God which we've experienced. We're called to share the Good News of God's love, the Good News of the Resurrection and the Good News of forgiveness and second chances with those around us.
Remember the first dance you ever went to. I was in the 7th grade. I thought it was going to be so much fun, I could hardly wait to get there. All my friends were there. And so were the girls. That was the whole reason for going. We got to the school and we were cool. But that dance turned out to be less than cool. You see, they wouldn't have needed any chaperones because nobody danced. Oh, a couple of the teachers got out there and tried to break the ice. And couple of the girls danced with each other. But they didn't count. The boys and the girls lined up on either side of the gym and just stared at each other for the whole three hours of the dance.
The guys and the girls all went up and requested all the best records to be played. We enjoyed the music. My buddies and I stood around talking about how much fun it would be to dance and which of the girls we'd like to dance with. We even got up the courage to talk to some of the girls. But none of us ever got around to asking anyone to dance.
There we were all dressed up and ready to dance. We all had invitations to the dance. But nobody asked us to dance and we were too scared to ask any of the girls to dance with us.
And do you remember being invited to a High School party over at someone's house, only you weren't going with anyone at the time. You didn't have a steady girl friend or boy friend. You went and you felt out of place because everyone else had a date. So there you were, all by yourself with no one to ask you to dance.
B. As I think about it, those are both parables of the Church. You see, Jesus told the disciples, "You are witnesses." And he instructed them to go out and share their message, their Good News of redemption, forgiveness, and eternal life with others. We're called to do the same. We're called to share our message and invite others to the dance of faith. However, we're called to do more than just invite people to the dance. Lots of people come to the dance. They come to Church week after week but there is something missing. These folks are like that seventh grade dance and the High School party. They got an invitation to the dance but no one has asked them to dance.
In the Church, our business is to invite people to the dance. But it goes way beyond that too. We're called to teach those who don't know how to dance; how to dance the Lord's dance. And then we're called to invite them to dance. You see, a dance isn't a dance unless someone dances. And believe it or not, many folks want to be asked, not only to the dance, but they want to be asked to dance as well. They want to be a part of a community of faith. They want to be a part of something bigger than them. They want and need to be a part of a larger family which cares for and nurtures them.
About three days after that seventh grade dance, I found out that the one girl I wanted to dance with the most, would have danced with me. It turned out, that out of all the boys at the dance, she was hoping that I would dance with her. I really felt dumb. Because all I had to do was ask.
For the most part, that's all we have to do. Sharing the witness of our faith, sharing the good news of the resurrection, sharing the good news of forgiveness and redemption is simply inviting people to the dance. And when they get here, inviting them to dance. We are witnesses to the reality of the resurrection. We are witnesses to the power of redemption and forgiveness. We are witnesses to new life in Christ. We're called to invite others to experience the love of God and the dance of faith.
We have a wonderful message, full of hope and acceptance; a message full of the future. God loves us so much that God sent His only Son to give his life for us God sent Jesus to show and tell the Good News, that we are part of the family of God, that we are the Children of God, NOW.
A young boy burst into the great throne chambers of a medieval king. The boy was skipping and singing as children do. He was completely oblivious to the regal sobriety of his surroundings.
Suddenly, he was intercepted by an armored guard. "Have you no respect?" hissed the soldier. "Don't you know that the man on the throne is your king?"
The boy wriggled out of the soldier's grasp. Then dancing away, he laughed and giggled and said, "He is YOUR king but he is MY father!" And the boy bounced up to the throne and leaped into the king's lap. And the King welcomed him with open arms and a smile on his face.
That's the kind of relationship which God wants with each of us. There are people everywhere who have never heard this word of hope. They've never heard the Good News. They've never been asked to dance. They've never even gotten an invitation to the dance. Someone once wrote, "Hope is hearing the melody of the future. Faith is to dance to it." You and I are witnesses to the great Good News of Jesus Christ, the Lord of the Dance. We've heard the melody of the future. We know the hope Christ gives. We've taken that step of faith and begun to dance to the melody. We're called to invite others into this glorious relationship of love, acceptance, and forgiveness in Christ. We are witnesses of the resurrection and we're called to invite others to the dance of faith, and then ask them to dance.
As you go about your busy week this week, look around. Think about your co-workers, your friends and neighbors. Who can you invite to the dance? Look around the Church. Who can you ask to dance?
We are witnesses. And just as the disciples discovered when Jesus appeared in their midst, there's nothing to fear because the Risen Christ goes with you. Who can you invite to the dance? Who can you ask to dance?
And if your'e here this morning and no one has ever invited you to the dance, then I invite you now. Join in this dance of faith. Give your life to Christ and know the love, acceptance and forgiveness of God. The Risen Christ IS with us. We are the children of God NOW.
This is the Word of the Lord for this day.
1. Pastor's Story File, Vol 10, Number 6, p. 2.
2. Based upon "The Ryatts " by Jack Elrod, 8-1-91.