Sermon: “Jesus’ Witnesses”

May 28, 2017: Seventh Sunday of Easter

John 17:1-11, Acts 1:6-14

It’s confession time.

Early in my ministry — I’d been a pastor for less than five years — I finished worship one Sunday with the sense that I’d heard that sermon before. And not just because I served two churches in those days, and preached the same sermon twice every week.

I checked my files and, to my chagrin, I found that three years before I’d read the same Scripture texts and been struck by the very same idea. As a result, the sermons were nearly identical.

I don’t have quite as many original ideas as I’d like to think that I do.

I put this worship service together before I left, which made it easier on Momi and Rachel and Ruth and Sue in preparing for this morning, but also for me, since I didn’t have to rush it all together while recovering from jet lag. But as I sat with the notes I’d left for myself I found myself experiencing the same feeling that I’d heard these ideas before. More to the point, it felt like I’d preached these same ideas — about living our lives as witnesses of Jesus — very recently.

It’s there in the Scripture: Jesus prays for his followers who will remain in the world to do his work as he moves beyond the world. And it was there in the hymn choices I’d made, which celebrate service in Christ’s name.

And I was sure I’d heard that before. That I’d said that before. And that I’ve said it recently. So I turned to my files, which are electronic rather than paper these days, and looked it up. Sure enough, I have preached that message. Just, oh, four weeks ago.

And I’ve been away for two of those weeks.

I still don’t have as many original ideas as I think I do.

That seems a little soon for what is, essentially the same message: that we are called, as Jesus’ followers, to represent his teachings in the world. We are called to love the neighbor and the stranger. We are called to testify to the grace of God we’ve experienced in our lives. We are called to display that grace we’ve experienced by describing it, and by demonstrating it.

It seems too soon to say that again.

Or… Maybe it isn’t.

You see, I’m convinced that this is the crux of Christianity. This is how our faith becomes alive; this is how it ceases to be a set of doctrines and ideals and how it becomes a world-changing movement. The reality of our witness to Christ is the heart and soul of our faith, the blood and body of our Church. If we are Jesus’ earnest, honest witnesses, the Church of Jesus Christ lives. If we aren’t, it dies.

And if we are not Jesus’ earnest, honest witnesses, the Church has no purpose. It doesn’t have a reason to exist.

So I’ll preach it again. I hope that I’ll put a little something more on it, as my friend Day McCallister would say, and help us move further in our journey as Christ’s disciples, become more faithful and effective witnesses to Jesus.

In the Rev. Eugene Peterson’s rendition of this passage from John, in a version of the Bible called The Message, Jesus says this in his prayer: “Everything mine is yours, and yours mine, and my life is on display in them.”

We reveal the life of Jesus to those around us. Why us? Well, who else is there? So it had better be us.

As Tim Suttle writes:

“Jesus is realizing he’s about to die. And this leaves a really big question to be answered: How will he pass on the good news of the Kingdom of God to those who will never get to know him personally? How could he extend the gospel to the people who would never have the blessing of a direct encounter with Jesus? This is no small question.”

Even given that Jesus rose from the dead, he did not remain in physical form on Earth for a great length of time. So he commissioned his disciples to bear witness, to be his Church, to be, as the apostle Paul would put it some years later, the Body of Christ.

Now here’s the hard part: the original Body of Christ went to the cross.

Which means we, the Church as Body of Christ, need to be prepared to go to the cross.

Yeah. That’s the hard part.

I can give you an example of not going to the cross. It’s the President’s budget proposal. White House Budget Director Mick Mulvaney has said this about it, as quoted by The Atlantic: “This is, I think, the first time in a long time that an administration has written a budget through the eyes of the people who are actually paying the taxes. Too often in Washington we only look at the recipient side: How does the budget affect either those who receive or don’t receive benefits.”

That might be considered right and just. After all, shouldn’t those who pay receive more consideration than those who don’t? Isn’t that appropriate? Perhaps.

But when Jesus went to the cross, he didn’t go for himself. He went for others. He went for everyone. He paid the price, and everyone else got the benefit. He called that glory.

When the President’s budget privileges the wealthy over the needy, it may be many things, but it is not Christian.

Some among us in this congregation will suffer if this budget proposal becomes law. Many, many more who have no association with us will suffer if it becomes law. And if it doesn’t, some of us in this congregation will pay more taxes than otherwise. In order that others might do just a little better.

It takes willingness to give, a generous spirit, to be a faithful witness to Jesus Christ. It also takes courage: courage to put yourself at risk; courage to put your family at risk; courage to put things that matter to you at risk; courage to put the church itself at risk.

That amazing mountain of lei which my daughter wore at her graduation from Hampshire College last weekend is a testimony to the generosity of this congregation. You were willing to put your effort, your creativity, and even your money out there to make sure that that young lady understood, and that her father understood, that she is loved, and we are loved, in Hilo. We heard that message loud and clear.

On Tuesday, we hosted the concert of the University of Dubuque Choir, and that took some more doing. Instead of one graduate, there were forty students who needed meals and beds and an audience for their songs. I thank you so much for stepping forward and making it come together, even though it was a scramble and some communications went astray. We’ve got some things to learn from this experience, for sure.

But we did it. It came together. We made it happen. Have courage, for the next time we consider a big project together. We can do it.

Sometimes, though, we may be called to risk more. On Friday, Ricky John Best, Taliesin Myrrdin Namkai Meche, and Micah David-Cole Fletcher tried to calm a man shouting anti-Muslim rants at two young women on a light rail train in Portland, Oregon. The man, a white supremacist, would not be calmed. He pulled out a knife and turned a verbal attack into a physical one. Mr. Best and Mr. Namkai Meche died; Mr. Fletcher is expected to recover. Ironically, the suspect’s last name is “Christian.”

I can’t tell from news accounts whether any of the three heroes, for that’s the word, were Christians, or practiced some other faith, or were religious at all. But they did what Jesus would have expected. They stood up, they put themselves between evil and its intended victims. They became witnesses to all Jesus stands for. They did it with generosity, and they did it with courage.

We have a long tradition, here at Church of the Holy Cross, of being generous people. We may be called to extend that generosity. We may also be called to extend it in such a way that requires our courage. So let us summon it, knowing that that is how we become Jesus’ witnesses in the world, and knowing as well, that as we do so Jesus prays for us.

Just as he did for our forebears in faith centuries ago, Jesus prays for us.


The photo is of Pastor Eric’s daughter Rebekah, who graduated from Hampshire College on May 20, 2017, adorned with these signs of great love. Photo by Eric Anderson.

Categories Sermons | Tags: , , | Posted on May 28, 2017

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