Dear Working Preacher,
There are any number of things you could focus on in this week’s passage from Luke. Jesus willingness to eat and drink and be touched in order to convince he is not a ghost, for instance. He accommodates his disciples’ fear rather than condemn it. Or the disciples’ persistent doubt. Luke’s description is stunning … and rings true: “in their joy they were disbelieving and still wondering…” So even those who saw the resurrected Jesus had a hard time! Or Jesus opening up the Scriptures so that they could understand how what had just happened fit into the larger story of God’s salvation.
Yes, there are a lot of directions in which one could go. Here’s where I’m focusing: Jesus calls his disciples — then and now — to be witnesses. That’s right. I’d love to soft-pedal it, but I just don’t think there’s any way to get around it: we are called to be witnesses to what God has done — and is still doing — for us and all the world in and through Jesus.
And here’s what I think is particularly gorgeous about Luke’s description of this scene: even though the disciples don’t believe — or at least experience faith as this mixture of joy and doubt and wonder — they are still called to be witnesses. And if that’s true for them, well, then, we’re certainly not exempt. Part of being “resurrection people,” that is, is being witnesses.
Okay, so having said that, I know “witness” frightens a lot of people. We don’t think we can witness, or have had a bad experience on the receiving end of someone else’s witness, or don’t know what we’d say or … and the list goes on. But I actually think we do witness all the time, and it’s high time we pointed that out to people.
No, I’m not talking about “life-style evangelism,” though that’s probably worth a good conversation another time. No, what I mean is that we bear witness to things that are important to us all the time. We bear witness to the great movies or television programs we’ve seen and want others to enjoy. We bear witness to the accomplishments (or failures) of our sports teams. We bear witness to the important events in our family or work lives. We bear witness — that is, tell someone about — the things that matter to us all the time.
It’s not really all that different when it comes to the faith. Witnessing does not mean shoving our faith down someone’s throat or threatening them with eternal hellfire if they don’t believe like we do. It’s simply telling others where we sensed God at work — at home or work, at church or school, through a stranger or a friend, a doctor or teacher or neighbor, 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’m proposing this week. After talking a bit about witnessing and de-religiousizing (yes, I know that’s not a word) it, invite people to bear witness to something that they’re used to talking about — sports or work or family or school or whatever. Then talk about that for a minute or so — what makes a good “witness” — speaking with candor, simply, conversationally, about something good that happened. Is there only one way to do it? No. Does it have to be perfect? Absolutely not. (In fact, what is “perfect” when you’re sharing news of something you love?) See? Witnessing is easier than we think.
Okay, after debriefing for a couple of minutes, then have them do it again, this time talking about faith — where have they sensed God at work in the world, whether in their personal lives, through the work of the government or school or the church or through someone else’s life. Whatever. Sure, it’s new, but most people really can do this. They just don’t think they can. And then, guess what, we’re all witnessing.
Now here’s the amazing thing. After getting folks to try that, quickly estimate how many people participated and multiply that by the 2 or 3 minutes they’re talking, and then figure out how many sermons you’d have to preach in order to come close to that amount of witnessing. See what I mean? Through their simple witnessing they actually did quite a lot to share the gospel.
We should be clear that this shifts our role a little bit. As I wrote in a post this week on “…In the Meantime,” we become less performers of the Word and like coaches so that our people can interpret, perform, live, and share the Word more effectively. Worship, similarly, becomes rehearsal so that life can be the performance.
And it doesn’t have to end with Sunday worship. What if each church council meeting started with people sharing with each other somewhere they saw God at work. And what if each confirmation class started that way. And, why you’re at it, since parents need to bring their kids to confirmation anyway, why not have them stay for this opening sharing and then let them go home. Before long, you’ve developed all kinds of ways to let people practice this essential skill of the Christian life.
So there you have it, Working Preacher: Resurrected people witness, perhaps not yet with great confidence, but who knows — before long, maybe we, too, in our joy and while disbelieving and still wondering, can hear and respond to Jesus’ call to be his witnesses.
Speaking of which — thanks for your regular testimony, Working Preacher, it makes a big difference!
Yours in Christ,