Committed to Christ Series
We are in week four of a six-week series called Committed to Christ. We are reviewing, as we try to do each Fall, the basics of the Christian faith. How would you explain to someone who is from a different tradition, how you practice your faith?
My weekly blog posts for these six weeks are going to focus on six aspects of discipleship:
- Bible Reading
- Financial Giving
The goals of this series are:
- To engage the entire congregation in praying and growing together in faith
- To develop small groups that grow faith and bond the congregation together in strong
- To welcome newcomers and close the back door of the church
- To grow faith and generosity
The key components of the series are:
- Daily devotions
- Weekly home groups
- Sunday worship
In many of our congregations, the last Sunday in October is Reformation Sunday. As we approach the 500th anniversary of the Reformation next year, there are some important things to keep in mind. In particular, the way we tell the story is important. Any time there is a conflict, between individuals or groups, opposing sides tell the story of “what happened” in different ways. Both sides may give completely factual accounts, but which facts they choose to use and which they leave out can have a profound impact.
Lutheran and Catholic leaders are asking us to commemorate the Reformation in a way that will serve the proclamation of the gospel, rather than the promotion of our tribe. I would encourage you to look at these resources, in particular chapter 3 of From Conflict to Communion, and work on how you tell the story of the Reformation.
For those who are doing the Committed to Christ series, this is a nice fit with this theme’s topic of “witness.” We proclaim the gospel of justification by grace through faith. This is a departure from the typical human religion of laws to be obeyed in order to get right with God. Here are the texts for Reformation Sunday:
Reformation Sunday – October 30, 2016
Jeremiah 31:31-34 – The days are coming when I will make a new covenant with Israel and Judah: law on their hearts.
Psalm 46 – The LORD of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our stronghold. (Ps. 46:4)
Romans 3:19-28 – No one will be justified by the law. Now, apart from the law, the righteousness of God has been revealed.
John 8:31-36 – You shall know the truth and the truth will set you free.
For the WITNESS theme, consider these traditional hymns:
- O Zion Haste
- I Love to Tell the Story
WITNESS to GRACE
As usual, I will not provide a sermon, but rather some thoughts to spark your own imagination on the topic at hand: witness.
When talking to small groups about evangelism and witness, I like to invite people to think for a moment about a restaurant that they love – their favorite restaurant or one of their favorites. Then I will ask them to share that restaurant with a person nearby. This will take a few minutes, but watch what happens to the room. Within a minute, the room will come alive. Use your phone to video the moment. People become animated. There will be laughing, bright eyes, big body language, and wide gestures.
People love to talk about their favorite restaurant. It might be the food. It might be the ambience. But when you’ve found something you just love, you can’t help but talk about it. Sharing faith can be the same way. We are not called to arm-twist. We are only called to share what we have experienced with joy. How has faith made a difference in your life? Where has God shown up? Why are you part of a faith community? What have been the most significant moments? If you break it down, that’s all that witnessing is. Telling the story of what God is up to.
I once heard T. D. Jakes speaking about witnessing. Someone said, “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink.” T. D. Jakes responded with the big grin and maximum vocal inflection for which he is so well known, “I don’t have to make them drink. I just have to tell them how good it tastes!”
Witnessing is telling the world how good it tastes – how good the food is. Witnessing is one beggar telling another beggar where to find the bread. That’s how we fulfill the Great Commission. That’s how we become fishers of people.
Yes, there are plenty of Scripture passages that talk about witnessing. It’s not proselytizing. It’s not winning people from one group over to yours. It’s not indoctrinating them into your religious club. It’s sharing the good news that God loves them with an everlasting love, that even death can’t destroy.
When Jesus first called the disciples, some of them fished for living. Matthew 4:18-20 says,
As he walked by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea—for they were fishermen. And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.” Immediately they left their nets and followed him.
Jesus teaches his followers to fish for people. We are called to invite people to be a part of what God is doing in the world. We are not told to give them a litmus test. Do you believe in God? Do you believe in Jesus? These are important questions, but they will come in time. You can’t expect people to be where they aren’t. Take them as they are. Invite them to be a part of something you are doing that matters: serving, music or a small group – something. Don’t load them down with expectations. Throw open the doors. Preach and teach the truth, but let people work out their own salvation with fear and trembling, one step at a time.
Those who are attracted to faith, spirituality, and serving, will, in time, find themselves in a small group discussion, a one-on-one conversation, or in worship. They will hear the good news, and that Word will take root, and do what it always does: grow. We plant seeds, the Holy Spirit gives the growth. We just preach, teach, and listen. That’s how disciples are made. They experience grace first.
Matthew ends his gospel with these words (28:18-20):
And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
There is both command and promise here. The command is to make disciples, to baptiz, and to teach. The promise is, “I am with you always.” In the gospels, people are healed by Jesus, and they can’t help but go out and tell the good news of what has happened, even when Jesus asks them not to. The women at the tomb cannot help but go and tell. As my preaching professor used to say, “You can’t preach a dull sermon if you’ve come across an empty tomb.”
Come and See
Another Bible passage that helps us look at witnessing is in John 1:
The next day John again was standing with two of his disciples, and as he watched Jesus walk by, he exclaimed, “Look, here is the Lamb of God!” The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus. When Jesus turned and saw them following, he said to them, “What are you looking for?” They said to him, “Rabbi” (which translated means Teacher), “where are you staying?” He said to them, “Come and see.” They came and saw where he was staying, and they remained with him that day. It was about four o’clock in the afternoon. One of the two who heard John speak and followed him was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. He first found his brother Simon and said to him, “We have found the Messiah” (which is translated Anointed). He brought Simon to Jesus, who looked at him and said, “You are Simon son of John. You are to be called Cephas” (which is translated Peter).
John calls Jesus “the Lamb of God.” Then one of his disciples asks Jesus where he is staying. Jesus responds, “Come and see.”
“Come and see” may be one of the best ways to witness and invite. To what or to whom are you inviting people? Where will they encounter this faith, this Jesus? There has to be something tangible to which you are inviting people. Invite them to see what God is doing in your life, in your city, in your congregation. If you can’t find anything, then you may have trouble.
Your members are your congregation’s evangelists. To what can they invite their friends? What would you suggest to them in your sermon? Where is God at work in the world, in the community, through your ministry?
Immediately after this passage is another witness story in John 1.
The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, “Follow me.” Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter. Philip found Nathanael and said to him, “We have found him about whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus son of Joseph from Nazareth.” Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.”
Jesus then invites Philip to follow him. Philip witnesses to Nathaniel. “We found the one spoken of in the Law and the Prophets.” Nathaniel immediately responds with skepticism. “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip replies as Jesus did earlier: “Come and see.”
If you witness to people, expect skepticism. They have seen too many religious charlatans. Many have been abused by religious people. They see television evangelists begging for money and living in mansions. They will respond with skepticism.
Philip is not deterred. He does not defend or argue. He simply says, “Come and see.” When people respond to you with criticism, invite them to come and see for themselves. Again, this requires that you have seen God at work in the world and have something greater than yourself, or your argument to which you can point. What is that in your life? Where is God at work? To what can you point people, or to what can you invite people, where they can “come and see?”
If it doesn’t make sense to invite them to you, invite yourself to them, like Jesus with Zaccheus in Luke 19:5.
When Jesus reached the spot, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today.”
Or like the woman at the well in John 4:
A Samaritan woman came to draw water, and Jesus said to her, ‘Give me a drink.’ (His disciples had gone to the city to buy food.) The Samaritan woman said to him, ‘How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?’ (Jews do not share things in common with Samaritans.)
Invitations can take many forms. At the heart of invitation is grace and relationship. Jesus approaches the short, rich, unpopular Zaccheus and invites himself over. He approaches a Samaritan woman, crossing several social barriers in the process (widowed or divorced, woman, Samaritan…). He asks her for water. He’s asking her, but it’s about a relationship. It’s about grace. It’s about inclusion.
Our witness is not: come and be a part of a peculiar religious group that follows certain laws. Our witness is come and see what the God of Jesus, the crucified and risen Lord, is up to in the world.
Show and Tell
Witnessing can take many forms. Often times, it is simply telling the story of what God has done in your life. No one can argue with your experience. It is only when we start telling others what to do and believe that we begin to manipulate.
Another witness is serving selflessly. Let people see the love of Christ in you. One of the most famous sayings attributed to St. Francis of Assisi is this:
Preach the gospel at all times. If necessary use words.
Witness will eventually seek expression in words, but actions will always speak louder than words. If we proclaim Christ with our lips and deny him with our lives, our witness will be ineffective. People will say, “Your actions are so loud, I can’t hear what you are saying.” Don’t just tell them about Christ. Show them Christ. Show and tell. A picture is worth a thousand words.
Dare to share and care.
You will be my witnesses
The resurrected Jesus, in Acts 1:8 reminds his disciples once again, that they are called to be witnesses.
You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.
We are called to be witnesses, not judges, prosecutors, defense attorneys, or salespersons. We are called to witness in outwardly moving circles. Jerusalem, at home, to those people closest to us. Samaria: those nearby, but different. The ends of the earth: everybody else.
The fact of the matter is, our words and our lives are a witness, whether we intend them to be or not. People are watching. Our lives tell the story of what is truly important in our lives. If Christ has claimed you in baptism, you will be a witness, here, and to the ends of the earth.