Read the Acts passage here: Acts 1:1-11
For All the Saints: Witnessing for Jesus
I suspect that the title of this sermon/reflection might have surprised some of you. “Witnessing” is not a word that Lutherans use very often. In fact, the idea of “witnessing for Jesus” makes many of us Lutherans just a little uncomfortable. But why is that? I suspect that it is because that the word has been co-opted in ways that refer to a very specific kind of behavior, and this behavior makes us very uncomfortable. For most of us, the word “witnessing” refers to a type of in your face, aggressive religious marketing. “Witnessing” makes us think of people going door to door, or passing out tracts or coming up to us at a mall or some outdoor event and essentially saying – “You need to believe what I believe, otherwise you are going to be lost forever.” Scare tactics and belligerence, my way or the highway – all of these come to mind when we think of our experience with those who are “witnessing for Jesus.” And we don’t want to have anything to do with that kind of behavior, so instead we tell ourselves that faith is completely a private matter and if we do anything it is to make our observance of our faith as private and unobtrusive as possible. Perhaps though this is going to far the other way. Is there another way we might understand our Lord’s Great Commission to “Go ye into all the world…”?
The fact of the matter is that we are called to live our faith. Jesus is quite clear that we are not to “hide our light under a bushel.” At our celebration of the Sacrament of Holy Baptism the liturgy always concludes with these words, which are taken right out of Scripture: Let your light so shine before others that they may see your good works and glorify your Father who is in heaven. We are called to live our faith, and as James says, “faith without works is dead.” In other words, is it possible for us to be Christians and to simply say or think about faith and have it not impact our life and the way we live? The New Testament clearly answers that question with a resounding “NO!”
In the Acts passage that is read today we have the disciples and Jesus standing together on the Mount of Olives. The disciples want to know when Jesus will inaugurate the Kingdom of God (old habits and misunderstandings die slowly!). But Jesus dismisses their question – “that’s none of your business” – he tells them. “So instead of concerning yourself with that just focus on your calling.” For… you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem … and to the ends of the earth. Then Jesus ascends into the heavens leaving the disciples standing there gazing into the sky. And an angel, or messenger, has to come over, tap them on the shoulders and say – “hey guys, get your heads out of the clouds, time to get to work!” And what is the work? Witnessing!
What then is witnessing? Is it just talking, confronting, or handing out tracts? No it is not. In fact, according to the New Testament witnessing to faith in Christ means integrating our faith with our way of living our lives. Do we live our lives in ways that reflect our faith in Christ? Are we gracious and loving to all? Are we always open and willing to forgive? Do we use our time and talents in ways that support and build up the community of Christ – the church? Do we give of our financial resources in ways that support the various ministries of the community? Do we work for ways to make sure that those who are hungry are fed, those who are lonely are visited, those who are cold and warmed, those who need clothing are clothed, those who are sick are cared for? Do we work for justice and peace? This is what it means to witness to faith in Jesus Christ. Might it also include talking and sharing this faith with others. Yes, of course, when the situation allows for it. But never in an arrogant or judgmental way!Today we celebrate the Feast of All Saints. This is one of the great yearly festival celebrations of the church. On this day we remember all of those who have gone before us in the faith; those who have passed the faith on to us; those who lived lives that reflected their faith. So on this All Saints day the question that our texts and the day itself raise for us is this: What difference does it make? You are a Saint – so what does that mean to you and what difference does it make in your life? In what ways have you worked to integrate your faith with your life? How do you use the gifts that God has given you to enable you to live out your faith? What are the ways that you witness for Jesus?
Here is the King's College choir of men and boys singing this wonderful hymn.