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On Being Christians: The Christian Witness
The Rev. Drew Stockstill
January 25, 2015 - Mark 1:14-20

 

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On Being Christians: The Christian Witness 
Mark 1:14-20               

Rev. Drew Stockstill
Morningside Presbyterian Church
January 25, 2015

 

In a sermon series we’ve called “On Being Christian,” we have spent the past few Sundays examining different values of our religious life as a people who claim to be followers of Jesus.

Today we will turn our attention to what it means to be a Christian Witness – a term that might make some of you squirm in your seat but a term that we need not fear as it is the natural out-flowing of our love of God, a telling of how our individual and communal stories are part of the larger story of God’s redemption of Creation. To Witness is indeed mandated by Jesus himself.

By calling ourselves Christians, we make the fairly radical claim that we believe this particular man from Nazareth named Jesus, to be the Messiah, or Christ, as well as the sole God and creator of the universe. Seriously. In the Apostle’s Creed, which we, fairly rational and respectable people say most Sundays around 11:45 am, out loud and in the presence of other fairly respectable and reasonable people, we claim additionally that after this particular Jewish man was executed by the Roman Empire, that God raised him from the dead three days later, in somewhat extraordinary defiance of the laws of nature.  During the Apostle’s Creed, we make the aforementioned claim in a somewhat monotone and robotic voices and then we sit down as if we have just made obvious and pointless remarks about the indisputable fact that it’s about 47 degrees outside and isn’t that interesting? Well, no, that’s not interesting but let’s go back to that thing you just said about believing that a man died and then came back from the dead and something about that having some bearing on your eternal life. Let’s go back to that because that, my friend, is truly interesting.

Before we hear the Gospel lesson this morning, I remind you of these claims because today we will conclude this sermon series by asking what exactly it means for you and for me to be witnesses of and to these particular extraordinary events. The men in the story we are about to hear were common fishermen in the midst of their work— reasonable and respectable folk, much like you. We don’t know much of what they believed beyond the obvious need to catch some fish in order to feed their families. But what will happen to these men, what they will witness and then testify to in the days that follow will lead us all to this moment right here today, where you reasonable folks make the proclamations that you do.

 

Our gospel lesson comes to us from Mark 1: 14-20. Listen for God’s Word to us today. I’ll be reading from the Common English translation:

After John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee announcing God’s good news, saying, “Now is the time! Here comes God’s kingdom! Change your hearts and lives, and trust this good news!”

As Jesus passed alongside the Galilee Sea, he saw two brothers, Simon and Andrew, throwing fishing nets into the sea, for they were fishermen.  “Come, follow me,” he said, “and I’ll show you how to fish for people.” Right away, they left their nets and followed him. After going a little farther, he saw James and John, Zebedee’s sons, in their boat repairing the fishing nets. At that very moment he called them. They followed him, leaving their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired workers.

This is the Word of the Lord… Let us pray:

 

I.

How do folks like us in 2015 and some common fishermen like Simon, Andrew, James and John get caught up in a story like this? How do we get from there, with John the Baptizer in jail for Lord knows what and Jesus raving about the arrival of the Kingdom of God, to here at Morningside Presbyterian, with our Sunday clothes and robes and beautiful music, etc. etc.?

I’ll tell you how: because when Jesus said to those boys that he was going to teach them how to fish for people he wasn’t messing around and now we’re all caught up in that net. We’re here murmuring something about death and resurrection, because somebody witnessed something amazing and testified to what they saw and what they heard and what they know to be true; because God’s Holy Spirit moved amongst these otherwise reasonable individuals and stirred up their hearts and opened their minds to perceive the unimaginable, to believe the unbelievable and to speak, to actually speak these incredible truths to a people inspired by their faith. Their testimonies inspired hope and hope is contagious.

As we think about the Christian witness we must start by becoming mindful of just what we claim to have seen. That’s what a witness is, isn’t it? Someone who claims to have seen something? We need to stand and peer into the unbelievable truth which our faith enables us to proclaim, because what we claim to believe does not easily square with what we know to be true about the workings of the world, yet, we say them nonetheless—that means something friends. That is not common. That is bold and that is brave and I want us to be aware of this because the discomfort one experiences standing at this ledge is referred to as doubt. It keeps us relatively silent about our faith. We need not fear the doubt. Doubt makes our faith all the stronger and more real and that is a powerful witness.

I want to encourage us to move beyond our fears and be bold with our testimonies. Tell what you have seen. Your story matters to God and we need to hear it. Christians today, especially Christians like you who offer unconditional love and an authentic welcome, must move past being embarrassed and self-conscious about the good news of Jesus. We left that fishing boat a long time ago. Whatever got a hold of Simon and them is loose here today and we call her the Holy Spirit. She has cast a wide net and is hauling in a big catch. She has got some work for us to do friends. No more fear. People need to hear this news and they need to hear it from you.

II.

When a man brought his sick son to Jesus to be saved, he wasn’t sure about this so-called son of God yet the man leaned into the tension of his faith and his doubt through encountering Jesus Christ. He cried out before Jesus and the crowd with a profound testimony, “Lord I believe! Help my unbelief.” What truth, what fearless testimony and Jesus took the sick boy by the hand and lifted him up. We can join our testimony with his with honesty and with hope.

Some folks say, “talking about my faith, that’s just not me. I don’t have this stuff all figured out for myself, I don’t think I should be sharing it with others.” But friend, your lack of witness is a witness just the same. It’s OK to share the story of your faith because God will help you.

We aren’t asked to step out off the ledge of the rational into faith, drop our nets and join Jesus without the aid of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit enables us to make the claim that Peter made in Acts 2: “This Jesus God was raised up and of that we are all witnesses.”

I know you might still feel like being a Christian witness is not for you, but the truth is Jesus said be my witness and then folks just started telling their stories and talking about his grace. We do that all the time around here at MPC, from This I Believe Sunday to LGBT & Friends to Sunday School. We love to hear your stories and how it interacts with the story of Jesus. That’s a witness. It builds up the body, it inspires others and whether you get to see it or not, it gives folks hope. Just look at how God used Jonah’s testimony.

But I’ll be real with you; it’s still not easy. There is an inherit risk when you start speaking about the power of Jesus to transform lives, to transform stories from oppression to liberation, despair to hope, exclusion to inclusion, hatred to love. There’s always a risk when it comes to witnessing to the love of Jesus Christ.

The Greek word for Witness is martus – what’s that sound like? Martyr; one who takes a huge risk giving their live to Jesus.  But how can we not? We must risk and speak up, become vulnerable and bold in order to witness to the truth of Jesus Christ. As the Apostle Paul wrote, “For what we preach is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as servants for Jesus’ sake. For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made his light shine in our hearts ... But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.  We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.” Friends, does this sound like what you risk making the proclamations you make about Jesus, sharing his story with others to give them hope? Maybe it does, maybe it does not.

III.

The Christian Church in the West may have spent the past few hundred years trying to pretty this thing up, domesticate it and make it easy and even for a time culturally acceptable to believe, but brothers and sisters, the truth is it’s a risk and has been since the beginning and in many places today the church is still persecuted but our brothers and sisters in Christ keep witnessing to God’s love in the face of hatred; they martus.

 Back in October, I traveled around Ethiopia with some protestant ministers. I met men and women who truly took risks in order to witness to the good news of Jesus Christ, to tell the story of Jesus. About every minister I met over the age of 40 had stories – testimony—of time spent in jail, torture, witnessing other Christians executed because they would not renounce their beliefs, wondering if they would be next. Even today in some areas there are Christian ministers who are targeted by extremists. One pastor told me that he and his wife use to pray the Lord’s prayer together every morning: “Our Father who art in heaven…give us this day our daily bread…” but as of late, as threats of violence against pastors increase they simply pray, “Give us this day,” for that alone seems like a great hope.

Ellen and I saw the movie Selma for a second time last weekend, with the Cobbs. I am awed and humbled by all the civil rights leaders sacrificed in their work for justice amidst what Coretta Scott King called, “the constant closeness of death which surrounded them like a fog.”  Yet, it is abundantly clear to me that it was the Holy Spirit who equipped them for their work of bearing witnesses to the truth of Jesus Christ and their struggle for basic human rights.

Living the Christian life means that we make real, make incarnate, the love and grace of Christ. We must step out, like those first disciples, without needing to know all the particulars and all the details, without guarantees of safety or money or credit, without shame or embarrassment, but with boldness and confidence in the guidance and protection of the Holy Spirit as we follow the strange man from Nazareth who is also the God of all creation in the vulnerable flesh of a human being.

III.

Being a witness to the Gospel is risky but it is not an option in the Christian life. In life as a Christian, faith cannot remain empty and unexamined going-through-the-motions, or an intellectual exercise or a practice in personal spirituality alone. By virtue of us all being gathered here today and what we say in the Apostle’s Creed we are witnessing to the fact that the gospel of Jesus has collided with our grasp of reality and shown us things that we cannot un-see, both the beauty of this Creation and the grace which abounds, but we’ve also seen the suffering, the injustice, the violence – the hunger in a city that throws away enough food to feed the whole state while thousands in Atlanta are food insecure; we have seen that we live in a city whose name has become synonymous with modern day slavery, where children are victims of human trafficking and we’ve witnessed our legislators accuse those child victims of being criminals. What I have seen in the Holy Scripture is a God who refuses to un-see humanity, a God who bears witness to us all in our good and our beauty and who is traumatized by our inhumanity, literally traumatized in the person of Jesus. God is not contained in a domesticated spiritual feeling or a frivolous philosophical concept, but has become incarnate in order to bear witness to an alternate reality where justice and goodness and beauty prevail.

 

Brother and sisters, this is what I have seen and God has called us all to testify to this truth and not just testify, not just bear witness to what God has done and is doing, but to become the very public incarnation of this truth and beauty for the world. Court is in session and God has called us all to the witness stand and we are waiting for your testimony. What have you seen?

Last Published: February 26, 2015 9:10 PM