Rev. Dan Thompson-Aue
But you shall be my witnesses . . .Acts 1
After Jesus came back to life, the disciples imagined their next work would be witnessing Jesus restoring an earthly kingdom. “Will you now restore the Kingdom of Israel?” In this restoration, what did they think their work would be? Instead of having elections, perhaps Jesus would just appoint each of them to oversee an aspect of government. They would become the ultimate Insiders.
Would someone of them head up the police force or the army chasing the Romans out of the country? Would someone be the head of the tax office collecting revenue to run Jerusalem? Maybe someone would serve as an agricultural secretary, or the head of the Jesus Secret Service, or God’s new housing and welfare agency, or set up a new Department of Transportation to regulate and license carts, wagons, chariots, and all manner of four legged motors to pull them. Surely they would need someone to watch over commerce so that Israel did not get cheated in trade by foreign governments. You’d need someone to watch over public works, water and sewers and such. And of course there would have to be an immigration enforcement branch of this new Kingdom of Israel to make sure folks who wanted in understood their responsibilities, and if they weren’t qualified to make sure they were cast Outside into the darkness, where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth, as should be.
There would certainly be a lot to do if Jesus had, in fact, decided to stick around and restore Israel as an earthly kingdom with human government and all it involves.
I’m thankful that Jesus made it clear that the disciples had a different kind of work to do, and that any restoring of any kingdoms would be done by God in God’s own time. Jesus gave the disciples a straightforward job, and that simple task remains the basic job of followers of Jesus to this day. What does he want us to do?
Be witnesses of Jesus Christ. Please note that this is an Outside job.
A witness can only describe what they have seen and heard. The Disciples spent several years following Jesus around and no doubt had enough to say to last a life time. I believe each one of them, like each one of us, would tell the story of Jesus’ influence on their lives in a different way, because Jesus transformed each of their lives in a manner unique to each of their needs.
Peter’s impulsiveness and arrogance needed to be tempered by humility, and his courage restored by forgiveness. James and John, the sons of thunder, needed to learn to choose to be servants in the background rather than kings in the limelight. Perhaps Matthew, the tax collector, needed to learn to count the human and spiritual cost of things and find that balance in life rather than focus on the debit and credit columns of his money ledgers. Simon, zealous and eager for violence, needed to learn patience and trade the concept of armed revolution for the irresistible power of a growing mustard seed and the chemistry of leaven in a loaf.
Each one of the twelve, and each one of the dozens of others whose lives Jesus touched, could tell their own story of transformation, healing, and salvation, and of their growing belief in a kingdom that is not built and contained by human minds and hands but is already established by the power of the Holy Spirit.
So what about you and me? Do we each have a personal story of how the love and power of Christ has changed, and is still transforming, our lives?
If we don’t have such a story, I wonder why. Maybe some of us are still searching for an understanding and experience of who Jesus is to us. If that is the case for you I hope you will stay connected, and listen, and work as you able along side one another, and meet people Outside the walls of the church building with whom you can both hear and learn stories of Jesus and the love that is saving the world. Then you will have your own story to tell.
I hope I’m learning better, these days, how to approach telling my own story. Typically, these days, it happens Out in the world and typically goes something like this . . . this incident took place before social distancing:
My wife Laura and I were walking home from the gym one day, strolling up the sidewalk on Cedar Street, when two Mormon missionaries crossed our path. The two girls smiled and, according to their script, opened the interaction with a compliment, in this case about Laura’s appearance, which compliment I could not dispute because she is, after all, cute as can be. When we smiled they launched into their Inside view questions about our interest in The Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Now it happened to be convenient that were standing in view of the United Methodist Church sign on the corner of 18th and Cedar, so I said something to the effect that yes we were very interested in Jesus Christ and in fact I was the pastor of the people who worship In that there church behind you. That news presented a little setback for the missionaries, but they kept on anyway and asked if I thought people needed to hear more about Jesus. Thank goodness for divine help because what came out of my lips next seemed about as good as anything I’d ever said . . . “Yes, we all need to learn more about what it means to be followers of Jesus.”
I guess there wasn’t much more to say after that, though we could have had a good conversation from that point about specifics . . . what does it really mean, and what does it look like, to be a follower of Jesus? Anyway we parted company with me feeling like we had something in common, and I liked the feeling.
So being a witness for Jesus Christ doesn’t have to be an experience of condemning someone else for their beliefs. Witnessing for Christ does not have to be a battle of Insiders, but can be a conversation among Outsiders. Perhaps when we can talk about what it means to be a follower of Jesus and how that helps us behave in the world there is little to argue about and a lot to set about doing together. Have you noticed how United Methodists have stopped arguing about who should be included, lately? Instead we are talking about what it means to be the Church of Christ in a worldwide crisis. Maybe we can keep talking about this when the current crisis passes!
So, to be a witness of Jesus may be just that simple for any of us. Why do I choose to follow him, and what has he, in my following, asked me to do? For me, I have said yes to the call to preach and lead worship and help congregations get a handle on living the Christian life. Since I’m retiring soon I must reconsider my call. In my life to come, following Jesus means doing a lot of simple but hard things like telling the truth, being kind to everyone, refusing to judge anyone because that is Jesus’ job, and generally believing that a life of humble service and quiet devotion lets me experience and share the power and beauty of the Kingdom of Outside each and every day. I try to apply the teaching of the sowing of seeds and the hiding of leaven in a loaf. I try hard to keep an eye on the good in the world, cultivating the wheat in the field even though the tares growing alongside will get some of the care, too, but leaving the sorting to God. I don’t always do any of this perfectly, and sometimes I forget it completely. But that is where the most important aspect of Jesus’ teaching comes in . . . the point of the practice of forgiveness of myself and of others.
Jesus told the first disciples they had a simple job to do . . . be his witnesses. How do you think they did? Well, we are here living as followers of Christ because they told their stories of Jesus. There are now many more followers of Jesus in the world than the little cluster of nervous people that started the whole process on what we call Ascension day about 2,000 years ago. In fact we have spread to ends of the earth. The possibilities of blessing and of the sharing of the power of Christ’s teaching are multiplied beyond imagining . . .
. . . if each one of us will avoid staring at the sky, wondering and worrying about what will happen and if Jesus will come back to save us . . .
. . . and instead get to the work we are assured we can and will do, Outside.