Seward United Methodist Church
Tuesday, December 11, 2018
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The Vows of Membership- Witness

Luke 24:44-53 and 2nd Timothy 4:1-5

 As you probably noticed from the beginning of this sermon series, when you read the membership vows in the Hymnal, you will see that there are only four of them.  Witness is not included.  The reason is that this fifth vow of membership was only added in 2008 by General Conference, so only hymnals printed after 2008 include it.  

It was included because of a growing sentiment that we had become too inwardly-focused as a church.  We had become too comfortable with only living out our faith inside the walls of the church.  And that should not be the case when Jesus’ very last command was to be a witness to the end of the age and to the ends of the earth.  When people are speaking their “last words,” they don’t talk about things that are unimportant.  And Jesus’ last words to the Church were to go and witness.

Well, what does it mean to be a witness?  We usually hear that term in connection to a trial, a court hearing.  A witness is someone who testifies about what they saw or heard.  Or a person may be called in as an “expert witness,” an authority in a certain field, who will inform the jury about certain scientific or medical or psychiatric matters that the average lay person simply would not know.  

Well, that’s basically what we are asked to do as Christians.  We are asked to tell others what we have seen or heard or to be an “expert” on what God desires of a person.  

For the disciples who were gathered with Jesus in the upper room, their witness was to tell others what they had seen with their very own eyes.  They had been eyewitnesses of Jesus’ ministry, his miracles, his death, his resurrection.  They were to tell others what they had seen, especially emphasizing his death that was made necessary by sin and his bodily resurrection from the grave.  

Since we are separated from these events in terms of time and space, we can’t talk firsthand about experiencing his death and resurrection.  But we most certainly can talk about our ongoing experience of his activity in our lives.  As someone once said, the “most convincing proof of his resurrection is the ongoing testimony of the faithful that Christ still lives and works among his people.”  Christ rose from the dead and we know it because he lives and works within us.

We can’t pass off this task of witnessing by saying, “I’m not qualified.”  We may not feel like we are an expert witness on all matters of the Christian faith.  And I will say right here that if you do not feel like you have an adequate grasp on what it means to be a Christian, then you should certainly be working toward a better understanding.  You should be able to explain what you believe and why you believe it.  But even if you can’t fully explain the Christian faith, you are still an expert on what you have personally experienced of Christ.  

A couple years ago I was privileged to go and hear Josh McDowell, founder of Campus Crusade for Christ, and he said something that stuck with me:  A man with an argument is always at the mercy of a man with an experience.  If you have experienced Christ, you have something that no one can take away from you, regardless of their logic.  I was arguing one time with an avowed atheist, and I said that nothing could convince me that the Christian faith is not real because I’ve experienced the presence and influence of Christ in my life.  His only comeback was that people who say things like that are either lying or delusional.  He couldn’t argue away my experience.  He could only say I was crazy or lying.  

A second question:  Why should we witness?  

Should we do it out of simple obedience, just because Jesus said to?  Well, that should be enough, I guess.  But I think there’s more to it than just that.

We should witness so that we can experience blessing.  The Gospel is a story of a God who saves, sends, and blesses.  Luke 24 tells us that the disciples, who were saved by the resurrection, were sent to proclaim the resurrection, and after being sent, Jesus blessed them.  We are blessed for our obedience.  And I would say that the greatest blessing for obedience to the call to witness is the joy of seeing a person experience new life in Christ.  If you have experienced new life in Christ, and if it has brought you joy, then you should certainly want the blessing of seeing others experience that same joy.

Second Timothy tells us that there should also be urgency to our witness.  First, there should be urgency because Christ is returning to judge the living and the dead.  We who are living through Christ want to experience the blessings of obedience.  And we want to see the dead come to life through our witness.  

So we should be persistent.  We should be ready in both times that are favorable for witnessing and times that are unfavorable.  I think what that means is that we

should keep an eye open for the signs that a door is open for the gospel, someone is eager to hear a message of good news and new life.  But we should also speak the truth when people are not eager to hear it.  

“For a time is coming when people will no longer listen to sound and wholesome teaching.  They will follow their own desires and look for teachers who will tell them what they want to hear.”  That was certainly true in the first century world.  The first century world was full of traveling philosophers who were eager to tell people what they wanted to hear, in exchange for a fee!  If it was true then, it is even more so today!  Today the traveling philosophers have books and television and radio and, of course, the internet.  And some speak in the name of Christ.  They speak to “itching ears,” and their teaching is full of “strange myths” that minimize the realities of sin, God, Christ, and judgment.  

If we don’t speak the truth of Christ to our world today, there is no shortage of others who will be happy to tell people all kinds of other ideas.  

So what holds us back?  Why don’t we witness more?  I think there are two big culprits.  

The first is that we have forgotten how to witness.  We’re used to the idea of being the “established” religion.  Christianity was the dominant faith of the Western World from the Fourth Century to the early Twentieth.  And many of our churches are stuck in a mentality left over from the 1950s and 60s, which were the heyday of the American Church.  Back then, you didn’t have to witness, or at least not as much.  You just opened the doors of the church on Sunday, and people came.  They came because it was normal.  They came because it was expected.  It’s not anymore.  Those days are gone.  Going to church is now abnormal, unexpected.  We may not realize that because we still have most of our associations with churchgoing people.  But go somewhere other than a church on Sunday morning, and you’ll find that most people no longer give it a thought.  And if we don’t remember how to talk about our faith, the Church in America will soon decline to the same levels that as it is in Europe today.  Especially, when the generation that grew up in the 50s and 60s is gone, we’re going to see a major change in the American religious landscape, unless we remember how to witness.

The second reason we don’t witness like we should is because our culture tells us not to.  The prevailing thought about religion today is that “faith is a private matter.” 

It’s fine for you to have such and such a faith, but don’t bring it up.  Don’t bring it into the workplace.  Don’t bring it in to the school.  Don’t bring it into politics.  Keep it private.  

Well, I will say that while it’s true that our faith should be personal, as in belonging to us personally, it should not be private.  Not if we are going to be faithful to the calling of Christ to be witnesses.  

One last word on witnessing:  We must not forget that the power that is behind us in our witnessing is the power of the Holy Spirit.  We witness by the authority of Jesus Christ and in the power of the Holy Spirit.  Throughout both the Old and New Testaments, the most important gift of the Holy Spirit is the ability to speak the truth prophetically, powerfully, and without fear.  

1st Corinthians 14 says:  “One who prophesies strengthens others, encourages them, and comforts them.  A person who speaks in tongues is only strengthened personally, but one who speaks a word of prophecy strengthens the entire church.”  

If we speak on our own, we are unlikely to convince many others of the gospel.  After all, we’re trying to convince people that a man died on the cross to save them and rose from the dead.  Not exactly the most “believable” message.  But our job is not to convince.  Our job is to present the truth and allow the Holy Spirit to do the convincing.  

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