October 16, 2016 – Witness

Pentecost 22   October 16, 2016   Matthew 28:18-20, Colossians 3:12-17, Romans 12:9-13   Witness

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I got an email, about a week ago, from Arne Carr, with a note saying – we saw this sign on a church here in Texas (where they were on vacation). Nathan insisted I send it to you. The sign said:

Jesus is coming.

Hopefully before the election.

And seriously, there was a news story just yesterday, that said 52% of Americans say this election cycle is seriously stressing them out. I thought that was maybe  too low a percentage – but I haven’t taken any scientific polls, and perhaps we’re so used to high levels of stress, that some of us barely notice the increase.

And indeed the stress of our election cycle with all its darkness bordering on chaos, is still pretty mild, compared to the lives of people in many parts of the world. Thinking, just over the past few weeks, of Haiti, Columbia, Venezuela, and the Carolinas, all in our own hemisphere… And Iraq, Syria, Central African Republic, Sudan, Nigeria, Afghanistan, among the many places enduring much higher levels of destruction and suffering than we are…

Which is not to make light of our own very real trials and struggles… Just to keep our struggles and troubles in perspective, remembering we’re all in this together, according to God’s word. And remembering, as we pray for Jesus and his kingdom to come on earth as it is in heaven… Remembering we have our parts to play in the drama of his coming kingdom. As the hymn reminds us:

O Jesus, I have promised, to serve thee to the end;

be thou forever near me, my Master and my friend…

O Jesus, we have promised…to serve you to the end.

When we join the church, and every time we welcome a new member, we pledge, and pledge yet again, to practice our faith together, as we say these words from the service of baptism and membership in our hymnal:

As members together with you in the body of Christ and in this congregation of The United Methodist Church, we renew our covenant faithfully to participate in the ministries of the church by our prayers, our presence, our gifts, and our service, that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ.”

We say these words together, and together seek to be faithful in fulfilling our vows. Over the past four weeks we’ve been reviewing the topics of prayer, presence, gifts, and service. Today we’re using witness as a one word summary for the last phrase of our membership vows  – “that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ.”

(And–) Serving as witnesses for Christ and his kingdom can sum up all the other promises we make to God and one another as members of Christ’s body. The quality of our witness for Jesus – all of our giving glory to God – really does depend on our prayers, our presence, our gifts, our service…When we do all these together from the heart, God is glorified, and the church truly flourishes…

And yes, it is a big responsibility to be witnesses for Jesus. Jesus tells us we’re to be his disciples – to be the light of the world. (We know the song –) This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine

And I also know my little light’s not always burning nearly as brightly as it ought to be… (Sometimes I’ve let my little light get so little and dim, it’s almost invisible.) The bible tells us we need to stay spiritually awake at all times, with our little lights shining… but sometimes I get spiritually sleepy…

And this is not about physical sleep and rest, which many of us would do well to get more of… I sat in with some members of St John the Evangelist church in Pocasset last week in a training on Centering Prayer… Where we were told not to be concerned if we fall asleep in prayer time. Just pick up and continue praying when we awaken…

Likewise, as Colossians lets us know – we need to be properly dressed at all times – clothed in Christ’s clothing – wearing our compassion, kindness, humility, meekness and patience – wearing, above all, the love of God in Christ… Wearing all this not just like putting on our Sunday best, but also as our everyday Jesus clothing…

And of course the word of God here is speaking in metaphors. Of course we could be wearing the most expensive designer suits and finest fancy shoes but not look anything like Jesus… And we can be wearing old torn clothes and grubby sneakers and be looking good in the sight of God. But again, sometimes my Christ clothes are in need of patching and a good washing… Not mending with needle and thread nor washing with Tide or Arm and Hammer, but stitching with prayer and worship, and mending by giving and serving from the heart… and…

All our readings today give us variations on the theme of bearing witness to our faith by letting our faith at work be seen… (As we hear again –)

Let love be genuine. Hate what’s evil, hold on tight to what’s good. Love one another with mutual affection. Love one another. Serve the Lord. Give for the needs of all believers. Practice hospitality… Go, make disciples for Jesus, teaching everyone who can listen to obey everything Jesus has commanded us to do. Teach and admonish one another in all wisdom… And be thankful…(And be thankful…)

Thus says the word of God. This is what the way of salvation in Jesus Christ looks like. Each of our readings is a window on what it means to be Christ’s witnesses…Each reading a small sketch or snapshot of how we are to give glory to God through the living of our faith in Jesus Christ…

The letter to the Colossians tells us everything we say and do, in word or deed, ought to be done in the name of Jesus, with the giving of thanks to God the Father through Him…

And together we are to sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to God… The gospel comes to life when we sing it from the heart, together. Something about the word expressed in song makes it so much more accessible, understandable, believable, doable.

For the law of love – the law of trusting in Christ – which are together the summary of all the law of God – are comprehended only as they are lived out in faith and love together –

And when we sing as we pray, worship, give, and serve together, our witness is much easier to see and hear and believe…

The early Methodists, like the early Lutherans and early Franciscans before them, knew this. They did their best to put the teachings of Jesus and the apostles into song. Many people were illiterate, but they could remember the word of God expressed in song. Melodies of folk songs, popular songs, and older hymns were borrowed and re-mixed to serve the needs of new generations. Kari (our choir director) has been continuing this tradition, teaching us to sing a new song unto the Lord that tells the old, old story in new and differently beautiful ways…She could do some of this alone, but it surely sounds best when the choir, the children’s choir, or all of us together join in the singing… and as you know…

There are many things we can’t do alone – including being married – and being a Christian. Some say faith is just a private matter, between each of us and God. Which may be true of some faiths – but its not true of Christian faith. It takes a congregation, it takes the whole body of Christ, to raise up Christians witnesses who can faithfully live out and teach and transmit the gospel of Jesus Christ…

Which is our job description as believers. Together we have promised, together we have committed, to being witnesses and disciples, and to raising up disciples and  witnesses for Jesus from generation to generation…

O Jesus we have promised to serve you to the end. Be thou forever with us, our Master and our Friend…

Be with us, Lord Jesus we pray. Because we know – we can’t do this walk of faith in this dark world all on our own. We can’t be true disciples in our own strength.

But as we recommit to keep trying to pray always in the Spirit, keep showing up for worship and service, keep serving you with gladness, keep worshiping you with gratitude… Continue giving of our time, talents, and treasure freely, as we have received freely, freely from you…

We hear and we know again the good news:

Together with Jesus – and one another – God’s will shall be done.

God will get all the glory through Jesus Christ our Lord.

God’s kingdom of grace and peace and love surpassing understanding will come…

On earth as it is in heaven… And all the way to heaven, we know –

God the Father, Jesus the Son, God the Holy Spirit, Three-in-One, are counting on us to be God’s faithful witnesses.

Living for the glory of God in all we say and do…

And we can do this together because –

O Jesus, you have promised to all who follow thee

that where you are in glory, there shall your servants be.

And Jesus we have promised, to serve you to the end,

O give us grace to follow, our Master and our Friend.

Thanks be to God. Amen.