CAN I GET A WITNESS? - A SERMON ON 1 JOHN 3:1-7 AND LUKE 24:36-48, REV. JOSEPH ALSAY, ST. AUGUSTINE OF CANTERBURY EPISCOPAL CHURCH
I John 3:1-7 & Luke 24:36-48
“Can I Get a Witness?”
Rev. Joseph C. Alsay, St. Augustine of Canterbury Episcopal Church
‘Hello! My name is Elder Price, and I would like to share with you the most amazing book!”
This is the opening line to the popular 2011 Broadway hit The Book of Mormon. The story follows a group of young men who are sent out to be witnesses to the world about their faith. The main characters go to Uganda to convert the people to the Mormon faith.
There is a transformation that happens in this musical comedy which pokes fun at this tradition of bearing witness throughout the world.
When most people think about witnessing, I imagine this is the image that comes to mind. For so many, this kind of witnessing is cringe worthy. You can just about ask me to do anything, but go up to someone I don’t know and talk about my faith.
And yet, in the resurrection story we just read today, Jesus says “You are witnesses to these things.” Jesus calls his disciples, then and now, to be witnesses. There is no way to soft pedal around it; Jesus calls us to be witnesses to what God has done and is still doing for us and all the world.
Episcopalians, and most other mainline denominations, aren’t well known for our witnessing. In fact, Bishop Susan Snook, who was the former Canon for Church Growth in this diocese wrote in 2018, the average Episcopalian, invites someone to go to church every 38 years.
That’s about twice in a life-time.
Dr. David Lose, who is a theologian and former president of Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia points out, we bear witness all the time to things that are important to us. Great movies, television programs, books we’ve read, our favorite sports team, a great restaurant the list goes on and on. We tell each other all the time, in person or on social media, about things that matter to us.
But talking about God, or how we see God working in our life……not so much.
This week’s readings are a wake-up call of sorts. Easter, only two weeks ago, already seems like a distant memory. Life in the church returns to somewhat normal after Easter.
Resurrection has the tendency to be less than present day reality, more like a claim about a past event or a future assurance. It seems that we have all too many reminders of death, and not enough reminders of life. Globally, nationally, in our community and in our families, on far too many days the presence of death is more palpable than the promise of life.
The unexpected diagnosis of cancer that turns your world upside down, war and oppression, broken relationships, family members and friends living with depression, loneliness or bullying. It’s difficult to see new life and resurrection hope breaking in among us.
New life here and now is hard to see. Yet Jesus calls us to live in this moment. He doesn’t say “you were” or “you will be” my witnesses. In this moment, and in this life, we are witnesses to the resurrection.
Witnessing does not mean shoving our faith down someone else’s throat or threatening them with eternal hell fire if they don’t believe like we do. It’s simply telling others where we sense God at work in your life, in their life, and in the world.
So, I’m going to challenge you to think differently this week, though; and be ready to have your minds and hearts opened up to the new life all around you.
Who will be the bearer of the new light and life to you?
Where will you see God at work through another human being?
When will your faith be stirred to new life by doubts and wonder?
Doubt is not the opposite of faith, but a necessary ingredient. Because honestly in light of all of the death and trauma and disappointment in life, at times, it’s impossible not to wonder and doubt if the good news of the resurrection is true.
Yet, we gather as the faithful, to wonder, to live in the mystery, to hear the promise, to engage with others, so that our minds will be opened to understand the scriptures, that we too may bear witness to the new life that is springing forth all around us.
So, although many of us may not ring the doorbells of our neighbors throughout the city. There is a need, once fed and nourished by the Holy One at this table to go out… and share the good news…. To bear witness to the many and varied ways that God is transforming you and bringing new life to the whole creation.
Various Clergy and members of St. Augustine contribute to authoring the blog on a variety of topics.