Today we continue our Fall preaching series on DISCIPLESHIP, the sixth part entitled: DISCIPLES are witnesses.
Disciples tell their story about what God has done for them. Disciples also tell each other the truth about their lives … about their uncertainties, their joys, their doubts, their fears, sorrows and successes. To witness means to have knowledge about a person or an event from personal observation or experience.
What does it mean then, given our faith in Jesus, to be a Christian witness? How and where and when do we talk about knowing Jesus? About loving Jesus? About following Jesus … without sounding like a phony or some kind of a freak?
The Book of Acts explains that the saving message of Jesus was first trusted to an intimate group and then began to spread, as per his instructions. He said to them:
You will be my witnesses, telling people about me everywhere—in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and even to the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8).
Today, we are his witnesses! But, how does this happen when so many of us never, ever even mention his name, except, perhaps in an expletive!?
I know that many of us Catholics struggle to be authentic witnesses to the work of Christ in our lives. And when we struggle and become uncomfortable, sometimes I think we reverse “witnessing” from telling others about our relationship with Christ, to focusing and correcting the shortcomings and sins of others. We become self-appointed judges, or kind of the Catholic police – but that’s not witnessing … it’s not even close!
It’s fascinating to me that evangelical Churches “train” their members how to be witnesses. They coach their congregants on how to tell the story of Christ in their everyday life. Perhaps it’s time for us in the Catholic Church to do the same? Interestingly, one group outlines EIGHT ESSENTIALS FOR INTRODUCING OTHERS TO JESUS CHRIST. Here they are:
1. You must know Christ personally.
2. You must have no unconfessed sin in your life.
3. You must be filled with the Holy Spirit.
4. You must be prepared to witness.
5. You must pray.
6. You must go to those who need Christ.
7. You must talk about Jesus Christ.
8. You must expect results.
None of those seem to be so foreign to our beliefs and teachings. I might add to the list, that:
· You celebrate the sacraments regularly.
· And you remember and pray to his Mother Mary.
Do you witness?
How do you witness to Christ?
What are the struggles you have in witnessing to Christ and our faith?
Where do we turn for help when we struggle with witnessing?
The Old Testament reading today from Exodus may help. First, let’s be sure we know what’s happening:
We read about a battle. The Amalekites were a fierce desert tribe, unhappy about strangers coming into their territory. They became one of Israel’s enemies in the early periods of their history.
Shortly after the Exodus, the Amalekites attacked Israel, but Israel succeeded in repulsing the attack. The battle took place at Rephidim – the last stopping-place of the Israelites on the Exodus from Egypt before they reached Mount Sinai. The enmity between the Israelites and Amalekites became so deep that it lasted for generations. Listen again:
The Amalekites came and attacked the Israelites at Rephidim. Moses said to Joshua, “Choose some of our men and go out to fight the Amalekites. Tomorrow I will stand on top of the hill with staff of God in my hands”.
So, Joshua fought the Amalekites as Moses had ordered, and Moses, Aaron and Hur went to the top of the hill. As long as Moses held up his hands, the Israelites were winning, but whenever he lowered his hands, the Amalekites were winning.
When Moses’ hands grew tired, they took a stone and put it under him and he sat on it. Aaron and Hur held his hands up – one on one side, one on the other – so that his hands remained steady till sunset. So, Joshua overcame the Amalekite army with the sword.
The Staff of God was a symbol of Moses’ leadership and evidence of God’s authority for his actions. With the staff of God, Moses had performed wonders in Egypt and even instructed Aaron to use his staff for similar purposes. The staff of God represents the power and presence of God with God’s people in their time of need.
Interestingly, unlike all the other instances of its use, the outstretched staff in the hand of Moses is not immediately fully effective during the battle. When he holds up his arms and the staff, the Israelites prevail, whenever he lowered his hands, the Amalekites seized the initiative.
When someone holds up your arms or supports you -- when someone says they will fight for you, or defend you – surely, you never forget it and you deeply appreciate it ... their support empowers you … encourages you … We all need people like that in our life. And we all can be people like that for others too!
That’s part of the Christian witnessing we are called to participate in … holding up those who are down, supporting those who are without, defending and speaking out for the vulnerable, the voiceless, the little ones in society … all in the name of Jesus … that’s part of our Christian witness.
Today’s Gospel is from the 17th chapter of Luke where we find Jesus speaking of the nature of God’s realm. As he often does, to help us better understand this, Jesus tells us a story – a parable – that speaks to this question. In the parable of the unjust judge we encounter a person who doesn’t fear God. That is, this judge, this leader of the community, has no sense of God’s majesty. He is his own god. He makes his own rules and administers them in ways that suits his own welfare.
He’s pragmatic in his realization that he won’t get any peace until he gives this woman who comes to him continuously seeking justice what she desires. She’s not easily deterred. She keeps knocking. She keeps holding vigil. In other words, she’s made herself a pest. And so, he gives her what she asks for, simply to get rid of her. The unjust judge gives way to the woman because of her persistence – just to get her off his back.
Jesus invites us to be persistent in our prayers too – not because God is disinclined to answer us unless we make a lot of noise – but because this is his definition of faithfulness. If God is faithful, then shouldn’t we also be faithful?
Part of being faithful is also about telling our story … our personal story of faith … how God has touched our live and given us grace, hope and healing. If this were a Pentecostal Church, I would invite right now someone to come forward and give testimony … to tell their story, but I’m afraid if I did that some of you would faint … others would walk out … some may even be angry … so I won’t … but that doesn’t let anyone off the hook. I know that its not easy to talk about Jesus. And there are barriers …
Some have suggested that there are three “sound barriers” to witnessing. These are much like the sound barrier through which an airplane passes. There is much stress and nervousness.
The first “sound barrier” is just starting to mention to a person the name of Jesus Christ and the value of knowing Him. Once we get the conversation around from girls, guys, food, politics, etc., to spiritual things, we have broken the first barrier. It is hard to do, and it never becomes easy. Try it!
The second “sound barrier” is to ask the person what they know about Christ. That nervous feeling returns once again. We must blast through this one also. Remember, many people, when they are invited are only too happy to share who Jesus Christ is and what He has done for them.
The last barrier is the most difficult. If the person has no religion or gets a bit anxious, invite him/her to join you … first to listen to your faith story … and to encourage them to look to and trust Christ for their own life. Maybe even invite them to pray with you … or come here with you.
This is our work, our challenge this week … to become better witnesses to our faith … to become more and more comfortable with telling our story and to be supportive of one another to do the same.
Disciples know Jesus. Disciples know the Bible. Disciples know the Christian faith. Disciples make faith a way of life. Disciples worship God. Disciples are witnesses … so let’s get to it!