Watching, Waiting, and Witnessing



Sermon Title “Watching, Waiting, and Witnessing” by Guest Speaker Tim Morphew

When asked, in February 2002, about the apparent lack of evidence linking Iraq to terror groups then Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfelt observed that:

“There are things we know that we know. There are known unknowns. That is to say there are things that we now know we don’t know. But there are also unknown unknowns. There are things we do not know we don’t know. So when we do the best we can and we pull all this information together, and we then say well that’s basically what we see as the situation, that is really only the known knowns and the known unknowns. And each year, we discover a few more of those unknown unknowns.”

It turned out that Iraq did not have weapons of mass destruction and the U.S. led invasion of Iraq was based upon false and misleading assertions. Misinformation? Lies?

While hindsight proves that the case for invading Iraq was misguided – or worse – Rumsfelt’s quip about known “unknown unknowns” is an insight that is remembered and repeated to this day – because it rings true. Experience teaches us the truth of his observation.

More and more I am convinced that most of us think and act like we know more than we actually do know. Furthermore, some of what we think we know isn’t true!

If we are honest with ourselves, we know that as long as we live, you and I are “in process”.  We are in a process of figuring things out. Figuring life out…  Finding out and learning about what we don’t know.

You finish school, get your degree and you think you’ve got it made! You get a job – or you have trouble getting a job and you find out that you don’t really have it all made. Unforseen challenges ahead… Unknown unknowns…

You find your true love, get married and maybe you think you’ve got it made! And married life is pretty good – until hard times come…  And you find yourself struggling to figure out how to get through those unexpected challenges.

And what a thrill to have babies! But if you thought you had life figured out, sooner or later your kids will make clear to you that you don’t… At least they don’t think so… And whether or not you ever admit it to anyone else, you have a nagging feeling that they might be right. – Because there are in fact things that you haven’t yet figured out.

Sooner or later, you lose someone you loved, some-one you cared for, someone you hoped would always be there for you.. and you have to figure out how you are going to live without them. Another looming unknown…

Gospel accounts make it clear that Jesus’ disciples (5) never fully understood him during the years that they followed the earthly Jesus. Jesus tried to tell them that he would suffer and die a brutal death and that he would be raised from death..  But they didn’t really “get” it until afterwards… In today’s scripture lessons, you can tell that Jesus’ disciples still don’t get it. They are still struggling to understand what Jesus is really all about…

Jesus tried to tell his disciples..  He tried to prepare them for what was coming. Some­times they got it. Like you and me, a lot of the time they didn’t. It is so much easier for us to see and understand because we can read & re-read his words in the gospels. – Because we get 21 centuries of teaching on the matter of Jesus’ life, death, resurrection and ascension.

This past Thursday was Ascension Day.. Those who have connections with our Amish sisters & brothers already knew that. Indeed, some who work with the Amish got Ascension Day off, because it is a religious holiday for them.

Look it up and you’ll find that “Ascension Day is one of the earliest Christian festivals – dating back to the year 68 CE – based, it seems, on Luke’s report in Acts 1:3 that Jesus Christ “presented himself alive to [his disciples] by many convincing proofs, appearing to them during 40 days and speaking about the kingdom of God.”  And Luke says that on the 40th day Jesus took them to the Mount of Olives, where they watched as he ascended to heaven.

Last Thursday was Ascension Day, but since we didn’t celebrate it Thursday, I invite you to consider with me (today) what it means for Christians like you and me…

You realize, I suppose, that today’s scriptures from Luke 24:44-49 and Acts 1:6-14 are, according to Luke, Jesus’ very last words to his disciples…

Jesus keeps showing up after his resurrection to assure the disciples beyond the shadow of any doubt that death could not hold him, that he really has risen from the tomb. It seems that Jesus wants to make sure that they know everything they need to know & understand everything they need to understand, to be thoroughly prepared to continue his work without his physical presence in their lives.

If we (also) take it as our calling to continue the work of Jesus, then we will want to understand what Jesus wanted his disciples to understand. So we do well to pay attention to Jesus’ last words to his disciples before his ascension. What does Jesus want his disciples to know for sure?

1) First of all, that it really is him. That he has indeed physically risen from death. Jesus even eats a piece of fish right in front of them to prove it!

2) Then (vss. 44-46) he reviews the scriptures with them again, showing them again how he is the fulfillment of all the Hebrew Scriptures that anticipated God’s anointed, who would save their people…

3) Thirdly that this message is for all the people of the world. Jesus says in vs. 47, “that repentance & forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.”

And then Jesus says (24:48),“You are witnesses of these things.” Now pay attention to what Jesus says here: he doesn’t invite his disciples to be witnesses, he doesn’t ask them if they want to be witnesses, he tells his disciples that they are witnesses! Luke 24:48: “You are witnesses of these things…”

Whether Jesus’ disciples like it or not, they are witnesses. They could (like Peter) deny that they ever knew him, but they would be lying. Because the truth is that, although he was crucified and buried in a tomb for 3 days, his disciples truly have seen Jesus alive, whole and well! They are witnesses of Jesus’ resurrection!

Luke’s 2nd volume, the book of Acts, relates how those original witnesses fulfilled the assignment that Jesus gives them in his last words to them in Luke 24 and Acts 1.

Our interest is more than academic. The assignment that Jesus gives to his disciples has greater implications than the last words of any other famous person because this is the Jesus who has touched our hearts, who gives us hope. This is the Jesus to whom we have devoted our lives. This is the Jesus that we also follow, whose example we want to imitate, whose teachings we have promised to obey!

So when Jesus tells his first disciples that “You are witnesses,” we believe his commission applies to us as much as it did to them… We may not be direct eye-witnesses, but we are witnesses…

It isn’t really a question of whether or not we are witnesses. The question is really, what kind of witnesses are we?? We may be good witnesses or lousy witnesses but either way we are witnesses. All of us are witnesses!  Whether we like it or not, we bear witness daily to what we care about, what we value most highly, what we truly believe and who we believe in..

Think about this with me:  Every day, all day as we meet and encounter people, from the moment we notice another person, we begin to assess them. I think that it is the way people are wired. It is how we sort out our circumstances. We pay attention to anyone or anything that might get in our way or threaten us in any way. We look; we watch the things and the people who come toward us. Especially in strange or unfamiliar circumstances, especially when meeting a person for the first time, especially when encountering people we don’t know..

If we do that, is it not probable that ‘most everyone else does too? – Which means that we are often being watched and evaluated by those we interact with..  – Especially by those who don’t know us.. – Especially by people meeting us for the first time..

Whether or not we notice, whether or not we realize it, people do look at us, people do watch us for clues about who we are, what we care about, what we value..

Do you notice what people wear? Do you think that the way people dress has meaning? – That it gives us information about a person? If clothes have no meaning, why do police officers & soldiers wear uniforms? If clothes mean nothing, why do schools contemplate dress codes? – Or why are certain styles or color combinations not allowed at school?

Do you make assumptions about people who are dressed plain?  The ones with beards and bonnets? The different styles of hats and head-coverings? Or what about the women a hijab (scarf) or wearing the head-to-toe burqa? What about the ones all dressed up on Saturday night?  What about the ones who look like they just climbed out of bed – or out of the swimming pool?

I’m a reader. I often read what is written on a person’s hat or t-shirt or sweat-shirt. Sometimes, when I say something about the slogan on people’s clothes, some wearers have responded like they didn’t remember what it said…  I don’t know what to make of this. I don’t under-stand..  Do people really get dressed without thinking about the message that their clothes send?  Can it be true that people don’t consider what conclusions others may draw from their appearance?

Do you notice what kinds of cars people ride in or drive? Have you ever looked at a car and made a judgment about the driver and passengers without even looking at people in the car? What is the difference between the driver of the Hummer and the driver of the Prius? What is the difference between the rider of the Gold Wing, the Harley and the rider of the motor scooter?  What about the driver of the truck with duelly’s and a 5th wheel hitch, or the rider of the bicycle, or the driver of the buggy?

If the car in front of you has a sticker in the window or a magnetic ribbon, or a bumper sticker, do you read it?  Remember right after the 9/11/01 attacks, all the flags that people put in their windows, or flew in front of their houses? Do the stickers, magnets, decals or specialized license plates that people put on their cars mean anything? Do they tell us anything about the car owners?

Why the flap over having the 10 commandments or religious images like nativity scenes posted on public property? Who cares? – Why does anyone care? Isn’t it because they mean something? – Because they bear witness??

So whether you gave it any thought or not, other people do notice. People are looking at you and me. They are watching us..  They do make judgments about us, conscious and unconscious, based on the way we look, the way we act, the things we say and do.  People who know us and see us in public make decisions about us based on the way we act with our spouses and without them, based on the way we act with our children and without them, based on the way we act with our parents and without them, based on how truly our deeds mesh with our words, based on whether we really look and act the same on Monday through Friday as we do on Sunday, based on whether we could take our weekday behavior and language to church..

So we are witnesses! Whether or not we realize it, whether or not we think about it, we bear witness in all kinds of ways to what we believe in, and what we care about. Like it or not, those we encounter casually, or intentionally are watching the signs that we send out about what we believe & care about. Not only do they watch us, people also look at our homes, our lawns, our clothes, our cars..

In the book UnChristian, author David Kinnaman highlights a number of troubling statistics from an extensive study by the Barna Research Group of people born between 1965 and 2002. Included are two statistics that show how those outside the church view those within:

Nearly 9 out of 10 young outsiders – 87% – said that the term “judgmental” accurately describes present-day Christianity.

Of the non-Christians surveyed, 84% said they personally know at least one committed Christian. Yet just 15% thought the lifestyles of those Christ-followers were significantly different from the norm.

– Kinnaman, UnChristian (Baker, 2007), pp. 48, 182

Whether or not you have given it any thought, we are witnesses. Other people do notice. People are looking at you and me. They are watching us.. 

Like it or not, S & B, we are witnesses. Consciously or unconsciously, we show those around us what we think, what we believe and believe in, what we care about and what matters most to us.. And there’s no telling how meaningful our witness may be to others… 

Like it or not, S & B, we are witnesses. And there’s no telling how meaningful our witness may be to others… 

Maybe you have heard this story before, but I love it because it tells us that anybody’s witness can make a difference if we will only tell our experience of the Good News as God leads us to share it:

In the year he was elected president, Jimmy Carter was one of three men invited to speak to the 17,000 delegates at the Southern Baptist Convention. Each had a five-minute time limit.

The first of the three presenters was the eloquent evangelist, Billy Graham. The speaker following Graham was a truck driver. The man was not well educated, and seated beside the next U.S. president, the truck driver shared that he had never given a speech in his life. Nervously he confessed, “I don’t think I can live through it. I just can’t do it.”

After Billy Graham gave his powerful talk, the truck driver rose to speak and stood silently before the audience. Taking a glass of water handed to him, he mumbled into the microphone.

“I was always drunk, and didn’t have any friends. The only people I knew were men like me who hung around the bars in the town where I lived.”

The truck driver went on to describe how someone told him about Christ. Once he became a Christian, he wanted to tell others about the Lord. Spending time in Bible study and with other Christian men prepared him for witnessing. Since he felt comfortable in barrooms, he decided to talk to people there. The bartender wasn’t sympathetic, telling the new convert he was bad for business and a nuisance.

Not discouraged, the truck driver kept on with his mission, and in time the people at the bar began asking questions. He said, “At first they treated me like a joke, but I kept up with the questions and when I couldn’t answer one, I went and got the answer and came back with it. Fourteen of my friends became Christians.”

Carter writes, “The truck driver’s speech, of course, was the highlight of the convention. I don’t believe anyone who was there will ever forget that five-minute fumbling statement – or remember what I or even Billy Graham had to say.” – Jimmy Carter, Sources of Strength, Meditations on Scripture for a Living Faith (Times Books, 1997), pp. 71–72

Like it or not, S & B, we are witnesses. Consciously or unconsciously, we show those around us what we think, what we believe and believe in, what we care about and what matters most to us.. And there’s no telling how meaningful our witness may be to others… 

“It’s amazing what a difference the little things will make. For example, years ago when I was a new believer, I always wore a tiny cross pin (33) on my shirts. Because they were an inexpensive way to witness, I’d buy a dozen or so at a time. Every time someone commented on mine, I’d give it to them as a gift. Once in a 7-11 convenience store, the female clerk complimented my cross pin. Instinctively I offered it to her. For several moments she tried to refuse, finally reluctantly accepting the small gift

Years went by, and I’d almost forgotten about the 7-11 woman. After church one week, a woman stopped me in the lobby and said she had to thank me. Trembling as she spoke, she explained, “You probably don’t remember me, but years ago you gave me this.” She reached into her purse and pulled out the small cross pin. “When you offered me this cross, my life couldn’t have been any worse. I didn’t feel worthy of such a generous gift. But God showed me that he still loved me. My life is different today because of what you did for me.”

What I did was almost nothing. But to someone else it meant almost everything. – Craig Groeschel, The Christian Atheist, (Zondervan, 2011). p. 210

Not long before he ascended to spend eternity with GOD, Jesus declared to his disciples, “You are witnesses..  He meant that they had seen those convincing proofs that Christ had risen from the tomb..  He meant that the Good News about his resurrection would never get out, unless people like them told it.. 

He said, “You are witnesses.” And I believe that his commission applies to us as well as his first disciples. We bear witness every day to what we care about, what we value most highly, what we truly believe and believe in.. What is the content and quality of your witness? – Or mine?

Emmanuel Suhard (1874-1949), French Cardinal of the Roman Catholic Church said that, “To be a witness does not consist in engaging in propaganda nor even in stirring people up, but in being a living mystery. It means to live in such a way that one’s life would not make sense if God did not exist. — E. Suhard (1874-1949), quoted in, Eugene Peterson, Practice Resurrection (Eerdmans, 2010), p. 185

What if, S & B? – What if the original witnesses (36) had kept the news of Christ’s resurrection to themselves and never told anyone that Jesus had been raised from death?

What if we (37) keep this good news to ourselves? Have you ever heard it said that the Christian Church is only one generation away from extinction?? The question isn’t whether or not we are witnesses, the question is what we witness to? Does our witness tell those who see us, those who watch us, those who know us that Jesus is the most important person in our lives? Does our witness give anyone reason to believe that Christ is alive & at work in the world?

Carlo Carretto offers these concluding thoughts:  “When the world seems a defeat for God and you are sick with the disorder, the violence, the terror, the war on the streets; when the earth seems to be chaos, say to yourself, [‘Christ is risen and we are witnesses to that Good News!’]

“Every missionary anywhere in the world is acting out their faith in the resurrection.

Every peace treaty is an act of faith in the resurrection.

Every agreed commitment is an act of faith in the resurrection.

When you forgive your enemy

When you feed the hungry

When you defend the weak you witness your faith in Christ’s resurrection.

When you have the courage to marry

When you welcome the newly-born child

When you build your home you witness your faith in the resurrection.

When you wake at peace in the morning

When you sing to the rising sun

When you go to work with joy you show that you believe in the resurrection.

Carlo Carretto in Blessed Are You Who Believed. Christianity Today, Vol. 40, no. 4. Oh God, let what we say and do show anyone who is watching that Christ is alive and at work in the world and even in our own lives! A M E N !