Witnessing is speaking to our truth, knowing that some will believe and others will not; pointing to the Kingdom of God in our midst, knowing that some will think we are foolish while others are transformed; speaking to the things that matter to us as people of faith…loving kindness, making justice and walking humbly with our God.
June 26, 2022
“We Are the Church…Let’s Act Like It”
Act as A Witness
Acts 28: 23-31
Rev. Dr. Heather W. McColl
After they had set a day to meet with him, they came to him at his lodgings in great numbers. From morning until evening he explained the matter to them, testifying to the kingdom of God and trying to convince them about Jesus both from the law of Moses and from the prophets. Some were convinced by what he had said, while others refused to believe. So they disagreed with each other, and as they were leaving Paul made one further statement: “The Holy Spirit was right in saying to your ancestors through the prophet Isaiah,
‘Go to this people and say, You will indeed listen but never understand, and you will indeed look but never perceive. For this people’s heart has grown dull, and their ears are hard of hearing, and they have shut their eyes; otherwise they might look with their eyes and listen with their ears and understand with their heart and turn – and I would heal them.’
“Let it be known to you, then, that this salvation of God has been sent to the gentiles; they will listen.” He lived there two whole years at his own expense and welcomed all who came to him, proclaiming the kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ with all boldness and without hindrance.
Act as A Witness Acts 28: 23-31
Today, we wrap up our conversation with the Book of Acts. Over the last few weeks, we have explored the beginnings of the church. We have named how similar our situation as post Covid disciples really is to what the early disciples, to what the early apostles were experiencing as they tried to stay faithful to their calling of sharing the Good News. Over the last few weeks, we have looked to the book of Act to help us as modern day disciples reclaim our faith, to help us become the church God calls us to be here on earth.
And today, we conclude our conversation with the Book of Acts this Sunday on probably the hardest action of all when it comes to our faith…acting as a witness.
I hesitated writing this sermon because I was worried everyone would think that I wanted us to stand on the street corner, yelling out what we believe as people passed by. But as I lived with this sermon this week, my worries and fears were replaced by a rekindled passion for the Gospel story and for my God.
At first when I began to work on this sermon, all I could think about was that sadly it has been on more than one occasion that I was more like a luke-warm or even mild observer for my God rather than a bold witness. And then as the week continued, I started thinking about all the prophetic and yes, uncomfortable sermons that God had laid upon my heart over the years to share with God’s people but instead of preaching those, out of fear and worry, I shared mild-mannered platitudes. I realized that on more than one occasion I have played it safe with the Gospel message rather than being a bold witness for God. As the week continued, I started thinking about all those moments when I felt compelled to speak out against the injustices that I had seen but instead I kept quiet because I was afraid of the consequences of my actions. Once again, realizing that I have played it safe with the Gospel message rather than being a bold witness for God. As the week continued, I started thinking about all those moments when I have heard people say “Why would I want to worship a God that is so judgmental, so hurtful, so full of hate?” And instead of being a bold witness for my God, instead of telling them that they were wrong, that God was full of love, full of grace, I simply kept my mouth shut and watched as they continued to crucify my Lord. Once again, realizing how many times I have played it safe with the Gospel message rather than being a bold witness for my God.
As a preacher and as a person of faith, this text and this sermon lead me to an uncomfortable insight. I am ashamed to say that on more than one occasion, I have not been a bold witness for my God but rather a passive on-looker who denied even knowing Jesus my Lord, fearing what others would think of me, fearing what might happen if I spoke up, worried what people might think of me. I was more worried about myself rather than actively and passionately, being a bold witness for my God.
As I pondered all these things, all I could think about was, “Why is that?” Why have I stood back rather than proclaim the good news?
And I know that I am not alone in this wondering. Many of you have said the same thing to me in passing conversations. You have shared your frustrations that the loudest voice coming from the wider church is one of hate and judgment. You have shared with me your wonderings about why we have kept silent when we have such amazing and life-giving news to share. You have shared your thoughts on why we aren’t sharing the good news about God’s love today.
As I struggled with this text this week, it does seems like we, as modern day disciples, do have a tendency to sit back on the sidelines, letting others tell us what we believe, letting others telling us what the Gospel message really is, letting others tell us that as Christians, we need to play nice. No wonder the modern day church is in decline. We’ve lost our flavor. The fire has been put out. As people of faith, we are not proclaiming the amazing work of God. Instead, the message that we as the church are sending is that we don’t want to make anyone mad. Just come and be comfortable. Come and stay for an hour. Hear some good music. And then leave, not changed or transformed. No wonder no one is inspired by the Church anymore. We have played it safe with the Gospel message instead of being bold witnesses for our God.
So not what Jesus taught us or showed us by his example when he was proclaiming the good new here on earth! In fact, almost every time, Jesus got up to preach, he made someone mad. Almost every time, Jesus healed someone, he made someone mad. Almost every time, Jesus lived out the Gospel message by inviting the tax collectors and prostitutes to dinner, by embracing people on the margin as his brother and sister, by challenging the powers that be, he made someone mad.
Jesus made people mad because he embraced his calling to be a bold witness for our God who from the very beginning has done some outrageous things to show God’s love for all of God’s creation. God sent bread from heaven to feed God’s people even though all they were doing was complaining. God sent prophet after prophet to try and bring back God’s people in right relationship with God even though all they were doing was ignoring God, ignoring the injustices in their midst. God even was born in a dirty manager, taking on the risk of being a newborn baby in a time of oppression and uncertainty even though all the people wanted a mighty warrior to come and save the day. Everything God has done for us has been a testament to God’s bold and daring and life-giving love for God’s creation.
The certain fact is that the Gospel message stirs things up, shakes things up, and yes, makes people mad. The certain fact is that the heart of the Gospel message does not call us to be comforted but to comfort the afflicted, just like Jesus did when he was here on earth, changing lives, transforming lives and making people mad.
As modern day disciples, we are not called to play it safe with the Gospel message. We are called to be bold witnesses for our God. As modern day disciples we must begin to proclaim what we believe because how else is this world going to know about God’s love and grace unless we tell everyone about it! God has done some outrageously wonderful things for us as God’s people. Now is the time to tell about these things, to share our stories, to tell about God’s grace and God’s peace, to be a bold witness to God’s outrageously life giving love for all of God’s people.
As modern day disciples, we must quit playing it safe with the Gospel message and tell our stories. We are called to tell the story, the wonderful wild and dangerous story about how our God who loved us so much that he sent his only Son so that we might live. We are called to tell the story of how we were lost and now we are found. We are called to tell the story of how God’s love changed us and continues to challenge us to be prophets and people of the God’s Kingdom here on earth. Who knows what will and can happen when we truly become bold witnesses for God?
Maybe we might just find our flavor. Maybe we might just find our fire. Maybe we might just start bringing healing and wholeness to this broken world. Maybe we might just experience God’s Kingdom here on earth. May it be so.
See Theology Tuesday for Sunday, June 26, 2022 – Act as A Witness Acts 28: 23-31.
This sermon is also available as a podcast.