I will be asking you to consider the following scripture during our worship and following discussion this Sunday in DiscipleChurch. Through this passage, the author witnesses to Jesus’ last instruction to those who wanted to be his disciples.
ACTS OF THE APOSTLES 1
6 So when they had come together, they asked him, ‘Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?’ 7He replied, “It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority. 8But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
All of the writings of our New Testament were intended to “witness” to Jesus to those small gatherings of people who were already attempting to follow Jesus, as well as to those to whom Jesus and his Way were not yet known. These were written at a time when the followers of the Way, as the church was first known, were a tiny, tiny minority in the Roman Empire. Because these disciples believed that there is only one God for everyone and for all of creation and that Jesus was this one and only God’s only true and thorough incarnation, it followed that “witnessing” was critical to their calls to discipleship.
More and more, we find ourselves in a similar position to these first followers. The age of Christendom, when the church predominated and its message(s) was generally accepted, is past. And I don’t see it coming back in our lifetimes. So more and more, you and I encounter people who question the witness of the church to the one and only true God and this God’s witness to us, if you will, through Jesus. More and more you and I encounter people who think our witnessing to this Truth is self-centered and foolish. More and more you and I encounter people who most definitely and militantly question the value of the institutions of the church. But if we believe, as the first disciples did, that there is only one God for everyone and for all creation, and that Jesus is the true and thorough incarnation of this God’s Nature and Way and Truth and Life, then surely we see that we too are called to “witness” to all this, and that this calling is not peripheral, but is central, to our discipleship.
But all of us, I am bold to say, have encountered “witnessing” that seemed self-serving, and pretentious, and intrusive. And, more and more, this culture is turning to insular individualism for its spirituality. This culture says increasingly: The only true and powerful relationship between God and humans comes one-on-one. “Truth” is only given and received individually. What is true for me is not necessarily true for you; so don’t tell me what is true for me. That is between me and my God. Or….nothing is true that cannot be touched and weighed and proven scientifically. There is no spirit. There is no mystery, but only the unknown. There is no room in creation and in a mature mind for God–unless the word “God” is merely a summary symbol of the totality of the physical laws of the universe. Nothing is true with a capital “T.” All is relative.
So I suspect that some of us are uncomfortable “witnessing” to our faith for all of the above reasons, even if we could figure out how we are called to make this witness.
Yet you and I still come to church, which is to say that you and I become “we” and gather together in “witness” to the one true God of all and God’s only Son Jesus. And we still struggle to find our voice and way to witness.
Sunday, I am suggesting that we consider the “power” that is referred to in this passage, and the “witnessing” we are called to as well. Maybe along the way, we can realize why it is that we gather together as a “church” at all.