Saturday, October 12, 2013

LWML Sunday

Sermon on Luke 24:44-53
For Holy Cross Lutheran Church, Elmwood Park, WI
October 13, 2013 (LWML Sunday)

There are some words that we use both in a church context and a secular context, and we think of very different things depending the context in which the word is used.  One such word is witness.  When someone uses that word in a church context, we usually tend to think of it as a synonym for evangelism, going out and telling people about Jesus.  And that meaning is what has developed from passages like today’s text, where Jesus tells the apostles that they will be His witnesses.  After all, the preaching of the forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation through Jesus’ death and resurrection is what Jesus says they will be doing, and it’s what the Church is still to be about today, and so the word witness really does refer to our proclamation and confession of what happened on that cross and that tomb outside Jerusalem nearly 2,000 years ago, and what it means for us sinners and our relationship to our creator.

But when we hear that word in a secular context, we usually think of something different: a courtroom.  Witnesses are called in to tell the court what they saw, so that the judge and jury can make an informed decision about what happened.  Usually it refers to people who saw or heard the events in question with their own eyes and ears, though sometimes it can simply refer to someone who has knowledge or expertise regarding some aspect of what is alleged to have happened.  In this sense of the word, witnessing simply means that you’ve seen or heard something, and you’re willing to talk about it.

When Jesus was talking to the apostles, the first New Testament pastors, right before His ascension, He was actually using the word in the sense of witnesses in a courtroom.  The eleven had literally seen Jesus crucified, they had seen Him alive again, and watched Him ascend into heaven immediately after He had spoken these words.  They were to testify (sometimes literally in court!) concerning what they had personally seen and heard regarding the basic facts of Christianity: God the Son became man, died bearing the guilt of our sins, and was raised for our justification, and therefore we too, though we die to this old world, will one day rise again to live before God in righteousness and purity forever.

Now, here’s the question: since we were born close to 2,000 years later, and we didn’t see His death and resurrection with our physical eyes, can we really call ourselves witnesses?  After all, we’re the ones Jesus is talking about when He says, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”  Can we really count ourselves as His witnesses?  Or is that a word that is only reserved for the apostles and not to the generations to come?

Well, here’s the thing.  God’s Word is no ordinary word.  It doesn’t just describe things, it creates what it declares.  The reason God can’t lie is because His Word is Truth by definition.  What that means is that when He says something that isn’t yet true, reality itself conforms itself to what He says.  And that means that when God’s Word says that we are crucified and risen with Him, it’s true.  And as that Word is proclaimed down through the ages, heard by Christians and then confessed by them to those they meet, it’s not mere hearsay.  The Word does what it says.  Which means that the salvation accomplished by Jesus on the cross is our salvation, His death is our death, and His resurrection is our life.  It really happened to us, and therefore we also are His eyewitnesses.  Even under persecution and the threat of death, Christians testify faithfully what they have seen and heard by becoming dead to their sins and alive to God in Christ Jesus.

And so, witnessing is not about us.  When someone is on the witness stand, he’s not supposed to talk about how he felt about the events he describes, or what those events did for him personally, he’s simply supposed to describe the events themselves.  What those events mean to him personally doesn’t help anybody decide a court case.  The facts (to quote detective Friday), are what matters.  In other words, witnesses are supposed to be objective, not subjective.  And that’s true of Christian witnessing as well.  It’s not about how our own lives have been changed or how we feel about Jesus, it’s all about what He did for us in order to bring us out of sin and death to eternal life.

And so, its the objective report, the objective description, of what Jesus did for us that forms the content of our witness.  But it is precisely through that report, that testimony that the Holy Spirit works.  God’s Word really does do what it says.  Even today, when His Word is proclaimed from the pulpit and confessed by Christians wherever they may be, the Word creates in its hearers the reality of repentance from sin and faith toward God.  And, because we ourselves are sinners, it’s the power of the Word itself, not any power within ourselves, that does the converting.  The Holy Spirit Himself makes His hearers into those who can report concerning what they have seen and heard.

That’s simply what Christians do.  They testify concerning what they have seen and heard.  It’s what we do every Sunday morning as we say and sing back to God and to one another what He first spoke to us.  It’s what we do when, in our natural conversations with our friends and neighbors, the subject of our faith becomes the topic of conversation and we get the opportunity to tell the good news of what Jesus did for them as well.  And it’s what we do in more organized fashion when the Church sends missionaries and pastors out to preach that Word publicly.  It’s what we do when we support those missionaries in various ways, using the time, talents, and treasure He has given each of us.  In our own church body, the Lutheran Women’s Missionary League has been a very successful organization at organizing and focusing that support, not to mention encouraging and assisting its own members to testify when and where the opportunity arises to the great things they’ve seen and heard concerning Jesus’ death and resurrection.  This is a valuable service which has promoted in many, many ways the witness to Jesus Christ throughout the world, and we certainly give thanks for everything that has been accomplished by means of this organization.

But, even though it is a good thing to recognize and thank God for what He has done through this and other organizations, the testimony itself is not about us.  It’s not about what we may have done for the kingdom.  It’s not even about what the LWML has done for the kingdom, or the Cross and Crown Society.  It’s about what God does for us in sending Jesus to die and rise again, in washing us clean from our sins by joining us to that death and resurrection, and in giving us His own body to eat and His blood to drink.  That’s what we testify.  That’s what God proclaims through us.  That’s what the Word does, as we witness, as we testify, what happened to us in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

+Soli Deo Gloria+

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