1 John 3:1-7
I don’t like the word witness. I REALLY am uncomfortable with the phrase ‘a witness for Christ’ or something similar to that. It throws me back to how many times I’ve witnessed a witness for Christ being a person I never want to associate with.
The first witness that comes to my mind is my old college’s street witness. This witness would come and stand on the sidewalk, get a megaphone, and start screaming at we students as we walked to and from class. I passed him one day wearing jeans and he pointed to me FORNICATOR! WEARING MEN’S CLOTHES! SINNER!
I saw a classmate go up to him once and ask, “What are you doing? No one listens to this hate.”
I AM WITNESSING TO CHRIST!
He helped convince me to run as far away from Christianity as I could by the time college ended.
That kind of witnessing is religious violence.
Now, of course, if we’re talking about witnessing, we should mention Jehovah’s Witnesses. Jehovah is one way of saying the holy name of God, so their name means God’s Witnesses. One of their core beliefs is they MUST witness. MUST tell others about God.
So as you know, door to door, they go in nicely pressed clothes handing out fliers about God and inviting people to converse.
The good side is this is not violent. It isn’t spreading hate. And it testifies – witnesses – to their convictions.
The bad side is when they show up on Easter morning.
Should we be going door to door talking about our faith? We’d definitely know our neighbors much better. We’d be living into Jesus’ words to bring word of repentance and forgiveness of sins to all nations.
But would we be living into the Great Commission to make disciples of all nations?
That, I don’t know.
Witnessing, testifying about Jesus, speaking about one’s faith, is such a personal thing. Some people respond well to sermons. Some people respond well with coffee conversations. Some people need to see others living their convictions and their impact on the world.
And that’s what makes me uncomfortable with the word witness. What others witness is me: and I hope they see Jesus in my actions.
But they might just witness who I think Jesus is, and not the Christ who is larger than any individual, congregation, or denomination.
Let me give you an example of witnessing that I run into most often. It’s made up, but happens all the time.
There’s a way too happy woman at the checkout lane. She’s almost bouncing where she stands. And as you pass her, she hands you a little leaflet of paper and says, “Have you found your Lord and Savior?”
Now, if I say yes – she’s going to be bubbly and want to talk about how her Lord and Savior is identical to mine. He’s a white man, with blue eyes, who hates the same people she hates and loves the same people she loves. And if I say, “You know, Jesus wasn’t into the hate thing…” the conversation is going to close that happiness off on her. She’s going to get defensive. Angry. I may even hurt her faith by pointing out how the education she’s received at her church, and the Jesus she knows, are not the same education I get at my church, and not the Jesus I know.
On the other hand – if I say no, I haven’t found my Lord and Savior – she’s going to hand me the track and invite me to her church and want me to pray – be convinced she saved my soul today – and she’ll walk away feeling fantastic for hours.
What do I do? Challenge her faith, lie to her, just accept the paper, say nothing, and walk on?
Honestly, that’s the one I usually do. Accept the paper, say nothing, walk on.
I don’t witness to the witness. And her story is the one that gets pushed out. Her story is the Christian story shown on television — where there are a cult of people who act holier-than-thou, who are close-minded, who reject science, who hate those who are different, and who have their eyes on heaven to the point they don’t care about this earth at all — just the salvation of souls.
Frequently, that story is your body is dying. Your body is fallen. Your body is evil. The world is evil. Only the soul matters.
Little children, let no one deceive you. There is more than one Christian narrative. More than one story.
Right from the beginning of Jesus’ arrival as gossip in ancient Israel, people began asking who is Jesus? What is Jesus? Jesus himself asks, “Who is it you say that I am?”
Some say he is a human. A human who God has gifted prophecy, and miracles.
Some say he is the anointed, the Christ, the messiah – who was prophesied about. A foretold leader.
Some say he is a spirit. A spirit who took on a body for awhile, and then took it off.
Some say he is the Word, the Logos, of God, who comes as angels in the Old testament and Jesus in the gospels.
Some say he is wholly God who came into the world as a human to join us more closely.
“Who is it that you say I am?”
Each gospel writer, and even the letters of Paul and in Acts, are trying to answer this question. Who is Jesus?
Luke today witnesses. He writes down the story as he was told it, or witnessed it. Jesus appeared to the disciples. And everyone was terrified because they KNOW Jesus is dead. They saw him dead. They buried him. And yet, here he stands. So they think he is a ghost. While they are panicking yelling ‘ghost!’ Jesus shows them his hands and feet. Maybe he wanted them to see the wounds from the crucifixion. Maybe he wanted them to see he HAD hands and feet, because ghosts at the time were understood to be sort of the floating ghosts whose extremities tapered off into smoke and the ghost sort of hovered over the floor.
Then, and now, we say you can’t TOUCH a ghost. And Jesus invites those men and women — touch me. See. I’m here. I have flesh and bones.
Who is Jesus? Not a ghost.
To further demonstrate he’s alive, Jesus asks for food and eats fish with them.
Who is Jesus? Not a ghost – but some man living who can appear up from the dead and walk through locked doors.
Jesus tells these joyful, astonished people to go and witness — tell about, speak about — what they’ve seen and experienced to all nations. Go and proclaim repentance and forgiveness of sins.
So they do. They go and witness. They go and talk.
And as soon as they do, as you know, people begin to say they’re delusional, drunk, and out of their minds. Who is Jesus? The apostles and early church mothers and fathers struggled to answer this question.
As they began to testify, beginning in Jerusalem and spreading to all nations, they had to use the local language. They had to use local ideas. And they had to use their own understanding of Jesus.
There was confusion on who and what Jesus was when he walked the earth. Magnify that with a resurrection and by several thousand people playing a game of telephone, and you know how crazy different the stories about Jesus got.
After sixty to a hundred years of this, there are stories running around everywhere about who Jesus is, what he did, and where he is now. Our John letter today is either a sermon, or a letter, written by John or about John’s gospel. He says:
Okay – look. Here are the things we know. We are loved by God. So much, we’re called the children of God.
What does that mean? We don’t know. Maybe we’re adopted by God. Maybe we’re angels. Maybe we’re somewhat divine. Maybe we’re God’s children because God made us all. We don’t know.
“What we will be has not yet been revealed.”
The author then continues, we don’t know what resurrection means either. We can only testify what we’ve been told — Jesus came back to life, appeared to people and they recognized him sometimes on sight, and sometimes only in his words, and the breaking of bread. Jesus comes in visions, and Jesus comes as a Spirit among us. Jesus appears and disappears and yet we have stories of him being tangibly there. We have no idea what resurrection means. But what we do know is this: when Jesus is fully revealed, we’ll be like him. And we’ll see him as he is. Not dimly. Not with doubts in our hearts and confusion. We’ll be like those early apostles, like “doubting” Thomas, and be filled with joy and finally have understanding. Our minds will be opened to understanding.
But right now? We see through the mirror darkly. We understand things in starts and spurts, but we’re not yet there — face to face with God — to ask.
We just know this: God loves us. We are God’s children. And there is resurrection.
Peace. Be still.
What will be is not yet revealed.
I feel like arguing with our scripture – that is great. Sure. No one knows what the future holds. But how are you supposed to talk about Jesus then? And who is was and is, and what he did and does, and our hope if we cannot fathom the future?
The writer of the letter of John says: your hope is the resurrection in Christ. Whatever that is, now and in the future.
And then Jesus reminds us to just speak about what we know now. What we experience now.
It’s sort of like… not a single person can really communicate who Jesus is. It’s one of those things you have to experience for yourself.
And two people might see the same movie, and one think it is all about female-empowerment and the other think it is all about true love.
Each person experiences the same Jesus, but we come away with just DIFFERENT experiences. DIFFERENT understandings.
And we can only witness and testify to the Jesus we encountered.
Together, our voices get closer to the truth… but the full truth won’t be revealed until we stand before God face-to-face.
I think back on the witnesses earlier in this sermon. Each was and is testifying who they know their Lord to be. The street preacher knows Jesus as the man who cleaned out the temple with a whip, who yelled ‘get behind me Satan!’ to his own closest friend, and who said it is better to pluck out your eye than to let it sin. A Jesus of preaching. Maybe he is yet to meet the Jesus of peace and love.
The Jehovah’s witnesses know Jesus who save his followers nothing but their clothes and a staff and sent them out, town to town, to preach. The Jesus who walked hundreds of miles on sore feet, and who inspired a woman to wash those abused feet with her own tears and hair. A Jesus who stopped and spoke with all people. A Jesus of relationships. Maybe the ones I have met are yet to meet the Jesus of solitary prayer in the garden.
And the witness handing out Bibles or tracks. She knows the Jesus drenched in scripture, quoting proverbs and psalms and prophets. She knows the Jesus who Paul wrote about, the source of unexplainable joy. She knows the Jesus who commissioned us all to be ministers, witnesses, priests. A Jesus of actions. Maybe she hasn’t yet encountered the still speak, still creating, unpredictable God larger than scripture.
And me. I know the Jesus of peace, but do I know the Jesus of justice?
All of us know Jesus. He just looks really different among us… but he’s still the same Jesus.
Maybe that’s why we’re all called to witness. No one has a monopoly on Jesus. Everyone’s Jesus looks and acts and thinks and feels pretty similar to themselves. So we need each other. We need these other views of Christ to help us understand.
No two relationships looks alike, and this is good. Since we each have a personal relationship with Christ, that relationship is going to look different than other’s.
It makes the ears need the eyes, and the eyes need the toes, and the toes need the hands, and everyone needs the unmentionable parts…
We know God as a mystical trinity – a God who is only God in relationship.
Who is in communion. Communication. Sharing. Witnessing.
What does witnessing look like to you? Preaching, relationships, actions? Prayers, lifestyles, writing?
Who is Jesus to you? A spirit? A mortal man? A Jewish Rabbi? God? Christ? Messiah? Adopted? Incarnate? A miracle worker or prophet?
Go. Witness the truth of the Jesus you encounter.
And go. Hear the truth of the Jesus others encounter.