We have finally reached the end of this sermon series and we have come to this word that we hear all the time, but very few of us actually truly understand its deep meaning. Within our individual faiths we are called to be a part of a greater mission to spread the Gospel of Christ all over the world. In this mission we live lives that show that faith. We become part of a community that yearns for us to grow, and live our lives to show the Gospel.
The root of this nature is defined in our vows as this idea of witness. Witness becomes that manner in which we share the message of Christ. As we examine participating in the ministries of the church with our witness we examine the way that we ourselves both live and share our faith not only in our congregations, but also to those outside of our church.
To offer our witness means we are willing to and actively sharing our story. As we examine this last promise that we make in this vow we examine our willingness to vocalize who we are and what our lives are about. It is taking those formative faith experiences, creating a story, and not being afraid to tell it over and over again.
Sycamore UMC, from right down the road in Prince George, VA, writes on their website:
“In a courtroom, witnesses are expected to offer faithful accounts of an event. In the family of Christ, we have seen and experienced the transforming love of God in Christ. Our witness to the world is to offer a faithful account of the truth we know, the freedom and power of God’s love to change the world. Our witness shines in the way we live our daily lives, and in how we share the story of God’s love—the good news of Jesus Christ—with a hungry and hurting world.” (http://www.sycamoreumc.com/Membership)
It is about sharing what we have experienced so that others can have a glimpse at God’s great power through us.
Whether you feel like it or not we all have a story. Sometimes it is about finding what your story is. Sometimes it is gathering the courage to be able to share that story. But the bottom line is that through the way that we live and the stories that we tell we offer this witness to the love and grace of Christ. We offer it right here in our local church congregation, and we offer it to the world when we leave church and live our lives outside these four walls.
The story told here in John 1 is an example of the story we hold onto ourselves, and through the opening and the actions of John the Baptist we learn not only about the key point of the story but we also gain good advice for sharing the story ourselves.
Once you break all of these vows down they don’t seem as bad as we make them out to be, but witness truly is one of those ones we attach so much stigma to, but it basically means to live out the Gospel and to share it others. To do that uses your witness for the good not only of the local church, but for the good of God as well.
So what does John teach us?
Again from John we learn the crux of the story we share with others, and the manner in which we share it.
It begins with the testimony we are all called to share. As I began I noted that we all have a witness. We all have our own experience and we use that experience to share the Gospel. However, there is one part of the story that is called to remain the same in all that we share and that is the message of Jesus Christ and the work done through Jesus for God and in the sending of the Holy Spirit.
Right here in the first verses we get that witness:
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.” (John 1:1-5)
and we continue to get in verses 14-18, but we find that John is setting the stage for the Gospel. He is trying to draw you in to what the message. This is a message of grace and love.
So then where does our story come in?
Our story takes this idea we pull from John. It is taking that story of Jesus. Jesus who calls sinners and saints alike. Jesus who calls us from where we are and brings us into relationship.
That is your story. Think back on your life and pull out those instances where you knew Jesus was there. Those stories are your witness and are what you take with you throughout your life. With those stories you show people that God is an interactive God. That God cares about us and that God’s grace is not a cheap or hollow grace, but it is a deep and meaningful grace that calls us to relationship, presence, and growth.
Everyone has a witness. Everyone who believes in Christ has a witness and that is why witness is part of this list, because when we all recognize our witness we are called not just by the Church but by God to share it.
And when we share it we share it in a way that not only shares the Gospel, but shows the Gospel as well. You see this is where I always got confused as a kid because in church I heard about this loving and merciful God who was filled with grace and cared for and wanted to best from humanity. However, when I heard street preachers or conversed with some of my friends they portrayed this angry God who expected perfection from humanity or they were doomed to hell.
It didn’t make sense because if God truly loved humanity why would Christians be so mean and judgmental to others and condemning them and say such mean things about God? Or even why is it if they are trying to spread the Gospel of Christ why are they not acting like him? These questions plagued my youth and plague much of Christianity today as well. The witness we share is not the witness we get from the Bible, because we often forget three important things that John the Baptist teaches us right here in the first chapter of John.
We have to remember in our witnessing to the Gospel that we do it in humility, that we share love and grace, and not judgement or condemnation, and that we most of all share Christ. When we hold these ideals close it shouldn’t matter who the person is we our sharing this witness with. It shouldn’t matter what they believe, who they are, the way they act, or anything all that will matter is that in our lives we live out the witness Christ intended for us to live out. It is not about correcting any of the fallacies we might see with the human race, but it is simply about loving and sharing God’s message of love for all to see and hear.
John the Baptist’s humility comes out in his interaction with the priests and the Levites. (John 1:19-28) John does not seek to raise himself up and make himself seem more important than the message he is supposed to share. Often times we view ourselves more highly than we view the message we are called to share. We seek to input our own views into the Gospel that don’t exist. However, Jesus gave us the clear message of love to share and that should be our intentions to share.
It can be so hard not to judge someone. We see them as different and we often immediately want to lump them in a category and either say they are worthy or not of God’s love because of who they are. However, we continue to read over and over that that is not the way it is meant to be. Jesus’ love showed forth no matter the situation. Jesus handle his ministry and his witness in a manner that showed that all were worthy of the love of God. You didn’t have to pass some test or be perfect to come forward. You just needed to want to have a loving relation with God.
Again this is where these vows become so misconstrued for us, because we try to set our own terms as to what our faith should look like. We try to create our own witness, which is great, but we completely forget the true Gospel that goes along with our witness.
This word witness is an old word as we can see in our Bibles and throughout our Christian tradition, but witness is a new word in our hymnals. In fact if you look in the hymnals in your pew, on page 38 in the baptismal covenant, at the vow we have been looking at these past five weeks you won’t even see it in there. That’s because before 2008 it wasn’t a part of our baptismal liturgy.
However, in 2008 that changed. In 2008 the General Conference of the United Methodist Church voted to add witness to this list. Why? This is what they said:
“When the Association of Annual Conference Lay Leaders submitted its proposal to Discipleship Ministries, our Board agreed that the vows of ‘prayers, presence, gifts and service’ were primarily ‘inwardly’ focused and institutional in character. They offered little insight or inspiration for disciples of Jesus Christ to engage in God’s mission of transforming the world. Though in an earlier vow those seeking professing membership promise to be ‘Christ’s representatives in the world’, there was no reflection of that baptismal promise in the vows of membership in a local congregation. Adding ‘and witness’ to the list may help our members, new and old, to recognize their responsibilities not only to ‘show up,’ but to ‘show forth’ God’s saving love in all that we do.”
That is why witness is so important, because unpromising our witness to the ministries of our local congregations is a reaffirmation that we will uphold the entire baptismal covenant both within our local congregation and all over the world no matter where we may be.
That is our ultimate promise. In all of these vows we are saying we want to be active participants in the Kingdom of God. Through our prayers, presence, gifts, service, and witness we offer ourselves to be engulfed by the Kingdom of God, and we allow the Kingdom to continue to change and grow us as we live out our faith in our everyday lives.
So take what you have learned here and be not just members here in this church, but take it further and use these vows to deepen your relationship as a disciple of God.