Methodist Vows: Witness

Methodist Vows: “Witness”
A Message on Matthew 5:13-14

For Jacksonville First United Methodist Church

Feb. 3, 2019

By Doug Wintermute

dwinterm@yahoo.com

 

Matthew 5:13-14 (NRSV)

 

“You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything, but is thrown out and trampled under foot.

 

14 “You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. 15 No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.

 

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Today we conclude our sermon series on the vow we take as United Methodists to support the church with our “prayers, presence, gifts, service, and witness” by looking at “witness.”

 

Now you may not know it but “witness” is the newcomer to the vow. It was added to the vow after the 2008 General Conference and I think it is well deserved to be there.

 

Now a witness is someone who saw or experienced something and is telling someone else about it.

 

We find the term in the legal profession. During court cases “witnesses” are called to testify on a particular matter. They even have a special name for the place where this takes place called the “witness stand.”

 

And if you watch those tv shows that have court scenes it doesn’t take long to figure out that with very few exceptions the witness can only testify to what he/she witnessed. They cannot testify to what other people told them or one of the attorneys will object on the grounds that that is hearsay and ask the judge not to allow it. They can’t say what others told them, but only their own personal experience, what they witnessed.

 

Years ago when I was a newspaper reporter I covered several court cases, both criminal and civil. I was amazed at how the system works, especially when it comes to witnesses. The lawyers would try to get the witness to say things to support their side. There was always a court reporter typing away on one of those little machines that only they know how to use, and rarely but occasionally the judge would as the court reporter to read back a witnesses testimony. The court reporter would and by golly it would be exactly what they said.

 

Witnesses are a powerful part of court cases.

 

Another thing I liked was when the judge would want something entered into the record and would say, “Let the record so reflect.”

 

The Bible, our record, has a lot to reflect about witnesses. Back in Deuteronomy, which contains a lot of the laws the Hebrew people were to follow, we find this about witnesses: “A single witness shall not suffice to convict a person of any crime or wrongdoing in connection with any offense that may be committed. Only on the evidence of two or three witnesses shall a charge be sustained.”  — Deuteronomy 19:15

 

But when it comes to matters of faith, being a witness has special meaning, and that is what the membership vows are alluding to.

 

We are to tell others what Jesus Christ has done in our lives. We are to be “witnesses” to others sharing with them our faith story.

 

Now if I was to tell you, “Go out and witness to people” you might be reluctant to do so. Witnessing has collected some negative connotations over the years. Those connotations include being overly aggressive (what I call “Bible thumping”), spouting a “turn-or-burn” message, and basically espousing what I call a “Jesus-as-fire-insurance” theology.

 

I’m not in favor of those kinds of witnessing. I think they do more harm than good because they miss the main message that Jesus taught: love.

 

But the problem arises when we who believe that God is love are reluctant to share our faith with anyone because we don’t want to be perceived as “witnessing.”

 

And yet… just because some people give witnessing a bad impression we are not relieved from our obligation, our duty, as Christians to share our faith with others.

 

Listen to these scriptures:

 

“But how are they to call on one in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in one of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone to proclaim him? And how are they to proclaim him unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!” — Romans 10:14-15

 

“But 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.” — Acts 1:8

 

“And he said to them, “Go into all the world and proclaim the good news to the whole creation.” — Mark 16:15

 

Those scriptures (and there are more) tell us that sharing our faith is not something we can opt-out of. We can’t check a little box and say, “Well I’ll be a Christian and I’ll do a lot of these things but I’m going to check the box to opt out of being a witness.”

 

No. If you are to walk in the footsteps of Jesus Christ, if you are going to call yourself a Christian, then sharing your faith is not a option. It is mandatory.

 

Now I will admit it is not comfortable. It will seem uncomfortable and awkward for almost every person here. But God doesn’t call us to the comfortable places because they don’t bring the Kingdom of God on earth. It’s through the uncomfortable places, like witnessing, that we live into the lives God wants us to live.

 

Jesus tells us this directly in the scripture we read today from Matthew’s gospel. Jesus straight up tells his disciples they are to share their faith.

 

Here’s the setup. Jesus gets away from the crowds and goes up on a mountain. His disciples follow him. He then sits down and starts teaching his disciples. He starts off the with what we call the “beatitudes.” “Blessed are the poor in spirit… those who mourn… the meek… etc.

 

The last one says, “Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you. — Matthew 5:11-12

 

And then, after telling them that they are going to persecuted and lied about and treated badly, he tells them to be the salt and light of the world.

 

Here’s verses 13-16 of the scripture we read today but in The Message paraphrase. “Let me tell you why you are here. You’re here to be salt-seasoning that brings out the God-flavors of this earth. If you lose your saltiness, how will people taste godliness? You’ve lost your usefulness and will end up in the garbage.

 

“Here’s another way to put it: You’re here to be light, bringing out the God-colors in the world. God is not a secret to be kept. We’re going public with this, as public as a city on a hill. If I make you light-bearers, you don’t think I’m going to hide you under a bucket, do you? I’m putting you on a light stand. Now that I’ve put you there on a hilltop, on a light stand—shine! Keep open house; be generous with your lives. By opening up to others, you’ll prompt people to open up with God, this generous Father in heaven.”

 

When we are reluctant to witness to others about our faith we put a bushel basket over “this little light of mine.” Instead we should be like the kids song and sing, “If the devil doesn’t like it he can sit on a tack.”

 

So how do we “witness”? Here is a tip:

 

“Make a friend. Be a friend. Lead a friend to Christ.”

 

Start with making a friend. It really is pretty simple to make friends. Listen more than you talk. Be concerned about them. Treat them the way you want to be treated. Be nice. Pray. Show compassion. Be humble.

 

Then be a friend. Keep confidences. Don’t hog the conversations. Don’t make it all about you.  Be caring. Show up. Check in.

 

And then lead that friend to Christ. In the course of your conversations bring up your faith. Tell what difference your faith has made in your life. Tell them personal experiences you have had with Jesus Christ, not in a “I’m holier than you” sense, but more as a sinner saved by grace. Invite them to Sunday School and church. Tell them you’ll be at their house at a particular time to pick them up.

 

Make a friend. Be a friend. Lead a friend to Christ. That’s witnessing.

 

Don’t put your light under a basket. Let it shine.

 

Let the record so reflect.

 

In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Amen.

 

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