03/31/13 Sermon (March 31, 2013) Easter “We Are Witnesses”

posted Apr 1, 2013, 3:16 PM by David Hawkins   [ updated Apr 1, 2013, 3:16 PM ]

03/31/13 Sermon (March 31, 2013) Easter

“We Are Witnesses”

John 20:1-18 (Liturgist)

Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb.
So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.”
Then Peter and the other disciple set out and went toward the tomb. The two were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He bent down to look in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he did not go in. Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen wrappings lying there, and the cloth that had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself.
Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead. Then the disciples returned to their homes.
But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet. They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?”
She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” When she had said this, she turned round and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus.
Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? For whom are you looking?”
Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.”
Jesus said to her, “Mary!”
She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni!” (which means Teacher).
Jesus said to her, “Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’”
Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”; and she told them that he had said these things to her.

Acts 10:34-43  (Liturgist)

Then Peter began to speak to them: “I truly understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him. You know the message he sent to the people of Israel, preaching peace by Jesus Christ — he is Lord of all. That message spread throughout Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John announced: how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power; how he went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him.
“We are witnesses to all that he did both in Judea and in Jerusalem. They put him to death by hanging him on a tree; but God raised him on the third day and allowed him to appear, not to all the people but to us who were chosen by God as witnesses, and who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one ordained by God as judge of the living and the dead. All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”

Sermon: “We Are Witnesses”

You know, the word ‘Witness’ is a kind of scary word for us Presbyterians. We have heard it used too often, and the witnessing we have experienced repels rather than intrigues. We are used to a witness that focuses on judgement and threats of cosmic punishment, rather than love or forgiveness.

For many folks, the word witness carries with it connotations of tract-carrying zealots, apocalyptic cults, exclusionary theology, and hard-sell tactics that leave us feeling guilty, uncertain, and vaguely angry.

The very idea of ‘witnessing’ in the name of Christ, for most of us, is unpleasant at best.

But I wonder if it has to be like that. I wonder if we haven’t forgotten what witnessing really is. I wonder if there might be a way to rehabilitate this idea of witnessing, to reclaim it from those who would use it to force their own agenda down unwilling throats.

We see many kinds of witnessing in our scriptures today. Mary witnesses an empty tomb. She comes to the grave thinking that she knew where Jesus was, in fact, she had left him there after he died, she had helped Joseph of Arimathea lay him down. If there was one thing she knew in life, it was that Jesus was dead, and the grace, the forgiveness, and the healing that he had brought to the world was all over, it was finished. She knew that.

But she was wrong. And when she came to the tomb, she witnessed a new thing. Jesus was gone. And so she did the only thing she could think of. She told the others. But, they couldn’t believe her. Because they were just as sure as she was that he was dead. Now, they had scattered like cockroaches when the time came for Jesus to be tried and executed, so maybe there was a hint of guilt in their reluctance to believe her.

But still. They knew Jesus was dead, dead, dead, and yet here’s this woman, the woman from whom Jesus had thrown out 7 demons, here she is trying to convince them that Jesus was not, in fact, in the tomb.

I guess it’s natural they couldn’t take her word for it, that they had to see for themselves. And so they went to the tomb. And they witnessed something new as well.

But Mary saw something that the others didn’t. She saw Jesus himself. She was in his presence once again, heard his voice, felt his love, and she knew that Jesus was alive.

And so despite the fact that Mary was perhaps the most unlikely of witnesses, she was the first. She was the one chosen by Jesus to spread the news. Not Peter, not James, not John. Mary was the one Jesus appeared to, Mary was the first one Jesus talked to. Not because she the fastest, the smartest, the richest, the most holy, the most perfect. But because she showed up. And so did Jesus. Jesus is always showing up in the strangest places.

In our story from Acts, Peter finds himself witnessing to a Gentile named Cornelius, a Roman Centurion, unclean, an enemy, a member of the oppressing Roman Army. Peter, against all of his upbringing, against all of his religious beliefs, against everything that he thinks is holy, is in this man’s house, talking to him about Jesus Christ. Not because Peter was the sharpest tool in the bucket. Not because Peter was the most faithful, not because Peter had a particularly good track record when it came to evangelizing outside his own circle of friends.

But because he showed up. And so did Jesus. Jesus is always showing up in the strangest places.

Mary and Peter have this in common. When the time came to speak, they spoke. And they shared what they had seen. Not what they had expected to see. Not what they thought they should have seen. And certainly not what other people were sure that they had seen.

But what they themselves had experienced of Jesus’ love, forgiveness, healing power, and his resurrection. That Jesus was not dead, that he was alive, and that meant that sin no longer has any power over us, that we are freed from our fear of death. And when they spoke, Jesus showed up.

And that is what witnessing is. It’s much simpler than we try to make it. Because when it comes right down to it, we can only share that which we have experienced. If we have not experienced forgiveness in our lives, we cannot witness to it. If we have not experienced grace in our lives, we cannot witness to it. If we have not experienced love in our lives, we cannot witness to it.

But if we have, we know what to say.

But that doesn’t mean it’s easy.

The disciples didn’t believe Mary when she told them that Jesus was alive. They had to see it for themselves. When Peter’s church found out that he had spoken to a Gentile, that he had eaten with a Gentile, that he had shared the Gospel with a Gentile, they were furious with him. How dare he share the gospel of God’s love with the enemy, with an unclean Roman soldier?

But this is what it means to be a witness. Witnesses do not convert. Witnesses do not persuade. Witnesses do not coerce. Witnesses do not manipulate, pressure, pester, or force.

They just show up. And testify to that which they themselves have experienced. And that’s when Jesus reveals himself for who he really is.

Today is Easter Sunday, and the church around the world is celebrating with us the witness of Jesus Christ in his life and ministry. We remember that in his death and resurrection Jesus testifies to God’s love and compassion, that God so loved the world, that he would come down, and walk with us, Emmanuel. Jesus Christ testifies to us that God so desired a relationship with us, that he took the burden of our sin upon himself, and utterly destroyed it. And when Jesus Christ rose again, he testifies to us that there is nothing that stands between us and God, not even death.

But all of this means nothing, if we ourselves have not felt the peace that comes with accepting the forgiveness that is so freely offered to us. Beloved of God, know this: You are forgiven. No matter what you have done, no matter what you have not done, you are invited to step out from behind the shadow of the cross, and enjoy the warmth of a new day.

Come to the table, and taste that God is Good. Come to the table, and drink the cup of salvation. Know that you are free from the burdens you carry, should you decide to put them down. Let go of those things that you don’t need, or want, and be at peace.

My friends, we are witness to a mighty God. And we need have no fear of telling anyone, regardless of race, ethnicity, sex, social status, education,  religion, or even political persuasion that they are loved by God, and that in Jesus Christ, their sin is forgiven. We simply need to show up, and testify to the love and grace that we ourselves have felt.

Because Jesus Christ is Lord of all. And he is risen, indeed.

Thanks be to God. Amen.