Sunday, April 26, 2009

show and tell

While the disciples were telling how they had seen Jesus risen from the dead, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, "Peace be with you." They were startled and terrified, and thought that they were seeing a ghost. He said to them, "Why are you frightened, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? Look at my hands and my feet; see that it is I myself. Touch me and see; for a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have." And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet. While in their joy they were disbelieving and still wondering, he said to them, "Have you anything here to eat?" They gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he took it and ate in their presence. Then he said to them, "These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you-- that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled." Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, and he said to them, "Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things."

I’d like to begin by telling a story that, to be honest, is kind of fuzzy – but it’s a story that a woman named Caroline tells me every time that I see her. And when I think of growing up, I think of Caroline. Caroline was my babysitter from like 1985 – 2004. And when I hear the word witness, I think of Caroline. Because Caroline loved to tell people about Jesus. To use an evangelical term, she’d “witness” to everyone she met – including John Newton at the age of five. And so one night Caroline sat me down and she told me that God loved me and that Jesus died for my sins. I think had just spilled my juice box onto the carpet, I was feeling really guilty, and so Caroline seized what she saw as a missional opportunity. And so Caroline explained that it didn’t matter how many “juice boxes that I spilled” because Jesus died for my sins. Well, after hearing the news, I became concerned. And so looking at Caroline with all the intensity that I could muster, I asked her – “does Suzie know this?” Suzie, by the way, was my best friend and kindergarten compatriot. And to make a long story short, Suzie had not yet heard the good news of the Christian gospel, because I cornered Suzie the next day by the monkey bars, and tried to explain to her that Jesus died for her sins. Anyway, that’s the short version of how I became the playground missionary in kindergarten.

Sadly, this was by no means my last effort to convert my kindergarten. “Show and tell” provided a marquee opportunity to witness to my peers – back in the day, 30 seconds and a weekly audience was all I needed. I brought a cross necklace to one of them, a prayer book to another. And so while some kids brought their pet frog to “show and tell”; I brought news of the resurrected Christ.

In today’s Gospel, two disciples bring the good news of the resurrected Christ to the eleven apostles. Now remember – in the context of Luke’s Gospel – it’s still Easter day. And so far only two people have seen Jesus alive, and in today’s Gospel, they’re the ones telling the others that Jesus has risen from the dead. But before they can even finish, Jesus appears directly in their midst and does a little “show and tell” of his own – Jesus shows them his scars, and he tells them to be at peace. And then after eating some leftover snapper, Jesus gives them a commission: “you are witnesses.” In other words, Jesus tells them “you’ve seen something spectacular. You’ve spoken to me. You’ve touched my scars. For God’s sake, I just ate a piece of fish. There can be no doubt that I am really alive. And you – you are witnesses.”

And so the question we need to consider is, what does it mean for us to be a witness? After all, is that not the question our Gospel leaves us with? You see, being a witness is something the early church took quite seriously. In fact, in today’s reading from Acts, Peter shows the people something amazing – a lame man is completely healed. And after showing, Peter tells them about the power God, about the same creative power that brought Jesus back to life. And in his own version of “show and tell,” Peter repeats the exact words of Jesus – “to this we are witnesses.” Thirteen times Luke uses this one phrase to describe the entire mission of the early church. For Luke, to be a disciple is to be a witness. And so it might be worth considering, what does it mean for us to be a witness?

At least in our world, the word witness is all about telling. We see something, or we experience something, and then we tell others what happened. For example, if we see a car crash, we’ll have to stick around and tell the police officer what we saw. And if for some reason it goes to court, we’ll be called in as a witness. In other words, we’ll have to tell the court what happened. And so the act of “telling” is, if nothing else, part of what it means to be a witness. After all, that’s where today’s Gospel begins – with two disciples telling the others what they saw. But notice, Luke doesn’t say that they were “witnessing,” and like I mentioned before, that’s a word Luke uses a lot. In other words, witnessing may involve telling – but in and of itself, the act of telling just isn’t enough. As disciples of Jesus Christ, we are called to do more.

I have to say, I find it interesting that the Greek word we translate “witness” is martus. If that word sounds familiar, it’s where we get the English word martyr. Now, I’m well aware that words evolve – and the word martyr doesn’t always have a good connotation in our culture. But for the first Christians, being a martyr was first and foremost about being committed to showing – to showing the world the Gospel in action.

“You are witnesses of these things” Jesus told his first apostles. One can’t help but see the irony of his words. According to legend, Peter was crucified upside down. James was stoned. Bartholomew was beheaded. Of the eleven, only John died a natural death. The other ten were martyred. Could they have avoided such a death? Probably – but how else could they show – what better witness could they have given to our world – that death had forever been defeated – that Jesus was really alive?

And so the question I leave us with this week is, what do our lives show? If it’s true that our lives speak, what story are we telling? You see, the question isn’t whether or not we are a witness. The question is – what are we witnessing to?

You see, at the end of the day, this life God’s gifted each of us with – it’s all “show and tell.” And so as disciples of Jesus, be committed to showing our world the Gospel in action. Because whether we like it or not, our life speaks – and so let yours tell the story of Jesus’ resurrection. Show people a sacrificial love so extravagant that they never could have imagined it possible, and tell them about the sacrifice Jesus made for them. Show people a kindness, a patience, a trust, a forgiveness so extravagant that they never could have imagined it possible, and then tell them about the awesome character of God. Show people your own wounds – the scars on your hands and the holes in your feet – and then tell them to be at peace because Jesus has risen from the dead.

Because in my experience, there aren’t a lot of Suzie’s out there who haven’t yet heard the good news of the Christian gospel. But there are tons of people who haven’t seen it. And as disciples of Jesus, we are his witnesses. And this life that God’s gifted each of us with – it’s all “show and tell.” Bring news of the resurrected Christ.

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