Theme: We all witness – know it or not!
John 15:1-17, 26-27 & Psalm 118:22-29
Lord, may your faithful love be with us. We put our hope in you. NIV
You know the saying – kids are always watching –so we must be on our best behavior? Well I think people are always watching. ~ Even when you think no one sees you, or no one hears you, sometimes they do! People form opinions and make judgements about the priorities in our lives by watching what we do. Walking the walk is even more important than talking the talk.
That’s why I say we all witness, know it or not.
Sometimes we unknowingly experience and even imitate what others do –like a cough or a yawn or a smile – or the famous McDonalds “yes” nod…. “You want large fries with that, right?”
Some time ago, I started to feel awkward when asked “how was your weekend?” and even more awkward about responding with something like “oh the usual, quiet, it was fine” or worse – “oh, nothing special.” Really? I’m here every Sunday!
It’s the typical response… lots of people say it… But I realize that what I’m not saying is that attending worship here at Faith is often a high point in my weekend. I take it for granted. I expect it to be good. It something I always do..
And I look forward to it. I know it’s a “special” time, I appreciate it, but I’m starting to wonder if those who know I’m a “church lady” hear my response and think that regular church attendance isn’t valuable.
What I am not sharing in my response is my love for this church, my passion for worship or my willingness to talk about my faith ~ or theirs!
I know I’m not alone in being shy about “witness” once I go out of these ever-loving doors. Years ago we completed a spiritual gifts inventory for almost every Faith friend – and guess what – there were very few people with the gift of evangelism. And I was not one of them!
Even so I’d like to spend this few minutes focusing on how we witness to our friends, acquaintances, workmates, family – especially to those who don’t already share our excitement for God, or our church. Particularly our God.
Let’s start with our church friends.
Are we excited to be here? Great!
I bet we’ll go home thinking about something we have experienced today. I know I always do!
We’ll want to share / witness – as it says in our mission statement… and some of you are comfortable with that. (The rest of us admire that about you!)
For me, it’s a process. When I hear the spontaneous, “how was your weekend?” question, I wonder “Whoa – how can I fit all of the inspiration of Sunday worship into a single sentence!?! Impossible!” Honestly, even choosing “the best thing about worship this week was___” is difficult for me, because I love every bit of this experience! I just know they won’t understand, So, sadly, I don’t even try.
OK, so back to the question: “How was your weekend?” How will we answer? Let’s say someone asks us during fellowship time, out in the gathering space. It’s a friendly environment, we can practice there. We can say the church-y things like:
“I was inspired by the worship service, or the bible references which were related to my everyday life –or-this is the [kind of] fellowship we “live for”
And we might even take it a step further since we are still with the friendly audience. We might dare to add: “I personally felt the holy spirit with us when…….” Are you with me? Can you do that? Good!
Let’s take the next step. Can you tell I’m process-oriented?
Uh oh, now it’s Monday! Suddenly we are “out there” – beyond the comfort of the church walls, and we are asked “that question” by some of the “others.” For the moment “others” are those who can’t relate to words like passionate worship, bible study, even fellowship… because they just don’t have a frame of reference for such words. So, someone asks the question, “how was your weekend?” which invites us to share – and well, I know I lean toward church words when I talk about God so it is effort to talk to non-church friends about church things. How can we help them understand what is so meaningful [to us] that we come back again and again?
This is the critical shift I’m trying to make In my own effort to witness my love for God –out there, to the “others” in my life.
First, I admit, I’m afraid, maybe someone who hears my response won’t appreciate it and will quit asking – wkward? yes, but remember what we heard in Psalms:
22 The stone the builders didn’t accept has become the most important stone of all.
Maybe the statement I make will be an unaccepted stone which becomes important later –maybe I have planted a seed. Maybe it’s the vinegrower’s job to cultivate, germinate and sprout disciples from there on out!
AND what if someone does appreciate my comments and it opens up a new – more authentic level of understanding in our relationship. So worth the risk!
So I still need a plan, here is what I might say to my associates – “Yes, I did do something special – I went to church where we laughed and sang songs and worked together, there is a sense of community there that’s just so special to me. It excited and motivated me to experience God with these folks.”
Succinct, understandable, It most honestly shares my excitement, and it leaves room for further discussion. Hopefully an impression was made, a thought formed, something could stick in their minds like “gee, when was the last time I sang with a bunch of people?” It’s really not that common!
So now we have witnessed to the church folks and to some of our other friends. What will we say to the casual folks we encounter? These are the “others” who don’t really even know us. those out in our community…The people we meet at work, or where we volunteer, or play, or shop….What if they ask: “Did you do something special this weekend?” In some of these situations we’ll only have a minute, or maybe a few minutes, so if we want to share our excitement, we’ll have to relate to the masses – and be quick about it!
It’s important to make our witness universally understandable.
How about this: “Well, there’s always stuff going on at my church. I heard some interesting things this week and I’m still thinking about them.” Now I’ve said that being here excites and motivates me, I’ve mentioned our weekend activities and that Church [implying God,] is in it. I left it open to more conversation – or not. It’s up to the person to respond. -even if there isn’t a positive response right away, I could have left an impression, something they might think about later.
A door is open – and that I think – that is the start of a “witness.”
Witness is an important part of being a Methodist.[the word witness] was added to the membership vows in January 2009. Here is what Discipleship Ministries had to say about witness: “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.” They go on to say that “though in an earlier vow those seeking professing membership promise to be “Christ’s representatives in the world” (UMH 34, paragraph 6), there was no reflection of that baptismal promise in the vows of membership in a local congregation.
Adding “and witness” to the list (“prayers, presence, gifts, service, and witness”) 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.”
We have some people right here at Faith who are willing to put it out there – in the next few weeks. We’ll be listening to what’s on the hearts of some of our lay folks, who don’t usually
come up here to talk about their faith. Whether their message is subtle or bold, we know it will be inspired by their heartfelt connection to God.
Our scriptures today have several references to witness.
If you remain joined to me, and I to you, you will bear a lot of fruit. I translate that message as ‘be authentic and someone will be blessed by you.”
We also heard: “We live by the Holy Spirit, flowing through us so that we may bear fruit for God, the fruit of love.” God promises us that our effort [witness] will be valuable. I don’t hear “maybe” anywhere in those passages.
Our themes for the past few laity sessions at annual conference have been Prayer, presence, and spiritual gifts, — so this year we talked about service and witness. When I agreed to say something about witness – it had to be the Holy Spirit inspiring me to raise my hand and volunteer to talk to a bunch of seasoned witness-ers about witness! What was I thinking? [And imagine how I felt when the Bishop walked into our session and stayed to hear our talks. Gulp!]
While thinking about witness In preparation for that talk and this message, I’ve had some opportunities to practice. I can tell you that indeed, some folks just ignore the open door –and change the subject. But when I said “it was great – especially our children’s church service” I got 100% further conversation, mostly about children – not directly about church, but it confirmed my earlier theory – frame of reference is critical. Guess what – Strawberries got the same reaction.
So what might you tell people who don’t know “church”? This is a place for being together – for doing activities with others who are somewhat like you, for hearing a new perspective, that being a part of the UM Connection, helps others globally, and giving money to help others, makes us feel good. Singing Laughing Coffee Food Kids ! Whatever it is, that you respond to, Share it!
I invite you to plan a response – think intentionally of a sentence that conveys how much you enjoy this experience – and try bringing up the subject of church when you are asked how you spend your time. If you are here today, I daresay, you spend a fair amount of time here. It means something to you!
After we’ve left here, someone will invite you to witness, Be ready! And you might just leave them wanting more!
Tricia Waldron, Lay Leader