There’s an old story told about what happened in heaven when Jesus returned from his earthly ministry. The archangel Gabriel asked, “So what happens next? What’s the plan?”
Jesus explained, “My disciples take over now. They’ll tell everyone the Good News that God loves them and wants a relationship with them.”
Then Gabriel asked with a worried note in his voice, “Are you talking about those fisherman, tax collectors, women, you’ve been traveling around with?”
“Yes, those are the ones,” Jesus answered. “They’ll take over now. The Holy Spirit is with them. They’ll do great.”
There was a long pause. Then Gabriel asked tentatively, “So what’s the backup plan?”
In the book of Acts, just before Jesus returns to his Father in heaven, he outlines his plan to his disciples: “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witness in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
You are to be my witnesses, Jesus said.
What is a witness? In court a witness is one who tells what they know. They tell what they have seen, what they have heard, what they have done. When we are Jesus’ witness, it simply means that we share what we know. This is how faith has been shared from one generation of Christians to another. This is how faith is formed.
This is how our faith has been formed. We know about Jesus through the witness of Holy Scripture. The words of the Holy Scriptures are the words of those who have come before us in the faith. Though these words, they have shared what they know about God. Through their words, they pass on their faith. Through their words, we grow in our faith. Through these words they have witnessed to us.
We also hear Jesus’ witnesses through the faith of the Church. Through our creeds, through our shared prayers, through our hymns, the faith of those who have come before us is passed on. These reveal their faith – the truth that they knew. As we share these teachings, we are formed and shaped in our faith. We are made into followers of Jesus ourselves.
We are also shaped by the witness of Jesus’ faithful people in our midst today. In our Baptism, we promise to tell others what we know about Jesus’ life and love. We promise to share our faith. We are called to share what we know about God through our words and actions. Both are needed. If we share words that aren’t reflected in the actions of our lives, our faith will seem hypocritical. But if we share only through our actions, we aren’t pointing to the one we call Lord. Both words and actions are needed in order for our witness to be complete.
So what does it mean to share our faith through our words?
It simply means sharing what we know of God in our lives. We have been blessed, supported and led by God. Being Jesus’ witness simply means sharing that with others. Telling others what we know about God’s life with us. Now I know this can seem threatening to some. But I’m not saying that you should do it in a way that is not authentic to who you are. It simply means sharing what you know about someone you love. Who wouldn’t gladly share what they know about their mother, or their son or their grandchild. Being a witness simply means sharing what we know about Jesus.
Being a witness also means putting our faith into action. We do this when we let the love and life of Jesus be revealed in what we do. When we listen to someone who is lonely we are a witness. When we help feed and clothe those in need, we are a witness. When we reach out to a neighbor and invite them to Church, we are a witness.
Being Jesus’ witness is not an optional part of being a Christian. Jesus said, “You will be my witnesses.” But it is important to remember that we do not do it alone. The ability to be Jesus witness comes through the Holy Spirit – God’s presence with us daily. If being a witness seems difficult, or threatening or scary, just remember that we don’t do it alone. Instead we do it through the power of God himself. This is how we can be Jesus’ witnesses.
This is how others will know the love of God. Jesus is counting on you!
The Rev. Sally Franklin is the Rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, located at 501 Pine St. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org .