This morning we are pleased to be receiving new members into our congregation. Some will be publicly professing their faith in God and their desire to follow Jesus with their lives for the first time today. Others will be re-affirming their faith and making a commitment to worship and serve with us here at St. Andrew’s as members of this local congregation of God’s people.
As I think about their professions of faith, I can’t help but wonder about the Christians who may have been a part of their journey to this day. I know that others witnessed to them about the love of God in Jesus Christ – maybe their parents or grandparents, maybe good friends, maybe preachers and teachers in their congregations of the past and in this congregation as well. Certainly, the witness about Jesus was present in the Scriptures which they read and considered in a variety of ways over the years. And for all those witnesses of centuries past and times present, I give thanks to God.
Perhaps we might all pause this morning to think about who shared the good news with us. Whether it was many years ago or quite recently, whether it was one person who made a big impact on you, or numerous witnesses whose small offerings each contributed to your growing faith and understanding. Let us give thanks today for the Holy Spirit working through those people so that you came to know God in Jesus Christ yourself.
On Pentecost Sunday, we celebrate the gift of the Holy Spirit being poured out on the early Christian community and giving them the power to testify – to preach the gospel in all the languages of the world.
Now, as nice quiet Presbyterians, the Pentecost story probably seems a bit raucous and out of control. We may start imagining those disciples all preaching at once so that we can hardly follow one voice, as they all blend together.
Whereas we politely took turns in our sharing of John 3:16 in many languages… doing things decently and in order, as the Apostle Paul recommended and Presbyterians are careful to oblige. But the first day of Pentecost after Jesus died and was raised sounded much more “Pentecostal,” we might say.
But being Presbyterian is no excuse for keeping our mouths shut when we, like those first apostles, are being sent to proclaim the might acts of God in our time and place. We could demur, saying that the Holy Spirit hasn’t gifted us with that kind of speech, and stick to attending church and doing our best to be kind to our neighbours.
But I noticed this morning that Jesus, himself, calls his disciples to testify. He does promise them the Spirit, saying that God the Father will send them an Advocate, the Spirit of truth. But he also says to them, “You also are to testify because you have been with me from the beginning.”
Of course, someone might argue that WE haven’t been with Jesus from the beginning. We weren’t among his first followers who got to witness his miracles first hand and hear his teachings from his own mouth. But if you can hardly remember a time when you weren’t a Christian, and if you can count your time as a follower of Jesus in decades instead of years, then you’ve probably gotten to know Jesus enough that it’s time to start telling others about him.
Did you notice that the language in those verses from John’s Gospel sounds like a courtroom? We have an Advocate (a lawyer, someone who is helping us with our case) and we are told that we need to testify. We need to be witnesses of what we have seen, and heard, and what we believe about Jesus.
If you watch any courtroom dramas on television, you’ve probably noticed (like I have) that witnesses don’t just walk in off the street and offer their testimony. Instead, there is a lot of time and effort spent on getting them prepared. Their lawyers go over the questions they intend to ask them, and they figure out the questions that the opposing counsel might ask. And then they practice.
I was watching a show the other day in which the lawyers brought the key witness to the actual courtroom so she could sit in the witness box and practice answering the questions right where she would be answering them “for real” in a few days.
When it comes to sharing our faith as Christians today, we can be confident that the Holy Spirit is going to help us. But the Spirit probably won’t rush in like a violent wind and tongues of fire and give us the sudden gift of being a charismatic preacher.
Instead, the Spirit may prompt us, and encourage us, and help us to practice what we could say to a neighbour, friend, or family member about the difference that Jesus has made in our lives.
And so this morning, I want to invite you to practice. Practice being a witness. Practice your testimony. Now, don’t tell me that you don’t know Jesus well enough to do this exercise. You don’t have to have seen everything. You don’t have to know all the answers. You just have to open your mouth and tell someone else about what you have seen and heard, and what difference it has made in your life.
I’m going to give you about three or four minutes, and I want you to turn to someone near you in the pew and tell them what Jesus did or what Jesus said that made a difference to you. Let me give you a couple of examples…
I remember the way that Jesus approached people that everyone else avoided. He wasn’t afraid to go up to lepers and touch them, while everyone else stayed far away to protect themselves from getting sick. When I’m feeling ugly, or stupid, or unpopular, I remember the way Jesus loved the lepers, and I know that he loves me also.
I also remember what Jesus said about the Kingdom of God. He said that it is like a mustard seed. It starts so small that you can hardly see it, but suddenly it begins to grow and grow. It grows so big that it becomes a beautiful big tree, and the birds make their nests in its branches.
I remember that promise when I’m feeling overwhelmed by all the bad things in the world, when it seems like goodness and righteousness are so tiny compared to the evil, and violence, and hatred all around us. It reminds me to keep my eyes open for God at work around me in surprising and wonderful ways.
Now it’s your turn. Take the next few minutes to talk to your neighbours. Tell them about something Jesus did or something Jesus said that made a difference to you.
Well, that was wonderful to hear all your voices witnessing this morning – telling of the mighty acts of God and the good news about Jesus Christ. Thank you for being brave enough to testify to what you have seen and heard. May the Holy Spirit continue to be poured out on all God’s people that we may proclaim the gospel in our church and in our community, today and in the days ahead. Amen.