Testify

 
Pentecost 2015
The Rev. Austin K. Rios
St. Paul’s Within the Walls
May 24, 2015
 

Today is a day of transition…it is a day of rebirth.

I’m not sure what brought you to this church this morning.

I don’t know whether it was duty, will, or the desire to be reminded about what matters in a world that can seem unbelievable.

Maybe you came to support your kid in the Children’s Choir of Rome, or maybe the door was open and you just came in off Via Nazionale.

Whatever it was, I am glad you are here.

I am thankful to see each one of you on this day that we taste the Spirit once more, and remember together what the earliest disciples had to keep remembering…namely that the whole passion of Christ…the life, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus was not simply a show or a spectacle to be witnessed, but a reality in which to participate.

Maybe you’ve been told by churches and their representatives that faith is about believing a set of principles…saying yes to a doctrinal formula in order to receive a divine and ecclesiastical check mark in the book of life and assure your salvation for all eternity.

Maybe you’ve been told that Jesus did all the work for us, and that it is our job to passively receive God’s gift in Christ and go about our lives quietly, not ruffling anyone’s feathers nor causing much of a stir in the realm of politics and society.

Well, I love creeds and theology as much as anyone, and I can affirm that the grace of God in Jesus Christ is indeed all encompassing and sufficient for salvation.

However, like the manna that was hoarded by the Israelites in the wilderness, which turned moldy and unusable when it ceases to be daily bread, so turns church doctrine and shallow statements of faith if they are not infused with the power of the Holy Spirit and backed by the fire of testimony.

Testimony is what the first Pentecost was all about.

Now testimony may be a word that makes you feel uncomfortable.

It may conjure visions of wild preachers picketing on street corners and announcing the end of the world, or of television faith healings that stretch the imagination.

At times it makes me remember a certain self-proclaimed prophet in Asheville, who goes by the name Brother Christopher, who always seemed to have “a word” for people, always divinely inspired I assure you, and was aimed especially for those that challenged him or questioned his unorthodox manner of life.

Perhaps the word testimony has similar associations for you.

But I’m here to tell you, have no fear of testimony.

In fact, if you leave here with just one message today, I hope it is this one.

Testimony is what every one of us is called to do, and the Holy Spirit gives us the strength, courage, and the means by which to do so.

Maybe you don’t see yourself as capable enough, faithful enough, or important enough to testify.

The message of Pentecost is that none of those fears of insufficieny are barriers to the promises of God being made real in our world…neither our self-doubt nor lack of world-praised abilities will inhibit us in the telling of God’s deeds of power.

This is because the testimony is God’s, not ours.

And yet the testimony gains life and power by being interpreted through us, with all our diversity of gifts and challenges.

The reading from Acts tells of Jews from all over the empire and the known world who hear the tale of God’s saving acts in their own language even though it is a bunch of uneducated Galilean fisherman that do the telling.

They testify that the world has been proved wrong about sin, righteousness, and judgment because they are witnesses to what God has done in Jesus Christ.

It turns out that lepers are not cursed with punishment from God, but instead receive compassion and healing at his fingertips.

It turns out that your profession or your social status aren’t blessings from God unless you use them to help out a neighbor who is lying bleeding and dying on the road to Jerusalem from Jericho.  In fact, sometimes the one the world considers an enemy can be your closest neighbor.

It turns out that even if you’ve denied ever knowing Jesus…even when it mattered most… the love of God can embrace you, empower you, and even turn you into a pillar of the church like Peter.

God’s love is stronger than the world’s hate.

God’s justice is about freeing slaves, drawing the exiles back home, and honoring the goodness implanted in all creation.

God’s power is beyond the scope of the grave, and intended for abundant life that is shared freely.

This is the content of the testimony that we are each called to give.

This is the message delivered to us from the prophets of old who were called from the burning bush and by the wind and silence from their caves…

…from the disciples who received the flames of Pentecost and the wind of the Holy Spirit, and generations of the faithful since who have interpreted the message of the Gospel through the testimony of their own lives, in word and deed.

The question this Pentecost is whether or not each one of us will take our place in that line of testimony so that our world might know and experience the fruits of God’s reign here on earth and for all eternity.

Will you testify to God’s deeds of power from this day forward?

If you have trouble saying yes to this, then maybe this story will help.

I once knew a married couple who seemed like normal everyday people.

They had a nice life in the US, but then decided to move overseas, leaving their church community and home in the process.

I’m sure they were concerned about what they’d find in this new place…how would they sing the song of God in a foreign land?

This couple came to St. Paul’s and soon began worshipping with us.

Even though they had come from a different church denomination in the US, they soon made a home here.

The husband began singing in the choir.  The wife began teaching Sunday School.

They brought friends to church, came faithfully to Adult Forums and shared their faith with young and old alike.

One time, we almost lost them as members, but God’s grace kept us in relationship and strengthened the witness of the entire community as a result.

After that, they began to get even more involved with the life of this church and in all the ways we seek to testify to God’s deeds of power.

When we celebrated world refugee day by cooking and serving food in the JNRC, they were there.

They helped pack bags of toiletries and socks for Christmas presents, and included refugees in their meals around their dinner table, and shared family trips with others.

They were a mainstay at Taize services, Bibles and Beer evenings, and Film nights.

When we went on excursions as part of our new Sunday school program, they never failed to show up.

One time, when we were at a picnic in a public park with a herd of sheep in it, the husband literally rescued the one “lost” sheep who had caught its leg in a fence and freed it to go join the rest of the sheepfold.

When our church secretary had to go on sick leave, the wife came into the office during the week and helped us produce the bulletin you have in your hands.

In all things, this faithful, yet seemingly normal couple has testified to me and to others in this church about God’s deeds of power.

By being who God has called them to be, and by being unafraid of living their entire lives as a testimony.

And they’ve passed that faith on to not only their own son, who has served as a acolyte here, but to others who have witnessed the Holy Spirit working through them.

The family of which I speak are the Coles: Jeff, Christine, and Quentin.

And I don’t mean to embarrass them, but since it is Pentecost, and their last Sunday among us, I could think of no better examples as to how each of us can testify in manageable yet sacrificial ways for the good of God’s kingdom.

We will sorely miss their testimony among us, and yet, we are encouraged that God will continue to use them to bless others as they return home after this sojourn.

The testimony they shared was not done through screams on a street corner, nor in pronouncements of judgment, but in constant love and attention through sacraments of the ordinary.

Often such acts can seem dismissible, but…

It is such acts that turn regular old bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ.

It is what makes a couple of fish and loaves multiply to become food for thousands.

It is what transforms a room full of simple Galileans into a worldwide Church.

Such is the power of testimony when accompanied by the gifts of the Holy Spirit.

On this Pentecost, I urge you to seek out such testimony in your own life, and to allow the gift of God, which is the Holy Spirit, to animate your life and employ your gifts for the sake of the kingdom.

If you say yes to that, you just may change the world…in ways you may not even be able to imagine.

 

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