Witness, Stand! (text version)

Witness, Stand!  Message 8.17.2014 from Plymouth Congregational Church in Racine, WI (text version)

Unless you’re Rip Van Winkle, have been living under a rock, been in solitary confinement, or been in a coma during the last week, chances are really good that you heard that Robin Williams died.  It’s been everywhere: tributes, wall-to-wall news coverage on CRWNN (The Cable Robin Williams News Network), newspapers, social media.  It’s been everywhere.  In fact, the coverage has even eclipsed the fact that the world is falling apart at home and abroad.  Everyone, it seems, has a story to tell about Robin Williams and what he meant to them.

Just to make sure there’s no mistake about what I’m saying: Robin Williams was a comedic genius, a kind-hearted person, a loving friend, and a philanthropic man.  His suicide is a tragedy to be sure.  It is not his death per se that I want to focus on today, but rather the national reaction to it that I find nothing short of profound.  Particularly in light of the one major point of today’s message that I’ve entitled, Witness, Stand!

Witness stand writingWhat is that one point of Witness, Stand!?  It’s that witness and worship are interconnected.  What we find ourselves talking about, witnessing to, recounting stories of…speak volumes about what and who we worship.  Witness and worship are interconnected.

In the days following Robin Williams’ death, we heard graphic details of the scene, every friend he ever had appeared on the news to witness to who he was and what he did, their favorite memories of times together and the difference Robin Williams made in their lives.  People who didn’t know him yet heard about him or knew of him through movies and late night shows all had stories to tell and wanted to be part of the ongoing celebration of his life.  They were witnessing to Robin Williams.  Some even took photos of themselves standing on their desks, putting themselves in the story book of Dead Poet’s Society and remembering Todd Anderson’s witness to Robin Williams as O Captain My Captain!  The picture on the front of today’s bulletin.

Of all the items of witness, there is one item that is missing.  One question that is going unasked and unanswered.  One elephant in the room no one is talking about.  One mystery unresolved.  One question no one wants to touch.  One idea that hangs heavy in the air and remains in the hushed breath.  One thought that we are all dancing carefully around to avoid disturbing:     the question of “Where is Robin Williams now?”

We’ve been hearing nothing but witness 24/7. All of this witness and yet no witness I’ve heard to worship of anything larger than Robin Williams.  What a comfort it would have been to his family to know that while suicide is devastating, not even that–not even death from suicide– can separate someone from the love of God in Christ Jesus—that He has shown to those of us who believe.  What a comfort it would have been to his family and his friends to know that faith in Jesus Christ meant eternal life for Robin Williams and encore performances, laughter and smiles forever, instead of just a final curtain call with a strange silence of one hand clapping.  In all the witness and tributes and celebration of life and fame, I have yet to hear one word of witness to what would make the question of “Where is Robin Williams now?” less disconcerting.

In our Old Testament passage from today, Joshua 24:13-24, the people of Israel took a stand (for a while at least) saying they were witnesses and they’d serve the Lord.  Witness is meant to be something we take a stand on…not something we hide under a bowl.  Witness is visible.  Witness is audible.  Witness is public proclamation of what you believe, what you know and what you saw.  In a court of law, the fate of others, the outcome of judgment is based upon witness testimony.

Witness, Stand!  That’s what we could glean from today’s passage:

Acts 1: 8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

We can stand as witnesses to what Jesus has done for us and no one can take that away.

If you’ve been with us over the past couple of weeks (or have been listening online at our new website  Http://PlymouthChurchRacine.com) you know we’ve been working our way through the book of Acts.  The first week we heard that the Holy Spirit is a gift worth waiting for and last week, we interrupted Jesus’ thought mid-stream as he was chastising the disciples to get out of the Ruts, give up the Old Tapes, and stop relying upon our understanding of the End Times.  Jesus was about to do a whole new thing and He wanted to make sure we understood that the Crucifixion and Resurrection proved the pivot point of all history so that now because of the Holy Spirit coming, we’d be empowered for worship and witness in a whole new way.   Because witness and worship are interconnected.

Acts 1:6 So when they met together, they asked him, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” 7 He said to them: “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. 8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

As followers of Jesus Christ, you and I are supposed to be witnesses, to take a stand for what Jesus Christ has done in our lives.  With the Holy Spirit pumping spiritual iron in our souls, we have all the power needed to do it.  It’s easier to witness to the difference Robin Williams made in our lives than it is to witness to what Jesus did.  Not because Robin Williams has done more, but because it’s easy.  No one will look at you sideways or stop inviting you to parties if you share your connection with Robin Williams.  Arguably, you’ll get invited to more if you have less than a 7 degree of separation with him and knew him personally.

Witness isn’t always easy though.  Here’s something else that happened this week.  In a strange sense of media selectivity, while Robin Williams took a last stand for celebrity, the Yazidis and the Christians in Iraq were taking a stand, too.  They were refusing to convert to Islam and instead were taking a stand on what and who they worship.  What they believed was so important to them and the threats against them were so real that they had to flee!

Who are these Yazidis?  Yazidis pray to Melek Ta’us (Tawûsê Melek), the archangel who didn’t bow down to worship Adam, served time in hell and repented, and is worshiped as an angel, the Peacock Angel.  Given the way he fell from God, the Islamic name for Melek Ta’us is “shaytan,” which is the Arabic word for the devil and a close relative of the Hebrew word (ha-)satan or Satan in English.  This idea of devil worship is among the reasons the Yazidis are being targeted by the militant Islamic State group.  So, up on the mountain in Iraq—while the US is giving testimony to Robin Williams’ difference in our lives—up on the mountain we have Yazidis who worship a fallen angel at best, the devil at worst…and we have Christians witnessing to their worship of God and paying the price for being Nazarenes (i.e. Christians).  Both Yazidis and Christians are being systematically targeted for extermination because of their religious beliefs…both groups seen and judged as being infidels  by militant ISIS members.  Yet, they witness because witness and worship are interconnected.  Witness speaks to who we love and what we worship.

Going back to our passage of Scripture today, Jesus says we’ll have all the power in the universe—Holy Spirit power–to be witnesses in our culture.  To take a stand for Jesus.  To say we love Him.  To talk about the difference He’s made in our lives.  Each of us has a circle of influence that begins with our Jerusalem and ends at the farthest reaches of the earth.  The Internet means that we don’t even need to leave our living rooms to touch people a world away.  But will we witness?

Witnessing doesn’t need to be walking up to total strangers and saying “Do you know Jesus Christ as your personal Lord and Savior?  If not, you’re going to hell.”  Witnessing is what we did with Robin Williams.  It’s saying what he meant to us.  Witnessing to Jesus’  impact on our lives doesn’t need to be any more complicated than being a good listener and when someone is talking about a struggle, finding a way to say, “I don’t pretend to know what you’re going through, but the Bible tells me that Jesus knows what you’re going through.  I can point you to Him and tell you that He’s made a difference in my life.  I can pray for you!  You need comfort?  He’s the comforter!  You need wisdom?  He’s got it all!”

Back to our passage: “you will be my witnesses.”  Notice Jesus didn’t say we’d be His theologians all the way to the ends of the earth.  He didn’t say we’d be His apologists, His scientists, His philosophers, His media consultants, or His lawyers.  Witnesses don’t have to do that kind of work.  All we need to do is to tell our story.  Dumping the whole gospel dump truck on people scares the socks off of most of us, including the one getting dumped on.  But telling our story, witnessing to meeting the Love of our life, Jesus Christ, our Rescuer, the Comforter, the One who provides jobs and healing and friends with encouraging words, the One who answers our prayers, befriends us in our deepest depression and gave our lives meaning—this is a story people will listen to.  It’s real and it’s personal.  And no one can take it away from you.  Even in an age of relative truth, no one can deny your story and what it means to you.

So, will you respond to the command of “Witness, Stand!” by telling one person your story this week?

I’d like for you to turn on your biblical imagination for a moment.  I don’t do this often, but for the moment I want for you to imagine that you woke up last Friday morning really early and Jesus told you to stand on the corner of College and 12the Street here in Racine at 11:32 am.  Don’t be late, He said.  Then He told you that the winning Powerball ticket was going to be blowing on the wind up from Illinois and He was going to give you the sudden ability to jump up and pluck it out of the air because He wanted you to bless others with the money that you’ll win.  So you think maybe this is all in your mind and maybe pretty stupid, but if it’s real….well, what’s the harm in trying?

So you’re there on the corner right on time and sure enough, here it comes, floating on the wind….kind of like that feather in Forrest Gump.  You hear a voice behind you saying, on the count of three….Jump.   One.  Two.  Three.  Jump!  And so you do.  You look like LeBron James and leap 5 feet into the air, the Powerball ticket firmly in grasp and then you land comfortably on both feet, not even winded.  You tune in to watch the Lottery and sure enough, you’re the mega million super-duper trillion dollar winner!

How many of you would keep it completely quiet, even from all your family?  How many of you would call someone you know or tell someone at home what bizarre thing just happened to you?  Heck, how many of you would call family to tell them that you jumped and didn’t hurt yourself! Can you believe it?  I haven’t jumped in years!

Most of us probably couldn’t keep ourselves from telling all kinds of people what happened.  And seriously, in the scope of eternity, what matters more?  Jesus’ sacrifice paying for your sins, total forgiveness, and giving you access to our loving God for all eternity, or Powerball tickets, and Robin Williams and other comforts of this world?  How many of those can we take with us when we die?  We talk about what excites us, what moves us, who we love, and what matters to us.  Our witness is interconnected to our worship.  So this week, here’s your homework:  Be a listener to someone who doesn’t know Jesus.  Take time to be a witness, to take a stand, in your own little corner of the world with people you know.  Don’t let a day go by without giving your friends and your family the knowledge and the comfort of knowing where you stood.  For the world, the whereabouts of Robin Williams may be a mystery, but with you and with me, it doesn’t need to be.  Witness and worship are interconnected.  So, Witness, Stand!

* * *

Scripture Readings 8.17.2014 referred to in today’s message

Joshua 24: 13 So I gave you a land on which you did not toil and cities you did not build; and you live in them and eat from vineyards and olive groves that you did not plant.’ 14 “Now fear the LORD and serve him with all faithfulness. Throw away the gods your forefathers worshiped beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the LORD. 15 But if serving the LORD seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your forefathers served beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the LORD.” 16 Then the people answered, “Far be it from us to forsake the LORD to serve other gods! 17 It was the LORD our God himself who brought us and our fathers up out of Egypt, from that land of slavery, and performed those great signs before our eyes. He protected us on our entire journey and among all the nations through which we traveled. 18 And the LORD drove out before us all the nations, including the Amorites, who lived in the land. We too will serve the LORD, because he is our God.” 19 Joshua said to the people, “You are not able to serve the LORD. He is a holy God; he is a jealous God. He will not forgive your rebellion and your sins. 20 If you forsake the LORD and serve foreign gods, he will turn and bring disaster on you and make an end of you, after he has been good to you.” 21 But the people said to Joshua, “No! We will serve the LORD.” 22 Then Joshua said, “You are witnesses against yourselves that you have chosen to serve the LORD.” “Yes, we are witnesses,” they replied. 23 “Now then,” said Joshua, “throw away the foreign gods that are among you and yield your hearts to the LORD, the God of Israel.” 24 And the people said to Joshua, “We will serve the LORD our God and obey him.

Acts 1:6 So when they met together, they asked him, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” 7 He said to them: “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. 8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

Categories Chapel Worship/News | Tags: | Posted on August 20, 2014

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