First Sunday after Easter 2017
April 23, 2017
Old Testament Lesson: Isaiah 43:1-12
Epistle: I John 5:4-12
Gospel: John 20:19-23
“You Are My Witnesses”
Recently, I received a letter I hadn’t been expecting – from the government. In fact, I thought I’d probably never get one of these special letters as I had never gotten one in almost thirty years. I got a summons for jury duty. Don’t mistake me. I’m happy to do my civic duty, and truthfully, I’m a little excited about the opportunity, always having been intrigued by the legal system, especially the role so many people play in executing justice: from the judges to the lawyers and jurors, so many people are involved in handling the reigns of civic responsibility. One of the most intriguing roles to be played though is that of the witness.
Throughout the years, I’ve come to know several police officers, lawyers, and a few judges. All of them agree that witnesses always have their own understanding of what happened at a particular scene. Five people may have witnessed an accident, and each one of them will have seen things differently than others – whether it’s relating the facts of the situation: a black, blue, or red car, the number of people involved in the situation, how tall they were, etc. Each witness has a different tale to tell. You simply hope they come out with the same basic story.
In our first lesson today, God calls the people of Israel His witnesses. The lesson begins with God’s reminder to Israel not to fear or worry, but to take heart whenever they face trials and tribulations, because He promises He will see them through and provide for their needs. Their witness is to the world to remind them of God’s love and goodness. This call has extended through millennia to reach us today who are called to be witnesses of God’s mercies and love.
But something happened on the way to the twenty-first century. Humans got involved. You see the witness of the Church, while static and faithful has been carried about by men and women throughout the years, and sometimes, humans decide that what they see and or believe is the only true account of whatever they have witnessed. For example, take the four Gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. If you take the traditional view of individual authorship of each Gospel (and for the sake of this brief sermon we will), then you have the impressions of four people who witnessed (or related the witness of others who had seen) the life of Christ. Each of these Gospels while similar and agreeing on the essentials has vastly different ways of telling the story of Jesus of Nazareth. Does that make any of them invalid or untrustworthy? Of course not, they each saw things slightly differently and related them to us (the readers) in different ways.
The Church today is like this. We have so many different “jurisdictions” and “denominations”. The Anglican tradition alone is represented by at least thirty-five different bodies in the United States. These bodies each claim a part of the grand witness of the Body of Christ, but perhaps no single group has everything right (except of course for our jurisdiction) – insert wink and nod.
Regardless of the jurisdiction we belong to, we are all called to bear witness of the Christ, who in a very simplistic way shares with His Disciples in the Gospel lesson how they can share that good news. He states simply, “Peace be unto you.” This little statement summarizes the Gospel for us. God desires to have peace with men, so He offered His Son to provide for us the means for peace with Him, and likewise with all mankind. The peace of God which unites us to Him through Jesus enables us to offer peace to all men, through the remission (forgiveness) of sins. Our responsibility is to reach the world in the name of Jesus offering peace with God and forgiveness.
Let us live out the call to be witnesses and walk in God’s peace while providing for our neighbors the love of forgiveness and holy living. Peace be unto you.