Rev. Dr. Scott D. Hannon
St. John Lutheran Church, Amherst, NY
When I was in high school, my brother and I witnessed a robbery at our church. We had left youth group and were sitting in the car in the parking lot when we noticed two men hastily walking through the grass with computers. We threw the headlights on and caught them, well, like deer in headlights. They dropped the stuff and ran.
For the next hour or so we witnessed to all that we had seen. We told our parents; we told the cops. And ultimately, that night after they caught the guys, we had to ID them.
I’ll never forget how proud I was to be a witness – to work on the side of justice and good. We were so honored that we could represent truth and, in particular, protect our church. My brother and I told the story to anyone who would listen and bragged about how we faithfully served God through our proclamation.
Well, a few weeks later my brother and I were walking home from school when a gang of kids approached us. It was clear from the start that they weren’t selling candy bars and didn’t want to know if we’d play kickball with them. They wanted to fight. One of them said, “Hey! Are you the twins that witnessed a robbery?” Without a moment of hesitation my brother and I replied in unison: “NO! We’ve never witnessed anything like that.” And then sped-walked away as fast as we could.
That adolescent experience taught me that while it can be empowering and fun to be a witness, at times it is downright terrifying.
In a world that doesn’t seem to care about truth, it can awfully hard to proclaim it. In a culture where bullies and mean actions are celebrated, it is extremely difficult to witness to the power of mercy and compassion. In a society where the rich and powerful are esteemed and honored, it is challenging to value and protect the weak, poor, and vulnerable. At a time when anger, hostility and hate are just presumed, it is seemingly impossible to witness to peace and love.
One of Jesus’ last statements to his disciples is: You are witnesses to these things. He informs them that they’ve witnessed new life, resurrection, love, and reconciliation AND that it is their job now to proclaim new life, resurrection, love and reconciliation to the ends of the earth.
I imagine that invitation seemed easy enough at first. But I know as they carried that message into the world that they encountered hostility, resentment and rejection. The good news of Jesus’ call to his disciples to be witnesses is that it is an invitation that is filled with grace and promise.
Before inviting his disciples to be witnesses, Jesus opens their minds to understand the scripture. After inviting them to be witnesses, Jesus promises the gift of the Holy Spirit and blesses them. In the same way, we who are invited to be witnesses today are not left on our own. The same Spirit that empowered the disciples gives us strength today. The blessing pronounced on the church all those years ago remains today.
We are called to be witnesses. In a world full of lies, we witness to truth. In a world full of hate, we witness to love. In a world full of violence, we witness to peace. Our witness will at times be fun and at times be challenging. We will find ourselves empowered and occasionally feel like we’re bound to get beat up by a gang of kids. In those tough moments may you have the strength I lacked years ago. Remember you’re blessed. Receive the Holy Spirit. Be a witness.
In the Way,
For more inspiration and insights from Pastor Scott and Pastor Shawn’s past columns, please visit www.jamestowngazette.com and click on the Faith Matters page. The Jamestown Gazette is proud to present our county’s most creative and original writers for your enjoyment and enlightenment.