Points for Preaching and Teaching
by the Rev. Dr. John Fairless
Peter sure loved to preach! (Maybe he just liked talking and couldn’t resist a captive audience.) Peter is pretty clear, when the gathered crowd is stunned and amazed at the healing of a lame man, that neither he nor John did this on their own. He immediately gives praise and credit to God — notably, “the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” As his ultimate purpose is to point to Jesus, this is a significant effort to tie the life of Jesus to the ongoing work of God through Israel. Peter also works in the prophets, in addition to the patriarchs — you might say no sermonic stone is left unturned! Think for a moment of the ways your knowledge of Jesus is tied to the actions and words of those who have come before you. Who are the “patriarchs” and “prophets” in your world?
“You gave me room when I was in distress.” One of my favorite lines from the Psalms. Think of those times in your life when the “weight of the world” has been pressing down on you. Is there any gift more precious than “room to breathe?” God is the God who makes room!
1 John 3:1-7
John tells the Beloved Community of the church some important things about the ways we should “be” in the world — what we should “do” as children of God. (Listen to the Lectionary Lab Live podcast for Delmer’s crusty old joke about “Do-be-do-be-do!”)
At some point, we who have heard and read the Easter story dozens (if not scores or hundreds) of times might be tempted to ask, “Geez, Louise! What does the man have to do to convince these disciples that he’s really alive and he’s really real?” After hearing from the disciples from Emmaus, Jesus shows up in the midst of the group and scares…well, the bejeezus…out of everybody! They think he’s a ghost. A few calming words and a piece of broiled fish soon prove that he is, indeed, a very real presence with them. It is, once again, Jesus’ opening of their minds to the words of scripture that finally brings understanding. He also gives them the command, “…you are witnesses of these things.” The idea is that they should tell others what they have seen and heard (that’s what a witness does, isn’t it?)
How important is our own willingness to gain understanding from the study of scripture? And, what will we do with what we know?
by the Rev. Dr. Delmer L. Chilton
I served in the Atlanta area in the early 90s. While I was there, a popular radio station went through a format change. For many years a man named Ludlow Porch had a folksy, genial, call-in talk show that sort of reminded you of his name: as you listened you felt as if you were sitting on the front porch, sipping on a glass of sweet tea or lemonade, gossiping with your neighbors about this and that.
The station decided that although Ludlow was very popular with the older, native born southerners, Atlanta was changing and they needed a new style to attract newer, hipper, edgier listeners. So they got rid of him and brought in a minor league “shock jock,” kind of like Howard Stern. He was rude, crude and obnoxious. His daily topics were things like “Should Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses be shot of sight for disturbing the peace?” He hated the church, he hated preachers. He suggested to children that they should steal money from the offering plate and that they should sue their parents for forcing them to attend church. When I moved to Nashville, one of the things I did not miss about Atlanta was hearing about his on-air antics.
Imagine my surprise when a few years later I read in a religious journal this item. “A radio station “shock jock” who made regular, hateful diatribes against Christians has professed belief in Christ. (The DJ) was converted after leaving the station in a contract dispute and taking a job as car salesman. In an address to a church convention . . . (he) said he was impressed by the quiet witness of a fellow salesman.” Hmm, “quiet witness.” Must have been a Lutheran, don’t you think?
In one way or another, all of our lessons remind us of our call to be “witnesses,” to tell to others what we have seen and heard of the mighty deeds of God acting in Christ. In Acts we read, “. . . whom God raised from the dead. To this we are witnesses.” (verse 15) In First John, the writer gives his witness, carefully differentiating between what he doesn’t know; “what we will be has not been revealed” and what he does “What we do know is this, when he is revealed, we will be like him . . .”(verse 2) And in the Gospel lesson, Jesus reminds the disciples of why he came, ‘to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, (verse 46) what must be done, “repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be preached in his name to all nations ,” (verse 47) and what their roles is to be, “You are witnesses of these things.” (verse 48.)
Yes, they are witnesses and so are. And it is okay that most of us are quiet witnesses, like the man who was instrumental in the conversion of the shock jock in Atlanta so many years ago. About a month ago an old preacher died somewhat quietly in Blue Ridge, Georgia. His name was Fred Craddock and he was well-known among preachers and a few other folks. Years ago he wrote a book called “Overhearing the Gospel.” He wrote about how people respond best to indirect and gentle witness, things they can observe and hear and think about on their on time and in their own way. This is what being quiet witness is about, telling the truth as you know it and nothing more.
Witnessing is the telling of personal experience, what we ourselves have seen and heard and felt. When one is a witness in a court of law, the lawyers and judges generally don’t care about your opinion about what you think might have been the motivation for what happened – no, they simply want to know what you know, what you saw, what you heard. How many times on Law and Order have we heard a lawyer say, “I object, calls for a conclusion from the witness.” In witnessing, we don’t have to draw conclusion or make arguments – all we must do is tell the truth as we know it. In a Christian context, this is not just any personal experience, rather it is the story of our experience with the word of life, the Risen Christ. For us to be a witness requires simply that we be willing to tell the world about our encounters with the Living word of God. It is up to others to draw their conclusions in God’s own good time.
It was in seminary that I became friends with an African-American preacher named Larry Blackwell. We lived and had churches in the same small town about 35 miles from the school we both attended and we car-pooled in together most mornings. It was he who taught me the traditional preacher’s refrain, “Can I get a witness?” used to invite response from the congregation. That Jesus’ question to us today:
“Can I get a witness?
Can I get somebody to tell my story to the world?”
“Can I get a witness?
Can I get somebody to tell their neighbor about the love of God in Christ?”
“Can I get a witness?
Can I get somebody to live a life of joyful service, loving friend and enemy alike?”
“Can I get a witness?
Amen and amen.