Summer Sermon Series: Acts 26:24-32

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We’ve come a long way in the book of Acts.  One more week, and we’ll be at the end. 

At the very beginning of the book, before Jesus ascended into heaven, Jesus was sitting around with his disciples.  They still didn’t quite get it.  They were nervous and scared and confused—which is totally understandable considering all they went through.  How would you react if your leader was brutally murdered and then one day appeared alive again?  Anyway, the disciples were still looking toward grand visions of when Jesus would kick everyone’s butt and take over the world, and Jesus was like, “nope!  World domination is none of your concern.  Just stop it!” 

After Jesus burst their bubble, he reassured them that they would receive some awesome Holy Spirit power, but God wasn’t going to empower the disciples to take over the world or anything.  Holy Spirit power wasn’t about being powerful, or showing off, or gaining control.  Holy Spirit power was going to be a radically different kind of power.  The Holy Spirit was going to empower the disciples to be Jesus’ witnesses.  Everywhere.  Including in their home town, and their home country, and in enemy territory, and even to the ends of the earth.  This Holy Spirit power was just for being Jesus’ witnesses.  Not exactly the kind of super power movies are made of… And yet, this witnessing super-power makes for an interesting book as far as the Bible goes. 

The Holy Spirit power first showed up at Pentecost when the disciples were empowered to communicate their story about Jesus to people who spoke different languages.  It was awesome.  And yet, this witnessing power wasn’t powerful enough to impress everyone.  Some people just thought the disciples were drunk at 9:00 am.  Some people accepted their witness, some people rejected it, some were just mildly interested or amused.  And that’s pretty much what happens throughout the entire book.  Whenever the disciples witnessed with their words or their actions, some people were into it, and others were not. 

Being a witness to the ends of the earth means all kinds of things in the book of Acts.  Sometimes witnessing meant simply living out Jesus’ command to love one another.  The early churches actually shared, and cared, and dared to say that everyone has worth.  Sometimes witnessing meant traveling and talking to people out of their league.  Sometimes it meant speaking truth to power and getting in trouble for it.  Sometimes witnessing meant changing traditions in order to make space for new people.  And in the case of dear Paul, witnessing meant the disciples taking a risk and trusting that a former enemy could transform into one of Jesus’ biggest supporters. 

Generous sharing, talking to people outside one’s comfort zone, reconciliation with enemies, willingness to change for the sake of another, speaking truth to power…

That’s powerful stuff.  This is how the disciples were Jesus’ witnesses to the ends of the earth.  This is the stuff the book of Acts is made of.  Being a witness is so much more than just proclaiming to be a Christian.  It’s a whole new way of life. 

In these final chapters of Acts, we get to see Paul witness again, and again.  Throughout acts, Paul continually challenged people to see how this way of Jesus should be open to everyone—and challenged people to see how certain traditions got in the way of this.  As a result, Paul made quite a few enemies.  When Paul entered Jerusalem one last time, this got him into trouble.  His very presence flared up an angry mob, which led to his arrest.  Paul got to testify before various Roman officials, and the Jewish high priests, and then some more Roman officials.  Paul’s willingness to go to Jerusalem even though he knew he faced danger is powerful testimony enough.  But in our reading today, as Paul speaks to yet more Roman government officials, he dares to tell him, “I pray to God that not only you but also all who are listening to me today might become such as I am—except for these chains.”  Why does Paul want everyone who hears him to become a follower of Jesus like he did? 

I suppose we can never know for sure, but I suspect it had something to do with his experience of Jesus.  Paul constantly told people about his story of transformation and how Jesus changed him.  Paul’s experience of Jesus overwhelmed him with grace, wiped away all his fear, and set him on a radically different path in life.  Paul’s experience with Christ gave him the courage to face all kinds of challenges—even being beaten and imprisoned.  He had no fear or hostility toward those who harmed him.  He lived a compelling life full of purpose.  I think he genuinely wanted people to experience what he experienced.  The Holy Spirit definitely gave him some super-witnessing-powers. 

So, what about us?  We are modern-day disciples.  We still carry this call to be Jesus’ witnesses to the ends of the earth.  What does witnessing mean for us today? 

Witnessing is something the church needs to work on, because we haven’t been doing such a great job—at least in this country.  In the U. S., Christians are known for being narrow-minded and judgmental.  People think we are all homo-phobic and anti-science.  Too often we don’t practice the love and grace that we preach.  We come from a place of privilege and assume everyone should believe like us, and we tend to get angry and defensive with people who aren’t Christian and don’t appreciate our Christian traditions being forced on them.  Too often, Christians don’t take the time to learn about other religions, even though we expect people to know all about our religion.  We’ve turned witnessing into a demand for intellectual agreement rather than a compelling way of life. 

I also think we’ve forgotten how to witness.  For generations, we assumed that everyone was a Christian, so there was no need to explain, or teach, or answer questions.  We assumed our kids would always be a part of the church.  We assumed our neighbors were a part of a church.  We assumed a lot, and didn’t talk much about faith stuff.  And now, we don’t know the stories like we used to.  Telling our own faith story scares us.  We may not even be sure what a faith story is.  We aren’t sure how to answer the younger generation’s questions that we never thought to ask.  We’re not sure where to even begin. 

Even though the book of Acts was written a long time ago, I think it’s a good place to start.  Clearly the world of the disciples is different than the world we live in now.  Clearly, the disciples made some mistakes that we don’t care to repeat.  Clearly, the issues are different for us today.  But the book of Acts gives us a glimpse of what witnessing can look like.  And I think it starts with this desire that Paul states to King Agrippa, the desire that others could have a transformative experience of Jesus like he did.   

Being a witness is so much more than just proclaiming to be a Christian.  It’s more than being a member of a church.  It’s more than reciting the creed.  It’s more than liking a Facebook post.  Being a witness is a whole new way of life.  It’s a way of life that makes a difference in the world. 

 

Generous sharing, talking to people outside one’s comfort zone, reconciliation with enemies, willingness to change for the sake of another, speaking truth to power—these are the ways we are still called to be a witness.