Let us pray.
Lord, may the love you have lavished on us
Be made visible through these words. Amen.
One thing I’ve noticed as my friend’s kids have started talking
Is that I have to be pretty careful what I say around them.
I learned this the hard way in my own childhood.
When I was around 8
And my best friend’s little brother was 3 or so,
I was allowed to say the word “stupid” – but he wasn’t.
You can probably guess where this is going.
He picked it up from me one weekend while they were visiting,
And then found himself repeating it over and over in the car
In a sing-songy fashion.
His dad warned him he’d better stop several times, but –
It all culminated in a pretty forceful “Stupid daddy!”
To which my friend’s dad responded by washing his mouth out with soap.
Children will listen,
As the great Sondheim musical says,
And darn it if they don’t just.
And more often than not,
What they hear is the opposite of what we hope they will hear.
Like moms who want to encourage body positivity in their daughters,
But constantly fret about their own weight.
Or parents who want their children to learn
That there are consequences to their actions,
But consistently bail them out of facing those consequences.
What we do matters much more than what we say,
And what we do consistently,
On a regular basis,
Matters much more than any special occasion.
Children will see
That is what it means to be a witness.
Jesus calls his disciples witnesses in our Gospel lesson today,
And we see that by the time Peter is addressing the people in Acts
He has embraced the label.
But what is a witness?
A witness is more than a mere observer.
A witness does more than simply watch something happen.
Shares what they have seen
The crowds who watched Jesus die on the Cross aren’t witnesses.
The Roman soldiers who taunted him with vinegar
And pierced his side aren’t witnesses.
Just because they were there and watched it happen
Doesn’t mean that they would share what they had seen with others.
The word the Gospeller uses here is martyres,
And it’s the same root as the word for martyr.
That’s actually what ‘martyr’ means – witness.
The reason we honour the martyrs of the Church
Isn’t because they were killed.
We honour them because they told the story.
To the power of their relationship with Jesus Christ
Whose love had been so lavished upon them
That they knew they were the children of God.
They could not help speaking of the power of that love in their lives
Even when it cost them to do so.
Even when it cost them their lives.
We are the Church.
The heirs of the apostles.
And we are witnesses to the power of the love of God
Which has been so lavished upon us.
I love that word, “lavished.”
What a description!
To be bathed in the love of God
Like children coated in soap bubbles
And lovingly wrapped up in soft towels.
Through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus
God has lavished upon us a love so intimate as to be familial,
And so powerful as to defeat death itself
And triumph over the grave.
It is to that love that we serve as witnesses –
Even, perhaps especially,
When we’re not intending to.
Because you see,
It’s not just children who see and learn
Not only what we say
But what we do
And what we do consistently,
Even when we are hoping no one else is watching
Think of a politician who campaigns on caring for the poor and needy
But who ignores them in favour of his wealthy donors once in office.
Think of a boss who says she supports flexible scheduling
Yet somehow never seems to approve any flextime.
Our lives stand as a witness
To what we truly value
And everyone around us observes those values.
We at Good Shepherd
Have a responsibility
To Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ
To stand as a witness
To his love, mercy, and grace.
And what we choose to do reflects on that love, mercy, and grace –
And their limits.
Because if our love appears to be cramped and small
Only available to folks just like us
When it happens to be convenient,
If our mercy appears to be conditional
And predicated on serious groveling,
If our grace comes cheap to those with power
And costly to those without –
Then that’s what people will think is true
What an enormous task it is
That Jesus entrusts to us!
That people will witness who he is
By observing what we do.
It’s a common joke
That the kind of people with Christian bumper stickers on their cars
Are the worst drivers –
And that’s part of the Church’s witness.
I know that I always feel pressure to tip just a little better
When I’m dining out in my clerical collar
Especially since back when I was waiting tables,
Too many Christians failed to tip at all,
Leaving behind tracts about their beliefs instead –
Tracts that often looked like money,
Which only compounded the cruelty when the server opened them up and read
That what they needed wasn’t money to put food on their own table,
But to pray the Sinner’s Prayer
And start attending – and tithing! – at the diners’ church.
Absolutely everything we do
And everything we are seen to do
Witnesses to the One that we follow.
And believe me,
Our neighbours notice.
So we have a choice.
We can be witnesses to the love Christ has lavished on us.
We can live as the children of God we are.
Because children who are lavished in love
Who are so secure in it
Who know it can’t be taken away
Are the kind of children who share that love with others easily.
The kind of children who can,
As we heard so eloquently preached last week,
Respond to the resurrection by flinging open our locked doors
In the face of fear
And testify to the power of God’s love even in the face of adversity.
Our lives can testify to something else
Not very like love.
We can witness in such a way that leads for others to cry “Stupid daddy!”
At our own heavenly Father
Because what we have shown them
Is not the extraordinary love we have been washed in.
We have demonstrated fear of the change
That welcoming them may bring.
And hardness of heart.
Stinginess in tipping
Or entitlement in driving.
Whatever we choose to do,
Our neighbours will listen
And learn about the character of the One we worship.
We are witnesses,
And Christ has entrusted this ministry to us
So that the ends of the earth
May be lavished in the love he has poured over us.
And now the question is:
What kind of witness will we be?