I want to warn you. I am about to say a dirty word. There’s no way around it. It’s a word you do not use in polite conversation. You don’t bring it up amongst strangers. Are you ready for it . . . “Evangelism.” There, I said it. Several years ago while in undergrad, evangelism represented the street corner preacher, the man who carried a sign rivaled in size only by his Bible, screaming at the top of his lungs of how I was going to Hell. Some use John the Baptist as the model of this fiery, in your face means of communicating the Gospel, which by the way, means “Good News.” It is true that John the Baptist looked upon the crowds and said, “You brood of vipers, who warned you to flee from the coming retribution?” The Gospel is a difficult word, which shakes us from our stupor, drives us, like Christ, into the wilderness, asks us to look into the darkness of the ways in which we have turned from God . . . but that’s also only half of the story. These fiery words of John cease when John meets Jesus face to face. Once he sees Jesus, his ministry changes from one of winnowing fork to one of index finger pointing to the lamb. “Behold, the lamb,” he says. “Look, see Jesus.” Later in Jesus’ ministry, John’s disciples ask Jesus if he is the one. Jesus says, “Tell John what you see. The blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have the good news brought to them. Blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me.”
Jesus even turns John on his head. When Jesus approaches the crowd, specifically in Luke 6, he puts down the winnowing fork so that his hands are available for healing. He stands with them on a level place, heals their wounds, and then reveals to them the beauty of the Kingdom of God: Blessed are you who know you are in need and woe to you who think you only need yourself.
In our scripture reading today, Jesus looks at his disciples and says, “You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” It is not “may,” or “might,” but “will.” You WILL be my witnesses. You have not choice. Through the waters of baptism, Christ has claimed you. You represent Christ in the world. So, the question isn’t “Are you or are you not going to be a witness.” The question is, “Will you witness well?”
You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, meaning that we are to witness to our faith here in our shared living room. Being in a covenantal community means that we promise to share each others burdens, we challenge each other to live an ethic of love, we celebrate each other’s joys, we put away gossip, pride, envy, anger. You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, so that this place can be a Jerusalem, a city of peace, a place where God dwells.
We will be his witnesses in Judea, meaning that outside the walls of the church we maintain our love ethic. Not only do we speak truth to power, being the mustard seed of justice upsetting the machinery of the world that places the goods of humanity over humanity’s goodness, but we also are to be prophetic windows. We are to be the sanctuary stained glass through which the outside world can peer and see the beauty of the altar on which Christ offered himself. We too should point and say, “Behold, the lamb. Taste and see that the Lord is good.” People do not become committed disciples of Christ because of billboards or blogs, though we use them as means of telling the story. People commit their lives to Christ because they see followers of Christ doing justice, loving kindness, and walking humbly with God. As a witness in Jerusalem we covenant together. As witnesses in Judea and Samaria we become prophetic windows allowing the world to see the beauty of the sanctuary, and to allow the sanctuary to be blessed by the beauty of God’s creation and children.
We are to be witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth. The funny thing about this is that a sphere has no end, only a horizon. Witnessing to the ends of the earth means that our witnessing will never be fulfilled by we alone. The Gospel is bigger than one generation. As the 23rd Psalm tells us, there’s more wine than there is cup. The cup is there so that humanity may drink from God’s goodness, but the cup does not contain all the goodness of God. Thousands of years from now they may be talking about today being the early church. That is a humbling and hopeful thought.