January 14, 2016 by Pastor Ben McIntire
So when the disciples had come together, they asked him, “Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?” Jesus replied, “It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” When he had said this, as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. — Acts 1:6-9
A couple of years ago, Rev. Mark Hanson who was then Presiding Bishop of the ELCA, challenged us to think of ourselves in light of the “E” in ELCA. We are an “evangelical” Lutheran church, which means we are commissioned by God to share the Good News of Jesus Christ. In Greek, “good news” is euangelion; when we think of it that way it sounds challenging but also something that we might like to do. After all, when we hear a great song for the first time, or see a movie that inspires or excites us, or read a book that strikes a chord in our heart—we are eager to share that experience with our friends and family and anyone who will listen. So why does the experience of faith and the word “evangelize” make us anxious and nervous?
Watching comedian Jim Gaffigan recently, I had to laugh at a truth he pointed out. Gaffigan said, “I do want everyone to feel comfortable at my show… That’s why I’d like to talk to you about Jesus.” The audience roared with laughter. He goes on to say, “It doesn’t even matter if you are religious or not, everyone gets uncomfortable when a stranger comes up to you and says, ‘I’d like to talk to you about Jesus.’ ” I admit, it’s true for me as well, even as a pastor. The reason is because it is hard to trust a stranger, perhaps it’s even unwise in this day and age. That is why it is so important for us to live out our faith and be witnesses in all aspects of our lives.
When we live with love and grace, humility and kindness, we will encounter and befriend all sorts of people—maybe even unexpected strangers. This is the way to be a living witness to the Gospel.
That doesn’t mean that we never speak about Jesus or our faith! Indeed the Word is vital to faith. The Word became flesh and lived among us (John 1:14), the word of God is recorded for us in the Bible, and our words about God’s love and blessing and grace in our own lives is our witness to the Good News as it applies to us. Sharing our story as a part of God’s big story is how we can help others see God at work in their lives, and it’s one of the big ways the Holy Spirit acts through us.
I’ve seen the congregation of St. Mark in Storm Lake, Iowa at work for a full year and more. I’ve seen the courage to share the Gospel from so many people at St. Mark. Many have blessed me with their examples of faithful living, the beauty of kindness and grace toward others, and the depth of trust in God’s promises. I’ve watched many step forward to share their time, skills, talents and treasure for the work of God’s kingdom.
The defining event of 2015 for me though, has been the opportunity to visit our companion congregation in Lupembe, Tanzania. The way St. Mark members supported Monica and me to be able to travel, experience, and share with our brothers and sisters on the far side of the world was humbling, amazing and fills me with joy. Most of the year was spent preparing and studying for the trip, traveling, and reflecting on the experience and the relationship we share with these Tanzanian people. My perspective has grown, my understanding and compassion has deepened, and its a joy to experience the distances and boundaries that faith can bridge.
When Jesus said, “You will be my witnesses to the ends of the earth,” well, I guess he really meant it! Not everyone gets a chance to travel like that, and I suppose not everyone wants to; but I hope everyone knows how much this experience meant to me, to Monica, and to the people of Lupembe Parish whose lives were touched by the prayers, generosity, love and companionship in our shared faith.
These companion synod relationships with Tanzania and Chile and a good example of how we begin to witness to the Good News of Jesus, in love, prayer, grace and kindness. As your own relationships grow with people around you, I pray that the things you learn from worship, Bible study and your relationships in church will help you put words to your faith, so that you may be a faithful and comfortable witness to those people as you speak about Jesus with gracious words as well as kind actions.
May we all continue to be Christ’s witnesses, filled with the power of the Holy Spirit for the good of all God’s world, from Storm Lake to Tanzania to Chile and all people in between.