Pastor Tom Millner
Luke 24: 1-12
The women described in our reading today were distraught over the loss of the person, Jesus. He was their friend, their sometime confidant, and a person in the male dominated world that accepted them as they were for who they were and had expressed his unfailing love for them. Yes, the Disciples had lost a friend, but they had lost a personal dream of being a part of a greater Kingdom, sharing power with their mentor. These women, on the other hand, had lost someone so very personal. The Disciples of course had lost a personal friend, but they had always been in the “in crowd” around and with Jesus, and they anticipated an even greater presence and prestige with Him in His Kingdom that now seemed lost to the cross. This did not make their grief any less keen, however. The women, moved that morning by their desire to bring honor and presence to what they thought would be the soon to decay body of Jesus, went in grief to visit His tomb. In Luke’s account, two angels appear to the women at the tomb and ask; “Why do you look for the dead among the living? He is not here; He has risen!” They had come to pay homage to their dead friend; they had found a vacated tomb and messengers of hope that life had been restored. Armed with the information of restoration and hope, they went back to the eleven remaining Disciples to share what they had witnessed. Predictably, the women were not believed. The testimony of women in that day held no validity, simply because of gender. Even though these Disciples had been around the women day in and day out, the skeptical males failed to acknowledge the first witnesses to the empty tomb. Peter, who had denied knowing Jesus during His darkest hours, had to go and see for himself.
It seems like the “in crowd” is always skeptical of the “witness” of the obviously excluded. How could these obvious outcasts from the broader society, though honored by Jesus, stand in witness to the risen Savior in their lives? Sounds like how it appears in modern Evangelical churches today, doesn’t it. The debate over women in ministry and the even stronger debate over orientation in the worship place. How can “those folks,” obvious sinners in the eyes of God, hold witness to a risen Savior? Here’s how; they simply told it as they had experienced it! They gave witness to what God had revealed in their lives. John 9 tells us that Jesus was called a sinner by the Pharisees as they were confronting the man healed from his blindness. The man responded; “Whether He was a sinner or not, I do not know. One thing I do know. I was blind but now I see.” (John 9:25)
We give witness every day to whatever has power in our lives. The sex addict gives witness to the power of need for attention and self gratification by his or her constant prowling behaviors for another willing participant. Similarly, the alcoholic gives witness to the power of intoxication as a coping mechanism. The drug addict gives witness to what takes priority in his or her life, most often the escape from a perception of reality that demands distraction. The fundamentalist who bangs his fist against his pulpit in anger against the damned gays and lesbians gives witness to his underlying unrest with anything different than he. The gossip gives witness to the need for attention and excitement that elevates them with sharing a morsel that may raise the eyebrow of another for a moment. The non-tithing person gives witness to desire for self to be in control and his lack of trust in God’s Word that instructs us to give out of the bounty that we have been given. On this Easter Sunday morning, God is calling us to give witness to Him who has raised us to new life with Him, and not witness to the god of self creation. We teach a class as a part of our Christian Life and Service Seminar series that focuses on sharing the Good news in your life with others. I encourage everyone to gain the knowledge and experience of that CLASS 401. Today, however, I want to encourage you to examine your witness and learn to go to a deeper place in your relationship with Him.
A witness in a court of law can only testify to what he or she has seen, heard, or experienced. Often we craft our Christian testimony as though we were being judged in the court of skepticism or by the jury of the righteous. Giving witness to Christ in our lives is not a well crafted homily in the power of persuasion that we have put together from a book or guide. Let’s look at what the scripture reading today shows us.
Witness from your own experience: “When they came back from the tomb, they told all these things to the Eleven and to all the others.” They told others about what they had experienced. They gave testimony to an empty tomb and the obvious risen Savior. The angels didn’t give them two main points and three supporting reasons why Jesus is the Messiah. They simply pointed out that it was pointless to seek a risen Savior in a place reserved for the dead. No longer would they anoint smelly remains but they would instead share the excitement of a living Lord. What is your experience? What power of the living Lord of your life do you wish to testify? Do you testify to what others have said or to what you have experienced?
Testify to what you’ve seen: The women recounted for the eleven precisely what they had witnessed at the tomb. They didn’t testify to hearsay or speculation; they testified to what they had seen. If you’ve never had a personal experience with Jesus; if you’ve never seen His transformational power moving in others, you cannot testify to His living presence. This doesn’t mean that He didn’t die on a cross for our sake and rise again to make us next of kin. When Jesus asked His Disciples “Who do people say that I am,” He followed up with Peter saying “but who do you say that I am?” Before the women could testify to what they had seen, however, they had to go to find Him. Before Peter could testify to who Jesus was to him, he had to have had his eyes open to God’s work in Christ. When asked to give testimony to how God can work in the life of an openly gay man, I must respond with the evidence that I have experienced and witnessed that God is more interested in my heart and what is between my ears than He is with what’s between my legs. He is interested in the whole of us, living out our lives in an ever deepening relationship with Him. Because I believe He created me – all of me – in His image, and that He’s made no mistakes along the way, I accept His unconditional love for me. I accept His grace and mercy for me through the righteous blood of Jesus Christ. When I allow Him first place in my life, He enables me to move beyond the confines of a tomb of self-condemnation to be raised with Him in life fulfilled. I have witnessed the power and presence of God in my life and the lives of others. God is not limited by our gender or orientation; He made us! It’s time we stopped making Him in our own image! Want more witness? Find it for yourself. Apply the wisdom and direction of 2 Timothy 2:15; “Do your best (study) to present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth.”
Leave the outcome to Him: The women left the empty tomb and told what they had experienced and seen. God had chosen them, disregarded as witnesses to the evidence of the resurrection, to be His witness. They didn’t debate with God as to whether their story would be believed; they simply told it. I think we often miss the opportunity to witness or share the power of God in our lives because we discount our experiences or conclude that our story is not that convincing. We need to ask then “who are we trying to convince”? We fail to remember that the power of our witness is not in the strength of our story, but in the presence of His Holy Spirit to accomplish His will in all. If we’re in control, God has no place to do His work. When we witness to the power of His presence as we have experienced and seen it, we’ve done what He has called us to do. When Jesus gave the Great Commission He did so by stating that God’s power had been given Him by the Father. “Therefore,” He says, “go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” The charge to the Disciples and to us is to witness, baptize, and disciple in the power of His presence in our lives.
On this Easter Sunday morning we are here as witness to the risen Savior, whose defeat of death and the grave is the defeat of sin over our lives. No longer are we bound by and to the slavery of sin, but we are raised to a new life, “just as if I’d” never sinned. All this for me and for you made possible by the blood of Christ at Calvary and His victory over the grave. He did all of this as a witness to His unfailing love for us. To what do we give witness? Do we give witness to the god of self-absorption or the God whose love for us embraces all in us with grace and mercy? The god of self-absorption is the god of death. The God of love and mercy is a life fulfilled through eternity. We can’t find the living among the dead! God calls us to give witness in our lives. The witness is to what we’ve seen and what we’ve experienced in the grace and mercy of the risen Savior in our lives.
Need a different witness? Meet Jesus!
Pastor Tom Millner, Sr. Pastor
http://www.cohssnj.org (Sister church in NJ)