Sunday, May 8, 2016

YOU are witnesses. . .

Morning Ascension Day Sermon preached by the Rev. Daniel M. Ulrich on Thursday, May 5, 2016.

Witness are called upon to tell people what happened.  If you see a car accident, you're expected give the police a statement about what you saw.  If you go to a concert, your friends might want you to tell them about it.  Witnesses aren't merely passive onlookers, they have a responsibility to tell others what they've seen and heard.  Jesus gave His disciples this responsibility when He called them witnesses. 
I.    On Ascension Day, before Jesus was carried up into heaven, He reminded the disciples about what He said.  "These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled" (Lk 24:44).  After Jesus said this, He opened the minds of the disciples to understand the Scriptures.
    At this time, Scripture was only the books of the Old Testament.  The Gospels weren't written yet, nor had Paul put pen to paper.  But God had still spoken to His people through the Old Testament writers.  These writers were witnesses, and they proclaimed Jesus.  Moses proclaimed the coming Christ as he recorded God's work of creation and He pointed to Jesus' sacrifice as he wrote down God's instructions for the sacrificial system.  The prophet Isaiah called people to repentance and proclaimed God's promise of salvation that would come through the Suffering Servant.  "He was wounded for our transgressions; He was crushed for our iniquities; upon Him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with His stripes we are healed" (Is 53:5).  Even the poetic praises and prayers of the Psalms witnessed to Christ.  As Jesus hung on the cross, He cried out "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" (Ps 22:1), words written by King David, and yet they spoke of Christ and His cross.
II.    All of the Old Testament declares Jesus the Christ, and you'd think the disciples would've understood this since they spent three years learning from and living with Jesus, God incarnate, the author of all Scripture.  But they didn't.  It wasn't until Ascension Day when Christ opened their minds that they understood what had been said about Him. 
Like the disciples, we don't always get it.  Because of our sin, we're incapable of understanding God's Word on our own.  We can't imagine God speaking everything into existence, so we create an elaborate system of evolution to explain life.  The miraculous in Scripture, like Jonah and the big fish, we don't see today, so we write these events off as myths and fairytales, written to teach us some moral truth like a fable.  We can't believe forgiveness and salvation are free gifts because in our world, nothing is free, you have to earn all the good that you get.  Our reason is sinful, and we need Jesus to open our minds to understand His Word, and thanks be to God that He has done this. 
Christ has sent us the Helper, the Holy Spirit, who He creates faith within us.  Left to ourselves we can't believe in Jesus Christ or call Him Lord.  Only with the help of the Holy Spirit who has called us by the Gospel can we do this.  Only with the help of the Holy Spirit can we trust God's Word.  We may not be able to explain everything the Bible says, but we can have faith that Christ died on the cross to pay for our sins and rose again from the dead, earning everlasting life for us.  And at the same time, the Holy Spirit helps us believe the rest of Scripture, God's creating, all the miraculous, and the free gifts of forgiveness, grace, and mercy. 
III.    With their minds open to understand Scripture Jesus sent the disciples out as witnesses to proclaim His life, death and resurrection.  They went out to call people to repentance and announce Christ's forgiveness to all nations.  The disciples were eyewitnesses, and with the Holy Spirit, the promise of the Father, they told everyone what they saw and heard.  And through their testimonies, the Holy Spirit brought people from all nations to faith. 
    You too are witnesses of Christ and you too are called to talk about what you see and hear with others in you daily lives.  Every week you're witnesses of Christ in the Divine Service.  Your crucified and risen Lord comes to you and gives you absolution for all your sins.  He proclaims His Word to you from this lectern and that pulpit, and he feeds you the meal of His very body and blood at that table, sustaining your body and soul to everlasting life. 
    One of the things I like about our worship bulletins is that they have explanations about what's going on in the Divine Service.  Near the end of the service, there's this explanation printed in the margin: "The Divine Service is almost over!  Here our service begins as we carry God's good news with us out the doors of this building and into the world."  When we leave this building, we do so as witnesses who are called to share what we've seen and heard.  There are hundreds of people we come into contact with every day, and we can witness to each one of them in easy ways.  Simply inviting them to church on Sunday morning or for some other service can go a long way. 
    The idea of talking with others about Christ can be scary, but we're not alone when we do this.  The Holy Spirit is with us, and He's the one doing all the work.  He's the one who brings people to faith, not us.  But God still uses us to be witnesses to others, to tell them what we've seen and heard in the Divine Service. 
Your risen and ascended Lord has come to you to give you forgiveness, life, and salvation.  This is by far the most important event that you'll ever see, and you have the responsibility to be a witness to others.  So, as the bulletin margin says, serve the Lord and be a witnesses of Christ.  Tell others what He has done on the cross, trusting the Spirit to work faith in them.  In Jesus' name...Amen.

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