The Unpreached Sermon
This is the text of Pam's Sermon which she wrote but due to a mistake on the preaching schedule (caused by the Rector who is the one writing this) she did not get to preach it - enjoy.
April 18, 2021 Easter 3B Redeemer Shelby
Yesterday was my maternal grandmother’s birthday - To the world she was known as Margaret Susanna Raffield Davis, but to me, she was simply ‘Granny.’
Granny was born on April 17, 1899 or 1898, depending on which family bible was referenced; Granny preferred the 1899 date for her year of birth because it made her a year younger. She died in the spring of 1991, just shy of her 92, or possibly her 93rd, birthday.
My grandmother survived many hardships and struggles in her life, including: several wars - she lost brothers in WWI and a son in WWII; the great flood of 1916 that destroyed the family home; the Depression, during which her husband lost his businesses, and being widowed at a young age with 5 children to rear. She out lived 12 of her 13 siblings, and all of her children but one.
The difficulties of my grandmother’s life deepened, rather than diminished, to the surprise of some our family members, her abiding faith and trust in God. She read her Bible daily, without fail, said her prayers both morning and night, not counting her mealtime grace and she gave God credit for sustaining her through all the circumstances of her life.
One of my Granny’s favorite things to do was go to the camp meetings that were held every summer in our town. If you’re not sure what a camp meeting is, think tent revival - large tent in the middle of an open field with electricity ran to it, saw dust for the floor, paper fans for cooling, and folding metal chairs for seating. Camp meetings often lasted for two weeks, sometimes more, and while Granny didn’t make it every night, she went as often as she could. Many nights, I would go with her.
The music at the meetings was Southern gospel, which I enjoyed, and the preaching was loud and long and fiery. I remember how the preacher would punctuate his sermon by regularly yelling “Can I get a witness?” at the top of his lungs while shaking or thumping his Bible, and the whole place would erupt with ‘Amen’ and ‘Hallelujah’ and ‘Praise the Lord.’ The shouting could go on for several minutes, especially if there was a good crowd that night.
I don’t know how many of us would be comfortable giving our witness in quite that way, but in our Gospel lesson today from the last chapter of Luke, one of the post resurrection appearance stories of Jesus, he tells his disciples that
‘Repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things.”
Jesus is calling his followers, then and now, to be witnesses, to what God has done, to what God is doing and to what God will do in the world.
Witnessing, sharing our faith, giving our testimony, whichever phrase best suits you, can be a frightening proposition. Sometimes that is because we don’t think we can witness - we feel we don’t know how, we’re not sure we what to say or how to say it, or we’re afraid we’ll say the wrong thing.
We may also be hesitant to say anything about our faith because we have had bad experiences being witnessed to by others that have so turned us off, we’re hesitant to even try to share our faith story, for fear of doing the same thing ourselves.
But if we think about it, we give witness continually about what matters to us-it just might not be God.
We give witness to, we talk all the time, about people and things and happenings - social gatherings we attended, books we love, new tv shows we’re watching, sporting events we can’t miss, big events with our families, new purchases we have made, our thoughts on happenings in the world - we share what is important to us, and those are often what get our money and our time as well.
What if we were as animated, as excited, as willing to share, about our relationship with God?
I think if we were asked we would say we believe in God’s promises to us, so what would happen if we lived like we really believe those promises are true?
Do we talk and act like we trust that nothing can separate us from the love of God, that God never stops reaching out to us in grace, in forgiveness, in love? Do we behave as if we truly believe we have been given new life in Christ?
How might that change the way we look at our lives and our purpose, how we live, how we use our resources? How might it change our willingness to share our faith with those around us?
Maybe becoming a witness begins with our willingness to be aware, opening our eyes and our ears and our hearts, to really pay attention-to when and where and how we see and sense and experience God at work in our lives and in the world around us - then simply sharing that with others. I have friends who refer to these as “God moments.”
What people want to know, what they are longing to hear, has little to do with deep theological explanations of our faith. Sure, there might be a person here or there who wants those kinds of answers, but that’s not most people.
Most people want to know why we believe in God, how we came to our faith, why we come to church - what we have experienced, what makes it important to us, how through our faith we find joy and wonder and hope and comfort, how it influences the choices we make - and why we keep coming back. Why do we worship, why do we pray - and continue to do so - even when, especially when we have doubts and disappointments.
The stories of our faith journeys really matter to others.
Take a second and think of people who have shared their stories with you, who have been examples, who live what they say they believe: those who demonstrate their love through action and time spent and hands reached out to help; who respond to hurt with forgiveness; who work tirelessly to make the world a better place for everyone because they believe we are all God’s children.
I am profoundly grateful for the many witnesses in my life, for those who have helped shape and lead and support me and I’m certain, as you have thought of those who have shared their stories, their faith, their journey with God with you, that you are thankful too. We have all been changed because of what others have shared with us.
Likewise, each of us is called to bear witness to what God has done and is doing in our lives and in our world.
May we be ready and willing to share our stories, remembering, in the words of pastor and evangelist DT Niles:
EVANGELISM is just one beggar telling another beggar where to find bread.