“TAKING THE WITNESS STAND”

SERIES: “BUILDING A SIGNIFICANT LIFE IN CHRIST”

ACTS 1:6-9

FEBRUARY 21, 2016

Rev. Dr. Richard Meyer

(Play Audio)

 

            When Trudy and I started dating I had intended to go to law school. Given all jokes circulating about lawyers these days, I’m glad God moved me in a different direction. And I’m not going to start off with any lawyer jokes today, but some of you may have seen lists of “bloopers” taken from real life courtroom cross examinations. These lists contain funny things that lawyers have said in the heat of litigation.

            For example, one lawyer, during a cross examination pointed to a picture, and asked, “Were you present when this picture of you was taken?”

            Another lawyer asked: “She had three children, right?”

            The witness answered, “Yes.

            The lawyer asked, “How many were boys?”

            None,” answered the witness.

            The lawyer asked, “Were there any girls?”

            Another attorney asked a witness, “The youngest son, the twenty‑year‑old, how old is he?”

            I don’t know if any of you have been a witness in a courtroom proceeding, but if you were called as a witness in the future do you think you would make a good witness? Think about that for a moment. Do you think you would be a good witness? I bet you would, and Jesus is banking on it. Listen to his last words to his disciples prior to boarding that cumulus cloud elevator to heaven. Acts 1:6.

 

            So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?” He replied, “It is not for you to to know the times or periods that the Father has set by this 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.

 

            This morning we come to the final message in our building a significant life in Christ. Today we turn to being a good witness. A person in a significant relationship with Jesus, witnesses to Christ’s presence and power in their lives.  Of course, the question we have to ask ourselves is, “Are we good witnesses?”

            A parable told by Father Andrew Greeley comes to mind. Andrew Greeley, who died three years ago, was a Catholic priest, novelist and Professor of Sociology at the University of Arizona, and in the parable Greeley tells about a politician who had a good message and an exciting platform, but he was not well known. So he had to make a lot of speeches around the district, go to many meetings, attend receptions, cocktail parties, and church gatherings. It was still an uphill battle. A good friend of his was his advance man, the fellow who made the arrangements for all the events and speeches. Unfortunately, he was not a very good advance man. He was unreliable and pompous and, worst of all, disorganized. Fellow campaign workers hated him, but the candidate stuck with his friend. As the election drew near, the polls showed the candidate losing ground. The advance man knew they were going to lose, so he gave up altogether. The campaign self‑destructed in the last week. Yet the candidate lost by only one half of one percent of the votes. Political pundits said that if the campaign had been better organized, the voters would have gotten to know the candidate better and he would have won in a walk.

            Then Andrew Greeley added this punchline to the parable: “We’re supposed to be advance persons for Jesus. Sometimes you wonder why he doesn’t fire us.”

            Do we ever wonder that ourselves? We’re supposed to be good advance persons for Jesus. We’re supposed to be his witnesses, making certain that his message is communicated. How are we doing in that regard? Before we answer, let’s consider some elements of being a good witness.

            First of all, a good witness needs to be credible. Watch just about any television show featuring attorneys, classics like Perry Mason and Madlock, or more contemporary fair like one of the numerous Law and Order offerings and one of the first things an attorney does is try to establish or impugn a witness’s credibility.  Before bringing someone on the stand the attorney asks himself or herself, is this a credible witness? Is this person believable? Is this person trustworthy? Put a convicted felon on the stand and you run a risk because the jury will wonder about that person’s credibility.

            Awhile ago an article appeared in the New York Times that disheartened many bird lovers. It was about a man named Tony Silva, a well-known bird breeder and outspoken defender of endangered species of parrots. He once was President of the American Parrot Association and you can go on Amazon today and you will find a highly acclaimed book on the care of parrots by Tony Silva. Two decades ago Silva was well known for his warnings about bird poaching, and of buying parrots of suspicious origin. Bird aficionados believed in Silva. They trusted him.

            Then two decades ago the New York Times reported that Tony Silva had confessed to a federal judge of smuggling more than 185 rare birds into this country from South America. One of his techniques was to drug the birds, then jam them into tubes that were stuffed into hidden automobile panels or false‑bottomed suitcases. At least 100 birds died in transit. He was convicted of breaking wildlife and custom laws and sentenced to 82 months in prison, fined $100,000, and required to perform two-hundred hours of community service.

            In the world of ornithology, Silva lost his credibility.

            What do Barry Bonds, Jimmy Swaggart, Bill Cosby, Lance Armstrong, and former NBC news anchor Brian Williams have in common? They all lost their credibility. Lose your credibility, your believability, your trustworthiness and you lose your ability to be taken seriously.

            So, a good witness needs, first of all, to be credible.

            Second, a good witness needs to be caring. You no doubt have heard the saying, “No one cares how much you know until they know how much you care.” That’s especially true when it comes to being a good witness for Christ. A good witness needs to be caring.

            A bitter, broken young man named Bob was a patient in a Twelve Step drug and alcohol treatment center, however, he wouldn’t get into the spirit of the treatment which the center offered him. He held the Twelve Step program of Alcoholics Anonymous in disdain because it spoke of a “Higher Power.” “God,” he said, “is a joke!”

            Bob was counseled by a middle-aged man named Murray. Murray was a battle scarred recovering alcoholic. The turning point in Murray’s life was what he called “an encounter with God.” Murray never pushed his experience with God on others. He didn’t have to push his experience of God. Just to sit and eat lunch with Murray gave people a sense of refreshment. Although he didn’t say very much about God, people sensed that Murray was very close to God.

            Bob was eventually discharged from the program having shown very little progress. He was back within a few months after another drunk driving arrest and another job loss. He asked if Murray could be his counselor. The reason? In Bob’s own words, “I don’t know if it can work for me or not, but I know that if there is a God, it is the God I sometimes think I see in Murray.”

            Bob knew that Murray cared. Do people know we care?

            To a be good witness for Christ we must be credible. We must be caring, and to be a good witness for Christ we must be committed his teachings.

            Are we committed to being the best witnesses we can be for Jesus Christ? According to the New Testament, if we are followers of Jesus Christ we are witnesses. Witnessing is not an option. The option is whether or not we have committed ourselves to being a good witness.

            When Adolph Hitler rose to power in the 1920s and 30s, Germany was thought to have one of the most Christianized cultures on earth. So where was the Church, where were the Christians, as the Nazis began their genocidal purges of “undesirable” people groups?

            Church leaders had to make a choice:  They could keep quiet, or they could speak out risking the loss of their ministries, their freedom, and their lives. A majority of priests, pastors, and seminary professors quietly made peace with Hitler. They looked the other way so they could keep their livelihoods.  The cowardice of German spiritual leaders remains a deep shame to this day.

            Then there was Dr. Martin Niemoeller, a German Lutheran pastor.  As a military hero of World War I, he was at first sympathetic to the Fuhrer. But when Hitler declared that the Third Reich had ultimate authority in all matters – even over the voice of God – Niemoeller protested.  In 1937 he was sent to Dachau, a Nazi concentration camp.

            Hitler hoped to win back Niemoeller’s loyalty, so he dispatched one of Niemoeller’s clergy friends to visit him.  “Martin, Martin, why are you here?” his friend asked.

            Niemoeller replied, “My friend, why are you not here?”

            He survived seven years in the camps, and was liberated by the Allies in the spring of 1945. After the war, Niemoeller frequently described the excruciating pressures of deciding whether to speak out or be silent.  He is best known for these four lines:

 

            First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out, because I was not a Socialist.

            Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out, because I was not a trade unionist.

            Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out, because I was not a Jew.

            Then they came for me – and there was no one left to speak for me.

 

            In the midst of this election season we may think that a sinking economy, or a nuclear North Korea, or Chinese trade practices, or those radical politicians on the Left, or those extreme people on the Right, or terror attacks will finally do us in. But our real enemy is apathy – sitting on the couch eating microwave popcorn because we’re pretty sure somebody else will step up and take care of things.  Someone else will be deeply committed to the teachings of Jesus Christ and do the right thing.

            So, how good a witness are we? Let's do a mental checklist. Are we credible? Are we caring? Are we committed to the teachings of Jesus? How did we do on the check list?

            Amen.