RECEIVING POWER WITNESSING EFFECTIVELY
A sermon by Rev. Richard Miller, Minister of Trinity United Church, Montreal, QC. May 23, 2004. Acts 1:1-11.
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.
During my teen years there was a strong youth movement in many church denominations, and in my case in Pennsylvania it was the Methodist Youth Fellowship or MYF as we called it. Almost every Sunday evening at my home church we gathered with John Brewer for a time of worship, Christian learning, and fellowship. Then there were also Subdistrict Rallies which were held once every three months. Imagine a gathering of youth groups from the United Churches on the Island of Montreal, and youve got a subdistrict rally. Usually there was a speaker, and once a year we had a Booth Festival when we gathered staple food products something like we do here for St. Brendans. And then once or twice a year there was a District Rally, which would bring together youth groups from an area about the size of Montreal Presbytery. Finally the Conference-wide program mostly took place at Jumonville, the mountain-top camp and training center which I attended as a youth, the place where I sensed God's call to ministry, where Nancy and I met one summer evening, and where we were married 39 years ago a week from tomorrow. Clearly the youth program was an important part of my growing up and my growth in faith.
So let me ask: how many of us here have been members of a church youth group at Trinity? . . . . How many at some other church? . . . . Are there any people here today who started coming to Trinity because of coming to the youth group? . . . . I have heard at least one person speak of how his life was changed by our youth group. I am grateful for Sheri, for Heather, and for Gary who continue to provide leadership for our youth group; and as a minister and a grandparent I am grateful that the Trinity Youth Group is here for our young people. In my opinion our youth group is one of the secrets of Trinity one of the reasons why many of our young people have continued to be active in the church when they reach the age when in many, many churches the young people are dropping out.
I have here a small blue paperback book which I have had for almost 50 years. It was the Handbook of the Methodist Youth Fellowship, and it spells out what were called the five program areas of the MYF: Christian Faith, Christian Witness, Christian Outreach, Christian Citizenship, and Christian Fellowship. It was at the age of 15 or 16 when I became the Christian Witness Chairman of the Uniontown Sub-district MYF that I first became familiar with today's scripture reading from the Book of Acts about receiving power and being Jesus' witnesses.
This scripture, then, had quite an impact during those years of adolescence, and it is still part of my basic Christian faith. You see, I believe that this text is not limited to the Apostles, but that we too are empowered by the Holy Spirit and sent to be witnesses we are sent in our own church which is often where we first gave our life to Christ, in the community where we live, and sometimes to the very ends of the earth. As we can imagine, a scripture passage like this one has been a missionary text down through the history of the church, and ministers and other missionaries were sent near and far to work for God because churches like Trinity held up this challenge to their people. It was through one of these persons Lise Kuzminska that I first learned of Trinity United Church about 14 years ago. How many other ministers or missionaries have you produced at Trinity? . . . . How many theological students have we helped to train? . . . . Do we know what they are doing now? . . . . Do we stay in touch with them? . . . . We should, you know by letter, telephone, and sending Trinity Talks, for we have helped to form them, and they are part of our extended family. They carry a part of us with them in the places where they minister today. Most likely, they talk about how things were done at Trinity in the same way that I talk about some of the other places where I have served.
. . . 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. (Acts 1:8)
The last things that Jesus said to his disciples before his ascension were these words which promise the power of the Holy Spirit and send them to witness. How interesting it is that they were not the ones who bore witness to Christ in Judea and Samaria and to the ends of the earth. Rather it was new Christians people like Philip and Paul. For in those very early years of the Christian church, the twelve Apostles worked almost exclusively at Jerusalem, and it fell to others to preach the gospel, to initiate the mission beyond Jerusalem, and to carry it to the ends of the earth which at that time meant as far as the Atlantic Ocean, and to places such as Germany, India, and Ethiopia.
I think there is an important message here, namely that whenever we hesitate to witness and to follow Gods call, God raises up someone else who will. We might ask ourselves if the same thing is happening today as some of the newer churches and groups such as World Vision witness with a fervor and an effectiveness that can be startling.
How then do we witness as Christian people today? Well, we witness to Jesus Christ by every word we say and every deed we do. If we are Christian, we have no choice but to witness. We either witness that Jesus Christ is our Saviour and Lord, the final authority in our faith and our practice....or else we witness to the fact that he is not. We either witness that his gospel and his life are the most important things in our lives, or that they are not. We either witness that we have committed our lives fully and completely in his service, or that we have not. Here we especially witness by how we spend our money as Christian people, and as a Christian church. You see, we have no choice on whether to witness, but only on what we witness. Once we surrender ourselves to Jesus Christ, it becomes apparent to everyone around us whether or not he is the touchstone, the pivot point, the anchor of our lives. It is quickly evident whether or not we are grounded in him.
Whenever we hear or say something like this, there is always the temptation to look around at other people and tally up who is being faithful and who is not. But really, we only have to answer for one person the one we see in the mirror when we are alone. We may count on God to challenge other people in the same way.
Jesus said that his followers shall receive the power of the Holy Spirit, and that we will be his witnesses. This is a precious promise, you know. God sends power upon us the power of the Holy Spirit. And why? So that we can and will witness to Jesus. Both to talk the talk, and to walk the talk. And he promises that we will do this so effectively that it will make a difference. It will make a difference in our own lives. And then through our lives it will make a difference in the lives of others. And this powerful and effective witness then builds up the church of Jesus Christ for even more effectiveness as an instrument of Gods love. Let us then open our hands and our hearts and our lives to receive what is promised, and then go and do what we are sent to do. Amen.