Holy Habits Reconsidered: Witness Acts 1:6-14

I experienced family troubles when my girls were adolescents.  The best and worst part about having family troubles as a pastor is you live in a glass house.  The worst part: a few people watching inappropriately exploit your vulnerabilities making it more difficult to negotiate the difficulty.  The best part: most people watching want to help you do your best in this vulnerable time.  You may ever know the benefits of people watching if you maintain privacy or chose isolation in a difficult situation.

The blessing I experienced of people watching was it motivated me to employ all means of due diligence during this difficult time.  I sought counseling.  I learned my practice of parenting was the root of my problem.  I had resisted taking the full responsibility of parenting because I wanted my kids to like me.  It was when I reconsidered my habit of parenting that some of the family troubles begin to resolve.  I make it sound easy in describing it, but was hard work and still is to this day.

We will spend the next four weeks reconsidering Holy Habits.  It is very easy for our holy habits to become routine; that they are no longer holy, just habits.  The first and most important Holy Habit we find in our text today.  He said they will receive Holy Spirit power to be his witnesses.  Jesus gives weight to these words by including them as a part of his will and testament.  The holy habit of witness needs reconsideration in this 21st century because we have become a people more concerned with the fellowship inside the church than our witnesses to outside the church.  This imbalance has occurred as we have become preoccupied with money and ministry among the faithful; silencing our witness to a world in need.

Jesus didn’t say create great worship so everyone is happy.  Jesus didn’t say create relational small groups so everyone feels connected.  Jesus didn’t say create financial campaigns so everyone learns the joy of giving.  Jesus said the Holy Spirit will give power to speak to the needs of people, which can be met by the grace of God.  The essence of being a Christian is expressed in our witness.  Our witness will make strangers our friends by crossing lines of class and language.  This happens when we reconsider how we will engage a common mission to be witnesses for Jesus Christ.

Even Jesus had to refocus those first disciples to insure they considered what it meant to be his witnesses.  They want a word about the future, which they cannot know.  He speaks the commissioning word for the present, which they can do.  They ask, “Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?”  Jesus answers the question by telling them that was not their business.  Jesus gives them power to be busy being his witnesses as they were about to encounter new and unfamiliar ways.  He leaves them staring slack-jawed into the sky.  Two beings in robes comfort them, saying, “Why do you stand looking up toward heaven?  This Jesus, who has been taken up from you, will come in the same way you saw.”  As you standing there, do as told-Witness!

These disciples were about to go through rapid change.  All of the familiar intellectual and emotional landmarks were about to be washed away.  Jerusalem, the temple, and the synagogues would shortly lose significance.  They would no longer live according to the cultural taboos of the Jews or the Greeks.  Their lifestyles, priorities, and decisions would be based on the will of Jesus in their lives.  Their faith couldn’t be peripheral; it would become the most vital ingredient in their lives.  They had to be intimately and passionately connected to Jesus or they would not survive.  Their witness required an authentic story from real people.

Jesus’ demonstrated in his ministry how to be a witness.  Wherever he went or whoever he met he looked deeply into all things and saw what was really happening.  A witness is not walking up to a stranger and asking: “Are you saved?”  (I do not making fun of that zeal, because people have found saving faith in stranger ways.  I am more worried about our reticence to be bolder, than about those who are bolder than I prefer.)  The witness Jesus commissions is for his disciples to get into the line of sight of people so they and we are changed in the way we both see the world.  Before we speak, we’re to witness what’s happening in people’s lives and in our world.

I play golf better when people are watching.  I want to do better when I feel the eye of an instructor or spectator watching.  It matters to know we are being watched.  We readily claim Jesus is watching over us when we’re in need or feel blessed.  Could Jesus also be watching our watching?

The holiest habit shows up among neighbors.  The more we show up, the more opportunity the Holy Spirit has to work on us and them.  There is no guarantee something visible will happen.  Our showing up allows the Spirit to make a difference to people who need a graceful witness that speaks to their hurt, grief, shame or any other soul sickness that can be made whole by Christ’s redeeming offer.  There-ness radically changes and gives life.

The way a church activates the power of the Holy Spirit is to make what is happening in people’s lives a priority.  When we witness, we expand our understanding of worship because we expand our view of God’s world.  When we witness we better relate to each other and understand the scriptures because we experience new things.  When we witness, our “offering plate” mentality is challenged as we consider new ways of giving ourselves.  Most importantly people are given opportunity to respond to the amazing grace of God because we showed up.  Our presence assures people the world is not falling apart, and a gracious God is holding things together.  Without saying a word, we invite them to enter into that world.

I live in a nice neighborhood in the middle of an urban area that does include some risks, somewhat like the location of our church.  I intentionally choose to drive by Section 8 housing and other low-income high crime areas where my neighbors live in poverty.  I want to see.  The more I see, the better I am able to relate to my neighbors who live in conditions, without the option of avoidance.  It starts by showing up.

We say we witness with our lives; that’s never enough.  We must speak our witness.  The gift of the Spirit is not for our own personal experience; our private reserve.  We may claim we have a difficult time speaking up; fearing we will mess things up by what we say.  When we don’t try, we don’t give the Spirit a chance.  A witness is a real gospel stories from real person.

I love to hear how you love this church and her people.  When was the last time you told a person who needs a church what a difference Christ can make in their lives in this Body of Christ?  It is time again for you to have a heart to heart chat with someone who needs your witness.  People need to hear an account of your hope in Christ.  People want to know why your life in Christ is transforming.  There is no limit to what the Holy Spirit can do if you will quit holding our breath, use the gift of the spirit, open your mouth and speak the good news.  Trust the Spirit to do with your words what you cannot do; translate them and transform a life through your witness.

Last this world needs eyewitnesses, which is redundant; there is no other kind.  The word witness is the root word for the word martyr.  It cost something to be a 1st century witness.  It may not cost the same to be a 21st century witness, but there is a cost.  It may cost our time, money, or reputation.  We can do no other because we are commissioned to be witnesses for Christ.  We are to show up, see what’s going on, act in Christ’s name and speak good news to our neighbors and friends.

When you get in your car, look around the landscape of our church.  Ask each other what you see.  Send me an email this week or write it down how you think we might speak or act to our neighbors around FUMC.

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Published in: on September 18, 2011 at 7:27 am  Leave a Comment  

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