Sometimes, when we are paying attention, we are able to really see places where God is at work and really hear what God is saying to us. Sometimes, in the midst of chaos—too many deaths, destruction, loss, and sadness—we are blessed by the Spirit’s movement among us. I believe God is always present with us, but sometimes, we are also able to be present with God.
Last Sunday, we celebrated the Epiphany of the Lord during our morning worship, and it was a wonderful celebration and time with some of our church family. For evening worship, though, I decided to use one of the lectionary scriptures of the day (John 1:1-9) and focus on the Light. It was a way to bring all of the Christmas stories together, including the story of the magi following the great light in the sky, and move us onward into the new year. John’s prologue, our scripture, proclaimed, “The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.” But leading up to that, we heard these two verses: “There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him” (John 1:6-7, NRSV). So I thought it would be interesting to include some thoughts about what it means to witness and testify.
For those of you that don’t know, “to witness and testify” might cause Presbyterians to run and hide under a rock. Those words might cause fear and trembling for some of us because, well, we aren’t all that comfortable with the thought of publicly testifying about our faith. (There are many historical reasons for this, but that’s not the point right now.) So I attempted to re-define these words, and I wanted us to consider how simple and engaging it can be for us to witness and testify.
I shared these words from Adele Ahlberg Calhoun: “A witness is simply someone who tells what they saw or heard or experienced. A witness tells the story of what happened to them. Anyone who follows Jesus has a story to tell… All disciples have stories of God’s work in their lives that are meant to help set others free.” (Spiritual Disciplines Handbook, InterVarsity Press, 2005)
And so we told some stories and shared some of our experiences with one another. Simple stories, old stories, new stories. People were invited to talk about their faith journey, share a story of where they had seen, felt, and experienced God. It was honest. It was inviting. It was moving.
At the end of worship, one of the elementary aged girls came up to me with a question. She had been thinking about this call to witness and testify, and she was concerned that she didn’t know anyone who needed to hear a story about God or Jesus. She explained that everyone in her life (family, friends at a Christian school, and church friends) already knew about Jesus, so she didn’t know how she might witness and testify. First, I was struck by her faith and desire to serve God. Second, I tried to explain how all of us—even those of us in church who already know God and follow Jesus—need to hear the stories of God. We need to hear each other’s witness and testimony. When life is difficult and we question where God is or why so many bad things are happening around us, we need to hear these stories of our faith, these stories of God’s activity in our world. To witness and testify does not necessarily mean that we need to share God with a stranger or someone in a far off place. Sometimes, we need to witness and testify for and with each other.
It just so happened, then, that I was leading our Presbyterian Women’s Bible Study two days later. And it just so happened that this same idea was lifted up: the need to tell the stories of God. Janice Catron, a pastor in the PC(USA) and the author of the 2013-2014 Horizons Bible Study, An Abiding Hope: The Presence of God in Exodus and Deuteronomy, wrote: “Retelling the story of God’s mighty acts past and present keeps our faith alive and opens the door for others to have faith as well. What’s more, when we lift up and celebrate what God has done, we find ourselves open to where God is leading us next.”
Sometimes, God moves even us as we tell our stories. Sometimes, we find ourselves changed and ready for more. Sharing God’s stories, past and present, is a gift: both for others and for ourselves. So as we continue on into this new year of 2014, may we open ourselves to God’s gentle nudge to share our stories, to witness and testify! May we trust that these stories are important and need to be told and heard.
What is your story? What is God calling you to share?