How many of you grew up celebrating Ascension day? I did. OK – MY family celebrated Ascension day because my mother was the Christian education director and she had a fun program planned. So we gathered on the church’s front lawn and celebrated Ascension day with a parade and carried bright helium balloons. We had filled these balloons with helium – and a message. And then we marched around the church. Then on the count of 3… we let them go. Up they flew. No one knew how far they would travel. Inside the balloons we had put a message requesting the finder to call or write to us to let us know how far our message had traveled. I think once that we got a message back from Wyoming. The helium had long since seeped out, but the wind must have caught it and carried it far across state lines.
Our messages carried by the wind – and since the word “wind” is the same as the word for Spirit in both Greek and Hebrew – we imagined ourselves sending out our messages of God’s Good News fueled by the Spirit of God. What a beautiful way to share God’s love. Plus, sending God’s message by helium balloon was really easy – and fun! The beautiful balloons filled the sky and our mission was done! We were witnesses….right?
Except… unfortunately, our balloons, while launched with the best intentions for sharing God’s news, were not good for God’s creation. We discovered not all the balloons landed in human hands. Some got caught in trees and bushes. Birds and other creatures would mistake them for food – and choke on the balloons or get caught in the string. So we stopped releasing helium balloons with messages. That didn’t work.
But…Jesus calls us to be witnesses – to share the Good news. So what are we to do? Text? Tweet? Facebook? Or…maybe talk to someone?
Jesus declares, “You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” So what does it mean to be a “witness”?
The very thought of witnessing – or the E-word – EVANGELISM, scares a lot of people. Probably most Lutherans. After all:
- We don’t want to be like people who come to OUR door peddling THEIR faith. Instead, We want to be respectful of others faith;
- Besides…talking about faith leaves you pretty vulnerable and frankly, we’re afraid of being rejected;
- We’re also often afraid we don’t know how to do it – or worried that we will say the wrong thing;
Witnessing sounds scary.
This past week a number of people stopped by to check out our flooring and take final measurements before submitting a bid for our new carpet. Most of the people asked a few questions and then spent their time measuring and checking out the floor. But one man, as he was taking measurements, made a comment about his own church. So I asked him about it. But instead of telling me about his church, he looked at me and said,“knock. Knock”. I wondered where he was going with this. None of the other contractors told jokes. And so I was thinking that perhaps it was time to wrap up this conversation. But I was curious. And so I said, Is this a knock knock joke? OK… “Who’s there?”
He replied: That’s the question: Who’s there. Who’s there is written in our lives – we tell people about what we believe by how we live our lives – what we do and what we say.
In other words… we are witnesses. Like it or not – our lives are a witness to what’s important to us: how we spend time and how we spend money and how we use the gifts and talents that God has entrusted to us. The question is: Are we sending the message we intend?
How many of you have seen a TED Talk? Ted Talks are powerful messages - talks- that can be viewed online.
TED Talks are created because of the belief that, “Ideas really matter." And that they are a gift to be shared for the sake of the world. As Chris Anderson, curator of TED explains, "if communicated properly...(ideas) can change how people think and act in the world.”
He tells potential speakers that if you give a talk with an ulterior motive – to sell your product or to make you famous – it will fall flat. The special quality of the Ted Talk is that the idea shared is given as a gift – it’s given for the sake of the other. It’s given because it’s an idea, a truth that has captured you, transformed your life – and you want to share it.
Brothers and sisters in Christ, we have a gift to give. We have a story to tell. This is the Good News story of Christ in our lives. This is OUR story - and we share it because we need to share - and others need to hear.
So how do we do this? At our Synod Assembly yesterday and the day before, Bishop Ann Svennengsen described “Evangelism the Lutheran way” as having four parts: ordinary people sharing their stories, speaking to people they know, extending an invitation and doing it with a gracious spirit and with humility.
I remember hearing stories from my grandparents about the crazy way in which my grandmother started the Sunday school by having my grandfather pick up in their car all of the children from the neighboring farms. My grandparents would NEVER have thought of themselves as evangelists. But they did evangelism the Lutheran way: They talked with people they knew, extended an invitation with a gracious spirit and humility - and they shared their story.
Each one of us have a story to tell. We have a story of faith. Sharing our story - your story - by simply talking to people you know and extending an invitation with a gracious spirit and with humility can be a gift. It’s a gift for others, a gift of hope, a gift of life. Our brothers and sisters and neighbors and co-workers are hungering for peace of Christ, the love of God, and the Joy of the Spirit. You can be that witness. In Jesus’ name. Amen.