Called to be a Witness (a Martyr)
Luke 24:36b-48

May 3 & 4, 2003
Pastor Wesley White
Fifth Avenue United Methodist Church
323 Fifth Avenue, West Bend, WI
262.334.2059 -

Everyone is looking for a bargain too good to be true. That is one of the appeals of a sign that boldly proclaims, SALE. This isn't something to be hidden. You want people to see it. Signs will proclaim "Sale" in letter so huge or so bright that it doesn't make any difference what is for sale. I lost count of how many "Sale" signs I've seen in the last week. All I know is that I tend to note when something says, "Sale." How about you.

In fact, things that get our attention do get passed on to others. "Did I tell you about the sale I saw going on?"
"Sale" signs are signs of an event. In fact they are an event all by themselves. The are a witness or an evidence of something going on.

Our telling about "Sale" signs is a witness to what we have experienced. "Let me tell you about the sale I was just at! You ought to go, too."

Together we have the inside and the outside of an important moment. The raw data and the meaning we give to it come together.

On the surface this is a pretty ordinary kind of thing to happen in a person's life, but I hope it will lead us into an important insight for the disciples of Jesus long ago and the disciples of Jesus that are gathered today.

To be a witness is to have some special knowledge. This usage goes way back in the to the beginnings of the English language. The word "wit" doesn't just mean a "wise acre" or a "smart ass." "Wit" first meant "knowledge." So the words "wise" and "smart" do apply, but not with the dismissive tone we sometimes use. In fact, we ought to have our children be proud of their wit, their knowing.

After dealing with the disciples doubts and questions and showing he wasn't just a ghost by joining them for a meal, Jesus begins to move into the business of wit or knowledge. Jesus taught them, opening their understanding of the way GOD works. He did this with reference to the Bible of their day, the Hebrew scriptures (what we too easily call the Old Testament).

Jesus showed them how the Messiah, or the Christ, is connected to all of life. You have faced suffering; the Messiah/Christ suffers. You will die; the Messiah/Christ dies. You are not bound by the limits of physical life; the Messiah/Christ is not bound by the limits of physical life but is raised from the dead. You find this whole cycle bound up in the reality of forgiveness; the Messiah/Christ clearly shows the way to total life-change through forgiveness.

Suffering and death and new life, the cycle of forgiveness is ours in this Easter season. It is something we find in communion.

"Forgiveness" is to be displayed in the world as boldly and colorfully as is a "Sale" sign. And, guess what! You and I are witnesses of this fantastic reality.

This is the teaching of Jesus to the disciples while he was with them before the cross: Blessed are you when you are suffering poverty, you will find forgiveness is GOD's Commonwealth; Blessed are you when you are dying for justice, you will find your peace in forgiveness; Blessed are you who find weeping transformed into tears of resurrection joy, you will find forgiveness to come naturally. (Luke 6:20-21)

This is the teaching of Jesus to the disciples when he was with them after the empty tomb: What life comes down to is the change that can happen after forgiveness and in preemptive forgiveness before the next sin.

Jesus says we are to be witnesses of this cycle of life and to our experience of forgiveness. We are not to be surprised at anything that happens, Jesus has already experienced the worst that can happen from being born into a refugee setting to being the reason many babies were slaughtered to being tempted in a desert while hungry to being betrayed by family and friends to being humiliated through a shameful death on a cross. [How is it in your life, again?] And through it all Jesus was born as a sign of GOD's forgiveness and resurrected as a sign of GOD's forgiveness to us still.

But here is the kicker, friends. The word witness not only has a meaning in English of knowledge (and we do know about the life-changing experience of forgiveness) but it has a meaning in Greek as well. When Luke wrote this passage in Greek he used a word that we usually translate here as "witness." The word is martureV (martures). Do you recognize the word martyr. Yes, it is the same root.

We are not just to be a sign, but to engage our witnessing in such a radical way that others will see the real choice before them ­ continue sleepwalking through life or enter a matrix of forgiveness where we are able to see the whole of love, not just the partiality of sin.

This is why Jesus ends his blessings with: Blessed are you who forgive so well that it scares others into trying to end your influence. For this world will be quite different if we keep up-to-date with forgiveness and offer it before and while we are being sinned against. Forgive us our sins as we forgive the sins of others. As we forgive we find ourselves forgiven. Forgiveness is the coin of the realm in the economy of GOD's Commonwealth.
Forgiveness is a challenge to any culture, particularly those that claim redemptive violence is the bottom-line of relationships. To forgive in such a setting is to move into martyrdom.

Do you remember that the martyrs gave their life, would not fight back, would honor their experience of being a witness and sign of GOD's love. It is the blood they sacrificed that birthed the church. They did so following Jesus, martyred for living GOD's love.

I am not talking about a martyr's complex where we think that we are doing so much and giving up so much for God or playing the game that because we are paying such a great price to be a Christian that God and others owe us something. Rather, we simply do all that we can do to give evidence of the Good News of GOD's forgiving love and we do so without the usual limits of embarrassment or fear of death.

You and I are called, as were the disciples of old ­ you are my witnesses, my martyrs.

What will that mean? The disciples of old did not know what it would call for from them. We do not know what it will call for from us. We only know that GOD has so loved the world that Jesus was sent for its renewal. We only know GOD through Christ has so loved us that we are witnesses to the resurrectional power of forgiveness. This is worth a big bright sign about the real sale, so real it is free, except of course, for costing us the rest of our usual so-called life.

Hear again the communion ritual. This is my body broken for you (the Messiah will suffer and die). This is my body as a witness for you. This is my body as a martyr for you. This is my blood shed for the new covenant of the forgiveness of sins (the Messiah will be raised on the third day and continue living GOD's forgiveness). This is my blood as a witness for you. This is my blood as a martyr for you.

Remembering this, as we eat this bread and drink this cup we receive into ourselves the forgiving love of GOD. In receiving the forgiving love of GOD we become witnesses to Jesus' resurrection and we become forgiving martyrs who will transform this world into a new heaven and a new earth.

Witnesses. Martyrs. Friends. Let us boldly receive and boldly give forgiveness. For all that has happened to bring us to this time and place, thanks! For all that will live on from here. Yes! Starting from here we are the witnesses, individually and congregationally. If we will not set the standard of forgiveness, who will?

If you need forgiveness or if you need to forgive. Do go to that person during our singing of the first three verses of Amazing Grace and come to receive communion with them.