33rd Sunday OT C ~ "Testify" ~ Susan McGurgan



It will lead to your giving testimony.


"The day will come," Jesus warns,

"when your temple will lie in ruins.

The day will come

when you will be powerless,

terrified,

betrayed.


The day will come when you will be tempted by lies

and handed over by friends

because of my name."


The day will come, Jesus says,

when all that you have left

is your testimony.


Where I live and worship now,

there isn't much of a market for

"personal testimony,"

or Wednesday night altar calls,

or any action

that might lead to seizure or persecution.


In fact,

where I live now,

religious testimony is about as welcome

as an update on cousin Myrtle's gall stones

or an invitation to your neighbor's harmonica recital.


But, back home when I was growing up,

just about everyone I knew

had a testimony--

a witness story to tell.

And they told it,

whether you really wanted to hear it,

or not.


Old men stood up

in Wednesday night prayer meetings,

reciting an epic tale of sin and redemption,

and of the time Jesus himself

pulled them from the gutter

and washed them whiter than snow.


I heard friends tell of preachers

whose fiery testimonies could curl your hair

and make you sorry you ever teased your brother

or sassed your mother--

preachers who urged you to give a witness

to the clerk at Safeway,

to the teller that cashed your check

to the man who changed your Daddy's oil.


In the buckle of the Bible Belt,

even the very young learned how to testify

and share what God was doing in their lives.

And no matter your age or station in life,

if you couldn't tell that story

out loud,

in public,

with great joy and enthusiasm,

well...

then you really weren't much of a Christian,

were you?


Giving that witness in the cafeteria line

or on the bus headed to the football game

was the local equivalent

of being called to the Torah

or being confirmed by the Bishop--

it was a declaration that you had come of age, spiritually.


To tell the truth,

it usually just annoyed me,

and I was grateful that my own Church

was a bit more restrained.

But over time,

that landscape of testimony and witness

shaped and etched me in profound ways,

as thoroughly as the wind and the storms

carved gullies into the red dirt of the plains.


Today in my neighborhood,

there are endless discussions

about the parking problem at the 10 o'clock Mass,

whispered gossip of the deacon's impending divorce,

and serious talks about the state of the gym floor,

the PTA fundraiser,

the lack of young adults in the parish,

and rumors of drinking at the 8th grade mixer.


In the parking lot after Worship Commission,

talk of the new building campaign

became positively heated,

and several families quit speaking

over the location of the new tabernacle

and the new pastor's liturgical changes.


But somehow,

the topic of personal testimony

never

ever

comes up.


For many,

faith is something private and contained.

Something to be expressed "properly,"

in Church,

on Sunday.

Not Tuesday afternoon at the Jiffy Lube.


And anyway,

isn't that why we have Christ Renews?

Men's Group?

Women's Bible Study?

RCIA?

A paid professional staff?

Aren't they supposed to handle

all that awkward, personal stuff

for the rest of us?


Maybe that is what holds us back.

Maybe.

But I'm not so sure.


I think in the end,

we often hesitate to speak out

because we just don't believe

that we are important enough,

worthy enough,

faithful enough,

"Jesus-y" enough

for our stories to matter.


Maybe we remain silent

because we are not slick

or smart,

or sometimes,

even very nice.


Maybe we wonder

what anyone could learn

from our ordinary lives,

our garden variety sins,

our modest victories.


If our grown children have left the Church,

if we still struggle to forgive,

if we sometimes (ok, often) have questions or doubts---

is our testimony even valid?

Isn't it possible we could be struck by lightning

or be on the receiving end

of an Old Testament smiting

for our presumption?

Yet, two thousand years ago,

Jesus looked at the flawed and fragile people around him--

people just like us,

and said,

"The time will come when you will lose everything,

even your temple.

You will be hated,

handed over,

perhaps even put to death,

and it will lead to your giving testimony."


Among those early followers

were beggars and thieves,

harlots and cheats.

There were men who grew rich from graft,

Roman oppressors,

people possessed by demons,

women haunted by the past,

folks so frayed and broken

they were almost invisible.


James and John argued over privilege and position.

Zacchaeus grew wealthy from a life of corruption.

Peter denied Christ three times.

Thomas demanded "proof"

and few of those who were closest to Jesus

truly understood him at all.


None of them lived perfect lives

yet,

each of them testified.

None of them had it all figured out,

yet,

each of them offered witness.


So, I think that even if,

like Peter,

you have sometimes denied the Truth,

you still have a truth to speak

that the world needs to hear.


Even if,

like the woman who washed Jesus' feet,

you have a difficult past,

you still have a message to preach

that the world needs to know.


Even if, like Paul,

you irritate your friends,

even if you are burdened with a painful infirmity,

even if you like to stir things up,

even if you speak from jail,

you have something important to say about God.


The abused wife,

searching for strength to leave a violent marriage,

needs to know

that God will sustain her,

even when life seems hopeless

and terror wears a familiar face.


The lonely man,

caught in a web of sorrow and despair

needs to hear

that God is holding him

even as he falls.


The new mother,

blindsided by depression

needs to see that hope still shines,

even when her world appears dark.


We are God's beloved

and we each have a Gospel story to tell--

a testimony that someone else

desperately needs to hear.


As witnesses,

we are people who have seen something--

heard something--

experienced something--

maybe something big,

like the old men

in the Wednesday night prayer meeting,

wrestling with good and evil.


Or maybe it is something small--

so small

so fragile

so seemingly common

that it might appear unimportant,

except to the one who is truly searching.


Maybe our testimony can be found,

not in our words,

but in our stumbling and falling

and finding the courage to try again.


Maybe our testimony can be found

in the way we love our families,

the way we honor a contract,

the way we wait on a customer,

the way we welcome in a stranger.


Maybe the old men in the Amen Corner

had it right all along.

Maybe our life testimonies,

as ordinary as they may seem to us,

are truly epic in nature.

Maybe they are the stuff of legends,

worthy to be told and re-told,

whether anyone is really listening,

or not.


Maybe the Pep Club girls,

leading a Jesus Cheer in the back of the bus

understood something valuable and true.

Maybe we don't really come of age as Christians

until we are willing to share our faith stories,

out loud,

with some else--

to testify that we follow a mighty God

who is alive and well

and constantly working in our messy,

imperfect,

garden variety lives.


And when the job of giving testimony seems

too large or too risky to undertake;

If we worry too much about what to say or where to speak,

Remember, you are not to prepare your defense beforehand,

for I myself shall give you a wisdom in speaking

that all your adversaries will be powerless to resist or refute.

You will even be handed over by parents, brothers, relatives, and friends,

and they will put some of you to death.

You will be hated by all because of my name,

but not a hair on your head will be destroyed.

By your perseverance you will secure your lives."




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