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,
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
or Wednesday night altar calls,
or any action
that might lead to seizure or persecution.
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,
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
with great joy and enthusiasm,
then you really weren't much of a Christian,
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.
the topic of personal testimony
faith is something private and contained.
Something to be expressed "properly,"
Not Tuesday afternoon at the Jiffy Lube.
isn't that why we have Christ Renews?
Women's Bible Study?
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.
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,
for our stories to matter.
Maybe we remain silent
because we are not slick
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,
"The time will come when you will lose everything,
even your temple.
You will be hated,
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,
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
each of them testified.
None of them had it all figured out,
each of them offered witness.
So, I think that even if,
you have sometimes denied the Truth,
you still have a truth to speak
that the world needs to hear.
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.
we are people who have seen 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 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,
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,
with some else--
to testify that we follow a mighty God
who is alive and well
and constantly working in our messy,
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."