Scripture: Luke 7:18-35

We’ve been watching some magic shows lately in our house. One in particular is called “Fool Us” which features the famous magician duo of Penn and Teller, who invite magicians to try and fool them with their magic to earn a guest spot on their Vegas show. Not very many actually succeed in fooling them. Then again, when you’ve been doing magic as long as Penn and Teller, they’ve seen and done a lot of different tricks. But it does happen occasionally, and it’s usually quite entertaining when they are fooled.

As you watch the show, and you know they are trying to fool professionals, you watch very carefully. You try and see where they made their trick happen. You look for the slight of hand, you look for the distractions and the misdirections so they can make their switch or whatever they need to do in order to pull it all off. Honestly, it’s not very often we see it when we’re sitting on our couch, but it does happen on the rare occasion where we pick out where the switch was made.

I can’t imagine it’s easy to stand in front of probably the most famous magicians in the world right now and try and fool them. The pressure would be immense to not make any mistakes. Everyone is watching your every move, your every gesture, possibly even your every breath.

Yet they do it. They pull off their tricks to the amazement of almost everyone in the theater, and certainly many of us at home, and in front of two men who will judge whether or not they’ve been able to fool them with their trickery.

Sometimes we’ll even go back and watch the trick over to see if we can spot anything we missed. Did it really happen as we thought it did? How did they do that? Where was the switch? And again, even when we rewatch the trick, we still can’t find that key moment where the magic happened.

So, in the end, we’re just left scratching our heads in amazement about what the magician has pulled off in usually a very impressive way. Even if they didn’t fool Penn and Teller.

Jesus has been doing some tricks of his own in the Gospel of Luke. John the Baptist has been hearing about them while he sits in prison. He was thrown into prison by Herod for saying bad things about his family, which Herod did not appreciate.

Do we remember what John was doing? We looked at it a few weeks ago.
People were coming from all over to see John and they were being baptized in the Jordan River to repent of their sins. John was teaching people to be kind and fair to one another because that was God’s way as they prepared for the Messiah who would come and purify their lives.

John was setting the people up to receive Jesus and his teachings, which would be far more powerful than John’s.

So, as we pick up the story in Luke 7, John is still sitting in prison and his disciples come and share with him what they have heard and seen Jesus doing. Now we don’t know what’s going on in John’s heart, but he wants to know more. Is he doubting? Is he struggling? Why does he want to hear more? Why does he need confirmation? Wasn’t he the one who recognized Jesus from his mother’s womb as Jesus grew in Mary’s womb? Wasn’t John the one who baptized Jesus and told people to watch out for his coming?

What is John looking for?

As Jesus was in their hometown of Nazareth, he spoke in the temple and he quoted scripture from Isaiah. Here’s what he quoted.

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” (Luke 4:18-19)

John would have heard these words of Jesus from people who were there and had come to see him in prison. So, if John is in prison, if he is living under the oppression of Herod, has Jesus come to save him?

There seems to be, as there often is, a misunderstanding of what Jesus came to do, and just who he really is.

John, like many others, may have expected Jesus to come and overthrow the government. To free the Jews from living under an oppressive Roman occupancy. People like to look at their own lives and think they have it the worst, and surely God will deliver them from their misery.

It’s a very short range view of what Jesus ultimately is here for. Some might even say it’s a selfish view. But what it really is is a misunderstanding.

The disciples of John have witnessed Jesus doing great things. They’ve seen him heal the sick and lame, they’ve heard of Jesus bringing people back to life, that is if they haven’t seen it for themselves. Which they may have, given that the widow’s son who was brought back to life, which we looked at last week, happened directly before the events we are looking at today.

So they come back to Jesus with a question from John. The question they ask is, “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?” (Luke 7:19)

The question they are really asking of Jesus is “Who are you?”

And they would love a direct answer where Jesus says he is the Messiah. John would be over the moon for them to come back with that answer.

Instead, Jesus heals a bunch more people and gives them this message.

“Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, the poor have good news brought to them. And blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me.” (Luke 7:22-23)

In short, Jesus says, “You are really seeing what you think you are seeing.”

Before Jesus ascends to heaven to live with God, he is with his disciples one more time and leaves them with this final instruction in Acts 1, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:8)

Jesus says they will be his witnesses.

What do witnesses do? In a courtroom, a witness is someone who can share what they have seen to help determine if a crime has been committed. And if this witness is speaking against the accused, and if their witness can stand up against the scrutiny of the courtroom, then their story is used to verify the crime.

In short, a witness shares what they see and hear in the course of an event that is under scrutiny.

Jesus calls his disciples to be witnesses. He is asking them to share what they have seen and heard with others.

When Jesus gives John’s disciples a response to share with John, he tells them to share what they have seen and heard.

Do you another word for this activity of witnessing?

It’s called evangelism. Evangelism, in it’s simplest form, is being a witness to what you see God doing.

So… what do you see God doing?

Do you see Him doing things in your life? Do you see Him doing things in this church or in our community? Are you convinced it’s worth sharing?

Are you willing to share?
Are you willing to be a witness for Jesus Christ? You aren’t a witness for Carman, or a witness for Rev. Nick. You are a witness for Jesus Christ and the work he is doing as the Father’s only Son, the Saviour of the world, sent by our Father in heaven.

Evangelism is not as scary as it sounds. If you see God doing something, share.

Now sure, someone might take some offense, or maybe they’ll laugh and joke about why someone would bother to believe in this fairytale stuff. But those people will be in the minority.

In my experience, many people are looking for signs of God. Many people are looking for meaning and hope in their lives. Who else can give greater meaning and hope than God? I certainly haven’t met anyone!

The fear of rejection is a valid feeling. I get it. I understand. There are times when I haven’t been a good witness and have fallen short on how I could be sharing the work of God in my life and in our church. Rejection is real and it happens.

It’s certainly nothing new to Jesus either.

At the end of our reading this morning, we see Jesus make reference to how people treated John because he was different. He dressed in funny clothes and ate weird food. And because he did all these things, people labeled John as having a demon. These of course are the people who didn’t appreciate his message either.

So Jesus lived the opposite life. He ate normal food, he dressed a little more normally, but he also did these things with less desirable people. He ate with sinners and drunkards, therefor Jesus is called by some a sinner and a drunkard.

Again, this is from people who don’t appreciate his message. These accusations towards John and Jesus aren’t coming from the people who are following them, they’re coming from people who reject them and their messages.

People can take offense to all kinds of things. But notice they aren’t taking offense to the way Jesus is helping people, they are taking offense to Jesus himself. And this offense is because he is threatening their authority.

There are all kinds of people out there who can find fault in any situation. They can look at someone who is a good, loving person and find something to complain about… probably something about their hair or clothes, just as John was judged by his diet.

People can find fault with our churches too. No matter how much good we might do in our community, no matter how many lives we may change whether in our own building or by helping someone in need, someone will find something to complain about.

They attack because we are different. They accuse because we don’t act like we’re supposed to act. If we’re generous and kind, we might be accused of trying to push our agenda. And so what if we are?

We might also be accused because we are helping the poor and needy in our community. Maybe we’re helping addicts or the homeless, the kind of people that “normal citizens” don’t associate with.

Jesus tells John’s disciples to go and share what they have seen and heard. Jesus tells his own disciples the same thing when he leaves them to return to our Father in heaven.

This is how we spread the good news of what God is doing in our lives, our churches, and our community. This is how churches grow because people don’t worry about being judged because we are too excited about what God is doing to really care if anyone doesn’t want to hear about it. If God is moving in our lives, then why hide it?

“Go and tell what you have seen and heard.”

This is a very simple command from Jesus. It’s one we shouldn’t be afraid of because the chance of rejection is actually pretty low here in Cape Breton. Most people in Sydney Mines have some sort of church background, what we do here is not all that foreign to them, even if they haven’t stepped into a church for several decades.

Sometimes hearing good news, hearing some stories about how God is touching people is all someone needs to hear to help them make the choice to come back and see it for themselves.

Now, someone might be thinking, “Isn’t that what we pay the minister to do?”

And I suppose in some ways you could say that’s true. But that’s not what I see my job to be.

I see my job as to help you explore your own faith, your own understanding of God in your life, so that when you have the opportunity to be a witness you’ll be able to have the confidence to share a story about what you see God doing.

To be perfectly honest, you sharing what you see is far more powerful evangelism than hearing it from someone who’s paid to say it. Would you agree?

None of the people Jesus told to be a witness we’re professional evangelists. None of his disciples, nor any of John’s. They were simply common folk who had seen some amazing things happen and we’re moved to tell everyone else about it.

Now, we may not see the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, lepers cleansed, the deaf hear, or the dead raised but we still can see some pretty great things happening in the name of the Lord.

This is the part of my sermon where I wish I had thought to ask someone to come up and share their testimony. But, I didn’t plan that far ahead this week.

I know some of you have your own personal stories which are powerful witnesses to things God has done, whether in your own life or you have seen in the lives of others. These are stories worth sharing.

Want to know what is different between you and John the Baptist (besides his funny clothes and weird diet)? You won’t end up in jail for sharing your witness. We, here in Canada, are free to share our own religious experiences without the threat of persecution. No one will barge into our house in the middle of the night and drag us out in handcuffs because we told a personal story about God.

Sadly, we can’t say the same thing for the rest of the world. There are places where this happens to Christians, and they are killed because of their strong faith in Jesus Christ as their Saviour and they can’t stay silent. They need to share their witness, even if it costs them their lives.

Us? We can do whatever we please. We could even join that other church in town on the street corner by the old town hall over the summer if we wanted to. Now their message may be a little strong for us protestants, but we can stand pretty well wherever we want to share our faith in God.

Of course there’s more than one way to share our faith. The most effective method to help bring other people to faith is to share our stories, yes. But we can also serve. We can follow some of the other instructions Jesus gave his disciples. Think of the final examples in the Gospel of John when Jesus tells Peter to take care of his sheep. Jesus also wants us to care for people and to take care of them.

There are many ways to do this. Volunteering in our community, like the food bank, or schools, or Community Cares. It could be done by offering programs to people. It could be feeding people. It could be as simple as handing out bottles of water during the Johnny Miles parade on a hot summer day. There are many ways to be a witness in our community. Whether it’s by sharing stories, or sharing more quietly in acts of service.

What are the things we see Jesus doing around us?

Sometimes we need to watch a little more carefully or listen a little more intentionally.

Jesus is at work. It may not be out in the middle of Main Street, in fact that’s probably the last place we’ll see it. It’s more likely that Jesus is at work along the edges, in the corners where we don’t often look, or don’t have much desire to look.

We are the hands and feet of Christ in the world today. We are the ones who are the witnesses of God’s love and mercy in a world full of hate and cruelty.

We have a story to share. A story which has lasted for thousands of years. A story which has changed millions of lives. A story which still changes lives today.

What is our story?
What is your story?

Is it worth sharing?
I bet it is.

No wait… I know it is.

Let us pray,

Lord Jesus,

You have done such amazing things in your life here on this earth. Things we may never get to see. We are so thankful for the early witnesses of the church who wrote all these stories down for us to read and to share today.

We are thankful that even today, you are doing great things in the lives of your people. Help us to see the work you are doing in our own lives, help us to know that this work is transforming us into children of our Father in heaven, and that this work is what makes up our own stories.

Jesus, help us to see the story you are writing on our hearts as we continue to grow in our faith and understanding of your work within us. And give us the courage and the wisdom to share this story with others.

Help us to not be afraid of rejection, but instead give us the confidence to know that within these stories, your work will begin in the lives of those who hear.

We thank you Jesus for these stories. May we be the faithful witnesses of what we see and hear as we go and share our lives with others.

We thank you and praise you Lord Jesus, our friend, our Lord and our Saviour. Amen and amen.