Serving God with Our Witness

1 Samuel 2:1-10

Hannah’s song

2 Then Hannah prayed:

My heart rejoices in the Lord.
    My strength rises up in the Lord!
    My mouth mocks my enemies
        because I rejoice in your deliverance.
2 No one is holy like the Lord—

    no, no one except you!
    There is no rock like our God!

3 Don’t go on and on, talking so proudly,
    spouting arrogance from your mouth,
    because the Lord is the God who knows,
        and he weighs every act.

4 The bows of mighty warriors are shattered,
    but those who were stumbling now dress themselves in power!
5 Those who were filled full now sell themselves for bread,

    but the ones who were starving are now fat from food!
    The woman who was barren has birthed seven children,
        but the mother with many sons has lost them all!
6 The Lord!
    He brings death, gives life,
        takes down to the grave, and raises up!
7 The Lord!
He makes poor, gives wealth,
    brings low, but also lifts up high!
8 God raises the poor from the dust,
    lifts up the needy from the garbage pile.
    God sits them with officials,
    gives them the seat of honor!
The pillars of the earth belong to the Lord;
    he set the world on top of them!
9 God guards the feet of his faithful ones,
    but the wicked die in darkness
        because no one succeeds by strength alone.

10 The Lord!
His enemies are terrified!
        God thunders against them from heaven!
    The Lord!
    He judges the far corners of the earth!

May God give strength to his king
    and raise high the strength of his anointed one.

 

Thoughts on the passage:

In 2008, the membership vows of The United Methodist Church were amended to add “witness” to the ways we serve God and the church.  The list is now prayers, presence, gifts, service, and witness.  Without going back through the records for the meeting that the made decision, I suspect that part of the drive for this was simple, witnessing to Christ is not something most United Methodist’s are good at.  I remember a statistic from around that time that mentioned on average a United Methodist invites someone to church once every 37 years.  Something needed to change.

When it comes to “witnessing” to our faith I think that most of us United Methodists feel some resistance and it comes from several sources.  One is that most of us have had the awkward conversation with someone knocking on our door with a flyer trying to tell us about God, Jesus, or their particular faith tradition.  If that is what witnessing means, we want no part of it.  Many of us have also experienced street preachers, calling out to random people on the streets, warning them of the coming wrath of God.  If that is what witnessing means, we want no part of it.  Finally, many of us are quiet, assuming individuals, who do not want not to make people uncomfortable and don’t like to be pushy.  When we think of witnessing it sounds a little too strong, too pushy, and too judgmental and we do not want to be a part of that either.

I do not think any of these are really what was intended by adding “witness” to the ways we serve God.  Instead, what is meant is that we share the story of what God is doing in our life.  We give witness to the ways we have seen God at work in our lives.  Witnesses are not actually called on to recite facts, but to simply tell what they have seen.  Even with this definition of witness it is still not easy for us, but now it is for a different reason.  The real reason that witnessing is hard is that we can easily forget what God is doing in our lives.  We forget because we are so use to it that it becomes a part of it.  Thanks to the faith of my parents, I have lived my whole life in the church.  I have a hard time bearing witness to the work of God and the importance of church because I have always been surrounded by God’s love, I have always been a part of the church.  It can be hard to witness to something that seems common rather than remarkable.

In order to witness to our faith, we need to remember what God is doing in our lives and we need to remember how remarkable it is.  Our scripture passage for today is an example of Hannah giving witness to God.  Hannah is sharing her story of how God lifted her up, as a barren woman, and gave her hope and new life through the birth of Samuel.  Hannah knows the difference God made in her life, she has a clear sense of a before and an after she can point to.  We need to remember what difference God has made in our life, even if you are like me and it is hard to point to the before moment to contrast with the after.  We need to work to see with new eyes all the ways that God is doing amazing things for us, so that we too will have something to witness to.

Now for the second part, once we know what our story is, we need to find ways to share it.  This does not mean we need to all go home and work on what we will say when we start knocking door to door.  It does not mean we have to go make a fancy little flyer to hand out telling others what God has done for us.  Instead we need to think about the ways we are good at sharing it.  Some people communicate through words well, others it is done through music and song, for others it is art, technology, writing, the list goes on and on.  We need to figure what the best way for each of us is to share our story.

The next thing we need to think about is our audience.  Who needs to hear our story of how God has been at work in our lives.  Maybe it is the person next door to us, but I suspect if we are honest the person who we really want to hear our story is closer than that.  Most of us have a family member who does not regularly attend church.  Does that person know what church is important to us?  When we think about witnessing to our faith, maybe we need to start by just making sure those people closest to us actually know why this is important to us.  My mother’s parents attend church all of the time, they visit the elderly members of the congregation, they go to Sunday school, the whole bit.  They are also proud to have a grandson and a granddaughter-in-law who are pastors.  At the same time, I cannot tell you why their faith is important to them.  I have no idea what God has specifically done in their lives.  I know their faith is strong, I know it is important, but they have never shared that with me.  I also suspect that they have never shared it with my cousins who do not go to church.  I suspect that they are not alone.  Who do we want to hear the story of what God is doing in our lives?

We start out talking about how we serve God with our prayers, and how our prayers and our relationship with God undergirds everything else we do.  Our witness in turn becomes the reflection of our relationship.  Our witness to God is done not just with our words, but with our actions.  There is a common phrase “preach the Gospel, and use words if necessary.”  Our witness does not also have to be so explicitly, stated, but we do need to share it.  Sometimes our witness can be seen in the ways that we welcome the stranger into our church and the ways we offer food and fellowship to our community.  We need to witness to God with our words, but our actions as a congregation also are a reflection of our witness as well.  What we do for others says a lot about what God has done for us.

Questions to Ponder:

Who is someone who needs to hear your story of faith?

When is a time that God was powerfully at work in your life?

How do you feel most comfortable in expressing and sharing your faith with others?

Prayer: Holy Spirit, you move and work in wondrous and mysterious ways.  So often when we experience God it is through your breath and presence in our lives.  Stir in our hearts this day and open our eyes that we might see the work that God is doing.  Open our hearts and our mouths that we might find the power to share that story with us.  Give us the courage to be your witness to the ends of the earth.  AMEN