Column: We are called to be witnesses

Published 12:00 am Friday, April 9, 2004

By the Rev. Donald F. Rose, Mansfield and United Lutheran Churches

E. Stanley Jones writes that when he first recognized the call in his life to be a minister, he was certain that it was his task to be a lawyer for God. Jones felt that it was his responsibility to see to it that the case for God be laid out clearly and precisely and that he was the perfect man for the task.

Invited by his pastor to share the Sunday evening message, Jones found himself in an entirely different role. After just a few sentences, Jones became flustered by the reaction of someone in the congregation to his use of a word he had never used before and said that he never used again either. Caught in the moment, he completely forgot the neatly prepared case for God. Certain that he was a failure as a result of his humiliation, he announced to the people that he could not remember what he was planning to say and so prepared to sit down in shame.

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Just before he left the pulpit, however, Jones reports that he heard a voice speak to him asking if the speaker had not done great things for him. If so the voice went on to suggest that he could in fact share that with the people. Jones did just that and learned perhaps one of the most important lessons of his ministry. Jones said he then learned he was not to be a lawyer for God but rather a witness. He was called to share with the world the great things that God had done for him and the offer of those great things for the whole of God’s creation.

In the anticipation of Easter and its season of weeks to follow, we might all learn a lesson of great importance from Jones’s own experience. Today all too many believers see themselves as lawyers on God’s behalf. Particular it would appear that the feeling is that they must be defense attorneys in particular. Over and over we hear the voices of those who believe that it is their role to somehow defend God from the varieties of powers and forces that would seem to assail the message of God’s love and grace for the world. In reality, these voices are all to often speaking in their own defense rather then God’s. Frightened by changes in the world around them, they become certain that God needs to be defended. In fact God will do well as God has done throughout the ages. On the other hand they may not fair so well if they continue to be confused about what God is calling them to do today. Like Jones, we are not expected to be lawyers for God. Rather we are called to be witnesses.

It is important to note that we are invited to be witnesses for and not against in this case. In the midst of a variety of divisive issues facing us today, too much effort is being placed on anger, fear and condemnation, when it is in fact the good news that needs to be proclaimed. Easter is a time to celebrate the gift of life and forgiveness that God offers to all people through the willing sacrifice of the Son, Jesus the Christ. We have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, the Apostle Paul reminds us. There is only one attorney in this scene and that one is the Savior who represents us before God. All that we can do is to share the joy that is ours with the world. God has loved us with a great love and by the power of God’s Spirit at work in us, we will overflow with that love and share it freely and confidently with a world that is in need.