Sermon for Sunday, November 17, 2019 – “Testifying in the Court of Public Opinion”

Twenty-third Sunday after Pentecost
November 17, 2019
Good Shepherd Lutheran Church
Decorah, Iowa
Rev. Amy Zalk Larson

Click here to read scripture passages for the day.

Beloved of God, grace to you and peace in the name of Jesus.

Jesus is not one to candy-coat things. He apparently didn’t learn that a spoonful of sugar makes the medicine go down.

No, Jesus tells it like it is. Things in this life are going to be hard. And he says things are going to be especially hard for us who follow him because we’ll come into conflict with the powers of this world.

This is true even if we aren’t handed over to authorities and put on trial. We will face opposition if we follow Jesus. Jesus said he was sent to bring good news to the poor, release to the captives, recovery of sight to the blind, and freedom for the oppressed. This made Jesus a threat to the rich and powerful and they put him to death.

Sharing his priorities will put us at odds with the ways of the world. We will face opposition and we will be asked to testify – to serve as witnesses to the way of Jesus. All that sounds pretty daunting and yet, the call to testify as followers of Jesus is just what our souls need.

The English word testify can mean to express a personal conviction. That’s often how it’s under- stood by religious folks, as in – we’re supposed to testify about Jesus by telling people we believe in him.

Yet I think our Gospel reading here is calling us to something more. To testify can also mean to show or state that something is true, especially in court.

We are called to show and state that the way of Jesus is true. We’re called to do this in the court of public opinion – to testify through how we both live and speak.

In the court of public opinion others testify with words and deeds to what they perceive to be true: Those with the most toys win, might makes right, all is lost- just get yours, you get what you de-serve, and so on.

We are called to testify to a different reality – to Christ Jesus crucified and risen. That is: We are to bear witness that God has come to be with us in Jesus – all is not lost. God has come. And God has come not with power and might but as a peasant who lived among the poor, who suffered at the hands of the state. Jesus threatened the powers of this world, there was chaos and violence, and Jesus was killed. Yet, God brought new life when things looked most bleak. This is what God did then and what God always does. God raised Jesus from the dead, life and love prevailed and will ultimately prevail.

We need not despair. We need not be terrified. There will be wars, insurrections, tyrants, earth- quakes, famines, impeachment inquiries – but all is not lost. God is at work. God is with us still in the risen Christ to bring new life to us all and especially to those who are poor and oppressed.

God is with us to give us not what we deserve but what God freely gives – life, hope, compassion, community. This is the truth to which we are called to testify in our speech and our actions.

When the world is fixated on wealth and power, we’re called to see the face of God on the person who is poor and oppressed. When we feel despair about the state of the world, we’re called to look for signs of God bringing new life and point to those. This is what it means to testify to the way of Jesus.

One way we’re testifying together now is through the ELCA AMMPARO initiative focused on accompanying immigrants. This initiative helps us to notice and show honor to God’s beloved children who’ve had to flee their homes. As we do, we see God’s presence at work in so many courageous, faithful people. We see God calling us to accompany them in the US and in working for change in their home countries. All of this then shapes how we address immigration issues in the court of public opinion. Rather than amplify the fear and despair, we can bear witness to hope. Testifying is good for our souls. It gives us the chance to notice, name and nurture what God is up to in the world.

Yet, testifying can also feel like a daunting task.

Jesus promises that we will receive what we need to testify. We will be given words and wisdom. This is what happens when we gather for worship. We are nourished by God’s word. We join in the reflection and prayer that leads to wisdom. We are shaped into people who can speak words born of wisdom in the court of public opinion.

We are also nurtured by the Holy Spirit, the Spirit that Jesus calls our advocate. When we testify, we are not alone. We have a good advocate, good counsel.

And, we are given a community that helps us to testify. All of the instruction and the assurance in this passage is given to a group of people – each you in this passage is a plural you. This will give you all an opportunity to testify. I will give you all the words and wisdom. By the endurance of all of you, you all will gain your souls.

This means we aren’t just individual witnesses; we are part of a class action lawsuit against the powers of this world. We are in this together and we have a great cloud of witnesses with us as we make the case. Finally, Jesus promises that we will not perish, we will not be overcome by evil, we will be held safe in God. As we testify, we are part of God’s witness protection program. Even if we are put in prison, even if we die, even when we die, we are held always in God and given new life.

All the trials of life give us an opportunity to testify. We have what we need to testify and testifying to Jesus is just what we need to do for our souls. It makes it possible for us to live and speak with hope.

Let’s take a moment for silent prayer.