Witnessing. Why does that word elicit such varied and often intense reaction? Is it because we associate witnessing with the interrogating, intimidating tactics of some Christians? Or do we feel inadequate to the task, worrying we won't have anything to say?
Witnessing isn't an option for people of faith. Yet with Jesus' command to witness, there is also a clear word of promise: "You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you" (Acts 1:8).
Witnessing is pointing to what God is doing. It belongs to the vocation of all the baptized. So we ask those confirming their faith in the Affirmation of Baptism, "Do you intend to continue in the covenant God made with you in Holy Baptism ... to proclaim the good news of God in Christ through word and deed, to serve all people ... to strive for justice and peace in all the earth?"
I recently completed meeting in groups with all those who work for the churchwide organization. I asked each person to share one sign of God at work in their life, their congregation, community or the world. The stories were richly diverse and sometimes intensely personal. Each person was witnessing. The Spirit was at work.
How can we help but witness? Think of how easily and joyfully we share stories and pictures of grandchildren. Think of the impact of 5.1 million ELCA members who, like Peter and John, "cannot keep from speaking about what we have seen and heard" (Acts 4:20).
Witnessing begins in worship. There we behold Christ present in word and sacrament. There we experience the Spirit's power as people come to faith, as sins are forgiven, as the alienated are reconciled. How can we discern signs of God at work in our lives and the world if we don't immerse ourselves in the biblical story?
Witnessing isn't a technique we learn. It belongs to the fabric of the Christian life. It begins in our homes as we talk about where we have experienced God's grace and mercy each day. Witnessing is a public act and very personal. It involves speaking out for justice, working for peace, listening to the anguished pleas of one who is depressed.
© 2016 Augsburg Fortress, Publishers