April 16, 2023

"We Are All Witnesses”

Rev. Scott Landis

Acts 2: 29-32 & John 20: 19-31


If you listened carefully to the reading from the book of Acts, you may recognize these as the closing words in the passage. We are all witnesses, but what does that mean today? 

Several years ago, legendary NBA basketball star LeBron James became the central figure in Nike advertising promotion. The Witness campaign paid tribute to James and acknowledged the legions of fans worldwide who were ‘witnessing’ his greatness, power, athleticism, and beautiful style of play. The campaign was first introduced in November 2005 with the unveiling of a 110-foot high by 212-foot-wide billboard located adjacent to Quicken Loans Arena (now the Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse) in Cleveland. The campaign continued to live through fans in Cleveland and around the world donning “Witness” t-shirts and bearing “Witness” placards. The billboard humbly proclaimed:


I wonder if this is what Jesus had in mind when he was quoted by Luke in the book of Acts, “And you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judaea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth. (1:8)


Or is this what Peter had in mind for those who listened when he preached his first sermon as he tried to gather a new church – stating:

In the last days, God declares,
I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh,
And your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
And your young men shall see visions,
And your old men dream dreams. 

This Jesus whom God has raised up, and of that,



I’m intrigued by this word to “witness,” how it is used and what is meant by it – then and now. Does it speak to us today as it did in the first century? Are we witnesses today to the historic Jesus who walked among Galileans of the first century OR of the Christ whom we proclaim was raised from the dead? 



Think with me for a moment on what it means to witness something. For example, how many of you gathered on the lawn last Sunday for our annual Easter Sunrise Service? [Allow time for raised hands] All those present witnessed the exact same thing — a true blessing as we gathered early in the morning and prayed together, sang together, and communed together. But I bet if I asked each one of you to describe your experience here last week – to tell YOUR story of what happened – your “witness” would each be slightly different. And in some cases, significantly different. The same could be said for our service today. 

Depending on what you bring into worship on any given Sunday, that is, what is on your mind or how you may be feeling physically – these affect how you experience the service. And even though the event was exactly the same for all of us – that is, we were all witnesses to the exact same thing – we would each tell a slightly different story because every one of us will process differently what we see and hear depending on our life situation. 

Every preacher understands this phenomenon all too well and particularly when it comes to how folks hear our sermons. I can’t tell you the number of times when I speak to folks following worship and they recount something they claim that I said in my sermon. That “something” I know I did NOT say because typically I follow pretty closely a carefully prepared manuscript. But they heard what they needed to hear. That was what THEY witnessed. And I believe the Holy Spirit revealed something pertinent to their particular needs.

  So, I just smile, and nod, and thank them AND God for the blessing of being in that moment. [Pause]

It’s why I don’t get overly concerned about the veracity or even the possibility of all these post-resurrection narratives that are recorded in the gospels and the book of Acts. While my post-modern mind may want proof and naturally elicit questions like “could this have happened?” Really? Or, “did it happen in the way it is recorded in the bible?” I find, the longer I do this work, such questions really don’t matter all that much. What happened is what the recipients needed to experience as they “witnessed” the risen Christ. 

What does concern me is how we continue to be witnesses today. Are we all STILL witnesses? Not necessarily by wearing T-shirts or hoisting placards or billboards but by noticing the in-breaking of holiness into our lives each day. Noticing and then bearing witness to the gifts and graces constantly being offered. 

I realize for some this may be a very difficult thing to do. Perhaps life has thrown you one too many curve balls and you’re not sure what you believe anymore – OR whether you believe at all. That’s certainly where those early disciples were in their lives. They had invested everything, gave up jobs, family, and security to follow Jesus who they thought was the Messiah. It became an investment that seemingly ended in disaster. That is until Jesus met them precisely where they needed to be — met and offered to them what they needed in that moment. 

They may not have recognized him at first, but he spoke to them, offered them breath, food, hope, life, and called them by name. They witnessed what they realized was Truth and they became witnesses to anyone who would listen to their message. Not from a 110’ x 212’ wide billboard or any other slick advertising campaign – but by their lives — lives lived in love. 

You don’t need me to tell you that it’s hard out there today. Political divisions have made it nearly impossible to engage in civil discourse on almost any topic. And bad news seems to overshadow the good every time. Being witnesses of love, and truth, and hope, and peace may seem almost laughable if not naïve – but don’t give up. In fact, double down on the necessity to witness by keeping your eyes wide open to that which is good. Words you will hear me repeat as I do in my commission each Sunday – “hold fast to that which is good.” Bear witness to that which is good. 

In fact, I invite you to be open constantly to the God moments that abound in your lives each day — even in the midst of unending challenges. Be they surprising and dramatic or so subtle you barely notice. And then share your stories. Tell others — witness what you have experienced. It just may change their lives. 

Of these things —We are ALL witnesses. 

Thanks be to God.


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