"Enabled to Bear Witness"
Ezekiel 36:22-28; 1 Peter 4:7-14; John 15:26-16:4
I suppose this should come as no surprise in our insane and unhinged world. Two young white women from Portland, Oregon—Kali and Liz—took a road trip to Puerto Nuevo, Mexico. While they were there, they became fascinated with the delicious homemade white tortillas made by the women in many of the little restaurants around town. They wanted to learn how to make their own. They learned about the ingredients and the process of moving and rolling the dough, much like pizza crust is made. They did not learn too much about the technique, but they did peek into several kitchen windows and noticed how easy the Mexican ladies made it look.
Kali and Liz returned to their Portland home and decided to make and sell those same delicious white tortillas with breakfast burritos. They sold them from their food cart called “Kooks Burritos.” Then they did an interview with a local magazine. Then all heck broke loose, outrage erupted, and social media went berserk. Kali and Liz were accused of stealing recipes and something called “cultural appropriation.” Evidently white food preparers are not allowed to make or sell food that originates from so-called “people of color.” After only a few months, “Kooks Burritos” deleted everything from their social media pages and closed for good.
This incident may not speak to anything specifically biblical or religious, but it does show the cultural insanity in which we live. And that insanity does break loose and spew its outrage at Christians doing their thing in the public square. Think of the florists, bakers, and photographers who have been sued, fined, and run out of business simply for treasuring and upholding their Christian faith and life while they conduct their businesses. Yes, there’s the one T-shirt printer in Kentucky who recently received some vindication. But that’s hardly a trend. Nor is it something to place our hopes in. As the psalmist says, “Put not your trust in princes, in a son of man, in whom there is no salvation” (Ps. 146:3). Today those “princes” include presidents, governors, legislators, judges and justices, and even favorable public opinion.
That’s why we need our Lord’s words for us today. Here we are in the “in between time”—the time between Jesus’ Ascension (this past Thursday) and the coming of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost (next Sunday); also the time between Jesus being among us visibly in His physical body and the Day when He will return physically and visibly. And while we live in this “in between time,” we live with the same uneasiness that fell upon the disciples. As Jesus said, “The hour is coming when whoever kills you will think he is offering service to God.” That hour is here and most likely will only get more intense. Those who are after you and me offer willing sacrifice to their “gods” of sexual freedom and political correctness. But as Peter exhorts us: “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange where happening to you.”
You see, our gracious God and Savior knows exactly what He’s doing. He has created you and me, given us body and soul, eyes, ears, and all our members, our reason and all our senses, and still takes care of them. He has put us here for such a time as this. He has promised to defend us against all danger and guard and protect us from all evil. He has sent His Son—true God and true Man—to be our Lord, to redeem us and win us from all sins, from death, and from the power of the devil. We even get to be His own and live under Him in His eternal kingdom in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness. He has sent His Holy Spirit to call us by the Gospel, enlighten us with His gifts, sanctify and keep us in the true faith. And on the Last Day he will raise you, me, and all the dead, and give eternal life to us and all believers in Christ.
Now, with such lofty, majestic, true, and comforting promises, what are we doing quaking in our shoes? What are we doing fretting with hearts aflutter over how the world may and does treat us Christians? Gone are the “I-like-Ike” days when God and country walked down the street hand-in-hand. Now it’s time for God’s redeemed people—us—to figure out how to live out our first allegiance to our Lord Jesus Himself. This weekend we certainly remember and thank God for those men and women who have made the “ultimate sacrifice” by dying in battle for our national freedoms. But there’s one sacrifice that’s truly the ultimate—that’s Jesus Himself on the cross. His sacrifice secures our freedom before God, our freedom from sin and death, our freedom to live with our true King for all eternity.
With that sacrifice in mind, we need not fear death. We need not fear whatever suffering comes our way. We need not cling to the love of ease or the love of wanting to be liked. After all, “friendship with the world is enmity with God” (James 4:4). No, with Jesus’ sacrifice firmly grasped in heart, mind, and life, we can scorn the disapproval of the world. We can rejoice in the approval of God Himself. We can bravely and boldly bear witness to the love of God in Christ Jesus.
And how do we do that? Listen to Jesus: “When the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, He will bear witness about Me. And you also will bear witness.” The Spirit enables us to bear witness to Christ even in the face of rejection and persecution. Listen again to St. Peter: “Rejoice insofar as you share Christ's sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you.”
You see, our Lord has fulfilled the promise He gave through the prophet Ezekiel. By Jesus’ death, resurrection, and ascension, and by the coming and working of the Holy Spirit, He has given you a new heart of flesh—a genuine heart transplant. He has put His new Spirit—the Holy Spirit—within you. He leads you in walking in His ways and following His decrees. You already dwell in His eternal land. You are already His people, and He is your God. We might even say that God has humanized us. And all of this by sprinkling clean water on you. All of this by cleansing you from all your uncleannesses in your Baptism.
I still remember one vivid story I heard on a podcast a few years back. They interviewed a Christian from Palestine, where Christians are routinely scorned, hunted, hunted down and killed for their faith. This Palestinian Christian made a bold statement bearing witness to the love of God in Christ. He appealed to the audience not to hate those who persecute and kill Christians. Then he said, “We don’t hate them; we love them; we pray for them.” That’s the Holy Spirit at work through God’s Word.
It’s how Peter exhorts us to live: “Be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of your prayers. Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins. Show hospitality to one another without grumbling. As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God's varied grace.”
You and I have received the greatest gifts—Jesus, the Holy Spirit, faith, and joy. So as we live and serve in this insane and unhinged world, we get to live and serve by the strength that God supplies in the heavenly food of Jesus’ Body and Blood right here on the altar. Thus will we teach transgressors the ways of God. Thus will sinners return to Him. Thus does He restore to us the joy of His salvation and uphold us with His willing spirit. Amen.