You Are a Witness

Click here to hear the audio recording of this sermon.

John 14:15-31 • May 29, 2011

Brothers and sisters in Christ grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus. Amen.

My family and I just returned home after spending some time at seminary for graduation in Berkeley and a little vacation in the San Francisco bay area. It was nice to be away and it’s good to be home. The sermon I had prepared prior to leaving for this trip was much different than the one that I felt God calling me to offer in the midst of the events in our community and around the world.

Just a short time ago, about six weeks to be exact, Christian communities gathered in worship around the world with shouts Hosanna! Alleluia! and Christ is Risen! He is Risen Indeed! Do we still have the same passion and intensity on our hearts and minds today? That Jesus really is risen and with us?

Today, when every person who calls Bismarck or Mandan their home is experiencing or should be experiencing a bit of anxiety as we look toward an uncertain future. In the coming weeks, the community that we love may face more significant flooding that we haven’t seen in generations.

Today, as we ask questions like “why did this happen?” or “how can this happen?” following the incredible destruction that our brothers and sisters in Missouri are recovering from after a catastrophic tornado.

Today, when we celebrate and remember veterans who have served or are currently serving our country on Memorial Day. We remember and celebrate, knowing that the hell of war and unspeakable violence still exists in our world.

It’s good that we are together. We need to be together today. When life delivers bad news about how far apart we are from one another or why there aren’t simple answers to our questions during extreme events like natural disasters or how will the broken relationships that bring violence and war into our world ever be healed. We need to hear Jesus speak to us in these times saying, “I will not leave you orphaned.” Jesus is our assurance from God that we are never alone.

Ann Landers was a newspaper advice columnist for 56 years with the Chicago Sun Times. On average she would receive about 10,000 letters a month from people seeking advice through her column. Ann was often asked what was the most common theme of these letters. With little hesitation she would say that most people seem to be afraid of something. They are afraid of losing their health, their job, or their family. They are afraid of upsetting their neighbor, alienating a friend, or committing a social faux pas. Many are even afraid when there is no reason to be afraid.

C.S. Lewis had an interesting perspective that he called the “Christianity and Syndrome.” Lewis said that one of the biggest issues followers of Jesus have is their never ending quest to link their faith to some other cause to which we are partial and say “this is the center of our faith.” And so we hear things like, our main focus must be “Christianity and Social Action, or Christianity and a Twelve Step Program, or Christianity and the Republican or Democratic Platform, or Christianity and your social or economic status, or Christianity and anything else you want to insert.

Lewis’ insight is this. As soon as you add an “and” to Christianity you have lost the focus. A Christian speaks to all of the issues I just offered and many more, but every one of them is peripheral to who we are. We are not Christians and something else; we are Christians.

The promise that we receive today in John’s gospel reminds us once again who we are. You and I are Christian – followers of the risen Jesus Christ. Not one of us sitting here in worship or assisting with any concern or issue that we are facing is ever separated in any way.

We are not Christian and people who live in North Dakota that are removed from the devastation in Joplin, Missouri or the war torn regions of the world. We are not Christian and people who live in areas of Bismarck or Mandan not affected by flooding situations that we face. We are Christian.

Jesus only gives us one commandment in John’s gospel – to love. In the chapter right before today’s text Jesus says, “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

In John, chapter 15 Jesus says, “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”

And in our gospel today, we hear Jesus say, “If you love me, your will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever.” The Advocate that Jesus is speaking of is a name for the Holy Spirit that is unique to John’s gospel. It means “one who is called alongside.” This Advocate comes to give us the strength and energy to do what we have to do, to live in the love poured out for us in Christ, and to be witnesses of this love to everyone we encounter.

To be witnesses of this love, a Christian does not stop shouting for joy in the resurrection as soon as the ham from Easter Sunday is gone. To be witnesses of this love, a Christian may experience fear at times, but is never alone in those times. To be witnesses of this love, a Christian does not exist in the ands of the world.
At the end of the day, and really every moment of every day, to be witnesses of this love, how will you and I, as Christians, answer this question “How did I or did I not love today?”

As you leave worship today, you’ll notice that I’ve placed a couple of mirrors at the exits. I hope that as you look in these mirrors, you will see who you are. You are a Christian, a follower of the risen Jesus Christ. And because of who you are, you are never alone. May the reflection of God’s love for you that you see in these mirrors walk with you this week as you become a reflection of God’s love to everyone you meet, whether you are sandbagging or building a levee; celebrating a graduation or Memorial Day event; or actively holding your brothers and sisters in need in prayer. You are a witness of God’s love in the world. Amen.


About Bishop Craig Schweitzer

The Rev. Craig Schweitzer, of Bismarck, was elected as bishop of the Western North Dakota Synod on July 17, 2020, in the first-ever digital Synod Assembly. A historic event, Schweitzer is the first bishop in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) to be elected in an online assembly. Bishop Craig Schweitzer began serving the Western North Dakota Synod-ELCA on September 1, 2020. He has always seen himself as an easy-going person who seeks to daily discover anew how God is present in his life and the world in which he lives and serves. Prior to service in the Office of Bishop of the Western North Dakota Synod, Bishop Craig served at Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in Bismarck, ND as Music and Worship Minister (lay staff from 2002-2010), Associate Pastor (2010-2014), and Senior Pastor (2014-2020). Beyond his service in the church, he has an eclectic background that is a diverse collection of musical, educational, and business experiences ranging from live concert production and promotion to recording studios and live performance to music education. Throughout all of his professional and personal experiences, the Apostle Paul’s words to the church in Rome have been a guiding light that has kept him grounded in whatever work God was calling him into – “Welcome one another, therefore, just as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God.” (Romans 15:7) Bishop Craig is a graduate of the University of Mary in Bismarck with a Bachelor of Science degree in Music Education and a Master of Science in Strategic Leadership. He also holds a certificate degree in Theological Education for Emerging Ministries (TEEM) from Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary in Berkeley, CA. He was ordained as a Minister of Word and Sacrament on September 16, 2010. Outside of his life as Bishop, Bishop Craig enjoys reading, all music, a little golf, a cold beverage with friends, and intentional times of quiet. And, of course, spending time with his wife Wendy and their adult twin daughters Ilia and Taegan. View all posts by Bishop Craig Schweitzer

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