“Witness to What You See and Hear”
December 11, 2016
The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor
East Rochester & West Walworth: Zion United Methodist Churches
When John heard in prison what the Messiah was doing, he sent word by his disciples and said to him, “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?” Jesus answered them, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them. And blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me.”
As they went away, Jesus began to speak to the crowds about John: “What did you go out into the wilderness to look at? A reed shaken by the wind? What then did you go out to see? Someone dressed in soft robes? Look, those who wear soft robes are in royal palaces. What then did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. This is the one about whom it is written, ‘See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way before you.’ Truly I tell you, among those born of women no one has arisen greater than John the Baptist; yet the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.
It appears to me
That most individuals want life to have meaning.
We want our life to have meaning,
To make a difference,
To be able to say,
“Because I came and I worked
The world is a better place.”
As soon as the gray hair appears
We associate this innate desire for meaning with “legacy.”
“Before I leave this world
I want to ensure that my values, my faith, continues on.”
No. I have not invited a financial planner
Or a church stewardship consultant
To meet with you after worship to discuss the status of your estate.
If I had,
I would encourage you
To include our local church in your will.
But since I haven’t,
I’ll remain silent on the issue.
It is a question of meaning and purpose.
I’d suggest it is the Christian’s response to the question,
“Have I completed all that God has requested of me?”
When the expanse and depth of life is viewed through the lens of faith,
It is possible to engage in healthy, purposeful self-analysis,
To set goals
And measure progress towards achieving those goals.
If it is entirely feasible to make retirement plans with a financial advisor
Why would it seem anything but ordinary
To make eternal, legacy plans with a spiritual advisor?
John the Baptist sat in prison
Knowing his time was up.
An incarcerated person has a lot of time to think,
And in John’s case,
To ask “Has my life made a difference?”
“Have I completed all that God has requested of me?”
Certainly John had been appraised of his purpose by his father, Zechariah.
You recall the narrative from the first chapter of Luke, don’t you?
An angel of the Lord visits Zechariah, a priest of the Temple.
The angel calls upon him at the time of the incense offering
While everyone else is outside praying
Zechariah is inside the Temple alone and on duty
When the angel appears
And scares the pants off him!
But the angel said to him, ‘Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you will name him John. You will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth, for he will be great in the sight of the Lord. He must never drink wine or strong drink; even before his birth he will be filled with the Holy Spirit. He will turn many of the people of Israel to the Lord their God. With the spirit and power of Elijah he will go before him, to turn the hearts of parents to their children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous, to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.’
- Luke 1:13-17
As John grew into a young adult,
Certainly Zechariah would have told him about the angel,
Being startled and afraid,
And God’s plan for his life.
As John sat in jail,
“Have I done all that was asked of me?”
Well. Let’s see.
Was John great in the sight of the Lord?
Did he lead a sober lifestyle?
Given everything we’ve been told about John,
We haven’t heard otherwise.
Was John filled with the Holy Spirit, even before his birth?
Luke reports when Mary came to visit Elizabeth
The fetal John “leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit.”
- Luke 1:41
Assuming the Holy Spirit is able to be transmitted from mother to baby,
I’d say, “Yes. That’s a check.”
Did John the Baptist turn many of the people of Israel to the Lord?
Given the fact that he drew crowds from the wilderness, villages, towns and cities
From as far away as Jerusalem
To come into the God forsaken wilderness,
To hear his preaching,
And to be baptized in the Jordan River,
I’d say again, “Yep. Mission accomplished, John. That’s a check.”
How about going before the people of Israel
With the spirit and power of Elijah?
Well. Let’s think about this.
The prophet Malachi reported
That God made the following announcement …
“Lo, I will send you the prophet Elijah before the great and terrible day of the Lord comes.”
- Malachi 4:5
Elijah, who lived in the wilderness,
Dressed in sackcloth and ashes,
And ate bugs and honey,
Had ascended into heaven in a whirlwind;
And, some 900 years later,
God intended to send him back down to earth.
The everyday, righteous, Jew of the day, therefore,
Had every expectation that Elijah would return.
Malachi reported as much.
John certainly played the part,
And an angelic visitation to his father confirmed the fact.
I’d say that’s a check.
Did John make ready a people prepared for the Lord?
Well, he made the people ready
With his preaching about the need to confess and repent of their sinful ways.
He cleaned them up,
Literally and figuratively,
With his baptism of repentance in the River Jordan.
I’d again say, yep. That’s a check.
He made ready the people
But was it the Lord that had come?
John had to know.
Sitting and thinking in jail,
Knowing his time was drawing short,
He had to know.
“Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?”
- Matthew 11:3
The question is one about legacy.
It is a question about fulfilling the will of the Lord.
Wouldn’t it be wonderful if an angel of the Lord
Visited your father
And laid out for you
God’s will for your life?
Perhaps he did.
Have you ever asked?
Some of us know what we want to do when we grow up.
(I sometimes wonder this myself!)
I have an older brother who just knew God called him
To serve as a Christian physician.
Clarity for me didn’t happen until I was in my mid-twenties.
Others take a lifetime of searching and discernment,
Often times wondering if the train has left the station
And we’ve been left behind on the platform.
All of which is to also recognize
That God’s call and will might be a one-and-done type of call,
Or it might be ever evolving over a lifetime.
What is God will for my life?
Am I living faithfully to fulfill God’s will?
“Go and tell John what you hear and see,”
Jesus instructs John’s messengers.
Testify to the evidence of what you’ve seen and heard.
Start with the list of miracles:
The blind received sight.
The lame walk.
People with leprosy have been cured and cleansed.
Deaf people have had their hearing restored.
Even the dead have been resurrected.
You heard me right.
We saw it with our own eyes.
The dead have been resurrected.
Good news and blessings have come to all that Jesus touched.
You prepared the way for Christ to come.
You fulfilled God’s will for your life.
Well done good and faithful servant.
Testify to what you hear and see.
This is an excellent standard
By which every baptized Christian can be measured.
When asking “have I fulfilled God’s will for my life?”
Is this a measure you can apply to your life?
I experience this all the time:
“The last time I saw Jesus was … never.”
“The last time I heard Jesus speak was … never.”
Those who suggest otherwise, the popular wisdom holds,
Have a room reserved for them at
R-Unit at Strong or the Inpatient Psychiatric Unit at Rochester General.
Yet, I’d suggest
The Christian is called to a supernatural experience of God,
One devoid of substance abuse or a mental health crisis.
God does intervene in our world,
Relates to us with a loving give and take,
Every day of our lives.
The question is whether
We recognize God’s intervention,
Or we’re quick to discount it as mere coincidence, magic, or luck.
Stop discounting the presence and action of God!
When we are so difficult to convince ourselves,
It is no wonder why we find such difficulty
When it comes to testifying to the world what we’ve seen and heard!
The world is dying to see and hear about
God being born a baby in Bethlehem.
According to this standard,
Perhaps it is God’s will for our lives
To speak and live this testimony!
Act out a Christmas pageant.
Sing anthems and carols that proclaim the incarnation of God.
Drag your drunk uncle to Christmas Eve services
To experience for himself the intersection of God and humanity,
To experience for himself the depth of God’s love
And willingness to sacrifice the life of His Son, Jesus Christ,
That we all might live.
Testify to what you’ve seen and heard.
Witness to the fact that God is alive and active in your world.
You may have noticed that during our prayer time in worship,
I’ve been shaping our prayer appeal.
No longer do we just ask for prayer concerns or intercessions.
That would be selfish and entirely self-serving.
I’m now asking for you to open your eyes,
To raise your voice,
And to testify to how God has intersected with your life this past week.
Testify to what you see and hear!
Witness to the power and majesty of God!
Let the world know your statement of faith!
We witness here in worship
To our friends and family;
The ones with whom we feel safe, secure, and loved.
But this is merely practice.
The goal is to get us so used to speaking the language of faith,
The syntax of witness,
Employing the power of testimony,
That this becomes second-hand,
A natural extension of our Christian faith and experience.
Words become actions.
Testimony elevates Jesus and transforms lives.
John the Baptist was given the assurance of Jesus,
That, yes, his life mattered.
His life fulfilled God’s plan,
For his existence.
John prepared the way for Christ to come.
Are we willing to prepare the way for Christ to return?
Are we able to follow in John’s footsteps
To testify to what God has done and to what God is doing?
Are we willing to witness to the world
That God loves each person as much as God loves me?
That God desires a relationship with every one of His creation?
That God’s grace is sufficient for all of us?
That God is willing to sacrifice His Son and raise him from the dead
So that all might be redeemed and saved into his heavenly kingdom?
John prepared the way for Jesus.
Rest in peace, John.
Well done, good and faithful servant.
For the rest of us …
Witness what you see and hear.
Prepare the way for Christ to return.