It’s just a couple of times that I have been called as a witness.
Both times were in family court.
Once was on a Christmas Eve long ago when I was asked to stand before a judge and describe the erratic behavior of the woman whose future was in question. Thankfully he stopped me soon into my testimony, acknowledging he had enough to make the decision before him then.
The second time was just a few years back. A young woman, a stranger to me, walked into my office weeping as though her world was coming to an end. She told a tale of tragic loss … of how her children had been killed in a car accident and now she couldn’t even get their bodies to bury them. Our entire staff ministered to her that day.
Over the next few days I remember watching the local news for information about this terrible accident for even though it had happened several states away since local people were affected I thought it would make the papers here. Nothing showed up. Then I got a call from an attorney asking me to testify against the young woman. It turned out her children were alive and well and her ex-husband was seeking custody. He told me I didn’t have to come on my own but if I didn’t I would surely be subpoenaed. And so I went. And again I stood and told the story as I remembered it. This time, though, the young woman stood before the judge as well and told him she had never seen me before in her life.
Our witness, our testimony, is a fragile, powerful thing, it seems to me. We stand and say aloud what we have seen and heard. Or what we believe we have seen and heard. Our speaking truth can change the course of histories, it’s true. It may be the absolute truth or it may only be the truth as I remember it or it may be a combination of both. Given all of this, I have to say, in those few cases when I have been called upon to formally bear testimony, I have been ever so grateful that someone else was weighing my witness and the witness of others to make the decision at hand.
My first time in court I went with breaking heart because I knew the woman and her family well and simply saw no alternative other than what was before us to get her the help she so desperately needed.
The second time I left that room questioning myself. I was sure of what I had seen and heard. I knew it was her — although her appearance was less disheveled that Friday morning in court than it had been in my office a few weeks before. Still, she spoke with such conviction of her own certainty that she had never set foot in our church building that I had more than one moment of wondering.
Our witness is such a fragile thing. And yet, Jesus says to the disciples now, “You are witnesses of these things.” Of Jesus’ teaching and his healing. Of his suffering and dying. Of the wounds in his hands and in his feet. And now of him standing among them alive — and as if to prove how alive he is — sharing in their meal with them. “You are witnesses of these things,” Jesus tells them. And apparently they took that as not only noun but also as verb for you and I gather still today around the same amazing story, hearing how Jesus lived and seeing and experiencing how Jesus lives still. Because they were witnesses.
And yet, there were countless times with the disciples when their witness was questioned — even to the point of persecution and death. I expect the same is true for all of us… that we all have times when someone else will stand and tell us we are mistaken. Or who will simply turn and walk away, saying nothing, but clearly not embracing the truth of what we have to share. For this news you and I share may not be credible on its surface. We speak these words and live our lives as best we can to reflect these promises of God. In the end, I am always grateful that I am not the judge. I don’t have to make anything be true or not. I am not in charge of what happens next. It is only mine to tell the story as it has been true for me. That is all Jesus asks of us today. And God will use that fragile witness then to make the difference it is meant to make.
The difference of course is that we always have a choice. If I had been subpoenaed to court some years ago I would have had to go. When it comes to the witness of faith we are called to share, it is always a choice.
And yet, both times I went to court I was certain I would speak for the sake of the well-being of others. I wasn’t forced to go, but did so because I knew it to be the right thing to do. Is it any different with the testimony of faith — the witness Jesus reminds us is ours as well? Is it not also ours to share so others might know the fullness of God’s amazing gifts?
Perhaps that’s what the promised power from on high that God’s people are clothed with does for us. Perhaps that power enables us to witness for the sake of a world that so desperately needs to hear the Good News embedded in the stories we’ve been given to share. Perhaps it is that power enables me to want to do so.
- Have you ever been called to be a ‘witness’ in a court of law? How was that experience like or unlike the call to ‘witness’ in our walk of faith?
- Jesus tells his disciples, ‘You are witnesses of these things.’ What is the content of your witness? What have you seen and heard that you are called to share?
- Who have been the most convincing ‘witnesses’ in your journey of faith? What makes them believable?
- What does the promised ‘power from on high’ mean to you in your walk of faith? How does it enable or strengthen your witness?