Today we celebrate the ascension of Jesus, the completion of his mission on earth, when he returns home happily to heaven to be with his beloved God, a great moment which we celebrate, a cause for rejoicing, as the first disciples rejoiced.
Just before he ascends to heaven, though, Jesus gives us one final task. His last words to his disciples–to us–are both challenging and exciting: “You are my witnesses.” That is the task before us today: to be true witnesses of the nonviolent Jesus.
But if we want to be true witnesses of Jesus, we better be clear about the opposite, being “false witnesses.” The great crisis in our church and nation and the world today is that we have become, in biblical terms, “anti-witnesses.”
When we bomb and kill people around the world, when we shoot innocent children at a wedding party in northern Iraq or teenagers in Gaza, when we build nuclear weapons at Los Alamos, when we poison the earth and the air and the oceans, when we turn our backs on the starving, suffering masses, when our President and Vice-President and government leaders and Pentagon officials wage war in the name of God, actually in the name of Christianity, then we become “anti-witnesses of Christ.” We stand against the living Christ. We reject his way of nonviolence, justice, compassion and peace. As proponents of the culture of violence and war, we resist the nonviolent Christ. We become “anti-witnesses” on behalf of the “anti-reign of death.”
Our vocation is to stand with the living Christ, to witness on behalf of the peacemaking Christ. But to be a true witness for the nonviolent Jesus in such times means we have to witness against the culture of war, to stand against the warmaking government and nuclear weapons manufacturers and to call everyone to the Gospel of peace and the nonviolent Jesus.
So I wrote a litany about this daring, dangerous vocation of ours, “to be witnesses” of the nonviolent Christ in a culture of war:
In a world of hate, indifference, fear and anxiety, be witnesses of love.
In a world of meanness and coldness, be witnesses of kindness.
In a world of selfishness, be witnesses of selfless service.
In a world of greed and materialism, be witnesses of simplicity and generosity.
In a world of revenge and retaliation, be witnesses of mercy and compassion.
In a world of resentment and grudges, be witnesses of forgiveness and reconciliation.
In a world of doubt and despair, be witnesses of faith and hope.
In a world of lies and cynicism and darkness, be witnesses of truth and light.
In a world of anger, self-righteousness, imperial arrogance and judgmentalism, be witnesses of humility and gentleness.
In a world of war and violence, be witnesses of Christ’s peace and nonviolence.
In a world of sorrow and sadness, be witnesses of Christ’s resurrection and joy.
In a world of death, be witnesses of life, of the God of life, of the risen Jesus, who is “the Way, the Truth, the Life.”
If we do these things, I promise you, we will be greatly blessed. Amen.