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Testimony

Kathy Escandell

May 17, 2015
Acts 4:32-35

A reading from the book of Acts:

Now the whole group of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one claimed private ownership of any possessions, but everything they owned was held in common. With great power the apostles gave their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. There was not a needy person among them, for as many as owned lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold. They laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need.

This morning we will ordain and install a new class of deacons and ruling elders, women and men who have agreed to serve in those ordered ministries. Who have said “yes” to this call to serve Christ and Christ’s church in a particular way.

In new officer training sessions, we’ve provided vast – not to say excessive – amounts of information about Reformed theology, Presbyterian polity, the duties assigned to their offices, the programs and missions of UPC.

And that’s all important and valuable. But I think everything we covered in those training sessions, everything they read on their own – in fact, everything we ever teach or preach or ponder about the church – comes back, or should come back to this verse in Acts:

With great power the apostles gave their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all.

That, friends, is the purpose and the duty and the joy of the Christian church – to give our testimony to the resurrection of our Lord Jesus. It is grace which compels us to do so, grace which equips us, and grace which sustains us. The great grace of God is both the impetus to and the context of our testimony.

Often, when we read these first chapters in the book of Acts, we focus on what it says about the logistics of the early church – how the members supported one another within a community of shared resources and developing church structures. We might read those details either wistfully or skeptically, depending on our own experiences and expectations of church life. Cynthia Campbell writes that “It would be easy to dismiss a passage such as this, or even to use it to critique the tendency to romanticize a bygone era … But doing so would be to overlook the potential of this text to make us think deeply about the effects Jesus’ resurrection might actually have on our lives.” (Feasting on the Word, Year B, Volume 2, p. 384)

The members of that nascent church were sharing resources and developing structures not out of institutional fervor or even communal devotion, but out of the joy and hope of learning that God’s love, God’s promise, are stronger than any religious power or occupying force or even death itself. Those first Christians knew they couldn’t live in a post-Easter world with pre-Easter habits and boundaries and categories. They knew that they had a powerful story to tell, a powerful message to share with the world. They were called to speak and live their testimony to the resurrection of their Lord Jesus.

And so are we.

In the early 20th century, Presbyterians articulated six great ends of the church, which include:

  • The proclamation of the gospel for the salvation of humankind
  • The exhibition of the Kingdom of Heaven to the world.

Those ends of the church draw us back to our Scripture – the proclamation of the gospel and the exhibition of the Kingdom of Heaven are entirely about testifying to the resurrection of our Lord and to the difference it makes. And these two ends are inextricably linked to one another. Joseph Small points out that “Speaking the gospel is oddly abstract without the witness of the Christian life; the witness of Christian life without the gospel narrative is vague and ambiguous.” (Proclaiming the Great Ends of the Church, p. xii).

If our ends are to proclaim and exhibit so as to impact the world, what are the means?

There are many, for we understand the church to be the priesthood of all believers and we affirm that the Holy Spirit confers upon each of us gifts which are to be used for the benefit of all. Some of us preach, some teach, some sing in the choir, some set up tables and make coffee for memorial service receptions, some come in every Tuesday morning to work at UPLift. I could go on and on, for the Holy Spirit has been generous in gifting this congregation.

Some serve in the ordered ministries of deacon and elder.

Each of these offices has a Scriptural foundation. Each has been a part of Christian communities since the earliest days of the church. Each continues to play a vital role in the work and life and witness of the church.

The Book of Order says this of Deacons: The ministry of deacon as set forth in Scripture is one of compassion, witness, and service, sharing in the redeeming love of Jesus Christ for the poor, the hungry, the sick, the lost, the friendless, the oppressed, those burdened by unjust policies or structures, or anyone in distress. (G-2.0201)

And of elders: As there were in Old Testament times elders for the government of the people, so the New Testament church provided persons with particular gifts to share in discernment of God’s Spirit and governance of God’s people. … Ruling elders are so named not because they “lord it over” the congregation, but because they are chosen by the congregation to discern and measure its fidelity to the Word of God, and to strengthen and nurture its faith and life. (G-2.0301)

With great power the apostles gave their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all.

The compassionate care of the deacons, the discernment of the Session are, in every instance, to be testimony to the resurrection of our Lord. As our new elders and deacons join their boards and begin their service, I pray that they will be guided by this verse, emboldened for their tasks by the knowledge that they have a testimony to offer, a testimony given by and through grace.

And as these new officers prepare to be ordained and installed, I speak to the rest of us as well, for we are all members of the Body of Christ, a body in which each of us has a vital role to play, a vocation to fulfill.

Our Book of Order says: Ordered ministries are gifts to the church to order its life so that the ministry of the whole people of God may flourish. The existence of these ordered ministries in no way diminishes the importance of the commitment of all members to the total ministry of the church. (G-2.0102)

With great power the apostles gave their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all.

May we too be guided, inspired, reminded by this verse. May we remember each day that what we speak, what we do, what we hope and what we dare should embody our testimony to the resurrection of our Lord. And may our lives this day and each day display the grace which is upon us all.

Amen.