Can I Get A Witness?

I’ve been getting kind of annoyed lately about how much listening I’ve had to do. No matter where I go, it seems people just want to talk! So I thought I’d do a little Google search to see if there were some good tips for listening better, how to be a better conversation partner… SOMETHING! I found something WAY better and thought I’d share it with you because I’m pretty sure that especially as we move closer and closer to a national election, some of you here might be feeling the same way I do (the following is edited from the work of thehands on HubPages) :

How to Tolerate People Who Talk Too Much
(http://thehands.hubpages.com/hub/How-to-Tolerate-People-Who-Talk-Too-Much)
  1. Pretend you’re asleep.  The value of being able to feign unconsciousness if someone is talking your ear off should never be underestimated. Most (though, granted, not all) chronic over-talkers tend to stop when they think no one is listening to them.
  2. Talk over the person, and about something that doesn’t interest them.  Fight fire with fire. Be a chatterbox yourself and drown out anything they’re saying with things that they don’t know or care about, so they can’t logically interject anything except “Uh-huh.” Completely reject any attempts of theirs to change the subject; change it right back.
  3. Make an offensive or inappropriate joke that will breed an awkward silence. Hopefully that silence will last. Avoid all attempts by the chatterbox to make the situation comfortable again by saying something even more awkward or adding to the pre-existing awkwardness. For example, if you know that the person who is talking too much is a feminist, make a chauvinistic joke. Make sure the joke is extreme in its offensiveness, or it won’t work. If it’s a mid-level, slightly offensive joke they’ll just think you’ve been “brainwashed by society”
  4. Feign an emergency.  Once they start on one of their long-winded ramblings to nowhere, scream suddenly and grab a body part, pretending that it hurts.  Be dramatic, but try to explain it as a temporary ailment, and not something that needs medical intervention. “Ohhhh! It’s my trick knee again!” works just fine, as well as “Owww! something fell in my eye!” or even “OMG, a papercut! Anything but that!” This can also be used as a springboard to change the subject–you can talk about how much it hurts and have a good excuse to not be listening to them.
  5. Tell them to shut up.  Short and sweet. If you want to be mean in a direct sort of way, and assume they’re the kind who would obey such a request (if not, you may need to resort to number 3), then give it a go. It works best if you interrupt them during a sentence. Or, actually, it’s just more emotionally fulfilling.

Now that you’re good and worried about why Pastor Tom invited this wacko guest preacher to fill in, you ought to know that the techniques like the ones recommended above have been used on me and people like me for a long, long time. If you haven’t guessed, I am a talker. I always have been. There are grade school nicknames to prove it! That’s why people who have known me a long time wouldn’t be surprised if I said I identify with Peter in so many ways. I am so like chatty, know-it-all Peter – the one who confronts Jesus because he thinks he has a better idea than death and resurrection. I’m like impulsive Peter – the one who sees Jesus walk on water and impulsively leaps out of the boat to give it a try. And at the end of the day, if I am totally honest with myself, I am also probably too much like the denying Peter – the one who stands face to face with people from his own community and tiptoes around his connection with Jesus to save his own skin.

That was the pre-resurrection Peter. I’m a lot like him.

I wish I were more like the Peter we meet in the today’s text. Let’s listen in for a moment:
A Reading from Acts 4:5-12

The next day their rulers, elders, and scribes assembled in Jerusalem, with Annas the high priest, Caiaphas, John, and Alexander, and all who were of the high-priestly family.  When they had made the prisoners stand in their midst, they inquired, “By what power or by what name did you do this?”
Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them, “Rulers of the people and elders, if we are questioned today because of a good deed done to someone who was sick and are asked how this man has been healed, let it be known to all of you, and to all the people of Israel, that this man is standing before you in good health by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead. This Jesus is ‘the stone that was rejected by you, the builders; it has become the cornerstone.’ There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among mortals by which we must be saved.”

What happened to Peter? He is poised. He is clear about the vision. He is intentional in his witness. And above all – his entire being is pointing toward the crucified and risen Jesus Christ. What a transformation!

Don’t you wish it were that easy? It should be, shouldn’t it? Most of the people we hang out with, our neighbors, friends, colleagues, are so much like us. We know them.  Yet when it comes to making a clear witness, to simply pointing out God’s work in our lives, we clam up. Why is that?  After all, Peter wasn’t talking to strangers either. They spoke the same language, shared the same Jewish culture, struggled under the same Roman government. Why can’t we be that clear? Why don’t we simply say: We are the way we are because of Jesus?

When Peter and John stood in front of the Sanhedrin, their very lives were at stake. This was the same group orchestrated Jesus’ arrest and death. It would be easy to understand if they were reticent, or if Peter fell back onto his words of denial spoken in the Temple courtyard that fateful night.

But what about us? Our silence is telling – especially in light of the satire above. At first reading, it does seem funny but the reality is we don’t speak because we are just as concerned with death as Peter and John were. It’s just not the same kind of death – not the kind that involves physical pain and suffering that those who, throughout history, have faced whenever they testified openly to God at work in the world.

We are, however, very afraid of the death of our credibility. What will people think if we are completely open about our beliefs? We are terribly concerned about being seen as weird, so our silence covers our embarrassment. How can we explain why we spend time in Bible study and prayer?  We are even worried about what others will think of our use of time, so we talk about the sightseeing we did on the mission trip and sometimes avoid talking about what happened in weekly worship at all. Who would believe that we would give up precious hours of vacation or free time to do something with no obvious benefit for us or our families?

We need to listen to the proclamation Peter makes and own it for ourselves first! Because, as my Iowa friend Pastor Mark described in his blogpost, The Most Misused Scripture in the World:  There is something unique about Jesus Christ. To proclaim that the grand reversal of the resurrection is  to lay claim to the desperate hope that is within us and that so many around us experience as an endless yearning for meaning and hope. Here what Peter says:– the rejected stone has become the cornerstone! This is precisely the power of making broken lives whole. If we can must muster up the witness – if we can just point to God at work, just be Jesus’ healing and loving hand and feet and voices, we’d go a long way toward what Matthew Henry advised in his commentary when he suggested that the followers of Christ should behave so that all who come into contact with them would recognize that they have been with Jesus.

It is a testimony we all ought to be making every single day! In a community where grace is hard to come by – where more and more of our friends and family members are struggling – if all we do is point to the presence of God’s Spirit in the midst of suffering, if we share the healing love of Christ to those who feel the pain of rejection, if we praise God wherever we see grace, we will have begun to do what Peter and John did in that trial.

Reverend Allan Boesak is a South African Dutch Reformed Church pastor, politician and anti-apartheid activist who continually preached about God’s transforming work. While we may not be able to imagine the depths of the pain his witness brought him in that impossible time, we can grasp something of this passion for ourselves. In a sermon on this very text he said:

“If people are being changed, if the structures of the world are being confronted, if the very world itself is faced with the challenge to be transformed, then no longer hatred but love shall rule, no longer fear but boldness shall rule, no longer injustice but justice shall rule. Powers which are built upon injustice must be ended, but these powers get upset and disturbed, they get angry and so they call the apostles to account. They want to know what is happening here, “by what name, by what power are you doing this”.  [Peter and John’s witness] tells us, my brothers and sisters, how this drama unfolds.”

When we make a clear witness in the midst of suffering and injustice, when we speak to presence of the Holy Spirit in the midst of hopelessness, when we tell people under which name we live and move, by what name we have been given the power of life, that, my brothers and sisters is when the beautiful drama of God’s redeeming grace will play out in our world.  Amen.

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