Testimony is a very powerful thing.
Testimony gives reality to the things of which we speak. If you dare to say something that’s really true, the truth of it makes itself known. If you love somebody, you’ve got to tell the person. It’s not enough to think it. You’ve got to say it. If you see something that you know is wrong, something that will cause great harm, you’ve got to say something. You’ve got to speak up. Testify to the truth of the injustice. If you see some beauty or some potential in another person, tell them. It might just make a powerful difference in their life. If you know the truth, you have to tell somebody!
The Acts of the Apostles features a story near it’s beginning (Acts 4:32-37) that is frequently cited as an ideal of faithful Christian community where everybody takes care of everybody. I don’t know if you’ve heard this bible story before, but because it involves faithful people selling their possessions and giving the money to the church, there are lots of churches that like to read this story during the stewardship season, hallelujah! If, upon hearing this passage you have become inspired to sell a valuable piece of property that you own and give the proceeds from the sale to your local church, I want to affirm you in that decision. God bless you.
However, recently when I read this story I was struck by something I hadn’t paid much attention to in the past, namely that in this passage about the early church, financial generosity is tethered to spiritual generosity. The boldness of the giving is inextricably linked to the boldness of the testimony. Here’s part of what it says:
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 gave the proceeds of what was sold…
The sharing of food and shelter and money was simply a natural counterpart to the sharing of the story. People were willing to give what they had because people were willing to tell about the hope that they had.
They told the story, right?
The question for us is, are you and I telling the story? You might not be able to say that you have seen the resurrected Jesus in the flesh, shook his hand. You might not be able to say that you have seen God’s victory over the forces of fear and violence in Christ’s resurrected bodily form. But you may have seen God’s love make a way where there seemed to be no way. You may have, in your life, seen forgiveness, reconciliation, healing against all odds. Say amen if you’ve seen that. You may have gone through a time when you believed it was all over for you, but you got a new beginning. You may have experienced resurrection hope. My question to you is, Have you shared the good news?
The bible says that if you give your testimony about the truth of God’s love, great grace will be upon you.
Now, I see that there are two main ways we experience the power of testimony. One is, when we testify, it makes a difference in other people’s lives. The second is, when we testify, it makes a difference in our own lives. Let’s briefly look at these two sides of the coin.
First, your testimony makes a difference to other people.
The movie The Sixth Sense came out 14 years ago. Can you believe that? Time flies. You are old. But even though there are kids in high school today who think of this as an old movie, and everybody knows the ending, I still will not refer to the ending of this movie in any conversation unless I know for sure that everyone in the room has seen it. Because I remember the excitement about this movie when it came out – because of the ending. Did you know that on it’s opening weekend, The Sixth Sense made more money from ticket sales on Sunday than it did on Friday? That’s unheard of – there’s always bigger crowds at the movies on Friday and Saturday than Sunday. The second weekend The Sixth Sense was out, it sold slightly more tickets than it’s opening weekend – unheard of. The biggest blockbusters usually have half the audience their second weekend that they did their first weekend. Why was this movie such an exception? Because everybody who saw it talked about it. The more people talked about it, the more everybody wanted to see and know what the big deal was all about it.
Now, I liked the Sixth Sense, I thought it was good. But folks, it’s a Bruce Willis movie. Didn’t change my life. Really not such a big deal. And yet, talking about it really affected people. So if we can make a difference by talking to people about a movie we think is cool, Imagine the power we have when we testify boldly about things that actually matter!
As a pastor, I’ve heard some amazing stories about God working in people’s lives. I’ve heard about people changing careers because God called them out. I’ve heard about people getting free from addiction and surviving depths of depressio and grief and despair because of God’s faithfulness. I’ve heard about people traveling the world because of what God asked them to do with their skills and resources.
I once had a woman come up to me and tell me about how she had been away from organized religion for many years because of something quite damaging she’d experienced in church long ago, but she was walking past our building on a Sunday morning and God said, “Stop. Go in that church.” And she came ready to judge and be offended by monstrous theology and close-minded people, but then she met a greeter who was extremely gracious and kind, which was not what she expected, and she thought “What kind of a church is this?” and she came in and sat down, and listened to words of hope and healing and she prayed prayers of liberation and she worshipped for the first time in a long while. And that day became an important part of a process of God transforming her outlook and her faith and her life.
And many months later she came to me and told me this story, and I said Wow! That’s amazing! And I asked her, who else have you told this story to? And she said, “Just you.” And I said…
I said… Beloved sister in Christ, you’ve got to tell somebody! You’ve got to testify! You have no idea the difference it might make.
If you’re a slightly less cynical person than you’d be without your faith, tell somebody!
If you’re a slightly more patient person than you’d be without your faith, tell somebody!
If you care about justice and peace because of the words Jesus keeps putting in your head, tell somebody!
If you see people a little bit more like God sees them, because the Gospel is getting to you, tell somebody!
And as important as all those things are, here’s the one to really remember:
If you’ve been bruised, broken down, humiliated, exhausted, desperate, and by some providence God’s grace pulled you back from tumbling over the edge of whatever cliff you were standing on, do you know that God may save somebody else from falling off some other cliff, because you tell the story God gave you to tell, about how grace saved you?
Do you know that? It’s true. Your testimony will make a powerful difference in somebody else’s life.
So that’s the first dimension of the power of testimony, as I see it. Your testimony can make a powerful difference in someone else’s life.
The second dimension of the power of testimony, brothers and sisters, is the power your testimony has in your own life.
Remember testimony to the truth demonstrates the truth in a powerful way.
Almost every preacher that I know, and absolutely every preacher’s spouse that I know, will tell you that preachers don’t talk about the values and principles and tips on living the faithful life because they’ve got it all figured out and mastered it all. Of course not! Preachers talk about this stuff because they believe it’s true, and people need to hear the truth, preachers themselves, especially. Every preacher is a member of her own listening congregation.
I’ve gotten to the point that if I’m going to preach a sermon about patience or some other virtue that I don’t possess, I have to tell my wife ahead of time, to warn her, so that she doesn’t just bust out laughing in the middle of the sermon. You have to take these precautions in this line of work. I don’t preach that people should be patient and compassionate because I am that way. I preach about it because I know it’s true, and if I speak it out loud, I’m gonna get convicted, and I trust God will use my own words to affect me as much as anyone else. That’s what happens when you speak the truth.
Well if that’s the case with speaking about principles and ideals, it’s doubly true when we tell our personal stories.
When you tell your story, it helps you remember who you are. Telling somebody else what you’ve been through and what God has taught you and done for you along the way, helps you believe in the person you’re meant to be, and reminds you to seek God’s will for your life. Our testimony helps us remember who we are. Our testimony helps us to relearn who we are.
Now let me tell you the story of a person who testified to his experience of God’s love, and the difference that it made in his own life.
I want to tell you about one of my favorite characters from the bible – not the most famous person in the bible, but very, very important. Our scripture reading from Acts introduces a man named Joseph, whom the disciples called Barnabas. Now, later, Barnabas is actually the person who introduces the apostle Paul to the rest of Jesus’ disciples. They didn’t want to talk to him, because Paul had a reputation for being a hater (Paul had earned this reputation), but Barnabas let them know Paul was okay, and they could trust him, because God’s grace had totally done a number on him. And it’s a long story but eventually Barnabas and Paul became a Gospel-preaching team, and they traveled together spreading the good news all over, from Antioch to Asia Minor to Jerusalem, making the case that Christian hope applies to all people, regardless of race, language, nationality or whatever other categories people try to put folks in. This was some radical preaching, and historians believe that we would not have Christianity as a worldwide, multi-ethnic, multicultural religion today if it were not for the 1st Century missionary work of Paul and Barnabas, you gotta love Barnabas.
I have a ten-month old daughter and if she had been born a boy, we would have named him Barnabas – Barnabas Ignatius Mordecai Leveridge, in fact. Actually, we had a couple conversations left before that decision was finalized, but the girl was born a girl so that settled it (I happen to think Barnabas is also a great name for a girl, but now I’m digressing).
But anyway, I love the name Barnabas, because of this story. The guy’s name was Joseph, but the disciples gave him a new name, Barnabas. It’s a big deal when somebody in the bible gets a new name. In Genesis God was working with a couple named Abram and Sarai, but just as God was revealing their destiny to be the parents of a great nation – God had a plan for them that was greater than they could have imagined, God started calling them Abraham and Sarah. New names. Jesus had a friend named Simon, but he started calling Simon Peter, which means Rock, as he was teaching him that his life would be a foundation upon which the church was built. A new name.
Well, there was a guy named Joseph who was part of the early Christian church and he owned some land, which he sold, and he gave the money to the church, and disciples started calling Joseph Barnabas, which means ‘son of encouragement.’
The church had a mission, to tell people about Jesus, and to make the good news of Christ real in the lives of more and more people. That means welcoming those who are shut out of community. That means caring for the sick. It means providing for those who don’t have resources to meet their basic needs. It means living nonviolently, not participate in behaviors and systems that dominate and dehumanize people. And when Barnabas contributed his money, the church was able to live into that mission, that much more.
And that is encouraging. And just as we were saying at the beginning of this sermon, the disciples material generosity, was inextricably linked to spiritual generosity. The sharing of resources goes hand in hand with the sharing the sharing of the story.
Joseph said, I bear witness to the fact that in the risen Christ, God has been victorious over the forces of fear and brutality. I believe that God is at work, and I want to be a part of what God is doing. So I’m gonna give what I have to give- my resources, my time, my words, sign me up, I’m in. And when Joseph did that the disciples started calling him Barnabas, which means ‘son of encouragement.’ They didn’t call him a model of generosity, they didn’t call him a beacon of righteousness, they didn’t etch his name and put it on a little plaque on the wall for people giving at the platinum level, because they didn’t care about that stuff.
They called him ‘son of encouragement’. Because they were all on a mission; they were responding to God’s calling, together. And when somebody comes forward and says and I ’m with you! I want this mission to be fulfilled, and I won’t just wish you well, but I’m going to put my own resources behind this mission because this mission is my mission, too – when that happens you know that God is gearing up to do some powerful work. And that is encouraging, amen?
When Joseph made his testimony, it made a powerful difference in the lives of the people around him. But not only that, I promise you that Joseph’s testimony changed his own life in extraordinary ways. You see, in this act of testimony, it became possible for Joseph to see himself in a new way. In his case, every time he introduced himself to someone new, he was giving his testimony.
Hi, I’m Jos…
Hi, I’m Barnabas.
I trusted God. I gave a lot, and I saw a lot of lives changed for the better. And then, I trusted God even more. I really wanted to follow Jesus, and so I did, and now I’ve been all over the place, and I expect God to lead me even further. My life has been changed forever by Jesus Christ. I’m Barnabas, it’s nice to meet you.
We don’t know Barnabas’ whole story, but we know there were troubling times when he needed to remember who he was, and what his life was all about. That is what testimony is for, brothers and sisters. Barnabas spent the rest of his life witnessing miracles, speaking truth to power, and being transformed by his ministry and relationships with thousands of God’s beloved children who he never would have met except that he was willing to tell his story.
Your testimony makes a difference for other people. Your testimony makes a difference for you.
Brothers and sisters, you have a given name, and you also have a story. You are to be known by your name, and you are to be known by your story. Your story that says, I’ve seen a lot of things, been hit by a bunch of things, God’s brought me through some things, taught some things, called me to some things along this journey, and right now, I’m making my way trying to respond to God’s calling on my life.
Fill in the details, and say them out loud.