“Altar Your Witness”
Rev. Billy D. Strayhorn
In the Disney/Pixar movie Up, Carl Fredricksen is a 78-year-old widower living alone in the home he and his childhood sweetheart, Ellie, had built as their lifelong love nest. Ellie has been dead now for quite a while and Carl's life is tied up with her memories. She was the fuel for his fire, and now he
burns very low. Carl is alone on purpose, imprisoned in his home and his memories.
Into his life comes Russell, a young Wilderness Scout who is looking for love and acceptance from his father by getting as many badges as possible, in hopes that his father will notice, come to a ceremony and be proud. Russell comes to Carl with an offer of help. Over and over again he is rejected as he reaches out to Carl in his awkward 8 year old boy way.
One of the greatest fears that we face as just everyday people, and maybe even more so as Christians, is the fear of rejection. Rejection is the fear that keeps us from one of the most important and one of the rewarding disciplines of the Christian faith. Witnessing. Today we’ll looking at Altaring The World, thorugh Altaring Our Witness.
In the past weeks we’ve looked at our vows of membership and talked about how we us the various vows to help Altar The World by Altaring our own spiritual lives. We’ve talked about the need for Prayer and Sabbath, we’ve talked about our need to be Present and be involved and how we are called to Serve. We’ve talked about the Biblical aspects of giving and the gifts we bring. This morning’s topic is Altaring our Witness.
Now I know the fear that word conjures up. We picture someone with a 20 pound Bible beating down doors, shouting on the street corner or shouting from the pulpit. I’m not sure any of that ever really works any more. In my way of thinking, there are two kinds of Witness. There is our Verbal Witness and Our Life Witness.
I. VERBAL WITNESS:
Verbal Witness is truly the Witness of our Words. We can’t ever forget that we are called to share the Good News of Jesus Christ for the Transformation of The World. Our faith is not our own, it has been given to us to share with others. Just like love, the more you give away, the more you have.
In this area I’m an advocate of what I call “Non-Confrontational Evangelism.” I’ve found that most people don’t like to talk about their faith because they’re afraid they are going to be verbally accosted by the person with whom they’re talking for not having the same beliefs the have. Or we’re afraid we’re going to be treated like Carl treated Russell in our opening clip.
In Romans 10:9-15 (NRSV) the Apostle Paul writes
 if you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and
believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.
 For one believes with the heart and so is justified, and one confesses with the mouth and so is saved.
 The scripture says, "No one who believes in him will be put to shame."
 For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; the same Lord is Lord of all and is generous to all who call on him.
 For, "Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved."
 But how are they to call on one in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in one of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone to proclaim him?
 And how are they to proclaim him unless they are sent? As it is written, "How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!"
Paul reminds us that we are sent by Christ as emissaries and ambassadors and that means we’re going to have to give Witness verbally. But that’s not the only way.
5:12-16 (NRSV) Jesus said:
 Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
 "You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything, but is thrown out and trampled under foot.
 "You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid.
 No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house.
 In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.
II. LIFE WITNESS:
To me, the more powerful way of witnessing is with your life. We’re called to be living breathing evangelists. That’s what I think it means to Altar our witness. St. Francis of Assisi said, "Preach the gospel at all times. If necessary, use words."
I believe that. Our lives are a theological statement and a Biblical witness of what we believe and in whom we believe.
Prayer is a Witness: which says that God's power and God's love are so important that you choose to spend a little time in conversation, both listening and talking to God every day.
Presence is a Witness: which says God is important enough to you that you set aside one hour a week to be reminded that you’re not the center of the universe, God is. And to be reminded that God cares for your and all of us, that we’re created in the image of God and that ultimately God is in control.
Service is a Witness: which says life is about more than you. There are others who need to be touched by the love of God. It says you understand that Christ calls us to be like him, and like him you seek justice and mercy for the broken of the world: the heart broken, the life broken, the spirit broken people around us and in the world. It says you are willing to give of your time and yourself as Jesus did, to give others hope and in some cases the very basic necessities of life.
Our Gifts are a Witness: which say, no matter what the world says should be important to us, riches, wealth, fame, we place Christ and the Kingdom of God first and put worldly things in their proper Biblical perspective, last.
Our entire life, our entire lifestyle, whether we like it or not, is a witness to what we believe and in whom we believe. And the one thing that others notice is when our Verbal Witness and our Life Witness don’t line up. They notice when we SAY one thing and DO something else. It is easy to give Verbal Witness to our faith. That’s just words. But it’s hard to Live the faith. Living the Faith takes Commitment, Character and Intentionality. It’s not something you do by accident. It’s a choice. It’s something you do on purpose and for a purpose.
What’s the purpose of your Life? Is it a Witness for Christ? Can it be a better witness for Christ?
A. In the 1994 movie, "With Honors," Joe Pesci plays Simon Wilder a homeless man slowly dying from asbestos poisoning. Brendan Fraser portrays Montgomery 'Monty' Kessler, who is a student at Harvard who is destined to graduate “with honors.” When Monty’s computer crashes, he's left with only a single paper copy of his thesis. Scared to death of losing his only copy, he immediately rushes to the library in order to make a copy of it, only to slip on the ice and drop it down a grate. Searching the basement of the building, he discovers that it has been found by Simon, a homeless squatter, living in the furnace room of the library.
Simon makes a deal with Monty: for every day of food and shelter that Monty gives him, Simon will give a page of the thesis in return. Monty agrees and reluctantly a friendship develops. In the course of that friendship both characters learn about life, love, relationships, happiness, sacrifice, remembering and especially what it means to live life “With Honors.”
There’s a very telling and touching scene in the movie that deals with remembering. (Watch)
Show Clip From With Honors
You know, there are a lot of stones and rocks in the Bible. There’s Peter the Rock who sank like a rock when tried to walk on water. There are the stones which Jesus said would break into song on Palm Sunday if the people didn’t sing. Or stones with which he was tempted to turn into bread while fasting.
There’s the stone that sealed the tomb which was rolled away so we could see inside and see that no mere grave could hold the Son of God. There are the rocks and stones used to build the Temple. There are the 12 stones (one for each tribe) from the Jordan River that adorn the Ephod or ceremonial vestment worn by the Temple’s High Priest.
And then there are the various stones used to build cairns or ebenezers or pillars or piles or altars of remembrance at those places where significant events took place or where God revealed Himself to various people in Scripture, theophanies. When Joshua and the people crossed the Jordan into the promised land for the first time, they celebrated and remembered by building an altar of stones as a place of remembrance.
And that’s where the stone in your hand comes in. You see, the memories you have of how God has moved and acted in your life have been wrapped around that stone. To others, what you have in your hand is just a rock, but for you, at this moment, that stone represents an important moment in your journey of faith.
This wooden altar is like those stones. This wooden altar, like every altar in every church in the world, is a representation of the presence of God in the world and in our lives. It reminds us of both the promises of God yet to come and the promises which have already been fulfilled. It represents all the events in the life of this church and every individual who has ever worshipped here. It is a sacred piece of furniture not because of there is anything special about this table. To most people it’s just wood and glue and stain.
But to us, because of what has happened here and what we have brought here, it is sacred. For countless years it has held the Bible and the candles and the cross, symbols of our worship. It has witnessed countless youth and children’s programs; Christmas and Easter cantatas and testimonies of changed lives. It has witnessed and been a central part of all the sacred moments of the lives in this church, baptisms, weddings and funerals. It is both a place and an item of remembrance.
But not only remembrance. It is also a sign and symbol of our Commitment. Because it is here that we place our Commitment Cards and dedicate them to God. It is here that we place our tithes and offerings each and every week and ask God to use them for the glory of God’s Kingdom through the transformational work of this church. It is here, through the gifts we bring, that we rededicate our lives and ask God to empower our lives so we can be effective Witness.
It is from this Altar that we carry out the mission and ministry of this Church.
This is the Word of the Lord for this day.
Other References Consulted