Milkweed grows abundantly in Eastern Ontario. Used for a variety of purposes, it is perhaps best known as one of the ‘butterfly flowers’. It is the only food eaten by monarch caterpillars, which is why female monarchs choose to lay their eggs on milkweed plants. The flowers are beautiful and highly scented. The seeds, produced in pods called follicles are each crowned with a cluster of white, silky, filament-like hairs known as the coma. The follicles ripen and burst open, and the seeds, each carried by its coma, are blown by the wind far and wide. Each seed is capable of germinating, producing growth, and therefore having an impact on the environment. So it is when we share or ‘witness’ to our faith in Jesus.
We might think of the word ‘witness’ firstly in a legal context, “The witness is called to the stand”, to testify to what they have seen and heard; to give evidence, usually against someone. But we bear witness to things that are significant for us every day, talking about what’s important, recent events, worries and concerns. We talk about the latest movie we have seen, or book we have read and about how the Sens are doing(though perhaps not so much this year). Often people tell others about their latest holidays, their health or what the children are up to. That sharing is a witness.
So is it very different when we speak of witnessing to our Christian faith, our walk with Jesus? Certainly the idea frightens many, and it’s not just the public speaking element. Sometimes there is concern about a lack of knowledge about the church or theology; perhaps we are hesitant to allow ourselves to be vulnerable or to open ourselves to ridicule; perhaps we have been the victim of someone trying to ‘ram religion down our throats’ or maybe we just want to avoid thinking about it at all. But bearing witness is as simple as telling the people we encounter where we sense God at work, in our lives and in the world.
Years ago, a common stance was that ‘religion is a private matter’, especially in certain, ‘proper’ denominations. Yet even with that attitude in place, every generation has seen itself as part of a great chain of witnesses, without whom the gospel would have gone unheard. The living and the dead, are all saints in the “great cloud”. The first disciples, and all those crowds yearning to be fed and healed, and loved, who followed Jesus around the countryside, they witnessed to Jesus, to his teaching and his actions. Post Resurrection Jesus said to the gathered throng, in Acts: 1, the story of the Ascension, and echoed in Luke and Matthew, “You shall be my witnesses, in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria and to the ends of the earth.”
We can’t interpret this great commissioning in any other way, we can’t wriggle out of it, or suggest it was meant only for the people of that era, or of that place. This is a call to both community and individual witness. As the early church gathered, as recorded in Acts:4, “They were of one heart and soul…with great power the apostles gave their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus and great grace was upon them all.” We are to witness to the same. And that is an every day opportunity, to share our faith, with stories of our Christian community, with examples of God’s Presence, with the conviction of the power of prayer and compassion for all in need. We can help scatter the seeds and God will make them grow!
Prayer: Give me courage, O Lord, to share my faith in You freely, frequently and confidently. Amen.