Connections 05.05.2024: We Are Witnesses

Acts 10:34-48

I knew a woman who had been a dancer. Later in life, she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, and as the disease took its physical toll she was less and less able to move freely, much less to dance. On a retreat, she shared with the group about what it had felt like to move one’s body as an expression of faith and love of God. Later I told her that I couldn’t imagine feeling uninhibited enough to move in the ways she described—and certainly not in front of other people! (Looking back, I am thankful for her patience with my obliviousness, considering the profound loss she was experiencing.) She responded with a reminder that I’ve recalled often. She said, we also participate when we act as witness to other people’s gifts, and it is an act of faith to allow others to witness us. For her, dancing her faith was not about public performance, but being willing to be witnessed by others.

In Acts 10, Peter is in the home of a Gentile man named Cornelius. His presence there was divinely organized; both Peter and Cornelius had had visions about their meeting (10:1-8 and 10:11-19) and their obedience to God’s Spirit brought them together. Earlier in Acts, Peter had recounted the events of Jesus’s life, death, and resurrection to the Jewish people who gathered for the Pentecost celebration (Acts 2:14-36). Now he presents a similar sermon to the Gentile people who have gathered in Cornelius’s home. He claims that “we are witnesses to all that [Jesus] did both in Judea and Jerusalem” (v. 29) as well as witnesses of Jesus’s death. Then he says some people were also “chosen by God as witnesses who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead” (v. 41).

It takes courage to allow others to witness us (my friend understood this and tried to teach me; I’m still learning), and it takes commitment to witness someone else’s expressions of faith. As witnesses, we hold space for the one who is sharing their gifts. We give them our attention. We value what they share. We honor their gift and their courage. And because we have done all this, we can tell others what we have witnessed. We might typically think of the word “witness” in the context of courts of law: someone who tells what they have observed and experienced (and hopefully tells it truthfully!). As Christians we give our testimony of what God has done. But before we can do that, we honor God by being faithful witnesses, paying attention to and participating in God’s ongoing work in the world and in one another.

Discussion

  • What do you think it says about God’s character that God desires and even chooses people to be witnesses of God’s work?
  • Why do you think it is so hard for us to let go of self-consciousness to allow others to witness our work, perhaps especially our acts of faith? How might it help others if we were more willing to be witnessed?
  • Think about the different definitions of the word “witness” (someone who observes/experiences something first-hand; someone who gives testimony; the action of witnessing). How might Peter be using this word as he speaks to Cornelius’s friends and family?
  • Who are the witnesses in this story?
  • What are the different roles and responsibilities of the different kinds of witnessing?
  • Do you think of yourself as a witness of what God is doing? How do you live out that role? What do you need to learn or to practice to be a more faithful witness? What is the hardest part for you?

Nikki Finkelstein-Blair is the lead editor of Connections. She is a graduate of Samford University and Central Baptist Theological Seminary. She and her husband Scott and sons Sam and Levi live in St Louis, Missouri. In recent years, Nikki has written Smyth & Helwys curricula as well as devotionals for d365.org and Baptist Women in Ministry. She weaves clergy stoles, knits almost anything, and dreams of making her dreadful novel drafts into readable books. She blogs about faith and making things at amovingyarn.com.

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