Can I Get a Witness?

One of my favorite movie scenes of all time, is the waterfall fight scene in the movie Black Panther wherein M’Baku challenges Prince T’Challa for the kingship of Wakanda (if you haven’t seen it, you may watch a clip here). There is a moment when M’Baku seems to be winning the battle and all hope feels lost. A dazed T’Challa spots his mother Queen Ramonda in the crowd, and she encourages to muster his strength and keep fighting by shouting the now iconic phrase “Show him who you are”! As the rightful heir to the throne, Queen Ramona recognizes that T’Challa’s identity as prince is powerful. Prince T’Challa recognizes this also and is strengthened to get the upper hand and win the fight. The scene is so relatable because life has a way of getting the upper hand sometimes making us doubt ourselves, our individual ability to handle challenging situations and even forget who we are.

As a nation, this seems to be one of those times. Who we are as a people, and a world power seems to be shifting at a rate that is outpacing our ability to process and determine who we are as a collective. The moral, ethical and institutional foundations that have historically held us together as a democracy are quickly being torn asunder leading to more divisiveness, chaos, and confusion than many of us can remember. Between the onslaught of mass shootings, high inflation, continued supply shortages, efforts to repeal civil rights we thought were secure and the ongoing endemic it is easy to feel powerless, overwhelmed, defeated, and duped. The lack of civility, culture of violence and mental health crisis exacerbates the social and moral issues we are facing fraying our social fabric even more. It is easy to feel like we don’t even recognize ourselves anymore. However, on the heels of Pentecost Sunday, I find myself feeling a little like Queen Ramonda standing on the sidelines shouting to those of us clergy and church leaders to remember who we are.

In Acts 1:8 Jesus tells the disciples, “But you will receive power with the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” In this one brief statement, Jesus outlines the Divine plan for Kingdom proliferation. Each disciple will receive their own measure of personal power that will manifest in a publicly transformative way. While the disciples have long gone, we are the heirs of that same Divine plan. We each have been given a measure of Divine power to manifest in a publicly transformative way.

As we think about mending our frayed social fabric, I lift this scripture because I believe reclaiming our identity as witnesses is a crucial part of our identity as believers and leaders that we need to remember. Culture has convinced us that we shouldn’t talk about religion and politics because it’s too personal. In fact, many of you have expressed how uncomfortable talking about them has been in your own churches, not to mention in the community. We’ve been told that we shouldn’t concern ourselves with the spirituality of others because it’s private and we don’t want to offend anyone. Culture has told us that it’s somehow inappropriate to represent our faith in the boardroom, the classroom, the state house, pretty much anywhere except in our churches, however, our power as believer’s has been given to us specifically for the purpose of being gospel witnesses for the purpose of Kingdom proliferation.

The reality is that people are looking to us for leadership. Every time there is a moment of reckoning in this country, the question is asked where is the church? Pentecost is a reminder that we are the church and as such the indwelling of the Holy Spirit within us should manifest in ways that are not just relevant for personal piety, but also in ways that are relevant and transformative to the culture. Our nation needs our thoughts and prayers yes, but it also needs our ethical and moral perspective and leadership, and our witness to the life affirming all-encompassing love of God for the world. We have already received the power now we just need to remember who we are and transform the world with it.

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