Resurrection Witness

April 24, 2022

ACTS 5:27-32

Rev. Dr. Mark Doty

            We have just heard today’s lectionary lesson from Acts 5: the account of witnessing by Peter and the Apostles. The group of them had been arrested for doing ministry and put into the public prison.  During the night, an angel opened the prison doors.  Peter and the Apostles went back to work after daybreak.  It is then that they were brought before the council and questioned by the high priest.  The man told them they had been forbidden to mention the name of Jesus, and yet they had disobeyed.  Peter and the others replied, “we must obey God rather than human authority.”  they told the council they needed to share the story of Jesus with others, because “…we are witnesses to these things.”

            April is national poetry month, and one of my favorite poems is about a child who witnessed to an entire congregation.  It’s called “to Tom McCall, wherever you are.”  Ann Weems, the author of the poem, says this about her subject:  “a few years ago there was a little boy in my church school class who was perpetual motion.  He never sat down, and the teachers could not guess what he would do next.  He moved away and I’ve lost track of the family, but I’ve always had a soft spot in my heart for Tom.”  here’s the poem:

I’ve always loved you, Tom McCall,

Of spirit large and figure small,

Since first we met in the church’s hall

And you stuck your tongue out, Tom McCall.

Tom McCall, all legs and feet,

Tom McCall never sits on the seat.

Tom McCall, your shirttail’s out.

Tom McCall, do you always shout?

Tom McCall, paint on your face,

Did you have to paint the rest of the place?

The choir children are in single file,

Looking angelic all the while

Here comes one with a great big smile:

Tom is backing down the aisle.

Tom, your choir robe’s askew,

Tom, did it ever occur to you,

If you don’t watch out you’re gonna fall…

Now you’ve done it, Tom McCall!

Tom McCall, grin on your face,

You’ve melted hearts all over the place!

And then in church school late in fall,

We spoke of a child who had nothing at all.

Tom took his feet from the church school wall,

Emptied his pockets and gave his all.

Here’s to you, dear tom McCall!

Tom McCall, all legs and feet,

Tom McCall never sits on the seat.

Tom McCall, your shirttail’s out.

Tom McCall, do you always shout?

Tom McCall, paint on your face.

Tom McCall, child of grace (Ann Weems, “to Tom McCall, wherever you are”).

            Sometimes being a resurrection witness has small beginnings, as in the case of our pint-sized friend, Tom…. here’s another example.  It has been over 170 years since…Jean Henri Dunant woke up one morning and opened his window in his beloved Switzerland.  He heard an agitated crowd talking in excited tones. 

            He ran down to join them to see what was going on.  It took him awhile to catch what they were saying.  He kept hearing words like “fighting” and “war” through all the commotion.  Eventually, he received the message that war had broken out in Italy.  He hurried back to his flat, packed a few clothes and headed out to see for himself just what…was going on.

            Henri arrived in Italy where he saw soldiers fighting on the side of a hill near the town of Castiglione.  It seemed that everyone was shooting at everyone else.  He watched as men were hit by bullets, let out painful cries, and fell to the ground.  Henri had never seen anything like that before.  He felt that he should be doing something to help the wounded.

            When the fighting stopped at dusk he went to the near-by town and asked people to go with him to the battlefield.  And they responded.  Ordinary folks from all walks of life; farmers, bakers, schoolteachers, tailors, they all responded.  They spent the entire night out on that battlefield giving as much aid as they could to the wounded and dying soldiers.

            It was extremely difficult for Henri to get the sight out of his mind once he had returned home.  In order to cope he began writing down those experiences. He described the horrible sight of battle and men being shot.  He also suggested that every country should have a relief society, a kind of emergency aid service to help the wounded soldiers.

            Five years later the first rescue society was organized in Geneva, Switzerland, in 1864.  It was called the red cross.  Soon other countries joined the society.  And like what so often happens, just about everyone forgot about Henri, that is, until an article appeared in a newspaper in 1895.  Six years later Henri Dunant was given the very first Nobel Prize (Dr. Rodney E. Wilmoth).

 How wonderful it is when people are so determined to be witnesses that nothing stands in their way!  In our lesson for the morning, Peter and the Apostles are so devout and so firm in their faith that they are willing to risk death by appearing before the council. In our own day and time, you and I are not normally called upon to put our lives on the line for our faith, but we are always called to some form of witness.

That’s also at the heart of being a resurrection witness, to be a winsome disciple for Jesus Christ.  Let me close with a moving occasion that I was a part of some years ago.  During my pastorate in Maine, I met with a group of clergy and laity once a month to talk about the root causes of poverty.  At a memorable gathering of faith linking in action, Ilene, an 81-year-old former nun, gave her testimony.  She told us that she grew up in the Bronx near Yankee Stadium.  When she confessed, “I am a Yankee’s fan!”, I pretended to get up to leave in disgust.  That was good for a laugh in Red Sox country, but then Ilene told us about her life as a teacher in a convent.  Awhile back, Ilene said, there was an issue with a fellow sister.  Ilene felt her friend was being unfairly maligned and left the order in protest.

So, it was clear that Ilene is a woman of strong convictions.  At the core of her testimony was an incident that happened as she was driving home the year before.  It was about 9 o’clock in the evening when Ilene saw a frail man walking on the side of the road.  It was a chilly night, and so Ilene stopped her car and asked the man if he needed help.  He said that he had taken car service to an appointment in Bangor but was not picked up.  So, the man had been walking the 30 miles to Milo, Maine, ever since.  Ilene said, “I had not planned to drive to Milo that night, but I did it.”  when she finally got home, Ilene told us that she said, “thank you, Jesus, for letting me bring you home this evening.”

            When I spoke with Ilene after our meeting, I said, “Ilene, there are not many people who–driving alone at night–would have stopped to pick up a man on the side of the road.”  she said, “I have always picked up strangers.  Jesus protects me.”

            I have been speaking about resurrection witnesses this morning:  Tom Mccall who gave his all and Jean Henri Dunant who began the red cross and Ilene who gave a stranger a lift.  They are all descendants of Peter and the Apostles who remind us that the best way to honor the memory of Jesus is by serving others.

Let us go and do likewise!

Copyright 2022 by the Rev. Dr. Mark Allen Doty