Written by Pastor Ed
A Cloud of Witnesses
November 20, 2016
Luke 6: 20-31
Hebrews 12: 1-2
The writer of Hebrews, after listing numerous people and saying that there are many more unnamed, says, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith.” (Heb. 12: 1-2a) Today we are remembering some of those who have joined that great cloud of witnesses.
It is a reminder to us of the importance of our faith and of the history that we share. Now I know that some people find history boring and think that it’s all about remembering names and dates. But history is really about stories, and particularly the stories of the past from which we can learn and which we need to pass on to future generations. Why? Because it is only because of those stories that we can have hope for the future.
You see, if we had no history, if we could only deal with the here and now, we would most likely end up in despair, because there are many times when things look bleak. We are confronted with illness, prejudice, death and disease. Natural disasters wreak havoc on lives and war devastates whole nations and peoples. Let’s face it, life at times, in the short term, looks bad.
That’s been true through the centuries. The children of Israel faced all of that over and over again, most particularly when they faced deportation and exile in Babylon. And so, they began to write down their story, which is how we ended up with much of our Old Testament. And most particularly they began ot tell the story of another time when things looked bad; they were slaves in Egypt. But God delivered them with a strong arm and a mighty hand. If God could do that in the past, then surely God could also do that in the present.
In the same way, we have the stories of the past, the entire story of Jesus as well as the apostles and all those martyrs who have gone before to give us hope and faith for our present situation. If God could act in the past, and we keep telling those stories, then even when things get tough now, we can look back and gain perspective and hope for the future.
And we also can see from the example of those who went before that the way of Jesus, the way outlined in the passage we read from Luke – Luke’s account of the Beatitudes – is not some impractical, wimpy way to be in this world, but in fact a way of life, modeled after Jesus himself, that was vindicated in his death and resurrection.
In the liturgical calendar, this last Sunday before Advent is called, Christ the King Sunday. A time to recognize that because of who Jesus was and how Jesus lived, Jesus has been raised to that highest position in heaven, celebrated in the hymn of Philippians 2. The Jesus who humbled himself, taking the form of a servant and being obedient, even unto death, now has a name that is above every name and is worshipped by all.
That’s what it means to remember and to continue to tell the stories of our past, not just the Biblical story but the fact that our stories continue that narrative. As the prayer I used earlier says, “because of their lives we know better how to live; because of their deaths, we know better what is important in life.”
These candles remind us of not only of the specific people that were named this morning, but of all that great cloud of witnesses that surround us and whose lives we follow, looking to Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith.