“A Cloud Of Witnesses”

(Hebrews 12:1-3)

 

Billy D Strayhorn

 

INTRODUCTION:

      Last week was actually All Saints Sunday and because of our Stewardship Campaign we kind of set it aside. But, I think it is an important Sunday in the life of the Church and in our personal Journey of Faith so we’re going to celebrate it today.

      All Saints Sunday is a day to remember those people who have been a major influence in our life of faith. If we put it in terms of our Running on Faith study, we might think of these people as the Road Signs along the way for all of the individual saints in our lives helped point the way to our becoming the person we are today.

      The author of Hebrews eloquently lists all the people of faith who influenced the people of Israel. And then he has this to say:

Hebrews 12:1-3 (NRSV)
[1] 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,
[2] looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God.
[3] Consider him who endured such hostility against himself from sinners, so that you may not grow weary or lose heart.

      I love that description, not just “A Cloud Of Witnesses” but “A Great Cloud Of Witnesses” surrounds us every day. This Great Cloud of Witnesses is filled with the Saints who have influenced our lives and our faith. So, what is a Saint. My favorite definition of a Saint comes in the form of a story.

      A little boy attended Church with his Grandfather one Sunday. Grandpa's church had beautiful stained-glass windows. Grandpa told his grandson that the windows contained pictures of Saint Matthew, Saint Mark, Saint Luke, Saint John, Saint Paul, and whole lot of other saints of the church.

      When the boy got home, he told Mom and Dad all about it. Dad, wanting to be funny and curious about what his son had learned, asked, "What is a saint?" The boy thought for a minute and then replied, "A saint is a somebody the light shines through."

      I've always thought that was a pretty good definition of a Saint. Don’t you agree? You see those people in our lives who not only introduced us to Christ and the faith but lived out their faith in such a way as to let us see the light of Christ in them and through them.

I. WHO ARE YOUR SAINTS?:

      A.  Who are your saints? Who are the people in your life who let the light of God shine through them for you to see?

      For me, two people come readily to mind. The first is my father in faith, Rev. Bob Core. He’s the pastor under whom I accepted Christ. He baptized me. He encouraged me in my faith. He saw something in me that I wasn’t even able to see. He helped me answer the call to preach and then held me accountable for all the work of those first steps. He called me his Timothy.

      Then the other great spiritual influence in my life is my wife Mary’s Grandfather, Harold Bauer. I didn’t have a grandfather while growing up. Great Grandpa filled that void in my life.

      Grandpa Bauer was a devout Christian man with whom I worked every day for three years. During those hours and days of work we had a lot of conversations about God and faith and Scripture. But the thing that influenced me the most, I think, is how Grandpa lived out his life. The light of Christ shone through his every action, especially toward those in need and the stranger. Grandpa never met a stranger. He immediately took to people and seemed to bring out the best in them.

      Those are two of my Saints. I want to grow up and be like Bob Core and Grandpa Bauer. That brings us back to the question, “Who are your Saints?”

II. WHOSE SAINT ARE YOU?:

      A.  Think about that but also think about the question: “Whose Saint are you?” That may be an even more important question because your life of faith and my life of faith have a huge influence on others. We don’t know who is watching or who is modeling their life and faith after ours.

      We are Saints for each other. Have you ever noticed how people love to point out family resemblance? They say things like, "You look just like your father." or "You've got your mother's nose." Or maybe it's just a mannerism that you've picked up that reminds them of a relative.

      For example, I don't know why but, when someone asked my Dad, "What do you know?" a lot of times he would answer, "It takes a big dog to weigh a ton." I have no idea what that means. The scary part is that I say it, too.

      Sometimes you catch yourself, like when you suddenly see your parent's finger on the end of the hand you have shaking in your child's face. Or when you hear your mother's words or your father's favorite phrase come pouring out of your mouth. You suddenly see your own family resemblance.

      We are the Children of God, heirs of the Kingdom, brothers and sisters with Christ Jesus, the Son of God. As Saints, our deepest hope is that others will see the family resemblance in every aspect of our lives and faith.

      Not only is there a Great Cloud of Witnesses for us, we are a part of the Great Cloud of Witnesses for others.

      B.   In the past I’ve talked about the rocky relationship I had with my step dad. I realize now, that I always wanted him to be more than he was and to give more than he was able to give. I think maybe, he wanted that too, but didn’t know how. His father wasn’t a very good role model for him, either. His actually left the family at some point in their life.

      Despite the rocky relationship, occasionally there were glimpses of the man my Dad could have been. I remember one in particular. I couldn’t’ have been much older than 7 or 8. But Dad had a friend from work who was a giant of a man, at least to me. If I had to guess, from pictures I’ve seen, I’d say he was about 6’ 6’ or so. My Dad was only 5’ 8” so it made for a comical sight, kind of like Arnold Schwatzenegger and Danny DeVito in the movie “Twins.”  

      I’m not sure but I think his name was Buck. And he was muscled like nobody else I’ve ever known. One weekend Dad and Buck and I went to this huge apple tree to pick apples. I picked up apples off the ground. Dad and Buck picked everything they could reach in the tree. And then I remember my Dad telling to climb the tree, pick the apples and toss them down. The problem was, I was so little, I couldn’t even reach the first fork in the tree to start climbing.

      I also remember my Dad getting down on one knee with the other one out like a rung on a ladder. He stood next to Buck who took my hand while I climbed up Dad’s leg, then his shoulders and onto Buck’s shoulders and then into the tree, just like a set of stairs. I was a little monkey back then and once in the tree I didn’t have any problem.

      I got to thinking about that in relationship to this passage from Hebrews. A saint is someone whose very life lifts you onto their shoulders so you can go higher and farther in this relationship with God. They lift you onto their shoulders so you get closer to the Kingdom of Heaven.

CONCLUSION:

      It was baseball season in a small Pennsylvania town. If you know anything about Little League baseball, you know it is also a time when little boys’ hearts and egos are on the line. A certain ten-year-old boy had ridden the bench most of the season. But in the championship game, his coach finally called him up to bat.

      The little boy’s whole extended family had turned out for this very special game. His parents, brothers and sisters, aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents, second cousins, you name it, they were all there, cheering and clapping and shouting words of encouragement.

      The little boy swallowed his anxiety and stepped up to the plate. He gripped the bat and stared hard at the pitcher.

      Whoosh! The pitch flew by him. Strike one!

      From the stands, his family cheered him on.

      “You can do it! You can do it!”

      So he lifted his bat again and waited for the pitch.

      Again he swung and connected with air. Strike two!

      His shoulders started to slump and his hands began to sweat, as he stared down the pitcher one last time. The ball flew by for strike three! The other team jumped and shouted for joy, while the little boy’s teammates gave him the silent treatment as they left the field.

      Our little batter slumped over on the dugout bench, put his head in his hands, and began to cry. But his crying was interrupted by the sound of his father’s voice: “Son,” he said, “the game’s not over.”

      Lifting his head, the boy saw his family, all of them, even his frail grandmother, spread out across the field, waiting to play. They began cheering loudly as the boy picked up his bat.

      His father pitched the ball, and the boy swung. Crack! The ball flew into the outfield, and the boy took off for first base. As he rounded the bases, cousins, uncles and aunts shouted words of encouragement. Somehow, all those able adults were unable to corral the ball he had hit. As this little boy headed for home plate, his father stood behind the plate and welcomed him with open arms. They celebrated his home run by lifting him on their shoulders and carrying him around the field. (1)

      What a magnificent reminder of today’s text. And what a magnificent reminder of who we, as a Church and the people of God, are called to be and do.

      Take a few minutes to think about all those people whose shoulders of faith you have climbed. Give thanks to God for their faith and faithfulness. And then think about all those who look to you and are lifted by you on the shoulders of your faith. Give thanks to God for allowing you the privilege of being a Saint for someone else.

      As part of that time of reflection on the Saints in your life and those for whom you are a Saint, I’d like to give you the opportunity to light a candle in their honor and memory as a reminder of the light of Christ which shone through their lives and touched you.

      When you’re finished we’ll close with prayer.

 

 

This is the Word of the Lord for this day.

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Bibliography

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