The Sunday Sermon: Twenty-fourth Sunday after Pentecost – November 4, 2018
Scripture: Hebrews 12:1-2
Abundant Rain: Saints
From the prophet Joel we have heard it said for four weeks, now, with one more week ahead: God has poured down for (us) abundant rain. Joel 2:23b
Let us pray …
Abundant time, but … how will we choose to use our minutes?
Abundant talents, only … how will we engage our gifts and those of others?
And finally, abundant mone- … Well, let’s hold off another week on that one. That’s here in abundance, too, but let’s wait another week. This week let’s take a little “side-step” to remind ourselves of something else that is here in abundance.
Listen for the word of God. Read Hebrews 12:1-2. The Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.
“Surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses …” Abundant saints … right here.
Whenever we hear the word “therefore” in the book of Hebrews, and we hear it often, the preacher is sending a signal to us. Most often the word connects what occurred before to what comes next. In the case of Hebrews twelve the connection is to the litany of names in Hebrews eleven: Abel, Enoch, and Noah; Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; Moses, Samuel, and David. The “therefore” of our morning establishes the link between those that have gone before, and us: Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us … run with perseverance the race that is set before us.
What the preacher of Hebrews is saying to us is that God’s witnesses of old led to the ministry of Jesus, which ministry has stretched from that past into our present, and is still moving far beyond. This faith journey we’re on is a marathon like no other. (Longer even than the 200-mile Bourbon Chase run only weeks ago. Rick, Holly, and Dan, you’ve only just warmed up!) The race that began in Eden and Nod, rode the waters of a flood with Noah, came our of Cannan with Abraham and Isaac, journeyed through Egypt with Jacob, turned with Moses and Joshua “out of Egypt,” through Sinai and into the Promised Land, continued in ancient Israel with Samuel, David, and Solomon, became the “Way” of Jesus, sprinted across the Roman Empire and Time itself, is now moving right through the doors of our own sanctuary and millions like it across the globe, into the lives of each one us here and millions like us around the world, and is still “racing” toward a future that may be unknown but is undeniable.
Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us join the race. Let us … be saints. That’s the call of the preacher of Hebrews in chapter twelve, I believe. Therefore … be saints. It’s our turn, this is our leg of the race set before us.
I know what you’re thinking. “We can’t be saints.” A saint is a person who is recognized as having an exceptional degree of holiness or likeness or closeness to God. And further, a saint is someone who has died. That’s not me, that’s not us.” At the very least, our humility won’t allow us to think of ourselves as exceptional. But for sure, we haven’t died yet. Our very presence here, drawing breath, means we’re not “saints.”
But there’s a deeper understanding of what it means to be a saint. In its original Christian meaning, a saint was any believer who is “in Christ” and in whom Christ dwells, whether in Heaven or on Earth. We’ll have to deal with a “false humility” that keeps us from claiming who we are. But our “very presence” here, drawing breath, is unmistakable. And it means we are, in the larger sense “Saints:” Ones in Christ and in whom Christ dwells.
The list of “witnesses” in the Book of Hebrews is one of only a few in the New Testament of our Bible. The Old Testament is full of them – lists of names. I remember as a student at Louisville Seminary I confessed to my Old Testament Professor, Johanna Bos, that I most often (by which, I’m sure she understood, “always”) skip over those lists of names. She said most of us do and she has as well. But, she had travelled to Washington DC a few years before, this was in the mid-nineties, to visit the newly opened Holocaust museum. At the end of the self-guided journey, as you walk out of the display cases and informational panels, there is a wall with the names of all those Jews who died during the Holocaust.
Those lists are memories. So we may never forget. I want to read you a list of names, not from Israel’s past, but from our own:
Harold Baker, Bertha Miller, Marjorie Wilson, Jim Byford, Tom Boone, Dorcas Merhoff, Alice May, Virginia Stoess, Terry Gaither, Clyde Copley, Teri Trimpe, Kewpie Wagner, Harriet Whitehouse, Margie Thompson, Ruth Price, Ted Merhoff, Bill Herdt, Gin Chaudoin, Nita Culbertson, Adele Bolton, Kathi Richards, Mary Ann Marker, Irene and Charlie Litrell, Ruth Klingenfuss, Charlene Staats, Andrew Herdt, Jr., Sally Pace, Emily Roe, and Betty Stoess.
This is a list of the members of this church who have died since I have been Pastor in this place. A list of the saints who worshipped here and died to new life here in the last ten years, those last three in the year past, with their picture on our All Saints’ board. It merely scratches the surface, of course, of the one hundred and fifty-two year history of this congregation. But it’s a memory. They give us memories, each one of those names, memories we must never forget of “what was, what is, an what will be.” Each name I read touched us differently. Some were your parents or siblings. Some were your husbands and wives. Some were your close and dear friends. All were members of your church. And each of these individuals are Saints. Not because they died here, but because they lived here, in Christ. Not because they were perfect here, but because they persevered here. They ran the race set before them.
And we are here again, at our “wall of names” on All Saints’ Sunday. As we begin to sing our sermon hymn, For all the Saints, in just a moment, I invite you to come forward with the names of those Saints in your life that you have identified and written down to include on our board here in front. We’ll keep singing, of course, remembering and celebrating the Saints in our lives. And in just a few moments from now we will gather at our table of Remembrance.
Abundant rain of one the most precious things we are asked to be stewards of: Our Saints, in heaven and on earth.
Come, for all things are now ready …
Reverend Joel Weible, Pastor / Pewee Valley Presbyterian Church / November 4, 2018