A Cloud of Witnesses

And what more shall I say? I do not have time to tell about all the prophets, who through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, and gained what was promised; who shut the mouths of lions, who quenched the fury of the flames, who escaped the edge of the sword; whose weakness was turned to strength; and who became powerful in battle and put foreign armies to flight.

Women [prayed and] received back their dead, raised to life again. There were others who were tortured, refusing to be released so that they might gain an even better resurrection. Some faced jeers and flogging, chains and imprisonment. They were put to death by stoning; they were sawed in two; they were killed by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated— the world was not worthy of them. They wandered in deserts and mountains, living in caves and in holes in the ground.

These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised, since God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him Jesus endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.

– Hebrews 11:32-12:2

Good morning, Friends!

It’s coming up on a year that I’ve been working with you all here at Springfield. It seems like a long time since we drove down over the mountains and arrived here.

We did a lot together this past year! On one of the first work days last fall, Steve and Javier were cleaning gutters, and they saw there was a lot of deterioration along the edge of the roof. I climbed up to see for myself, and we took a few pictures so people on the ground could see.

Parts of that old roof had been leaking for years. We knew it was time to replace it. It turned out to be an enormous projet. But the need was there, and people stepped up with donations. By the end of January, we had a brand-new roof on the whole meetinghouse.

I was impressed! It was a big, expensive project, but with any luck, the new roof will last till our grandchildren have to deal with that problem again.

One of the first priorities people identified when I came here was that they wanted better music – more lively, more in tune with today’s spirituality. A lot of people love the old hymns, but everyone recognized we need some new ones, too.

I did some research, and checked out more than twenty of the hymnals on the market. I found one that I thought might be good for us at a reasonable price. I showed it around to different groups in the meeting – to all the classes, to the choir, to the different committees – so that everyone could take a look at it.

Everybody was worried about money. New hymnals cost a lot. We needed over 240 copies. But I was talking it over with a couple of people at a dinner, and one of them said, “I’ll buy twenty copies.” His brother sitting next to him looked up and said, “I’ll do the same.”

That got us started. We published our plans in the newsletter and the Sunday bulletin, and more donations came in. Some people bought one or two, others bought enough for their family.

I thought it was going to take six months to raise the money we needed. We raised it in two weeks. I called the publisher and asked if we could get them in time for Easter. They sent them to us the next week.

When people here want to do something, when the timing is right and the need is there, when people know what’s happening and the purpose is good, we can get things done here. When the spirit of the people is good, when the Holy Spirit is with us, we can move mountains. That’s what I like about this place!

We’ve done a lot of things here in the last year. We cleaned out storage rooms and threw away all kinds of old stuff that wasn’t helping us any more. Last year, we filled up two large dumpsters, a couple of pick-up truck loads, and at least 30 of those big garbage toters. I also took more than 20 boxes of books to the High Point Library for their book sale.

Folks, that’s a whole lot of junk. We were drowning in all that old stuff. It’s like we couldn’t breathe. There were parts of our own building that we couldn’t use. I’m all for tradition, but what we threw away was just garbage. It wasn’t adding to our ministry and life. It was just clutter.

There’s probably a lesson in there. Because if you think about all of the physical junk we kept around, and how that was tying us up and preventing us from doing things, I also want you to think about the spiritual junk and spiritual garbage we keep in our lives.

It’s time to let go of that stuff! I’ve heard people talk about hurts that go back fifty years or more. That shouldn’t be part of our life. It’s not helping us live. We’re not storing all that stuff for some good purpose. It needs to be thrown away.

Old hurts, old wrongs, old mistakes, old stuff like that – it’s not helping us live. We’re not healthier people because we carry it around. We’re not better Christians. Our families aren’t stronger. Our hearts aren’t happier. Let’s let that spiritual garbage go, and let’s try not to bring it back.

I got teased a bit last year, because I spent so much time running around putting in new light bulbs – more than a hundred of them. Once again, there’s a physical side, and a spiritual side.

Physically, what’s the good of having rooms where you can’t see anything? Let’s have a little light around here! We want to grow, and there are few things which are less attractive than rooms and hallways where the lights don’t work. It sends a message of neglect and failure. Nobody wants to come to a church like that!

On the spiritual side, Jesus said that we are the light of the world. Jesus himself came to be the Light, and Christians are supposed to be light-bringers.

Any time we are bringing light into people hearts and minds and lives, we are doing the work of God. Any time we bring light and joy, love and understanding, peace and restoration, hope and faith into our own lives and the lives of people around us – that’s doing the work of Jesus. Light is what it’s all about. Light is life. Let’s stick with the program!

We’ve had quite a few fun events in the past year. Some of them raise money. Some of them serve a special need. Some things we just do for fun and fellowship. But I’m so impressed with the fun people have together. Whether we’re working, or playing, or singing, or eating, it’s fun to be here at Springfield!

We had a few deaths here in the last year — fortunately, not too many. We grieve, and we gather round and comfort each other. On the positive side We’ve had 5 new babies born, one just this month. We’ve had a few new members – I’d like to see lots more!

We’ve welcomed a new pastor and a new choir director. This year I think we’re all looking forward to making some progress on some kind of new youth ministry. I think that needs to be our biggest priority this coming year.

Before I left for vacation, I took one of my prayer walks around the building. I do those pretty often. Everywhere you turn here at Springfield, there’s something special from the past to see. Every room, every hall, every corner, there are memories.

There’s evidence of people here and people before us who have loved, and laughed, and worked, and cried, and cared, and given. It’s not just the little brass plaques. It’s the strength of this place. It’s the care people put into it.

One of the Bible passages we looked at in Bible study last fall was from Genesis – it says, “there were giants in the earth in those days. . .” (Genesis 6:4) The people who came before us were giants. They moved mountains!

The people who came before us did incredible things, and had amazing ministries. I’m stunned at their faith, and hope, and love. But we also know that they were human beings – people just like us, with families, with jobs, with griefs and burdens to bear.

One of the Psalm writers says, “You have made us a little lower than the angels” (Psalm 8:5). That’s true – we’re less than angels, but we’re still reaching for heaven. Less than perfect, but always trying to be better.

This morning’s reading talks about that. It says that the people who came before us “conquered kingdoms, administered justice, and gained what was promised; they shut the mouths of lions, quenched the fury of the flames, and escaped the edge of the sword; their weakness was turned to strength; they became powerful in battle and put armies to flight…”

That’s us, too, Friends. That’s what we’re called to do, and be. We don’t feel very strong sometimes, but we need to let God turn our weakness into strength.

We are not alone here. We have people who have come before us, we have needs all around us, we have a new generation in front of us. Hebrews says we’re surrounded by a cloud of unseen witnesses, who bless us and challenge us and call us to be faithful today.

We’re not little people. We stand on the shoulders of giants. We are the rich inheritors of a great church. All of the promises that God has made, all the promises that Jesus made, are promises made to us.

When God says, “You are my people – you are my beloved – you are my very own”, God isn’t speaking to dead people in the past. God is speaking to us, today.

Let’s take all this to heart. Let’s live like people who God loves. Let’s live by the promises of God, and live with the light and love of Jesus, every day. Let’s remember that we’re called to greatness. Let’s pray for new people to join us. Let’s pray for new life to shine in this place.

God wants us to grow. God wants us to live, and not die. God wants to bless us. Let’s pray for all of God’s blessings, in the year to come.

 

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