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The book of Hebrews states, “Therefore since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings to us closely.” With that reminder today we celebrate those who have gone before us and live the life eternal. Usually this service would take place on the first of November, but since we are sort an unconventional mix of faith you will forgive us for taking full advantage of Halloween to celebrate.
What is a saint? That is a difficult thing to define. We have Roman Catholics who would have a very different idea of saint than our Quaker friends. Some believe in the elevation of individuals to sainthood and that those are ones who can intercede for us in the heavenly realms. There are others that affirm all saints. That everyone who professes Jesus Christ as Lord are the sainthood of believers. Then there are some who believe that all are redeemed and that no one falls short of the definition of sainthood in the end. Whatever your beliefs you will find a welcome here.
As a Protestant I fell under the second category for most of my life. I was told that there was equality, a sort of democracy when it comes to saints. That everyone who qualifies for redemption and transformation is equal in the category of sainthood. The older I get, I am not so sure.
I am compelled by this idea that there are people interceding for me in another realm. Plus, when I experience this world I am less convinced that everyone who claims Jesus Christ as Lord is a Saint, I do believe in sin after all. In other words I have met some pretty crappy Christians in my life. I am sure that my belief is somewhere in between the two. I do not trust institution’s telling me who is a saint and who is not. It is hard for me to believe that some of the Popes qualify as a saint before my 4th grade Sunday School teacher Mrs. Cooley.
So, when I read Hebrews I wonder if we don’t use the word saint when we should be using instead a “cloud of witnesses.” In my mind this is such a mystical way to see those whom have gone before us, deeply influenced us and are our witnesses to what faith should be. I like the idea of being visited by those whom have died to help me perfect my faith. When I am confronted by the weight of the world or by nagging sin I hear their voices as clear as day and feel their presence.
I can hear my great grandmother pinching me and telling me to be a good boy. I can see my grandfather who late in life quit both heavy drinking and smoking. I can smell the corncob pipe of my father’s great aunt whose laughter was infectious and her presence represented to me abundant life. I can hear Pastor Leastman probing me about why I would ever want to be a minister. Sometimes I hear the voices of those whom we have known here whispering encouragement to me as I struggle to continue in my ministry.
These are the cloud of witnesses that help us tarry in this land another day. The pioneer of the faith that they show us is Jesus Christ. Yet, they are reflections and refractions of the people that we hope to become. Together they represent for us the best of what it means to be a human and the sum of their faith is the hope of our future.
We may struggle, we may fail, we may carry a heavy burden, but in the end we are the sum total of the relationships and good works that are produced from those allegiances. I don’t know if whether a tree falls in the forest if it makes a sound or not, but I do know that if we are not surrounded by witnesses in our wildernesses then we will be muted and silenced from faith.
Let us celebrate our cloud of witnesses today and everyday of our lives. Listen, they are reminding us how to live.
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