Surrounded

2 Thessalonians 2:1-5, 13-17

Hebrews 12:1-3

We heard these words from Hebrews 12:1 this morning:

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses.  Let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us.

When immersed in fog, the way most of us experience being surrounded by a cloud, it can be difficult to see very far from the vantage point in which we find ourselves.  We can lose sight of the landmarks we use to navigate safely to the place we want to go.  It is difficult to understand then, how a great cloud of witnesses helps us live the way God calls us to live, to witness to the grace and power that comes with loving God with all our heart, and soul and strength, how these saints provide the encouragement for us to never give up on moving toward perfection in God’s grace.

Fog forces us to focus, to set a course on the basics that keep us headed in the right direction.  A cloud of witnesses can do the same for us, closing out the influences of the world which entice us to stray when faced with the challenges which come when we seek to stay on the course God calls us to follow.  The example and words these witnesses have shared create the white fog line, provide the fog lights, as well as the experience to help us adjust our speed and direction to get through whatever we face unharmed.

This morning’s message is interactive.  Much like the relationship between each one of us and the saints who preceded us as well as between us and those who will look to our example for encouragement.    In your bulletin insert is a litany with parts for Leader and for All.  When prompted by the words: “And All said” please lift the next “All” statement.

Let’s begin

Leader: It’s not always easy to live the way God wants us to live.

And All Said: It’s not always easy to do what God wants us to do instead of what our friends want us to do.

The younger Sunday School Classes shared the story of David and Goliath with some of us last week.  In that part of scripture we see David steadfast in his understanding of God’s ability to bring him through the most challenging situations.  David was committed to using the resources, training, and experience he had gained which enabled him to protect his father’s flocks to help remove this giant threatening his family and nation’s well-being.

He was not distracted from the task before him when his brother taunted him with accusations about bad motives.  He was not distracted when King Saul counted all the reasons he would not be successful.   David didn’t rely on the plans of others, refusing to accept the armor from King Saul because it would only weigh him down.  He trusted God, stayed focused, and the giant fell.  When we focus on God, on the example of countless saints in scripture whose trust in God results in a positive outcome, even when circumstances would suggest giving up, we can do those things which are not easy.

Leader: It’s not always easy to find time to pray and read our Bibles every day.

If we think about the name of our denomination, we are reminded that while not easy, there is a Method to finding time.  The “Methodist” name was a nickname given to those gathering in Class meetings and Societies led by John and Charles Wesley because of their “methods” for bible study and prayer: John Wesley suggested: setting apart a little time every morning and evening for that purpose; to read a chapter out of the Old and one out of the New Testaments each time you have an opportunity; To read looking only to know the whole will of God and a focus on doing it, taking time to reflect on areas we are falling short.  He presented methods of evaluation which looked at scripture, tradition, experience and reason and called for it all to be bathed in earnest prayer.[1]

I am sure you have saints in your lives who you know were up early in the morning, or late at night taking time to study scripture and to pray.  Saints who pushed you to evaluate faith statements made by others by listening to God in scripture and prayer and conversations before accepting them as truth.   Saints who you were able to call, or are able to call, to pray with you, to work through what a particular passage says to you today, as you handle those situations facing you now.

It is not easy to find time for anything.  The Saints in our lives model making prayer and faith formation study a priority and show us how it is done.

And All said: It’s not always easy to tell others about our faith.

The Saints help us share our faith with others with their life stories.  We can talk about how the Apostle Paul encouraged those who faced difficult times to stay true to the example of Christ, and how that shaped their lives; we can talk about St. Augustine’s prayers and struggles with faith questions, Martin Luther calling us all to accountability, John and Charles Wesley giving us methods, the grandmother who took us to church every Sunday, the pastor who helped us make sense of questions that we couldn’t share with family, the Sunday School teacher who made sure we knew God loved us, the person who brought groceries and Christmas presents to the house when our family was having a difficult time, the person who just called to check in for no other reason than he or she cared.

These stories open the door to our stories.  To sharing faith in a way others will come to experience God’s grace.

Leader: The scripture says there are people who can help us.

And All said: People who can help us? Who are they?

Leader: A great cloud of witnesses” they are called – people from every time and place who have tried hard to live the way God wanted them to.

And All said: That’s the way we want to live!

Leader: We can learn from their lives how to be faithful to God.  Sometimes we call these people saints.

And All said: Saints! Can we be saints, too?

Leader: Yes! Saints aren’t perfect people.  When we try to do the things that God wants us to do, when we love God and follow Jesus, we can be saints, too.

Saints are people through whom God shines.  Each saint shows us a different part of God: Each part important to our faith journey and light for others.  The Holy Spirit can make our lives into examples of holiness for others, right here, right now.  We have a long list of witnesses in scripture and in our life experiences who show us how.

Wilson Greatbatch, the inventor of the pacemaker, lived in poverty for many years while he worked on an idea that wouldn’t let go of him.  He loved God and had faith deep enough to take him through the tough times, trusting his failures along the way were necessary for success to be achieved.  Ultimately his invention earned him significant amounts of money, prestige, and in many ways power.  He remained steadfast to putting God first, with prayer, Bible study, and worship always a priority.  He made things right for customers regardless of any costs incurred, he made sure his employees received livable wages and their children had money for education, he gave out fellowships to fledgling scientists, he lived as simply as when he had few resources.  He was a saint, though whom God continues to shine, although he has ended his earthly journey.   His gifts, graces, and finances continuing to make a difference for others.

While preparing for this message I asked for brief descriptions of how someone in your life witnessed God’s love to you through the way they lived.  I will share these words Robyn shared.

Many of you .knew my dad. I truly believe my dad is now a Saint. He was the kindest, gentlest man I have ever known. He loved children, animals, life itself. He had a special way of making everyone feel loved. But most of all he loved the Lord. He attended church every Sunday. If he did have to miss because he was hospitalized or there was a storm, he would pray to God because he believed he let Him down. .Even at 96 he attended church, sang all the hymns from memory because he was pretty much blind. He would have times when he wasn’t always lucid or was sleeping but under his breath he would repeat the Lord’s Prayer over and over again. At 92 he had major surgery, which he came through amazingly. The next day, he asked my mother if she had seen all the little boys singing the Lord’s Prayer on the steps of the church. She said no, he said, it was beautiful, you should have seen it. He said he tried to sing with them but he couldn’t get to them. Dad lived four more years. I am sure he is singing the Lord’s Prayer now with all those angels he saw.

We will not all invent something that makes such a difference for so many people as Greatbatch did, but like Robyn’s dad, we all have gifts, talents, and resources we can use to reflect God’s love for each of us to all those with whom we come in contact.

And All said: We can be saints, too!  That’s good news!

Let’s look to the saints in scripture, the saints around us in the great cloud of witnesses, the saints whom we encounter in our daily lives for the truth and traditions that will help us persevere, to run the race in such a way we are Saints, people through whom God shines.

Let us pray.

Prayer:   loving God, thank you for your saints in history and those today who help show us what it means to live according to your will.  Help us to follow their example and to be part of your cloud of witnesses.  Amen[2]

 

 

[1] If you desire to read the scripture in such a manner as may most effectually answer this end, would it not be advisable, 1. To set apart a little time, if you can, every morning and evening for that purpose 2. At each time if you have leisure, to read a chapter out of the Old, and one out of the New Testament: if you cannot do this, to take a single chapter, or a part of one 3. To read this with a single eye, to know the whole will of God, and a fixt resolution to do it In order to know his will, you should, 4. Have a constant eye to the analogy of faith; the connexion and harmony there is between those grand, fundamental doctrines, Original Sin, Justification by Faith, the New Birth, Inward and Outward Holiness. 5. Serious and earnest prayer should be constantly used, before we consult the oracles of God, seeing “scripture can only be understood thro’ the same Spirit whereby “it was given.” Our reading should likewise be closed with prayer, that what we read may be written on our hearts. 6. It might also be of use, if while we read, we were frequently to pause, and examine ourselves by what we read, both with regard to our hearts, and lives. This would furnish us with matter of praise, where we found God had enabled us to conform to his blessed will, and matter of humiliation and prayer, where we were conscious of having fallen short. And whatever light you then receive, should be used to the uttermost, and that immediately. Let there be no delay. Whatever you resolve, begin to execute the first moment you can. So shall you find this word to be indeed the power of God unto present and eternal salvation. https://peopleneedjesus.net/2015/06/16/john-wesleys-seven-tips-for-personal-bible-study/

 

[2] Discipleship Ministries The United Methodist Church: Family Litany for All Saints Day

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