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May I say that today presents quite a challenge to me. It is Halloween—the eve of All Saints Day—when we remember the saints of the church… it is Reformation Sunday—when we pay tribute to our great heritage and shared faith with Protestant Christians… it is a celebration of the Kirk’s 31stbirthday… and this year.
We are dedicating a columbarium and memorial garden – that will be filled with the names of people we know and love. We are dedicating a beautiful cross that will remember those who were inspired to start a church called the Kirk. What’s a preacher to do?
As I thought about this special day, my thoughts were led to that great passage from Hebrews:
“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, looking to Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith…”
The author of this letter/sermon is writing to encourage Christians who are struggling with their faith… many suffering. He is writing to encourage them.
He draws upon the memories of the heroes and heroines—the saints—of Scripture if you will. The people who have gone before us.
Before the “therefore…” He has listed quite a few of them and their stories of faithfulness: Abel, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Sarah, Moses, Rahab the prostitute, Barak, Samson, Jepthhah, David, Samuel, the prophets…We might say they were the ones that have been inducted into the Spiritual Hall of Fame of Faith. They are our Scriptural saints whose names are written on the plaques of our hearts.
But you know, funny thing about these saints… though you wouldn’t know it from reading Hebrews— they weren’t perfect—far from it… each one was a sinner as well.
Noah invented wine and drank too much, Abraham tried to sell Sarah off as a sister when he was afraid, Jacob was known as the deceiver, Sarah laughed in God’s face at the thought she was to give birth at her old age—hardly immediate trust, Moses resisted his call and tested God… Rahab—well, she was a prostitute… David—you remember the Bathsheba affair… and we could go on… none of them were perfect. And I think they would be the first to tell you that themselves.
And truth is, Hebrews doesn’t make that claim either. What the letter wants to hold up for us is not their perfection, but their faith.
Paul said it in a letter to the church at Corinth:
“For we have this treasure in earthen vessels/clay jars, to show the power belongs to God.” (2 Corinthians 4:7)
What Hebrews wants to lift up is not their perfection but their persistent faith… in very earthen vessels.
A faith that was not always easy… and worked through struggles… and great suffering– even worked through the very sinfulness of human beings. A faith that was only perfected in the person of Jesus.
Hebrews lifts of their faith, not so we will make saints of them, but that we might be inspired by them.
“and let US run with perserverance the race that is set before us”
In our time. In our circumstances… in our families… in this church.
Let us remember them so we can remember how God inspired our ancestors as they struggled to be faithful– any and all circumstances.
Which is what I hope we will lift up this day in the day of dedication.
So that when we dedicate the Tree of Life Cross and remember those who took a step of faith over 30 years ago to begin a new church…it was a risk… we will not so much praise them for being saints—for they aren’t – and they would be the first to tell you that—but let us be inspired by their faithfulness that overcame obstacles and questions… by their willingness to offer their gifts of time, talent and love which God used to bring birth to the Kirk.
Then as we process to the Columbarium and Memorial Garden, think of the cloud of witnesses that will be present there over the decades and centuries to come.
Some of them will be your names. Think about that. Long after we are gone, people will see some of your names engraved on on the niches, or on the plaque of Remembrance or in Dedication to those who gave of themselves here.
Your names will bring to memory who you are and will bear witness to your faith… your story may well inspire others as they seek to be faithful, long after you are gone.
Today, I am thinking of Sara Saunders and Brenda Armstrong who were not perfect people, but their faith inspired so many of us. Both fought a long and hard battle with cancer…suffered from the illness and endured the treatments in faith.
Sara’s death propelled us to get moving on this Columbarium and Memorial Garden. Her ashes will be spread there. We can thank her for her vision for this to happen. Her dream is fulfilled today.
Brenda’s ashes will be the first ones interred in a Niche. She will be remembered as a person of faith who loved God deeply, loved all of God’s children and gave of herself completely to the life of the Kirk. She inspired us in pursuing our mission in Guatemala.
So today, as we continue this service, let us give thanks to God for all the saints in our lives— those who have gone before us– who, imperfect as they may have been, still inspire us by their faith.
And let us pray that God will inspire us to be saints as well… people of faith… who through thick and thin… have persevered… and in doing so, have joined a great cloud of witnesses who will bring all the honor and glory to God. Amen.