The Lasting Witness from the Hall of Famers

These notes are intended for distribution to members and friends of the Kirk of Kildaire, Presbyterian Church family.  While effort is made to give credit for work done by other, the notes may use material for which appropriate credit is not given.  Also, the notes may differ from the actual sermon as it was delivered.  Remember, sermons are meant to be preached and are therefore prepared with the emphasis on verbal presentation; the written accounts occasionally stray from proper grammar and punctuation.

Hebrews 11:29-12:2

Last weekend, Trever Immelman won the Master’s golf tournament. What interested me was the background story of Trevor. Trevor’s idol, Gary Player had won the Master’s 30 years earlier. In interviewing Gary Player over the weekend, I heard him say more than once that golf had been a gift to him… and that for all of his accomplishments, he never forgot what his Dad had taught him… that his skill was a divine gift… to be managed and appreciated and used. Don’t begin to think that you did this all on your own. It was a gift.

As you can imagine, I liked hearing that as a preacher. That’s good theology of any gift we’ve been given-whether you have found success as a golfer, an artist, a musician, a dancer, a teacher, a banker, a businessperson, a computer programmer, a science researcher… wherever… it is a gift. Gary Player learned that from his dad. We learned it from our faith.

The night before the Sunday finish, Gary player left a voicemail that told Trevor to keep his head down and also told him, "I know you are going to win it."  I want you to think what that meant to that young man facing the greatest pressure of his professional career. Hearing those words from his hero. How it encouraged him that day as he birdied and bogied his way through Augusta.

I want you to think of that because I think that is what the writer of Hebrews wanted to do for those early Christians and for those of us who live thousands of years later. Our writer wants to encourage us to greater faithfulness in Christ.
Especially when the going gets tough.

Our writer does this by reminding us of what the Bible calls, "The great cloud of Witnesses" – what today we would likely call, "The Hall of Fame of Faith." And you look at that list, and it is quite a list indeed. Due to time I read only part of the list. But let me tell you about who made it into the Hall of Fame:
– Abel-who was remembered for his acceptable gift to God… that must have been some offering!
– Noah-who listened to God and built an ark when everyone thought he was crazy
-Abraham-who obeyed God not knowing where the journey with God would lead-but was led by the vision God gave him.
– And let’s not forget his son and grandsons who followed in his footsteps:
    – Isaac, Jacob and Joseph

– Then there was Moses-a big bust of Moses in the Hall of fame right next to Abraham… Moses who could have stayed safe and comfortable in the wealthy palace of the Pharaoh, but instead chose the hard way of leading his enslaved people out of oppression… suffering the abuse of Pharoah and even of those he was leading to the promised land as they whined their way through the wilderness. Moses deserved a statue if you ask me as you enter the Hall of Fame..

— And then we get to our passage… where the people who followed Moses are remembered… there’s a group portrait of the people of Israel who passed through the Red sea…
– then there’s an odd person in the hall of fame-Rahab… a prostitute. ( And you thought steroids was a problem!) There in our faithful Hall of Fame is the portrait of a prostitute. Does that seem odd to you? What did she do? Well, she hid some Israeli spies in Jericho at the risk of her own life. Rahab deserves a place.

And the writer would keep on telling us of the other Heroes and heroines if he had the time-Gideon, Samuel, David, the prophets… all of them… but he assumes we know their stories…

He wants us to visit this Hall of fame… not for historical reasons… but to encourage us… to inspire us… as if to say, "if they can do it… so can you…"  That’s what I hear him saying at the end of the tour: "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 as the pioneer and prefector of our faith."

In other words, the writer is trying to have us look backwards in order to help us move forward. Perhaps hoping that some of us individually or even as a group might find ourselves on the nameplates in the Hall of Fame… where Jesus Christ leads the way for us.

As I think about that Hall of fame and what the writer is doing, my mind notices two things the hall of famers have in common. Did you see them?

One is so obvious, you might miss it. Do you know one thing they all have in common? They were all dead-except for our risen Lord. Dead. Long dead. It had been a long time since Abel, Abraham, Noah and the rest had walked this earth. They were dead. I think about others who have gone before us – Augustine, Luther, Calvin, Wesley, Knox… dead, dead, dead, dead…

And in a way the writer is reminding us that one day we will all join them in death. One day, we will be but a memory. That is a fact of life that none of us will escape. No matter how hard you work, how hard you exercise, how healthy you eat… sooner of later we all will die. I don’t mean to be depressing, but it is a fact.

But that leads me to the other thing those hall of famers had in common: Their witness did not die. They left behind a witness that would inspire others to greater faithfulness. And if I hear the writer correctly, he wants to help us begin to think about the kind of witness we might leave behind.

Truth is, none of us wouldn’t be where we were without the witness of others who are long gone and went before us. We stand on the shoulders of others. Where would we be without the teachings of Paul and those gospel writers… or the reflections of Augustine… or the fruit of the spiritual struggles of Luther… or the intense desire of people like Calvin to have a faith with intellectual integrity that brought honor to God and made a difference in the world. Where would we be without their witness?

I wonder if Augustine knew that 1700 years later, we would be reading his words… or if Calvin or Luther or any of the Spiritual giants knew that hundreds of years later we’d be reading something they wrote or preached. Being fed intellectually and spiritually by their faith. I doubt it. They died, but not their witness.

I think of the great writer of hymns and sacred music in the same way… Luther, Calvin, Bach-writers from the early church. Writers of gospels and hymns from the 19th and 20th century. Still singing of their faith… still being inspired… They may have died but their witness has not died.

I think of the people who have loved the church over the years and gave of their time and substance to make it stronger. Today I am remembering some members of the First Presbyterian Church in Newton where I served before the Kirk. I never met them, but I remember them. This is their 150th anniversary year. Think about that. For a church like ours that is not even 30 years old it is an amazing thing. Our charter members are still living!

But 150 years ago in little Newton NC… right before the outbreak of the civil war… a small group gathered to form a church in 1858. 20 years later there would be 28 members who had just lived through the civil war and who decided it was time to build a sanctuary and building. (They had been meeting with the Lutherans down the street.) So this group of 28 members build a sanctuary with Sunday School classes that would eventually seat 250 people. Someone among those charter members knew that this church would be there a long, long time…. Long after they were gone. They had a vision for something beyond their lifetime.

Long after they were gone… and for 150 years… thousands of people were nurtured thanks to their love for God and for the church…

And their witness gets me thinking about us here at the Kirk. In the year, 2229… what will those gathering for a 150th anniversary celebration be saying about us… and our faith? What names will be written in the church history of the Kirk? I know it will start with the charter members who gathered to form a church in a small real estate office. But what about us? What will be our witness?

I hope that witness will take many forms- I hope one legacy we will leave is that we will be a church that forms disciples for Jesus Christ who are spiritually guided, faithfully following and joyfully serving through the missions and ministries of the Kirk.

Today I want to speak of a particular form of witness that is offered by those who remember the work of God in their estate through a gift to the church. Today we are kicking off our endowment at the Kirk with the theme: A Lasting Commitment. Today, I’d like you to think of it as a lasting witness. For that is what an endowment really is… it is a form of witness to your faith that extends beyond your lifetime. That’s what endowments do… provide a witness.

For example, I will always be grateful for Daisy and Eugene Hale who were members of my home church. Oh, I never met them because they died before I was born. But when I received a call to ministry… I was told that there was this Hale Fund created for Presbyterian students from the state of Florida to attend seminary. Thanks to Daisy and Eugene, I came out of seminary debt free. As I said, I never met them… but this I can tell you about their faith… they believed in the ministry and they believed in those studying for the ministry and they wanted to support those who were called. Thank you Daisy and Eugene.

I think of endowments from other churches in my past. In Red Springs we managed endowments that gave money to homes for children… people were concerned about orphans and wanted to make sure they were not forgotten.
What those who gave the money didn’t know is that one day orphanages as they knew them would cease to exist. But you know what came along? Those orphanages were transformed into caring for children who were abused and need a place to recover under the care of trained professionals. What a gift and a witness that has likely brought healing to more youth than the giver could have ever imagined.

At the Kirk we are blessed that our endowment is off to a wonderful start. We have received over $25,000 in money to a general fund which means that the Sessions in the future will be able to use that money for the ministry that is needed in that particular time and place. Another gift was made of $100,000 and designated to assist in mission trips-disaster relief trips here in the US and international trips abroad. This was an anonymous gift-even I don’t know who gave the gift. A representative of the bank called one day to let us know about the gift. Now I want you to think about that gift… it is a gift that will keep on bearing a witness not just for one budget year… but for year after year… helping members of the Kirk have a significant experience in mission… and through them the Kirk will help Lord only knows how many people in need in our nation and in the world for decades to come. Long beyond the lifetime of the giver. What a gift. What a witness.

As we ask you to think about what witness you might wish to make through an endowment, let me suggest that you think about the passions God has given you. For example, when my Dad dies as I know he will one day and so will I… I am thinking we need to leave an endowmenf for international missions behind at my home church. Dad’s passion during his life was for international missions. I’d like to see that extend beyond his death… making a witness that might last. If he has not already made that choice in his will, I’m hoping we might tithe his estate for that purpose. That’s just an example.

I would not leave you thinking that you have to be able to make a sizeable gift of $100,000 to make a witness through your estate planning. A little really can go a long way. I’ve thought about how much money one Presidential candidate raised… millions and millions of dollars… and the average gift? $109.00.

I think about a church I read about who has a $20,000,000 endowment. The average gift was $11,000. What that tells me is that there were some major gifts but also some smaller gifts. It all added up to one powerful witness.

Today, the writer of Hebrews has reminded me that we are the recipients of the faith of those who have gone before us. Let us give thanks for them. We stand on their shoulders.

But let us not only admire them… let us be inspired by their witness to make our own. As the writer said:
"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…"

And as we run… may we hear the hall of famers cheer us on until that day when we join them in the stands. Amen.

 


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