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We have seven this summer looking at stories of people in the Bible. The faces of our faith. We have been hearing their stories, learning their stories, thinking about their stories and hopefully thinking about the lives and stories of people you know personally who have impacted who you are and who you are becoming. These are our influences, our mentors, the important people, those who have made an impact, those who have changed us, who have given us courage, and have pointed us to our calling. Our Biblical characters, the stories and narrative tell us what it is to be human, show us how to live and to love, how to interact with the world, and the diverse ways that God interacts with Humanity.
We tell these stories, we learned them, we commit them to Memory so that when we need stand to commit and claim our place in the world and our the world we will have the courage to do so, but when we see people on the edge we will remove with compassion toward them, where we see Injustice and oppression we may be moved to be people of reconciliation and abolition, that we will stand with a strength of a tower in our truth, we carry these stories in us so we will have the courage to say no in the face of oppression, and and the courage to say yes when we don’t really want two.
Our stories might remind us to Hope when the waiting seems to be going on for forever, to be remind us to go back to the heart and to be rooted, give us strength when the world feels too heavy to carry, they remind us to be Bears of life and Hope and wholeness in this world, and that we are never alone when times get difficult or scary or full of Temptation. We go back to these stories to remind us to rest and recover before we go forth again to love.
We return to these stories year after year and time and time again because they always have something new to show us, some new piece of knowledge and spirit that gives us courage to keep going, to claim our voice, to get up one more day, and to do the next right thing.
All summer we have called them the faces of our faith, but the writer of Hebrews seems to call them our cloud of witnesses.
Our letter writer does talk about these characters of our tradition, these stories we learn, they are named to remind us of their rising and falling, their successes and failures, but most importantly their faithful steps into the unknown.
And now there are many ways to think or Define faith. Often it is a set of cognitive beliefs and what cannot be proven and that is faith. But I think our letter writer today thought that Faith meant something a little more. For our letter writer faith is the insurance of things hoped for and the conviction of things yet unseen.
Our letter writer tells these stories of faith of Our Ancestors who lived and moved in faith as stories of people who stepped out, of people who made a decision to go to an unknown place in faith trusting the God who called them there, who looked foolish by building a giant boat trusting in the God who called them to be prepared. Faith is the assurance of things hoped for was a world they could not see yet but they believed in The God Who was setting the course before them.
I think for the letter writer of Hebrews, faith is not a noun, a set of beliefs that one prescribes to, but the actions one takes when they stepped into the unknown world that God has planned, a world of justice and wholeness, a world of healing and abundance and love.
We saw it in the lives of The Midwives when their present reality meant the destruction and genocide of a people, they had hope in a world that was more just and more life-giving and then they moved in faith to be part of the bringing of that world.
I think it’s time for a small confession. I have run One race in my entire life. I did think I had prepared but I picked it as a 5k because it was the hot chocolate rice and it came with a pretty fantastic sweatshirt that I have clearly lost. I did not train with anyone. And while I do believe somebody knew I was going downtown Chicago that day to run a little hot chocolate race nobody went with me. I learned some things that day: I hate running and running outside is terrible and running outside when it’s cold is terrible and not something I’m terribly interested in repeating. Running alone when you’re not good at running or interested in running is not a lot of fun. And there was no one there to cheer me on. If you run a 5k and there’s no one there and there’s no evidence in the sweatshirt has gone missing did you really cross the finish line?
And the finish line is always the goal right? You run to cross the finish line, you train to get to the next race.
And while our letter writer tells us that these characters in our history have returned to Glory we are told to run the race with perseverance. Not to finish the race strong, not to keep going because the end is nigh. But to run with perseverance. Because we have this cloud of witnesses we can run with perseverance.
For our letter writer it isn’t about winning, it isn’t about crossing the Finish Line, it isn’t about ending the race, it is about the race being our life every step, every hill we climb, whether we walk or jog or sprint or roll or swim. Our races are the acts of faith in service to the hope, of the Unseen that is the better world, the kingdom of God.
So then our cloud of witnesses is not some ethereal fog machine, but our cheering section. The names and faces and stories and lessons from those we only read about in books and the faces and people we’ve known and loved and have traveled the race with us for miles or minutes.
And it isn’t a solo race, we don’t travel it alone. When we get to the and we are part of someone else’s cloud of witnesses we are running a relay race that has been going on for centuries, passing the baton across generations. You are the Unseen hope of your ancestors. It was their steps in faith into hope yet unseen that gave them the courage to step into relationships, or step out, to step into Parenthood, and I have the courage to let go as their children stepped into the unknown future with hope. They moved across the country, they risked their hearts being broken and fell in love again.
We are passing the torch, the baton on always. Whether it is with their own children or grandchildren or great grandchildren or if you’ve never had children of your own when you are part of a Beloved Community that encourages each other that helps with each other that visions are more just and loving world together and then steps out together in that faith building that vision.
That is part of what it means when We Gather at this table together, that we are an interconnected community that needs each other, that supports each other, that encourages each other, that cheers each other on. And it isn’t this table just in this room but this table that extends through time and space, connecting us with people whose stories we only can read about from centuries and Millennia ago on the other side of the world to the people down the road and across the waters and in the centuries to come, building a future together that is more just and more loving and more compassionate. It reminds us that we are both active and stepping out in faith that we are all part of the journey and encouragers of the journey, we are all running the race and cheering each other on. being and building the cloud of witnesses, the beloved community.
Faith is an action and service to the hope of a better world, the kingdom of God.