10thSunday After Pentecost
What do you know about your family tree? In recent times, we have become fascinated with locating ourselves in our families and culture. The movie Rootshelped to spark our interest in “finding ourselves.” Technology has helped make it easier for us to track our lineage. Companies like 23 and Me and Ancestryhave tested more than26 million people’s DNA to add to their family tree data base. Where we come from and who we come from is an integral part of who we are. One of my husband’s relatives, Mary Lewis, searched their family tree. We never knew what she found because she burned all her research.
Ancestry was significant to the writer of Hebrews. [Frankly, he or she was a bit of a name dropper.] Abel, Enoch and Noah, Abraham and Moses are mentioned as our ancestors by faith. In our reading today, we hear of those who passed through the Red Sea, and of Rahab. Rahab was King David’s great, great grandmother and is named in Jesus’ family tree in the Gospel of Matthew. Rahab helped in getting the Israelites to the promised land. Betraying her people, she hid Joshua’s spies on her roof, and sent the king’s men in the opposite direction.
All from the book of Judges, the writer of Hebrews names Gideon, Barak, Samson, and Jephthah. All were unlikely heroes. On God’s instructions, Gideon defeated the Midianites. Jephthah led the Israelites to victory against the Ammonites. Our ancestors in the faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, quenched raging fires, won strength out of weakness. Living by faith and through faith, they have made a difference. So, who is your favorite saint? Who showed you what faith looks like? Who encouraged and inspired you?
There’s a chance that your favorite saint is also your favorite sinner. Our ancestors cited by Hebrews as examples of faith are also flawed. Rahab was engaged in the world’s oldest profession. After completing his mission, Gideon had clothing made for himself out of gold. In exchange for his victory, Jephthah made a vow to sacrifice whoever would come out of the door of his house first. His daughter was the first one out, and he kept his promise.
Going further than the list of people we are given, there is Peter, who was one of Jesus’ closest disciples, denied he even knew Jesus. Paul, who had been known as Saul, was a relentless persecutor of those who followed Christ. Peter, Paul, – and then there was Mary, of course… Moving on, Judas, one of Jesus’ disciples, sold him out to those who wanted him dead.
These are not just the Bible’s stories, they are ours. We are participants in their stories, and in God’s. God uses flawed people to speak and do those things that will help to accomplish God’s purposes. Particular to our Lutheran heritage, Martin Luther spoke sometimes using language that was rather earthy. He was a fierce anti-Semitic. The ELCA has issued a few apologies on his behalf.
When Mother Teresa’s letters were discovered, the world was shocked. The deeply committed woman who was Jesus to the poor and dying in India was also full of doubt about God. Her witness through her love and care of people continued despite her dark thoughts.
We see people giving witness to God’s goodness every day. The nurse who cares for people at their worst, and still manages compassion and a smile. The person holding the door open for someone struggling to walk. Someone saying, “I’m sorry.” Whenever we act out of love, that is through the Holy Spirit. As is joy, peace, patience, kindness generosity, gentleness and self-control. So it is faithfulness. Some days are better than others, though. Just as Moses, and Rahab, and Paul were sinners and saints, so are we.
God uses broken people, cracked pots if you will, to bring God’s desires to life. God uses us to do God’s work, even with all our shortcomings. (If you don’t think you have any shortcomings, just ask your partner.) There is both comfort and hope that as flawed as we are, Jesus still works through us. We, along with those who have died in the faith, are the great cloud of witnesses.
Isn’t that a rich phrase, “great cloud of witnesses?” The image of clouds conveys enfolding each other, being surrounded and held. Each cloud is unique. From a meteorological perspective, there are cirrus, nimbostratus, different types of cumulus clouds, and others. From an imaginative perspective, there are those that look like elephants, or big marshmallows, hearts or hummingbirds. This tapestry of the faithful is as diverse as the clouds. We, who are both sinner and saint, are embraced by it, contributing to its shape.
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, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God.
The baton has been passed to us. God calls us to go forward. Put aside those things that weigh us down, put our sin behind us, and run the race. Run the race, despite our fears, and our hurts. Don’t focus on the distractions of current affairs. Just keep running. Look at Jesus, right in front of us.
God does not ask us to get there first; Jesus always has been and always will be first. God simply asks us to hang in there, to keep going, with the promise that we don’t go it alone.
~Pastor Cheryl Ann Griffin