So Great a Cloud of Witnesses – October 1, 2006
Hebrews 11:1-13, 12:1-2, 12-24, 28
October 1, 2006
Today is World Communion Sunday. And on World Communion Sunday I like to use this passage from Hebrews. I like to because it gives us a big picture. It tells us that the life of faith we share is much bigger than just what we experience here in this room. The Apostle Paul tells us that we are part of “so great a cloud of witnesses.”
Sometimes we need to be reminded of that, don’t we? Sometimes our vision shrinks. Sometimes we get to thinking that these walls are not just solid and beautiful stone, but that they’re also limits somehow – limits to our faith, our spiritual lives, and to the vision we have of the Church as a whole.
You know how it is when we people have difficulties in our lives. When we have troubles, those troubles themselves can easily become the focus of our lives, can’t they. If you’re out on a walk in a beautiful place, and you get a sharp rock in your shoe, guess what becomes the focus of your attention! If you continue without getting it out of there, the pain it causes you will take your attention away from the beauty around you.
It’s the same with whatever troubles you might have in your life. Those troubles can be hard to see around, can’t they? They take our focus. They absorb our attention, until all our lives can be colored by those troubles. At the same time, our vision can begin to narrow, and then our own little world is all that we see. That is the natural reaction to pain and trouble! And in a way that’s good, because that helps us concentrate on the hurt and to focus on doing something about it.
The problem is that some people never get out of that mode! Some people are constantly focused on their own problems. Their world is all they ever think about. And it can be difficult to be around such people. They never seem to be content in their lives.
All these same kinds of things can happen to groups of people. If a group is experiencing stress of some kind, they can start to focus in on that stress point. They can begin to lose their greater vision and their focus can narrow down, till all they see is their own little world. And of course, that can happen in Churches, too.
Think about that. It can be easy for us here, for instance, to focus in on our financial shortfalls. That can be (and often is) one of those problems that demands the greatest attention. It can be the kind of problem that can cause a Church to focus in on itself, and lose the bigger picture. And, it can derail a church’s sense of ministry!
That’s one reason I am going to be talking further this stewardship season about the goal of getting beyond those kinds of financial worries that can easily become the focus of what we’re doing here! Because when that happens, when our focus begins to narrow like that, we tend to think only of our own little world.
World Communion Sunday is a great opportunity to think bigger than ourselves, and to remember that we’re not alone. It is a chance to widen our vision as we think of all of our fellow Christians, all around this planet, sharing this sacrament together!
Do you remember New Years Eve 2000? Do you remember how they showed on TV, a rolling celebration all around the world? They started with the little islands in the pacific basin, just west of the international date line. They showed their New Year’s celebration, being the first to see the new millennia. Then they moved west and showed the celebration in Japan and Australia. Then they moved across Asia, then Africa and Europe, then on to us here in the east. Actually you were in the east, I was still in the Midwest. It went through there, and on around the rest of the globe.
Well, that’s what we’re doing here. Think of all the Christians celebrating this sacrament, time zone by time zone, around the world! The communion hour comes to us from the east, and then we hand it off to those west of us in Chicago, Dallas, Topeka Kansas, and so on.
Do you get that vision? This once a year World Communion celebration shows us that we are part of something bigger! And I think that helps us to put our problems into perspective. It helps us to see our Church in terms of the whole body of Christ – around the world. And it helps us to see a bigger importance of our ministry!
But, that’s not all we celebrate here. This passage from Hebrews helps us to see that we are part of something even bigger than that!
Remember that Hebrews was a letter Paul wrote to a group of, what? A group of Hebrews. (I just wanted to see if you were with me! That’s like “Who’s buried in Grant’s tomb?” and “What color was George Washington’s white horse?”) These were Hebrews – Jewish Christians – who were starting to have some doubts about their decision to follow this new Rabbi, Jesus. They were beginning to wonder if they were backing the right horse. (and what color it was!) They needed to see the big picture!
So in this passage, Paul is giving them that picture. Before this, he had been telling them about all the great people from their own history, and the faith they had. He told them how they all anticipated this coming Messiah. Then he told them how they were surrounded by this great cloud of witnesses – not only those around them, but those who had gone before them.
That “great cloud of witnesses” gave them and us an even larger picture. Because it added the dimension of time. That’s the fourth dimension, isn’t it. The first three dimensions have to do with size – length, width, and depth. The fourth dimension is time. So, we’re celebrating this sacrament not just three-dimensionally, but four-dimensionally!
That’s what we’re doing here today. We’re thinking four dimensionally. We are being challenged here, not just to think about all those Churches around the world, but also to think of all the believers down through the ages. That’s the “great cloud of witnesses” I think about when I read this passage. I picture those multitudes who are watching, who we can’t see, who are part of this.
If you think about it, if you see that same picture, then we’re adding another dimension, aren’t we? We’re adding the spiritual dimension – that which we cannot see, but we know it’s there. So, in a very real way, we’re adding what we might call the fifth dimension. Those of you who remember the ‘60’s are thinking “Yeah, I remember them. ‘The Age of Aquarius,’ right?” (The Fifth Dimension!)
Anyway, however you picture all of this, it is my hope that you see the larger picture. I hope that I’ve been able to expand your vision – if only just a little bit. And as we think of all that, may it give us a greater understanding of God. May we be better able “to comprehend with all the saints what is the length and width and depth and height, and to know the love of God that passes knowledge.” (Eph 3:18-19)
Considering that big picture, the picture of which we all are a part, let us prepare our hearts and minds for this sacrament.
Eternal God, help us to know a little more, your infinite and eternal nature. Help us to know you in this sacrament, to experience here your presence, to share ourselves with you more fully, and to rejoice with all your saints throughout the world, and down through the ages. For this we pray in Jesus’ name, Amen.