Pentecost 13, 2016
Hebrews 11:17-31; 12:1-3
"Surrounded by Sinners"
Grace, mercy, and peace be to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
There is a story about a preacher that transformed himself into a homeless person and went to the church that he was to be introduced as the head pastor at that morning. He walked around his soon to be church for 30 minutes while it was filling with people for service....only 3 people said hello to him. He asked people for change to buy food....NO ONE in the church gave him change. He went into the sanctuary to sit down in the front of the church and was told the ushers he would sit n the back. He greeted people to be greeted back with stares and dirty looks, with people looking down on him and judging him.
As he sat in the back of the church, he listened to the church announcements and such. When all that was done, the elders went up and were excited to introduce the new pastor of the church to the congregation........"We would like to introduce to you our new Pastor"....The congregation looked around clapping with joy and anticipation.....The homeless man sitting in the back stood up.....and started walking down the aisle.....the clapping stopped with ALL eyes on him....he walked up the altar and took the microphone from the elders (who were in on this) and addressed the congregation.
Could you imagine what everyone was thinking next? I'm sure many were embarrassed by their behavior. Certainly the Elders would have been hopeful for a better reaction by their church family. The new Pastor must have had many things running through his head toward his new congregation. Some may have become defensive of their behavior as well.
Pastors aren't exempt from being poor miserable sinners either. I remember preaching at my Dad's congregation in Hodgkins one Sunday and having a person that I grew up with tell me (I'll paraphrase): "It's great seeing you as a Pastor and seeing you preach...and having a solid faith...it gives me hope for my children that don't behave...because I remember how you were growing up in Church..."
What each and every person could have said in our story is the same as what each one of us here this morning could say...I'm surrounded by a bunch of poor miserable sinners. Each and every one of us is a poor miserable sinner. We stumble quickly. We fail often. We do many things we know we shouldn't. God's Word is very clear about each and every one of us: "for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God." (Romans 3:23 ESV)
But all of that changes in this place. In this place sins are forgiven. In this place Jesus comes to us through His Word and His very body and blood. In this place you are refreshed. In this place you are strengthened. And in this place you are surrounded by angels, archangels, and all the company of heaven. In this place you stand before God, His angels, and a great cloud of witnesses.
"Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted." (Hebrews 12:1-3)
And who belongs to this cloud of witnesses? Our text tells us: Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, the parents of Moses, Moses, the nation of Israel that crossed the Red Sea, the nation of Israel that marched around the walls of Jericho, and Rahab. What great heroes of the faith. Wouldn't it be nice if we had members like them? Oh the outreach we could do... the great things we could accomplish as a congregation if they were still alive and members here.
Just remember who these people were. Abraham offered his wife to rulers out of fear. Isaac mirrors his father's sin and offers his wife out of fear. Jacob stole his brothers inheritance. Joseph was prideful of his father's love and his superiority, Moses murdered an Egyptian and would later sin against God so that he would not enter the promised land, the nation of Israel would grumble and complain against God, they would quickly turn to false idols, they would break their covenant with God. Rahab was a prostitute. The same that was said for each of us is the same that could be said for these heroes of the faith... they were poor miserable sinners.
So what makes these people a great cloud of witnesses...what makes them heroes of the faith? Listen to Scripture closely: "By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises was in the act of offering up his only son, of whom it was said, “Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.” He considered that God was able even to raise him from the dead, from which, figuratively speaking, he did receive him back. By faith Isaac invoked future blessings on Jacob and Esau. By faith Jacob, when dying, blessed each of the sons of Joseph, bowing in worship over the head of his staff. By faith Joseph, at the end of his life, made mention of the exodus of the Israelites and gave directions concerning his bones. By faith Moses, when he was born, was hidden for three months by his parents, because they saw that the child was beautiful, and they were not afraid of the king's edict. By faith Moses, when he was grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh's daughter, choosing rather to be mistreated with the people of God than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin. He considered the reproach of Christ greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt, for he was looking to the reward. By faith he left Egypt, not being afraid of the anger of the king, for he endured as seeing him who is invisible. By faith he kept the Passover and sprinkled the blood, so that the Destroyer of the firstborn might not touch them. By faith the people crossed the Red Sea as on dry land, but the Egyptians, when they attempted to do the same, were drowned. By faith the walls of Jericho fell down after they had been encircled for seven days. By faith Rahab the prostitute did not perish with those who were disobedient, because she had given a friendly welcome to the spies." (Hebrews 11:17-31)
What made each of these people great...what made each of these people members of the great cloud of witness...wasn't something they did on their own and it wasn't their obedience or that they were just really nice people...it was their faith. And faith is a gift from God. "For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them." (Ephesians 2:8-10)
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ: what made the Heroes of faith great...was their faith. What makes each of you great is your faith. By faith you may be a hero of the faith to your friends and family and neighbors...the world around you. By faith you can move mountains. Through faith you have been saved. Through faith all of the saints that have died before us inherited paradise. What a joy it is to serve you as Pastor...for I can say that I am surrounded each Sunday by you dear saints who are members of a great cloud of witnesses of God's love and grace. By faith you are heroes of the faith. By faith you are able to lovingly share the hope that is yours in Christ to the world. Amen.
Now may the peace of God which passes all human understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord and Savior. Amen.