Rev. Katherine Todd
After these things the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision, “Do not be afraid, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great.” But Abram said, “O Lord God, what will you give me, for I continue childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?” And Abram said, “You have given me no offspring, and so a slave born in my house is to be my heir.” But the word of the Lord came to him, “This man shall not be your heir; no one but your very own issue shall be your heir.” He brought him outside and said, “Look toward heaven and count the stars, if you are able to count them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your descendants be.” And he believed the Lord; and the Lord reckoned it to him as righteousness.
By faith the people passed through the Red Sea as if it were dry land, but when the Egyptians attempted to do so they were drowned. By faith the walls of Jericho fell after they had been encircled for seven days. By faith Rahab the prostitute did not perish with those who were disobedient, because she had received the spies in peace.
And what more should I say? For time would fail me to tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets— who through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, obtained promises, shut the mouths of lions, quenched raging fire, escaped the edge of the sword, won strength out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight. Women received their dead by resurrection. Others were tortured, refusing to accept release, in order to obtain a better resurrection. Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were stoned to death, they were sawn in two, they were killed by the sword; they went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, persecuted, tormented— of whom the world was not worthy. They wandered in deserts and mountains, and in caves and holes in the ground.
Yet all these, though they were commended for their faith, did not receive what was promised, since God had provided something better so that they would not, apart from us, be made perfect.
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.
How many times have I read this scripture from Hebrews – to run the race that is set before us – without reading the scripture before it. And now that I am reading the verses that come before, what a different way I’m hearing it!
The writer of Hebrews lists name after name of those who lived their lives by faith, and then he continues by listing those more recently who have lived by faith and suffered dearly for their lives of faith. In all these cases, he claims that these faithful ones did not receive what they were promised because God had something better – us! Yes, US!
Their lives of faith were for a purpose. Their sacrifices and risks and losses were for a purpose. And that purpose was all of us! Through their lives of faith, we have also heard, Christ has come, and God has poured out the Spirit on all flesh!
Could these faithful ones – who gave it all, who risked it all – have ever imagined that God would use their acts of faith to reap a harvest of faith in believers to come, for generation after generation?!?
Could they have known how their acts of faith would unclog righteousness that justice would flow down like the mighty waters?
Could they have known how their acts of faith would carry the torch so future generations could see and receive the Messiah, Christ among us?!?
Could they have known, how many would be set free?!??
The writer of Hebrews explains that WE make THEM perfect. WE are the inheritance God promised them. We are the land of promise. WE are the fruit of their labors!
These champions of the faith have been given us, as their reward. They have multiplied the Kingdom! They have helped to usher in the Kingdom on earth!!!
So, how does that make you feel?
It sounds crazy – that the writer of Hebrews would be talking about us, as if we were so great. But we are! We are the substance of things hoped for, of things not yet seen. We are the fulfillment of God’s promises to these faithful ones! We are what so many labored and loved and worked and sacrificed for.
Can you believe it?
Who do you labor and love and sacrifice for?
Do you ever wonder whether or not all your efforts are in vain?
What if God showed you how your acts of faith have impacted, not only those you love, but also the many who will come after you?
We all affect one another. When we carry the torch of faith, it is not about us. It is about the God who we serve. It is about all those God loves and is seeking out.
And how many will know God’s love because of us?
How many will hear of God’s mighty acts because of our lives?
How many will know God’s freedom and truth, because of us?
How many will walk in righteousness and do justice, standing on our shoulders?
It is a humbling thought.
Our lives are more than just our own.
And knowing that as we walk in the ways of our God, we are standing amidst a great cloud of witnesses – how does that make you feel?
We are not alone. All who have come before and ran this race are among us still. They reside now in the presence of God, and they cheer us on. They are witnesses to our lives, as we have taken up the torch of faith they carried and continued on.
We are not alone.
We are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses.
Even when we are alone. We are not alone.
Can you see it?
Do you believe it?
If we remember that all those we’ve known and loved and lost are with us still, coming around us, cheering us on, what would change about our lives?
Is it possible
we would finally lay aside all the doubts and fears,
sins and distractions that cling so closely?
Is it possible
We would remember what really matters?
It is possible
We would take courage from their courage?
Is it possible
we would live as though our lives really matter?
…because they do.