Summary: A sermon for All Saints Sunday.
"Can I Get a Witness?"
Among the books of the New Testament, the Letter to the Hebrews is both strange and fascinating.
It's style and content is unlike any of the other letters.
And there is an awful lot we don't know about it.
We don't know who wrote it.
The best answer to that question is the answer that a very early Christian theologian gave in the 3rd Century: "God knows."
In any event, there are some things we can glean that give us insight as to what it's about, or what brought it about--its context.
One thing is that it's really not a "letter" at all.
It is most likely a very early Christian sermon given by a very well educated Jewish Christian sometime between 60 and 100 A.D.
The church he is preaching to is exhausted.
They are tired--tired of serving, tired of struggling, tired of worship, tired of praying.
We are told that their hands droop and their knees are weak; attendance is down, and they are losing confidence.
They are tired of walking the walk, many of them are thinking of taking a walk--leaving the community and falling away from the faith.
And so, in a rousing section of this sermon the Preacher of Hebrews starts naming off the folks who have gone before them in the faith.
He says, "By faith Abel offered a better sacrifice to God than Cain...
... By faith Enoch was taken up...
...By faith Noah...built an ark...
...By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called...
...By faith...Sarah received the ability to have a child...
...By faith Isaac...blessed Jacob and Esau...
...By faith Jacob blessed Joseph's sons as he was dying...
...By faith...Moses chose to be mistreated with God's people instead of having the temporary pleasures of sin..."
None of them had an easy time of it.
Life is difficult for all people in all times and places.
None of them were perfect.
All people sin; all people are tempted to quit; all people get tired.
But what all the folks who the preacher names have in common is faith.
And what is faith?
"Faith is the reality of what we hope for, the proof of what we don't see..."
"It's what all these saints before us lived by."
There is a great unbroken cord of faith that stretches from the beginning of human history to the audience listening to the "Sermon to the Hebrews," on through the ages--and right up to us--right here in East Ridge United Methodist Church--January 3, 2016!!!
We are a part of God's Great Chain of Faith which has been securely fastened and anchored by Jesus Christ--"The Author and Perfecter of our faith"!!!
This chain of faith stretches all the way from the everyday struggles of people of faith--people like you and me--people who dared to believe and not give up nor give in--all the way into the heavenly sanctuary of God in the City of God...
...the "holy city...the New Jerusalem," as Revelation 21, which Ana read from earlier puts it, "made ready as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband."
It's the place where "God's dwelling is with humankind..."
It's the place where God lives--and where those who are saved by faith--will one day live forever as well.
"Death will be no more.
There will be no more mourning, crying, or pain anymore..."
And God will wipe away every tear from our eyes.
In the meantime, we struggle like everyone else, and to give up would be the greatest tragedy of all.
This past Thanksgiving I ran the Annual 10 K Turkey Trot in Cincinnati, Ohio.
[Butch, put up picture of Ken running race]
There's a picture of me there.
Looks like I'm having a blast, does it not?
It wasn't the worst thing in the world, but as the race went on and on and on...
...As we hit one hill after another...
...As I sucked in air, felt the exhaustion in every muscle of my body as my feet pounded the hard surface of the BIG CITY streets over and over again, I was almost continuously confronted with the temptation to stop and walk the rest of the way.
So, what kept me going?
For one thing, also running in the race were one of my sisters, my two brother in-laws, and one of my nephews.
The thought of giving up, when they were experiencing the same difficulties as I, but were trudging on in spite of them would have been to let myself down...
...if that makes sense...
Also, all along the race route were thousands and thousands of spectators who had gotten up early, lined the streets, and were cheering everyone on.
In that crowd were Clair, Mary Ellen and Owen.
They were waiting to see me run--and I did say "run" by them about 3/4 quarters of the way through the race.