So then, with endurance, let's also run the race that is laid out in front of us, since we have such a great cloud of witnesses surrounding us. Let's throw off any extra baggage, get rid of the sin that trips us up, and fix our eyes on Jesus, faith's pioneer and perfecter. He endured the cross, ignoring the shame, for the sake of the joy that was laid out in front of him... - Hebrews 12.1-2
It was good to be back at Plymouth this past weekend for our Mission Marketplace and for worship after three weeks away! Great to reconnect with so many of you! We had a two meaningful and profound Totenfest/All Saints worship services. I am still musing about the great cloud of witnesses that surround us. In our travels in Italy, Hal took me to a small town outside of Naples called Nola. There we spent a morning visiting the 3rd century paleo-Christian church of St. Felix, a north African bishop who inspired the 4th century saint, Paulinus. Paulinus was a one percenter in his day who converted to Christianity and literally sold his entire portion of his family’s fortune to rebuild the church of St. Felix, a hospital, and a hostel for the poor in Nola. The story of a rich man who was not deterred by Jesus’ exhortation to the rich young ruler to sell all he had and give it to the poor. Paulinus and his wife took up the challenge and their legacy can still inspire us today.
In the ancient church is the fresco you see above. A palimpsest of the faces of our Christian ancestors in Nola painted over the centuries. A great cloud of witnesses. This picture and JT’s sermon on Sunday invites me more deeply into the image of this great cloud in Hebrews 11 and 12. A cloud of witnesses keeping the faith for centuries before the writer of Hebrews extolled them. And then more and more witnesses of faith from the time of the first century writing of Hebrews till now. We can lean into their faith, even if we express ours in 21st century ways that could be very different from their expressions. We can lean into and rest upon the knowledge that so many generations have run the race of faith with endurance, thrown off the baggage of mistakes and falsehoods weighing them down and kept their focus on the compassionate, inclusive, joyful love of God revealed in Jesus. They have lived out the joy that comes even in extreme adversity and kept the faith alive!
This gives me hope on this crucial election day. Times are tough in our country. It is hard to have hope as extreme partisanship raises its divisive head falsely in the name of the faith we love. Action for climate change must be taken NOW. Inflation must be curbed to keep people fed and housed. I get weighed down at times. And yet, today I am finding courage to keep on keeping on through the faces of the ancestors and the ancient words of the sermon in the book of Hebrews.
No matter the political outcomes of today, we will hold fast to faith in Jesus, pioneer and perfecter of God’s justice and love. It is blessed to be in a community like Plymouth where we lean into our faith, our relationships, our ministries, and our care for one another.
Take hope, dear friends!
With you on the journey,