Christ Church Cathedral Grafton
18 August 2019
[ video ]
A great cloud of witnesses
Once again this week, I am going to break with my usual practice and start the sermon with the second reading: another passage from Hebrews chapter 11.
That reading comprised the final verses of chapter 11 along with the opening few lines of chapter 12.
After finishing a long catalogue of heroes of the faith through chapter 11, the next chapter begins with these stirring words:
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. [Hebrews 12:1–2 NRSV]
Let’s pause for a moment and think about the great cloud of witnesses that surround us:
- Biblical characters
- Church history heroes
- Pioneer Anglicans locally
We encounter this cloud of witnesses in different ways:
- Biblical characters – lectionary
- Saints & martyrs – calendar
- Pioneers – in stained glass windows and other memorials (including the Cathedral dolls)
- Family & friends – in shared life experiences
And—of course—when we pause to think about it, we in turn are part of the “great cloud of witnesses” for other people. We shall either give them reasons to be people of faith, or we shall gives them reasons to reject faith. It is up to us what kind of witness they perceive.
What is our legacy?
Looking to Jesus
Meanwhile, the anonymous author of this early Christian ‘open letter’ wants us to look behind this vast crowd of witnesses to the one person who really matters to us as Christians:
- Not to the Bible
- Not to Paul or any other biblical character
- Not to any of the saints and martyrs
- Nor to the Prayer Book
- Not to the Thirty Nine Articles
- Not to the Dean!
We look to Jesus as we find ourselves ‘running the race’ with all those other people now in the grandstands, as it were, cheering us on.
He is the source of our faith, and benchmark for our own faithfulness to God’s call on our particular lives.
The text describes Jesus as the “pioneer and perfecter of our faith”.
It is his faithfulness which reveals God’s eternal compassion and love for us all.
This is not because he persuaded God to forgive us.
God needed no convincing!
Rather, Jesus is the key for us because in his faithfulness we see the eternal character and disposition of God to all people, all the time, in all circumstances.
And that is really good news.
An insight into the way the universe is structured that is well worth sharing,