tr.v. sal-vaged 1) to save from loss or destruction; 2) to save discarded or damaged material for future use. Welcome to the blog of Katie Z. Dawson – United Methodist pastor and Coordinator for Imagine No Malaria in Iowa
We have spent the last few weeks wading through some pretty heavy stuff in the Letter to the Hebrews. Like the author makes clear – this isn’t easy material… we dove into the meat, the heart of the substance.
For those of you who have missed our explorations, in the last four weeks we have discovered that even though we at times feel unworthy – God chooses to make us worthy. And that happens through Jesus…
How it happens is another story. We looked at three ways that people understand what Jesus did on the cross: he set us free from sin and death; he paid the debt for our sins; he showed us a better way.
Usually, the church focuses just on the second one – that Jesus pays for our sins on the cross – but the book of the Hebrews talks about them all… Jesus paid our debt because he is the new high priest. But Jesus also shows us another way because he is a prophet of the most high, and Jesus can declare victory over sin and death because he is King of Kings and Lord of Lords.
Now, what we briefly mentioned at the end of last week is that unlike the way we understand grace, the writer of the Hebrews seems to believe that you can only accept Jesus into your life once. After that – if you sin you lose the benefits of what Christ has done. Really – this goes back to the thought that sin is like an addiction and a prison and what we are being asked to do here is to quit cold turkey and be set free. No turning back. No nicotine patches.
And in reality – why should we turn back? We’ve got a clean slate, the grace of God and the power of the holy spirit on our side! Hear how the Message translation puts chapter 10… Let’s do it – let’s keep a firm grip on the promises that keep us going. Let’s see how inventive we can be in encouraging love and helping out, not avoiding worshipping together as some do but spurring each other on… but you need to stick it out, staying with God’s plan so you’ll be there for the promised completion.
The only way we can do it – the only way that we can quit our former lives cold turkey and urge one another on is by trusting in the promises of God and together reminding each other of those promises. That’s what faith is all about.
Marilyn read for us today from chapters 11 and 12. And it sounds different than all of those chapters before about priests and prophets and blood and sacrifices. Here, Hebrews reminds us that countless people before us have been on this road before. Countless people before us have struggled to trust in God. Countless people before us have been called to have faith.
What you are missing in your inserts today are the names of those people – the pioneers of our faith listed in Chapter 11. People like Noah and Abraham who trusted in God’s promises so much that they took risks. People like Sarah who came to believe in the impossible. People like Isaac and Jacob and Jospeh, Moses and Rahab the prostitute, and David and Samuel… all of these people and countless others lived by faith in the promises of God – and with their own eyes never saw their hopes realized.
As the final verses of chapter 11 share with us – they haven’t received what was promised… yet… because God has a plan that makes sure they won’t be made perfect without us.
Basically – all of us – from the beginning of time to the end of time are all running the same race. We are all going on to the same goal and we are all called to trust that at the finish line glorious things await us. But unlike a race in this world where there are winners and losers, people who cross first and people who cross much later – this glory that awaits us is something we will all get to experience together.
When I traveled to Chicago a few months ago to learn at the feet of a theological giant – Jurgen Moltmann, I was struck by something that he said about death. He said, “I trust that those who died are not dead, they are with us, they are watching over us and we live in their presence. They also… are growing until they reach the destiny for which they were created.”
They are not dead – they are with us… like the cloud of witnesses in Hebrews, they are running with us and are urging us to set aside every weight and sin and to just run free this race together.
Today is a special day in the life of the church when we take a moment to acknowledge that there are others who continue to run this race with us. We acknowledge that the dead are still with us – still waiting just like we are to experience the glory of God.
I am only 27 years old and I have very little knowledge about the mystery of death. No amount of book learning can prepare us for what awaits. What I can say with certainty are some promises that we have in the scriptures.
One of those promises comes to us from the Wisdom of Solomon – the souls of the righteous are in the hand of God and no torment will every touch them… they seem to have died, but they are at peace… their hope is full of immortality.
One of those promises comes to the thief crucified beside our Lord – he is promised that today he will be with Jesus in paradise.
In the book of Revelation we have the promise of the day of resurrection – when we will all be raised and clothed in our recreated bodies and there will be weeping and crying and pain no more.
And then we have our gospel reading from John. After their brother has died, the sisters Mary and Martha are besides themselves with grief… each one pleads with Jesus – if you had been here, my brother would not have died!”
Martha knows in her heart – she trusts in the promise that on the last day her brother will be raised again. She knows that he and she and all of us are pressing onward toward that goal and that Christ is the Messiah – the Son of God who will bring us to the other side.
And surely her sister Mary understands this also. But that doesn’t take away their pain and grief at the loss of their brother in this life. No longer can they reach out and touch him or hear his laughter or look into his eyes. While they trust in the promises, it doesn’t take away their sorrow.
It doesn’t take away the grief that Jesus himself feels as he weeps before the tomb of his friend Lazarus.
What Jesus then does for us is that he gives us a glimpse of the resurrection. As Lazarus – who had been dead for four days – is called out of the tomb, we are reminded of what awaits us all.
We are reminded of the glory of God to come.
We are reminded to have faith and to trust in the promises.
This year, we have said goodbye to five people who were a part of this church family. In a few minutes we will light a candle in honor of each one of them as we remember that they are now a part of that cloud of witnesses who wait with us for the day of resurrection.
They join the countless other faithful who surround us with love and encouragement. They join the company of saints that we praise God with and that we feast with at every communion table. They join with those who have throughout history woven the fabric of our story – of our relationship with God.
I want each one of us to take those ribbons that we were handed this morning. These ribbons represent those saints in our lives who have and who continue to encourage us on in the faith. They are names that should be added to that list in Hebrews 11 – the names of people who took risks and showed us what trust was, people who taught us the faith, people who lived through tough times and survived, people who refused to give in, people who were kind to us when no one else was, people who believed in miracles.
Their stories are our stories. As we remember them, as we remember the promises that they trusted in, we find the strength to carry on.
Our table this morning is empty. The bread and the cup are here and are ready to be placed – but something else is missing. The stories of those who are also with us. The communion of the saints.
I want to invite you to come forward and to place your ribbon on the table. We are going to weave these names together into an altar cloth that will remind us every time we gather around the table that we do not gather alone.