by Pastor Doug Stratton — September 6, 2020

Hebrews 11:32-12:3

What more shall I say? I do not have time to tell about Gideon, Barak,
Samson and Jephthah, about David and Samuel and the prophets, 33 who
through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, and gained what
was promised; who shut the mouths of lions, 34 quenched the fury of the
flames, and escaped the edge of the sword; whose weakness was turned to
strength; and who became powerful in battle and routed foreign armies. 35
Women received back their dead, raised to life again. There were others who
were tortured, refusing to be released so that they might gain an even better
resurrection. 36 Some faced jeers and flogging, and even chains and
imprisonment. 37 They were put to death by stoning;[e] they were sawed in
two; they were killed by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and
goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated— 38 the world was not
worthy of them. They wandered in deserts and mountains, living in caves and
in holes in the ground.

These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received
what had been promised, 40 since God had planned something better for us
so that only together with us would they be made perfect.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses,
let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles.
And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, 2 fixing our
eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him
he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of
the throne of God. 3 Consider him who endured such opposition from
sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.

The letter to the Hebrews is a mystery in many ways. We don’t know who the author was, we don’t know when it was written and many of the images in the letter are strange to our ears. However, we do know that the overarching theme is “Jesus is Better.”

We just read the end of chapter 11 and the beginning of 12. Chapter 11 has been called the Hall of Fame of Faith. It begins with a listing of rather well know Heroes and Heroines of faith. Today it may have been known as the Avenue of the Righteous Among the Nations in Jerusalem. It is a list of well known and lesser known man and women of faith. And then the chapter closes with the list of anonymous characters with just a statement of their heroism.

The message is, “People of Faith have come before you, now remain faithful.”

That is why chapter 12 begins with the words, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses…” People of faith have gone before us and they are showing us the way. Abraham, Moses, Rahab, Able, Noah, Sarah, Jacob and many others were listed. Each of them have a message for God’s people through the ages.

This is a great cloud of unnumbered witnesses, and body of faith that have preached the good news and proclaimed God’s message. Six years ago, Bryon Luke and others from our Vision Discovery Team presented how the mission God has given us, a mission of making disciples by connecting people to God, to one another and to our deepest selves that we might be whole, has impacted the ministry of our church. That day he and others talked about the growth of mission trip connections, and connections through the Farmer’s Market, and connections through the community gardens and prayers for local businesses. People shared how the mission of connections was impacting their relationships at the church, at home, in schools and at work.

Others shared how they have grown in faith as they have made connections across lines of race and language and sexuality. It was an beautiful testimony to God’s work in our midst. The following week I invited the congregation to imagine that you were separated from your church and you wanted to send them a message of encouragement. We called it messages in a bottle.

Recently, Marilyn was going through some older notes that she had, and ran across the messages that many of you wrote to the Hatboro Baptist Church of the future. These messages are part of the cloud of witnesses that have gone before us. And today, as we are experiencing being separated from our church family, I want to share some of these messages of encouragement.

Continue connecting to one another within the church and to the community. We have become one another’s extended families. Even when we don’t realize the impact we have on each other, there is an impact. (You are a) powerful, reassuring source of support and comfort.

This is a reminder that the relationships we share are transformative. It is as true today as it was 6 years ago. In this time of Covid and unrest and widespread depression, the extended family we have become is lifeline.

Tradition is beautiful and growth is necessary; growth is not possible if the heart and mind is not open to new, different and sometimes even uncomfortable or scary opinions, ideas and perspectives. To grow we must be open hearted and open minded. We must allow and give space for others to feel they are welcomed, wanted and heard.

This message calls us to know ourselves and then to build upon the foundation that God has prepared for us. The history of our church demonstrates that our church has continually been a positive influence on our community. Through the years we have often disagreed with one another on social and political ideas, but we have remained a family because we have found our connection in Jesus, not in our politics or our social status. Through this time of virtual  gathering, we have discovered that even without a building in which to gather, we are the church, we have broken old traditions and established new patterns, and in the process we have not forgotten who we are or that we gather around Jesus. This is a message we need to hear.

Here is another: Remain true to the WORD and principles for life. Remain strong and faithful to stand against adversity. For God will surely bless you.

We are experiencing adversity right now, the advise from this note in a bottle is exactly what we need to hear. Remain true to the Word, Remain strong and faithful. As we journey through this time, the study of the Word, the sharing of devotions, the opportunities for us to pray together all provide strength that we might stand firm amidst adversity. If you have not attended one of our prayer gatherings, I encourage you to log onto this same Zoom room on Tuesdays and Thursdays and join us in prayer. Don’t be intimidated, if you wish to sit silently and pray from your heart, that is a beautiful thing.

Your presence will strengthen our relationships as a church.
Never lose sight of world events. We pray for all humanity.

The writer of this note could not have known 6 years ago how important this message is for us today. We must be aware of what is happening in our world. As we approach elections, as we learn of locust caused famine, as we weep with the families of 870,000 people who have died worldwide from Covid 19, as we reach out to victims of hurricanes and fires, we are given the chance to share God’s love globally as we pray for all humanity.

In addition, the voices from our past call us to:

  • Remain the center of the community and continue to give hope and solace to everyone. Keep praying for one another.
  • Continue to build on our past in service and faith.
  • Connect with people in the community thru evangelism.
  • Go into the community and let everyone know how loving and compassionate our church is.
  • Welcome all would come to our church to see for themselves.
  • To never give up as we are making connections with people.

These messages from a bottle are part of the cloud of witnesses that have gone before us.

In 1988 Steve Green wrote a song that has been an inspiration in my life. I want to share the lyrics with you. (There was a day I may have shared the music, but that day has come and gone!)

We’re pilgrims on the journey
Of the narrow road,
And those who’ve gone before us
Line the way.
Cheering on the faithful,
Encouraging the weary,
Their lives a stirring testament
To god’s sustaining grace.

O may all who come behind us
Find us faithful,
May the fire of our devotion
Light their way.
May the footprints that we leave,
Lead them to believe,
And the lives we live
Inspire them to obey.
O may all who come behind us
Find us faithful.
Surrounded by so great
A cloud of witnesses,
Let us run the race
Not only for the prize,
But as those who’ve gone before
Let us leave to those behind us,
The heritage of faithfulness
Passed on thru godly lives.

After all our hopes and dreams
Have come and gone,
And our children sift thru all
We’ve left behind,
May the clues that they discover,
And the memories they uncover,
Become the light that leads them,
To the road we each must find.

Have you ever fixed your eyes on Jesus? We do that when we trust Jesus to lead us and his gift of salvation. If that is you need today and you are ready to take the step and commit your life to Jesus, then simply confess your need and invite him into your heart.

“Behold,” says Jesus, “I stand at the door and knock, if anyone opens the door, I will come into them and eat with them and they will eat with me.”

~ Pastor Doug