“May the words of my mouth and the meditation of our hearts be acceptable to you, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.” (Ps 19:14)
Back in the day I was a terrible athlete. I mean a God-awful terrible athlete. I remember playing basketball during one gym class. My teammates were really into this game. I, on the other hand, leisurely meandered from one end of the court to the other. I’d talk to people on the bench during the game. I liked to talk a lot more than I ever liked playing basketball.
The reason I remember this particular game is that my meandering actually paid off. While everyone else was down the other end of the court, my team stole the ball, somebody threw it toward me. I don’t know what that kid was thinking. I’m all by myself at the other end of the court and lo and behold I threw the ball up and I made the basket. I’m pretty sure that was the only time I ever scored anything in gym class – ever.
It only makes sense that if you can barely endure a gym class you sure aren’t going to be playing on any JV or Varsity sports team for your high school. What I missed out on, wasn’t the sports. I wasn’t that big a fan. But I missed out on the experience of being a part of a team.
My two daughters took after Sharon and loved sports and were good at them. They were on all sorts of teams, even traveling teams. What most impressed me as I watched them on all of these different teams was the friendships that formed and lasted.
Teammates were there for each other, and that continued long after their time on courts and fields was over. Recently, both daughters have been to weddings of teammates. It’s fun to see the pictures of them all back together again. But I also saw the team gather at a funeral when one of their teammates died of a drug overdose.
That kind of unconditional support impresses me. The commitment to each other is an amazing gift. I love the movie Remember the Titans about a football program that forced bused-in African-American students and white students to come together, and that it’s based on a real life story makes it even more powerful. They had each other even when everything and everyone else around them hoped that the experiment would fail. They had each other, and that proved stronger.
I even hear this message of mutual support in Jesus’ tormented words of separation. His anguish sounds so unfamiliar that it can startle us with its honesty: “‘Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division!’”
Jesus knows firsthand what being different can do. There are a good number of indications in the Gospels that Jesus’ unorthodoxy divided Him from His own family. We know that His ministry caused His neighbours in Nazareth to disown Him. We read over and over how leaders challenged and rebuked Him, even claiming that Jesus was possessed by the devil.
Jesus didn’t belong anywhere, it seems. Jesus knows all about the pain of separation, and that’s the anguish in His words this morning. And I think that reality made Jesus cherish even more the hope and promise of belonging, of community, and what will eventually be called of church.
I think this is what lies behind the beautiful passage that Carol shared with us this morning from an early Christian sermon that “we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses.” We are taking our place now in this timeless community of faith that reaches back to pastors and congregations of long ago like I tried to impress upon our young people, that reaches back to Jesus, that reaches back to the heroes of the Old Testament, that reaches back to creation.
We are a link in the chain of that “cloud of witnesses.” Those who came before us are still a part of us, and what we do now as church adds us to the cloud of witnesses for those who will come after us. What a beautiful promise that is. This is our team. We’re all here for each other.
We remember the mass shootings of a couple of weekends ago I'm sure. One of the victims was Margie Reckard. Her husband worried that he would have to bury her alone. He had no family except for Margie. The funeral home extended an open invitation on its FaceBook page letting any and all know that they would be welcomed. The response was amazing. They filled the chapel and hundreds more waited outside to pay their respects.
One woman waited for two hours in that visitation line so that she could tell the grieving husband, in her words, “that for every crazy nut, there are thousands of us that love him.” The funeral director said, “This is about a community coming together to be there for him, to hold him up.” That’s a glimpse at the “cloud of witnesses” that surrounds us suddenly made visible. When it appears out of nowhere, it reminds us that it’s bigger than we often imagine. https://www.nytimes.com/2019/08/14/us/el-paso-massacre-funeral.html
It reminds us that God’s people are not this or that church, this or that people. It’s all people. Churches should preach this message loud and clear. Jesus knew and we know that separation is a reality, but Jesus knew and we know that we’re called to something better.
It may be an ideal. It may be idealistic. But it’s not impossible. That’s probably how we know it’s from God and not from us. It’s unfamiliar and unexpected.
This is why it’s important for us to be a part of events like the CROP Hunger Walk. Take a look at the poster in the dining hall during Chat and Coffee. Look at the map and the faces of the people. Church World Service helps people in need to help themselves all over the globe because all people are a part of God’s people. Do you think Jesus doesn’t care about the guy in Cambodia, the woman in Guatemala or the child in Serbia because maybe they’re not Christian? They’re a part of our team, our amazing “cloud of witnesses.”
We know the reality of our world. We know the harm and violence that plagues human history and still thrives today, but let us never allow it to blind us to the glorious fact that “we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses,” witnesses to something better, witnesses to the fact that we’re all on the same team. And for this may we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.
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