Hebrews 12:1-3; and Mark 12:26-34
Today is a day many of our brothers and sisters in Christ have set apart to remember those who God, the author and sustainer of life called before us. Today we celebrate their memory. We celebrate the memory of those who we met and now are gone as well as the memory of those who were members of our community since the beginning of our Local Church. They are no longer part of the earthly Church, but are now members of the triumphal Church.
I am aware that there is a part of the church of Christ that does not celebrate this day because of the connection with the Catholic Church. We commemorate it because the Bible always establishes a relationship between those who God already called and those who are here on earth. Very frequently in the Old Testament we find the expression “I am the God of Abraham, Jacob, and Isaac”, meaning that Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, even after death were and are a very important part in the life of Israel. And Jesus confirms that in the gospel we heard this morning, “And as for the dead being raised, have you not read in the book of Moses, in the passage about the bush, how God spoke to him, saying, ‘I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? He is not the God of the dead, but of the living.” God is God of both dimensions: this we live in now and the spiritual one; where our brothers and sisters who went ahead of us now live.
In the Old Testament God and the prophets used this expression to remind Israel and us that they and we, are part of a historical group of people. This expression is a reminder that they, and we, are part of a building constructed over a pre-existed base. This base in the Old Testament is, those who received the promise, those who were delivered out of Egypt, from slavery, those who wandered in the desert; those who fought for the Promised Land, those who built the temple where they worshiped. In our case, our base or foundation is, those who came here before us. Those who built this place where we worship now, those who sustained this church with their talents, offerings and time before us. Those who were part of different ministries that have kept the Church alive.
The New Testament affirm this message as well. The writer of Hebrews provided us with a great example of this. In chapter 11 the writer shares some names of men and women of faith. And he begins Chapter 12 saying: “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses”,meaning those he previously listed in chapter 11. The message the writer of Hebrews is trying to pass on to his readers including us, “is not to forget those who were before us.” Do not forget their labor and love for this church because what they did, all those lives they reached are also part of the cloud of witnesses we are surrounded by. Therefore, keep on trying, do not give up.
To encourage his readers, the writer uses the metaphor of a race, “run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfector, of our faith.” What the writer is suggesting, is that we must run our own personal race looking at Jesus and keeping in our minds the example, the work, the endurance and the way those who are not with us anymore ran their personal race. When we see around us and see their legacy, we should be able to say “I want to run my race as they did, I want to leave a legacy for the next generation in this church as they did. I want to fight the good fight as they did. I want to keep my faith as they did.”
Maybe you are thinking that you will never be able to do what such and such brother or sister did. Maybe you think you are lacking the faith and endurance he or she had, however if you think about, all they did is do what the Bible invites us to do- to give our best. Paul in 1 Corinthians 9:24 says “Run in such a way as to get the prize”, in other words, give your best. Jesus said in Mark 12, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.” Once again, the message is: give your best.
When I remember my grandmother’s faith, I do not think I will ever have faith like hers and that is fine because God does not expect a competition of who has the greatest faith. He simply expects everyone to give their best. And that is what those men and women in the history of Christianity, in the history of our local church did, those who passed before us gave their best.
The message from Hebrews chapters 11 and 12 is important and relevant now that we celebrate the memory and the legacy of those who are not with us anymore. For the writer of Hebrews, our walk with Jesus is like a relay race and we must pick up the batonwhere those who God called left it, and continue with their race, which is also our race. I will invite you to do something this Sunday. I would like you to think of the names of one woman and one manand the work they did in the church. Would you like to pick up their baton and continue running the race? Can you continue building over what they began? I have heard the expression “church is not what it used to be” maybe it is because we are not doing what those who were before us did. Remember, they did what they did because they loved God with all their heart, soul, mind and strength, and this church too, and maybe without even meaning to, they did it to be our example.
The apostle Paul said to those in Philippi, “Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.” Philippians 4:9. Those same words are being said to all of us by those whose names you brought to your memory, “Whatever you have learned or received or heard from us or seen in us—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.”
Let us get ready to have communion and remember that those who God has called to his presence are part of this table too.