Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, Heb 12:1,2
As Christians we are a part of a much larger church, one that not only spans the world, but spans the centuries as well. We are we a part of something so much bigger than ourselves and our own little worlds.
That cloud has been added to immensely and quite dramatically in the two thousand plus years since Paul made his list as those who were called Christian lived and died as believers of Christ and did incredible things, literally shaping the world we live in by the hope that they had. So I want to spend the rest of our time here seeing the world through their eyes in past generations as those who went before us and carried on the hope, bore the light, that we might not perish in darkness.
Step into the past with me for a moment as those who are citizens of eternity.
I am a citizen of Rome but I am an outlaw in my own country. Not because of any heinous crime I committed or tax I failed to pay. But because the Lord I follow, Jesus Christ of Nazareth, has been outlawed, as has Judaism, as a threat to the emperor who fancies himself a god and because it threatens the revenues, the monies paid to the old Gods at their extravagant temples which draw people from far and wide to petition for favors.
I and my fellow Christians must meet to read the sacred writings of the Apostles and to worship our God in the catacombs beneath the streets where the dead have been buried for centuries. We celebrate life with the dead. I watched in horror as my brother, who was arrested for daring to speak about Jesus to a merchant who turned him in for a silver coin, was sewn into an Ox hide and fed to lions in the coliseum along with a dozen others followers of the way.
But the threat of death will not stop us and those who are martyred in the arena only serve as a witness to the power of God as they refused to deny Jesus right up to the end and even died with his name on their lips as they sang his praise. I am Christian.
I stand on the shores of the emerald Island and watch as the ship sails away carrying the brown robed ones who brought us what they called the word. They are returning back to the City of Rome to tell the one called Holy Father that there are now Christians in the untamed lands of the Celts that need churches and bishops. I don’t know what that is all about but I know I will miss them.
The other chieftains and I only listened to them, this time, because we saw in them a courage that could not be explained as they came knowing that the ones who had come before them wearing the brown robes had been cut down by the sword or enslaved, mocked as fools who talked of a strange nailed God. But they came anyway asking for nothing but to be heard. This time we listened.
Now, for the first time I feel like I have a reason to live other than just to survive another day without being struck down myself, either by this hard land, raiders or our petty and mischievous gods. I shared the stories of this one they called Jesus with my family and something happened that I cannot explain. I saw the life in their eyes shine forth as their entire countenance was changed from one of despair and worry to joy and peace. I am not sure how this far away unseen God touched the hearts of all of us here so far from his unseen throne, but he did.
All I know is, I look forward to what comes next and I no longer fear death, nor the dark winter nights. I am Christian.
I am standing ankle deep in the mud created by the melting snow of what they are calling the worst winter Germany has ever seen. I have driven a truckload full of troops across the Rhine and into the heart of the German mother land. Nearly every inch of the road was contested and if we weren’t being shot at we were stuck in the mud.
Now I am standing at the gate of hell looking at what can never be imagined even in the worst nightmares as I am overwhelmed by the stench of death. We heard the impossible rumors but now we see they were true. People, mere skeletons in filthy stripped clothes, looking back at us with sunken eyes. Eyes that scarcely belie a living being, yet are shining with expectation as they see in us a hope they had long ago given up on.
I am here because that is what a God fearing man does, he defends the defenseless and answers the call to defend what is right and just. This slaughter of the ones from whom our messiah came is surely motivated by an evil that cannot be imagined by a heart that Is not possessed by evil itself and it is a sight that, but by the grace of God, will haunt me forever.
But I am here and in spite of the stench and horrors within, we open the gates and go in, liberating this concentration camp from which their captors have just fled before us, and we touch these people whom the world has forgotten, and let them know, with our food and our medicine, that their God has heard them.
I am an American Soldier, I am Christian.
I kneel in the sand on the southern bank of the Mediterranean. I am in an orange jump suit and a man in a black mask shoves a video camera in my face and shouts, deny the Nazarene and you will live. I, like the men beside me, just look into the camera and calmly say that I am glad that I have the chance to die for Jesus, the Christ. A hand grabs my hair and I feel a sharp pain at my throat as a wet warmth spreads down my chest.
Before I even have a chance to realize that I am dying I suddenly see, that the sea is glistening like crystal and the waves sound like the voice of God speaking my name. I am then suddenly looking into the loving eyes of my Savior. I am free from my suffering, my brothers are there as well, no longer in blood stained orange, but clothed in robes of pure white. And there are tears of rejoicing. I am Christian.
Four of those stories are taken from my own blood family, all of them are about our collective spiritual family, those who have gone before us and continue to spur us on in that great cloud of witnesses, what Jesus calls the church. We are Christian, we are forever.
Carry on church.
12 Beloved, do not think it strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened to you; 13 but rejoice to the extent that you partake of Christ’s sufferings, that when His glory is revealed, you may also be glad with exceeding joy.
1 Peter 1:12,13