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We're Not Alone
April 8, 2001

HEBREWS 11:39-12:2

Jesus’ last week began with a triumphant parade on Palm Sunday. It ended with Jesus’ death on the cross. The author of Hebrews tells us about the death. Would you take a Bible from in front of you out of the rack and turn to Hebrews 12.2, “For the sake of the joy that was set before him, he endured the cross.” Joy, for the sake of joy, he endured the pain, the shame, the humiliation, the horror of death on a cross. Jesus faced his death with joy. In my vast years of experience (!), I have witnessed many Christians who met their death with joy; not a shallow, glib, superficial giddiness, but a deep calm assurance that they were in the hands of God, that death is not the end, looking to Jesus with joy. I believe that Jesus endured his death with joy because he knew he was in the hands of God.

And Jesus knew that he would be united with the heroes and heroines of the faith. Glance through chapter 11. You'll see it is a chapter of faith, listing and celebrating some of the ancestors of our faith. Chapter 11 ends with a sobering observation,11:39-40. “Yet all these, though they were commended for their faith, did not receive what was promised, since God had provided something better, so that they would not apart from us be made perfect.” Wow! Their goals were not accomplished. Their work is not yet done. They need us to carry on their work, to run the race and to hand the torch on to the next generation. At the end of our lives, hand on the torch, hand them the work of God with joy and satisfaction.

12.1, “Let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us looking to Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith.” Jesus is our pioneer, plowing new ground, venturing into the unknown, forging new paths through the jungle. Jesus, the Son of God, fully human and fully divine, was resurrected from the dead. Jesus pioneered and Jesus perfected the work done, improved the work done by the ancestors, and handed the torch to his followers, the church, the disciples of Jesus Christ. 12.1, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us looking to Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith.” This is a tremendous passage.

Let me highlight two meanings for us today. First, we are not alone. You are not alone. Isn’t it ironic how so many people are lonely today? We're surrounded by TVs, radios, CD players, computers, gadgets and noise, yet so many people are lonely. Isn't it sad how lonely people sit in front of a computer screen looking for a friend on the internet. Or how sad to run ads in newspapers looking for companionship.

The sermon series on the Apostles Creed continues this morning with the communion of saints. Communion means fellowship, relationship. What we're looking for are relationships on a deep level that will satisfy the hunger and the loneliness of our inner being, relationships that are deeper than “I'll scratch your back if you'll scratch mine”. Or “I’ll shop at your store if you'll shop at mine,” relationships that are deeper than manipulating people to get something from them, deeper than gimme, gimme gimme, deeper than I want, deeper than I need. What we are looking for are relationships that are built on agape. Agape is the Greek word used in the New Testament to describe the kind of relationship where one gives without any thought of reciprocation, where we give without any thought of receiving in return, where one is loved without reservation, without restrictions, without conditions, the kind of love in a good marriage where each spouse puts the other first. Everyone needs and looks for relationships so we won't feel alone, so we'll feel surrounded, embraced and supported.

Such relationships begin with God. The essence of our Christian faith, the heart of Christianity is a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Believing in God is more than a head trip, more than an intellectual understanding of the Apostles Creed, more than familiarity with the Bible. It's important to understand the creed. It's important to develop theology so we can explain things. It's essential to study the Bible and to let the Bible speak to us, but a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, communion with Jesus, fellowship with Jesus is what will satisfy loneliness.

Even though Jesus is not with us in flesh, Jesus is with us in spirit, which we call the Holy Spirit. Being a Christian is not what you know, but who you know. And who you know is Jesus. You are never alone with Jesus as your friend. He walks with you and he talks with you. You can carry on conversations with Jesus. And when you're quiet, he will answer. Jesus answers in a multitude of ways—a gentle voice inside your head, a comment from a friend, a meteor shower, or events that some people call coincidences, Jesus may speak.

What we all need is a relationship with Jesus Christ and relationships with other people, relationships that are long lasting, that transcend distance, absence, and even death. Communion of saints means relationships with people here on earth and relationships with those who have died. In the Bible, the word “saint” means Christians. The Roman Catholic Church has developed a criteria by which they canonize saints with a capital S. But in the Bible, the word saint means a believer, a follower of Christ, one who is in relationship with Jesus.

This morning, I challenge you to to broaden your perspective, to broaden your relationships, to broaden your image of yourself to include the cloud of witnesses. You are not alone. You are surrounded, supported and embraced by a great cloud of witnesses. When we celebrate Holy Communion, the liturgy includes the phrase, “with your people on earth and all the company of heaven”. We praise your name with all the company of heaven. How can we feel alone with all the company of heaven surrounding us? There are angels, archangels, saints and loved ones, all surrounding you, supporting you, embracing you. An ancient tradition claims that whenever you think of a loved one who has died, it means that he or she is praying for you. Isn’t that beautiful?  You can experience communion with saints through prayer.

Early Christians prayed simple prayers for the dead. The practice died out primarily because of abuse and superstition. But our Christian faith teaches that the Holy Spirit is not restricted by time, space or death. We pray for one another when we're separated by distance. When a loved one goes on a trip, we pray and we experience a bond of fellowship. Is it not possible to pray for someone even though we are separated by death? You can pray for someone in Dallas, you can pray for someone in heaven. “Lord, let them know I love them. Give them peace.” I believe they're praying for you. The Book of Revelation depicts the saints surrounding the throne of God singing praises, glorying in God's presence and praying. I believe you and I are included in their prayers.

Now, note the word is communion with saints, not communication. I don't believe it is necessary or appropriate to seek communication with the dead— tables moving, walls knocking and playing with a Ouija board and all that. We're talking about communion, not communication; communion through prayer, communion through a sense of their presence, the great cloud of witnesses. This passage from Hebrews teaches us that we're not alone. We’re surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses.

Secondly, this passage gives us an image of our mission, our purpose on this earth. The reason God called us to this congregation is to continue the work. We are called to carry on the work. Those who went before us are praying for us and waiting for us to continue their work, looking to Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter. Envision a stadium where you are running a race. You’re carrying a torch to hand on to the next runner. The race requires endurance. Jesus endured the cross. The race requires training, taking classes, learning. The race requires discipline, prayer, Bible study and Hebrews 12.1, “Lay aside every weight and sin that clings so closely.”— the discipline of laying aside the weights. What is weighing you down? What's holding you back from running the race? Is it low self esteem? Is it self-doubt, bitterness, anger or feeling sorry for yourself? Whatever the burden on your back, get rid of it, Throw it away, cast it away and run the race freely with your eye on the goal, looking to Jesus, the Pioneer who goes ahead and leads the way into ventures unknown, exciting adventures.

Look at the stands. The stands are crowded with spectators who are all cheering for you, encouraging you, calling your name. If you trip or if you fall down, they shout, “Come on, get up, get going. You can do it!” They don't give up on you. Oh, the stadium is full. Look there is john Wesley. There's Martin Luther. There's the Apostle Paul. There's your grandmother who thought you were perfect. There's your grandfather who told you stories. There’s a neighbor who made you cookies. There's the Sunday school teacher who loved you. There's the school teacher who believed in you. What a great crowd of witnesses surrounding you, cheering for you.

What I'm trying to say this morning has been said much better by Charles Wesley 200 years ago. Listen to the first two stanzas of his poem.

Come, Let Us Join Our Friends Above

That Have Obtained The Prize,

And On The Eagle Wings Of Love

To Joys Celestial Rise:

Let All The Saints Terrestrial Sing,

With Those To Glory Gone;

For All The Servants Of Our King,

In Earth And Heaven, Are One.


One Family We Dwell In Him,

One Church, Above, Beneath,

Though Now Divided By The Stream,

The Narrow Stream Of Death:

One Army Of The Living God,

To His Command We Bow;

Part Of His Host Have Crossed The Flood,

And Part Are Crossing Now.


I believe in the communion of saints. Do you? Let’s be in silent prayer. Think of a loved one who is in heaven and pray for him/her.

© 2001 Douglas I. Norris