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Communion Of The Saints
November 3, 1996

HEBREWS 11:39-12:2

Last Tuesday evening in the PATCH class on United Methodist Beliefs, we discussed heaven and hell. We shared our childhood beliefs, many of which described heaven as a place of beauty and hell as a deep pit filled with fire. Realizing, however, that such language is symbolic language, rather than literal descriptions, I made the point that heaven is a relationship with God. And, hell is the absence of a relationship with God. Heaven is a relationship with God that begins in this life, and survives death. Hell is the absence of a relationship with God that also survives death.

Heaven is not only a relationship with God, but it is also a relationship with those who have died. In the Apostles' Creed we recited this morning, we said, I believe in the communion of saints. Communion means fellowship and relationship. When we celebrate the sacrament of Holy Communion later in the service this morning, we celebrate and hopefully experience fellowship with God, fellowship with one another, and fellowship with those who have died-- communion of the saints. Note that the word is communion, not communication. I do not think it necessary or even desirable to seek communication with the dead, but communion, a sense of fellowship, is appropriate and possible. Such communion takes place through Jesus Christ, not through mediums or channels.

Where we are connected together is the church, because the church is the body of Christ. We are the hands, feet, mouth and heart of Christ, doing the work of Christ on this earth. The body of Christ, however, is not restricted to our present existence. The body of Christ transcends the barrier we call death. The body of Christ, the church, is commissioned by Christ to do his work, and that work is not yet accomplished by any stretch of the imagination. Did you hear the Unfinished Symphony in this morning's Scripture lesson? Chapter 11 of Hebrews, called the Faith chapter, lists some of the great people of faith and their accomplishments-- Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Moses, David, etc., and then the author in 11:39-40 states, 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.

None of them saw the complete results of their labors. None of them saw their work finished. None of them completed their task. Their hopes and dreams were not fulfilled. Therefore, they are waiting for us. They are waiting for us to do our part. They are waiting for us to take what we have been given, develop and improve it, and pass it on to the next generation. Their success is dependent on how well we do. I first laughed when I saw the bumper sticker, "We are spending our children's inheritance." Then, I realized it's not funny. We are not put on this earth to spend our children's future. We are put on this earth to fulfill the dreams and hopes of the past, and hand them on to our children, improved.

Where are the dead doing their waiting? Where is heaven? There is a physical, material world in which we all are living; and there is a spirit world all around us, on another dimension, another plane. Communion of saints occurs when there is a breakthrough between the worlds. The lesson this morning suggests a beautiful, comforting, encouraging image of heaven. Hebrews 12:1, We are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses. They are witnessing our actions. And, they are encouraging us to finish their work, work for God's kingdom. Picture a baseball game. It's a close game. You are up to bat. You glance up in the stands, and the stands are filled with witnesses, filled with saints, cheering you on. I see my grandpas and my grandmas, I see my dad, I see my mother, I see my aunt cheering, "You can do it! You can get a hit!" I felt their support when they were alive, I feel their support now.

Picture our church up to bat, praying, working, serving to do what God is calling us to do, to complete the work of our spiritual ancestors, to experience and share the love of Christ. Glance up into the stands. Look who's cheering us on. There is John Wesley, Charles Wesley, Martin Luther, St. Francis, the apostle Paul. Look again.

There is Dave Duncanson urging us to remember the poor, to build homes through Habitat for Humanity, to take care of this earth by recycling. Dave refused to give up. He never was too sick or too crippled to quit. He is encouraging us.

There is Mary Britton with her beautiful smile, her cheerful radiance and sense of humor.

There is Dick and Madolyn Zug. They were a team, and were deeply committed to our church. When they moved to Merced and joined our church, they were immediately asked to be youth leaders. Dick told me that over the years he served on every church committee. He certainly encouraged me when he was alive, and he's there now in the stands cheering us on.

Look, there is Margaret Ridge with her beautiful smile, encouraging us with her positive spirit. "They're all such lovely people," she's saying.

What a heritage we have been given! What a privilege you and I have been given to be in the company of the saints and to help fulfill their dreams. Therefore, writes the author of Hebrews, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith. (Hebrews 12:1-2)

© 1996 Douglas I. Norris