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October 13, 2019

Sermon Hebrews 12:1 . . . “So great a cloud of witnesses”

“So great a cloud of witnesses”

Hebrews 12:1

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus.

Let me take you back, for a moment, fifty years, to the year 1969.  As you might expect, it was a very interesting year.

It began in January as Richard Nixon was sworn in as our 37th president and the Beatles gave their last public performance on a London rooftop.  Golda Meir of Milwaukee, Wisconsin became the first female prime minister of Israel, Charles De Gaulle stepped down as president of France, and after a long illness, our 34th president, Dwight D. Eisenhower, died and was laid to rest.

1969 was also a year of firsts--Dave Thomas opened his first restaurant in a former steakhouse in downtown Columbus, Ohio, naming it after his eight-year-old daughter, Wendy.  (Actually, Wendy is her nickname.  Her real name is Melinda Lou).  Scoobie Doo, Sesame Street, and The Brady Bunch all aired their very first episodes, the first ATM was installed in Rockville Centre, New York, the very first message was sent across the internet, and the Boeing 747 jumbo jet made its first passenger flight from Seattle to New York City.

1969 was the year of Woodstock, Charles Manson, Black Panthers, the Draft, and the Vietnam war.  

Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin of Apollo 11 walked on the moon in July, closely followed by the crew of Apollo 12, Charles Conrad and Allen Bean, in November.

If your names are Jennifer Aniston, Mariah Carey, Brett Favre, Matthew McConaughey, or Jay-Z, happy birthday!  You just turned fifty this year.

Also, back in 1969, you could buy a gallon of gas for 35 cents, a brand, new car for $3,270, and a brand, new house for $15,000 (weren’t those the days!)

And when Christmas came, if you were anything like me, you hoped to find beneath your tree gifts like, Lawn Jarts, Magic Rocks, an Easy-Bake Oven, Lite-Brite, Operation, Twister, Battleship, Rock ‘em Sock ‘em Robots, Spirograph, Concentration, Cootie, Tiddly Winks, or a Creepy Crawlers Thingmaker.  (If you’re under thirty, by the way, sorry if I’m speaking in a foreign language!)

1969 was a very good year!

And it was also the year that the good people of St. John’s in Shell Lake and Faith in Spooner chose to join together for worship in this very place.

Now as you can imagine, our church’s early years were, in the words of our historian Ellen Chase, “humble and difficult.”  She writes in her “History of Faith” that, in the late 1800s, Pastor Theodore Buenger, fresh from the seminary, first started work in the area between Hudson and Spooner, where he served twenty-nine churches scattered across twelve counties.  When he couldn’t come, members still walked some six to seven miles through a highway-less, swamp-dotted, mosquito-infested timberland for a “reading service.”  (That’s where a male worshiper who could read, would read a sermon).  In time, other pastors came like, Pastor Thormaehlen, Meier, Newman, Brandt, Ries, Norman, Mommsen, and Bittner.

Then in the early 1920s, Pastor John Wuebben, accompanied by his wife, came up from Indiana.  Their first child, Bob, was born on the way.

And after Sunday morning worship in Shell Lake, he went on, via his carriage and faithful horse, to lead worship at Spooner, Trego, Lampson, Hayward, Seeley, and Cable.  And if all went well, he made it back home to Shell Lake on Thursday.  Then on Sunday, he’d do it all over again.

Finally, fifty years and eight days ago today, on October 5th of 1969, after many meetings and countless prayers, under the guidance and direction of Pastor Harold Ross, the two churches of St. John’s in Shell Lake and Faith in Spooner agreed to merge.  And on that day in October, the two congregations left their former facilities, and dedicated this house of worship with the name “Faith Lutheran Church.”

And on that day, this is what they prayed:  “O eternal God, who dwelleth in the high and holy place, and with Him also that is of a contrite and humble spirit, we beseech Thee, graciously look upon us, and let us enter this Thy house with Thy blessing, through Jesus Christ, Thy Son, our Lord.  Amen”

And why did they gather Sunday after Sunday in this place?  Ellen writes:  “To remain true to the Gospel and proclaim it to the world...to serve God faithfully in everyday life through loving service to others, and...to seek Christian unity while maintaining a Lutheran identity.”

And she writes:  “Mutual encouragement is one of the great features of Christian fellowship.  When we come together, we each have something to give and something to gain.  Think of a lump of coal in the fire.  It burns and glows, but taken out of the fire and placed on the hearth, it soon goes out.  So if we wish ‘to maintain the spiritual glow,’ we need to gather together in fellowship and worship with other Christians.”

The Bible has a lot to say to us at such a time as this.  I’ll choose the words of Hebrews chapter 12.  Please turn in your Bible to page 1285.

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.”

If you know anything about the book of Hebrews, you know that, time after time, the writer points to Jesus as the Messiah, the One who was to come.  He wrote in chapter 1:  “Your throne, O God, is forever and ever,” and “The heavens are the work of Your hands.”  Chapter 7 says:  “He has no need...to offer sacrifices daily...since He did this once for all when He offered up Himself.”  And chapter 9:  “For if the blood of goats and bulls...purify flesh, how much more will the blood of Christ...purify our conscience...to serve the living God.”

Finally in chapter 11, we find the words:  “By faith Abel offered to God a more acceptable sacrifice than Cain...by faith Enoch was taken up so that he should not see death...by faith Noah constructed an ark...by faith Abraham went to live in the land of promise...by faith Sarah received power to conceive...by faith Moses refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, choosing rather to be mistreated with the people of God...by faith the people crossed the Red Sea as on dry land, and...by faith the walls of Jericho fell down.”

And he writes in verse 33:  “They stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, were made strong out of weakness, became mighty in war, and put foreign armies to flight.”  And verse 37:  “They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword.  They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated--of whom the world was not worthy--wandering about in deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth.”

It’s no wonder then that chapter 12 begins with the words, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us.”

It’s funny if you think about it.  It seems like most every sport, most every state, and even most every occupation has a hall of fame.  Think of Cooperstown, New York, the home of the National Baseball Hall of Fame.  Think of Canton, Ohio, the home of the Pro Football Hall of Fame.  And think of Springfield, Massachusetts, the home of the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.  

The streets of Hollywood have a Walk of Fame.  There’s a National Toy Hall of Fame, a Polka Hall of Fame, and a World Chess Hall of Fame.  And if you just don’t want to travel too far, you could always stop in at Hayward and visit the National Fresh Water Fishing Hall of Fame.

We don’t have a Hall of Fame here at Faith, but if we did, you can imagine some of the names that we’d find there.  Think of Arnold Hess.  Think of Mildred Taubman.  Think of Emily Engle.  Remember what she used to say?  “The Bible says it, I believe it, and that settles it.”  Think of Ruth and Rudy Kraemer.  Think of Irv and Eleanor Kuehn.  Think of Carl Brandenburg, Carl Gaulke, Jerry Hall, Andy Peterson, Howard Ambelang, and Wally Wuebben.  Sinners, yes, just like the rest of us.  But saints too, all by the grace of God.

So great a cloud of witnesses.

And over these fifty years, think of how this place has known more than its share of joy.  Fifty Christmases.  Fifty Good Fridays.  Fifty Easters.  And fifty celebrations of Pentecost.

Listen closely and you’ll hear the sound of trickling water, baptizing in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  See the altar with its gifts of Christ’s body and blood in, with, and under simple bread and wine.  Smell the smoke of a thousand candles.  Hear the words of law and gospel, sin and grace.

But these walls have known their share of heartache too.  Martin Hefter died and was buried at the ripe old age of 99, and so were Emil Lemke and Fred Zeller.  David Nelson and Elizabeth Washkuhn were barely newborn, Jerry Sexton was 1 month and 17 days old, Nathan Organ was 5, Isaiah Norton was 10, Josh Kasten was 20, Donna Eichhorn was 21, Susan Haremza was 22, Stephen Schrankel was 26, Allen Albee was 35, William Thompson was 37, Brad Kopping was 45, Tammie Swearingen was 48, Arthur Bradway, Donald Potter, and Lane Zeller were all 49, and Mary Sienko was 55.

So great a cloud of witnesses.

The story is told of a Persian king who arose from a poverty-stricken home to the glory of the royal throne.  But after he was crowned king, he sent his servants to the old shack where he was reared, with orders to gather every relic from his early, humble days.

When they got there, they found many broken toys, a patched shirt, a crude wooden bowl from which he ate, and many other worthless mementos of his childhood.  Then when they brought them all to him, he arranged them in a special room of his palace, and each day he spent an hour sitting among the reminders of his humble origin.  And on the wall above them, he hung a prayer entitled:  “Lest I Forget.”

We won’t forget, we can’t forget, all those who have come before us, who’ve sat in these very same pews, who’ve sung these very same hymns, and who’ve turned the pages of these very same Bibles.

And just like them, even we, after all these years, lay aside every weight and every sin that clings so close to us, to run the race that’s set before us--looking not to ourselves, but to Jesus, the One who founded and perfected our faith.  

Why?  Because He endured the cross, despised its shame, and now sits at the right hand of the throne of God.

 

With humble hearts, we come, dear Lord, to offer our heartfelt words and songs of thanksgiving and praise.  You have blessed us for these many years.  Bless us in all the years to come, for Jesus’ sake.  Amen

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