Week of Sept. 16: There is strength to be drawn from the cloud of witnesses


By Vicky and John Brantley
Lesson for week of Sept. 16
Scripture: Hebrews 12:1-11
 Lord, We are thankful for all those who have gone before us.  May we share the good news with everyone we meet.  Amen. 
 Mark Shultz has written a gospel song about the cloud of witnesses.  He sings, “Watched them running down the aisles - Children’s time, Sunday morning.  Preacher asks them who they love. They all smiled and started pointing to their mom, dad, teacher from their kindergarten class. Each and every one, have just become a cloud of witnesses that would see them through the years, cheer them with a smile. Pray them through the tears. Cloud of witnesses that would see them to the end. Shower them with love that never ends - A cloud of witnesses.” 
The image of a cloud of witness is intended to expand the context of our faith. While we might feel alone struggling through an illness, a failure or grief, the faith of those who have gone before continues to speak to us through hymns, lessons and memories if we will listen and learn.  In other words, the great cloud of witnesses are all those people who have lived before us - whether famous or not - who have lived lives of faith, worshipping God, following Jesus, leaving for us a rich spiritual legacy. Thinking about their lives, how they lived, what they lived for, and how they died, is an inspiration.  Their example shows us how to have that kind of faith and how to live it.
 Lay Aside Every Weight, and the Sin
 There is a difference between what weighs us down and our sins.  You are aware of what gets in the way and slows you from being a faithful follower.  As Eli Brayley suggests, it may be an overzealous work ethic, an unhealthy friendship, idle entertainment, or anything that drains our spiritual energy.  The weight of sin and other hindrances keep us from running the race.  Sin does not "so easily beset us" when we are free from the weights that restrict our maneuverability.
 There is a need to have a place to unload where we can “share each other’s woes and shed a sympathizing tear.”  If a congregation is strong enough for the members to feel safe enough to share their faith struggles and victories, they have a wonderful treasure that a church can share with its members and community, a safety net of vulnerability, giving real room to grow. One congregation had boxes of tissues on every pew. One might worry that they were too emotional in their worship. However, through their willingness to open the congregation’s prayers to the deep and heavy challenges that its members carried was a faith crucial to share the real life issues of its members in the context of worship.
 The Race Set Before Us
As individuals, we count on the cloud of witness to remind us that we are not alone in our faith journey.  Michael Phelps was able to break his gold medal barrier at these Olympics because his team gave him the lead to complete the race as the team’s anchor swimmer.  Schools of Business have discovered that students who become members of a team who depend on each other’s strengths excel individually.  The family, body, and team images that we use as a church remind us that we can depend on the experiences, strengths and perspectives of one another. For this we can be grateful.
 Give us this day our daily bread is a prayer to deal with what we have in the present, not being afraid of the potential of the future.  Someone has said, “the past is history; the future is mystery; now is a gift and that’s why we call it the present.”  We have a responsibility to face the challenges of our day not only to reach our goals, but also to set an example for those who do and will follow us.
 Looking to Jesus
How do we continue to be present as a cloud of witness for each other year after year? The goal and the method are one and the same. Drawing on the words of our membership vows, we can renew that the closer we grow toward Christ, the closer we journey with one another.  Jesus appealed to the disciples’ inner longing, a longing that is shared by every human being - the desire to make life count. As disciples responded to His call, he shaped each one’s talents, backgrounds, and experiences into a force for the gospel. He showed them who they were and gave them a vision of what they could become. Jesus not only showed them how to “do” ministry; he also took time to explain the “why” of ministry. He even gave them the mind-boggling promise that they would do even greater things than He had done
 Take Action: Write the prayer concerns of your class on a board with room around each name or need. Pass around Post-it notes to the class and have members write their own name on notes and then place the notes atop the specific prayers, as a way of visually claiming our commitment to prayer for each other’s needs during the week ahead.
 “To serve the present age, 
 my calling to fulfill: 
O may it all my powers engage
 to do my Master’s will!”  Hymn # 413 The United Methodist Hymnal