"A Great Cloud of Witnesses"

On this All Saint's Day, our scripture reading from Revelation speaks of the great throng of those who have passed through tribulation on earth and now rest peacefully in heaven. Having praised God during their earthly lives, they now praise God forever.

The vision offered by our scripture reading today urges us to look upon that great cloud of witnesses, from every tribe and from every nation, to note their triumph and to marvel at how many saints there are.

On this All Saint's Day we give thanks to God for all those who have nurtured us and guided us in faith through the years, knowing we wouldn't be here today without the saints.

And saints are not just those given official sainthood titles by some church tradition. Saints are our loved ones, our friends, all of those who have gone before us, those who have died in the faith, those who paved the way for us to receive the greatest gift of all, the gift of Jesus Christ.

In this day and age people often times accuse the church of being old fashion because we celebrate days like today when we remember the saints.

To some degree you can see their point, after all our music isn't typically ranked in the Top 10 on the Pop Charts. Pastors like me dress in fashion accessories viewed as old fashion; a robe, a clerical collar, a cincture, a cross, rather then a golf shirt and shorts.

And of course we continue to hold onto the Bible, a very old book, with its old words, and some say its old ideas. Some insist that this Holy Book can't be relevant anymore because it's so old.

Our culture today is more progressive, more intelligent, more self-assured, more hip, and more with it, we don't need such an old book some would say.

And it is true sometimes, sadly, that our traditions get the best of us especially when we worship our traditions instead of using our traditions as a way to experience God, and as a way to give us new perspectives on addressing the needs of this world.

Because we the church aren't seen as relevant today many churches are closing their doors instead of opening new ones.

But I argue that churches are closing their doors, not because the Gospel isn't relevant or because some prefer traditional experiences versus the more progressive, or contemporary. The Gospel is as relevant today as it was 2000 years ago.

There is not one thing in the Bible that doesn't have application in our lives today, not one thing. It all applies. Our task is to show others just how it does.

Age and tradition are not a measure of relevancy, application is. We need to teach and show people how to apply the Gospel in today's world, realizing today's contemporary applications of the Gospel are tomorrow's traditions.

It's ironic that without exception every wedding I have officiated, including yesterday's, when given the choice of a traditional wedding service with traditional vows, or a more modern wedding service with more modern vows, the bride and groom have said we want the more traditional wedding. They also have wanted their weddings in a traditional setting. And these are adults in their early twenties for the most part.

This tells me tradition is important and must not be lost, as long as the tradition relates to something people believe in and find relevant to their lives.

Traditions anchor us. Without an anchor we would be floating all over the place. Getting rid of traditions simply because they are viewed as old is like throwing the baby out with the bath water.

Many of you have family traditions you hold on to. Traditions, which have been passed down to you, traditions you hope to pass down to others.

Unfortunately many think the answer to Gospel or church relevancy is to provide a more contemporary worship setting. And I do appreciate and enjoy contemporary worship and see it as a new tradition being developed.

But in the long run worship style is not the answer, it's only a means. The church, whether defined as traditional or contemporary, is only relevant when it "keeps the main thing the main thing," and the main thing is a clear focus on Jesus Christ and showing others how a relationship with Jesus will lead to a better life today and forever.

When the focus of the church leaves Jesus and becomes about those on a platform preaching, singing, dancing, and so on, the future of the church is short-lived and irrelevant.

It doesn't matter whether the worship experience is called traditional, contemporary, or blended. Any church regardless of style of worship can fall into the trap of becoming irrelevant.

The problem with lack of relevancy comes when the true intent of the heart is no longer to worship and serve God, but becomes about entertainment, buildings, and doing our own thing.

Last week many of you probably received an advertisement from a church in Frederick. They offer anyone a $10 coupon to Outback Steakhouse if they attend their worship service. This is appalling!

What is the focus of this church, or any others, that find it necessary to use gimmicks to lure people into their building? In my mind they are saying the truth is not enough to stand on.

I have to question the faith and motivation of any individual or institution, which feels the truth of God in Jesus Christ is not sufficient enough on its own.

Isn't the good news of a better life, a more joyful existence, life eternal, life with Christ better then a one-time steak dinner? Why aren't we proclaiming this truth instead of the goodness of a medium-rare steak?

When we turn the church into a secular-oriented, manipulative, consumer-driven institution we are no longer relevant, and when people become aware of these heretical games they turn away from the church saying, "the church is nothing more then a mirror of the society I'm struggling with and want to be freed from."

We as the church need to be different. As an example I want to be visibly seen as a Christian Pastor. I want people to know what I stand for. I'm proud of my calling. I'm not interested in blending in with the crowd so they feel more comfortable, warm and fuzzy. I want to be different, and I am different because I am a Christian. And I want to show and tell all who will listen how the 2000-year old Gospel is as relevant today as it was then, regardless of how traditional I might be or dress.

We need days like today, we need to be grounded, and we need to be reminded of who we are as Christians, and from where we have come.

And to this end today we celebrate and give God thanks for the saints who have walked the way of faith before us; those that helped us grow in faith.

In many ways, every Sunday is all saints isn't it? Whenever we sing a hymn or praise song, read from scripture, even pray or preach, we are doing so with the saints.

And I don't know about you, but when I hear certain hymns, praise songs, or read certain scriptures I remember someone from my past, someone who had a faith impact on me.

We are dependent on those who have gone before us to give us the words, tell us the stories, and teach us the tunes whereby we praise God, grow in our faith and commitment, and find the way that leads us to Christ.

I wonder after we leave this earth if our children, grandchildren, friends, or neighbors will call us saints. Are we passing down the faith stories and traditions of our time, helping others relate a 2000-year old truth to their lives today? Are we worthy of sainthood?

Today's scripture reading from Revelation speaks of heaven as a great multitude so large that no one could count them. That's why I love the image of a great cloud of witnesses. Every time I look up into the sky and see big white puffy cumulous clouds I think of the saints, all of those we will enjoy communion with.

The saints are those who, having sung God's songs on earth in their lifetimes, now sing those songs before the throne of Jesus for all time. When asked, "Who are these?" John is told that they are the ones who passed through great ordeals and yet were faithful.

They kept believing, and hoping, witnessing, and giving, even when the going got rough. Now they rest from their labors. Now they are in the presence of the great shepherd who wipes away all tears, and guides them to the waters of eternal life.

Note that these saints, robed in white are in a great processional, a great parade moving around the throne of God. You and I today are part of that long, more than 2000-year old processional moving toward the lamb. The saints are those who walk before us, those who show us the way.

I know I wouldn't be here today if it weren't for those saints who put up with me in Sunday School and told me the stories of Jesus, those saints who taught my confirmation class and guided me when I was confused, and those saints who put there arms around me when I wanted to give up.

I'm thinking of a great cloud of witnesses I couldn't possibly name today. And I expect that you're also thinking about the people who put you here today, the saints who nurtured you in faith and to whom you owe your commitment to Christ.

Yes, we need days like today to remind us of who we are. To remind us we are created in the very image of God, to remind us we are God's children, and to remind us that Jesus Christ is as relevant today as he was when he walked on this earth.

Today is the day we give thanks for the saints, all of them, and acknowledge our indebtedness to them. Today we give thanks for the saints who now surround the throne of Jesus Christ.


Read other messages by Pastor Wade