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That “Great Cloud of Witnesses” that CNN & FOX Never Covers!

“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 perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfector of our faith, . . .” (Hebrews 12:1-2a)

Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

With 24/7 news reports coming at us on the phone, TV, radio, and internet each and every day the faces and/or names of people from around the world become known to us. The leader of North Korea, the ongoing antics of our own politicians in Harrisburg and Washington, a drug bust in Boswell, a terrorist attack in Barcelona or Baghdad, . . .the list of incidents, names, and faces bombards us daily.  As a result we can quickly get negative news overload.  The result can sometimes be that we then become burdened by the “breaking news headlines” that cross our paths.  It can seem like darkness, confusion, and chaos has the upper hand.

The writer of Hebrews speaks of a great cloud of witnesses that surrounds us. Perhaps it would be well for our spiritual wellbeing if we knew the faces and the stories of these witnesses more than those that mass communications brings into our living rooms, cars, and minds each day.  You don’t find these faces and stories on the evening news or the 24/7 news cycles of FOX or CNN.  In fact most of the accounts of the life experiences of this great cloud of witnesses have never been published or made into a TV special.  But, for us as Christians their stories are preciously important giving us the Light in the midst of the world’s darkness.

Who are the faces in this great cloud of witnesses? Some are the faces of Christian grandmas and grandpas, parents, pastors, church school teachers, coworkers, neighbors, . . . who showed up in your life and made an impact by bringing the Light of Christ to us.  Maybe we didn’t see it at the time.  Maybe it took a few years for the Light to come on as to the great faith impact they made on us.  The faces in this great cloud of witnesses are also of men, women, and children who cross our paths every day.  Their names and faces do not appear in any headline or news report.  But, by their words and actions they bring the Light of God across our paths.  One such face I shared with you in a sermon this past month was of a male nurse in the dementia unit at Meadowview.  I do not know this young man’s name.  But, his caring, kind words and actions moving a group of residents with the soft touch of a mother hen brought a ray of God’s Light across my path one day this summer.  He was – he is – one of the great cloud of witnesses sharing his faith in his every day words and deeds.

However, in this great cloud of witnesses there are faces of Christian men and women down through the ages and around the world who have brought the Light of Christ into the darkness and impacted the lives of millions.  Often we don’t have the opportunity to hear their stories unless they are the “biggies” like Peter, Paul, Luther, or King.  But back in July on a Saturday afternoon here at FLC we had the rare privilege of hearing about some of the faces in this great cloud of witnesses that Hebrews is talking about.

It was the 175th Anniversary of the landing of Fr. John C. F. Heyer in India to begin his ministry as the first American Lutheran missionary to that country.  Among the guests at the service were a few Indians and some grown children of American missionaries who had served in India.  Anyone who attended this event had the special privilege of hearing the stories of some of the faces in this cloud of witnesses who by their words and actions shone out the Light of Christ.  Such as:

  • The great grandfather of organizer of this event. A member of the Dalilt (Untouchable) Caste that man became a Christian and a caregiver to Fr. Heyer. As Heyer traveled about it was this man who often went with him. He would build a sleeping platform for them above the dangers of the night and often stand guard at the base.
  • The missionary wife alone at the compound while her pastor/doctor husband far away the night a pregnant woman came for the delivery of her newborn child. The baby was born – a healthy daughter – and soon a large crowd of men gathered at the compound gate. Their intention was to kill the little girl because there was no need in their minds for another baby girl in the village. The missionary wife and her groundskeeper then held off the men. She was armed only with her trust in God and belief in the precious value of all life including that new born girl.
  • The Lutheran missionary who served for decades among Indian Moslems. Every Friday, the Moslem day of worship, he would make his rounds from village to village in order to do the Arabic readings of prayers and Koran readings for them. Their ministers could not read Arabic. He could so even though according to Moslem belief he was an infidel and never to hold or own a Koran himself, he quietly and faithfully served his Moslem neighbors.
  • The funeral for a Lutheran missionary doctor who died after many years of service. The day of his funeral there were many 100’s of people who came to show their respect for this man who had faithfully served them – Christian, Hindu, and Moslem. So many wanted to be pallbearers that a double line was formed and the casket was passed from person to person the whole way to the cemetery miles away!

We are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses whose words and actions have brought the Light of Jesus into the darkness of this world. FOX, CNN, radio, and newspaper rarely ever lift up their names and faces. But, it is important for us to hear their stories and see their faces – sometimes they cross our daily paths. For their witness gives us encouragement, strength, and guidance so that we too might shine the Light of Jesus out through our own daily words and deeds.

Watch out for this great cloud of witnesses! They are all around us! Thanks be to God!

Pastor Ed