a great cloud of witnesses…

I have been spoiled – I admit it.

My interest in music was pretty intense in high school –

enough that I wanted to make a career of it as a teacher –

so away to the University of Western Ontario –

The school of music there was the one place in that university

that didn’t insist on putting students through a general first year

(where you could experience a broad range of classes)

For us, it was all music, all the time.  So I was spoiled.

Surrounded by immense talent  –  access to world class instruction –

people humming Mozart in the hallways, singing snatches of opera on city busses – it was fantastic…

but it didn’t do anything for my teaching ambitions.

These were really talented people – highly accomplished musicians –

some of them had been studying since music they could walk

I was simply a music lover who played the saxophone.  I lasted two years.

 

For a long time I told this story as a failure story –

the only good thing that came from my time at Western was my lovely wife.

But the sense of failure (in terms of my educational goals) is not the key to my story any longer.

I wish I could tell you that my faith is what made the difference –

sure, it made a difference, but it is gradual, and still evolving –

for the most part, time has changed how I remember what happened at school;

but today’s reading from Hebrews has caused me to think again about the failures of my past.

 

Chapter 11 in the book of Hebrews is famous for its list of the faithful heroes –

Noah – Abraham – Moses – All the heavy hitters;

the author admits that time will not allow him to tell all the stories of all the faithful –

point made; we exist within a great tradition of faith.

But then he begins to describe what makes them faithful – perseverance (yes),

but also a list of the disastrous consequences of waiting on the promises of God –

some might call them failures.

They were beaten, tortured, mocked, maimed – it’s not a pleasant picture –

but still they are urging us on; their example is meant to inspire us.

Are you inspired yet?

A litany of failure – a list of people who, though they were faithful,

and though they suffered for their faith, failed to see/experience the promise of faith.

What is often described as a list of ‘heroes of the faith’ is also a reality check for us.

It is a great cloud of witnesses – but it is their struggles

and (sometimes) their failure that serves as witness.

 

The thing to remember is that although the author of Hebrews suggests

that past failures are part of God’s planned perfection

(and that his current audience is a necessary part of that perfection[1]),

which suggests that even our failures tell the story of God’s promise of grace

Jesus is THE perfector of our faith,

but the promise is incomplete without the struggles, the doubt

and the generations of the frustrated faithful that make up that great cloud of witnesses.

 

 

 

What does that suggest to you, as you struggle today?

What does that mean for a church whose future is uncertain?

What does it do to our definitions of failure and success as the gathered people of God???

 

I’m trying to avoid clichés like “only time will tell”

but time is the thing that turns “failure” into “learning experience”, or disaster into triumph –

not just because our memories fail,

but because we are constantly being formed by our experiences;

moulded and shaped into people of the promise in every living moment.

 

So our near misses and struggles will continue to speak to us –

Part of that vast cloud of witness –

and if we listen, we will hear the truth proclaimed, and the promise made real,

for we endure  these struggles with one belief –

that the life, death and resurrection of Jesus the Christ

symbolizes the end of all struggle, and the beginning of something new – something wonderful.

Encouraged by generations who understand our difficulties –

people ancient and modern who lived only for hope,

and who endured much for the sake of their faith

and led by Jesus through our failures

to the joyful understanding of what it is

to be loved by God; to be failures no more.

 


[1] Hebrews 11:40

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