Updated: Nov 14, 2019
Dear sisters and brothers in Christ,
There is an African idiom that says “A person is a person through other persons.”
Such a simple statement, and yet it holds such profound wisdom. It is through other people that I both came to be and continue to be. It is through other people that I have learned (as far as I am) to be compassionate, to be welcoming, and to love and delight in the differences in people and the connections that transcend them. Many of the people through whom I became me were part of the church and took their commitment to living their faith seriously.
Hebrews 11, often called the “Hall of Faith,” spends verse after verse retelling the history of the Hebrew people, listing people throughout the Old Testament who lived by faith. It concludes with these verses in chapter 12, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God.” (He 12:1-2).
These are some of my favorite verses in the Bible. I love the image of a “cloud of witnesses” surrounding us. The cloud of witnesses listed in Hebrews is part of our cloud of witnesses as well: Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Rahab, etc. To that list we can also add those the New Testament stories recount to us: Jesus, the disciples, Mary the mother of Jesus, Mary Magdalene, the Syrophoenician woman, the Roman Centurion, Paul, Lydia, and Timothy, just to name a few.
Even more incredible, however, is that our cloud of witnesses does not stop there. This list of people who lived by faith extends through two thousand more years, with people throughout the ages who continue to reach forward and touch us - the early Christian church, the martyrs persecuted in the Colosseum, the Middle Ages, the mystics, those throughout the Protestant Reformation and Counter Reformation, and especially those who began the Methodist movement.
Our lists continue on, with the names of the people who have touched us personally in our own time and space. For me, those people include many names of family, of friends, of teachers, of pastors, of church members, of students, of immigrants, and even those who I cannot name, but whose smile, whose kind action, whose lives and stories came at such a needed time that they impacted me more than they can know.
These people are in my cloud of witnesses. All of them - Old Testament onward.
We all carry people around with us. People through whom we became who we are. The witnesses, the saints, without whom, our lives might be quite different. This November, in the month of gratitude, I invite you to reflect on the people who make up your cloud of witnesses. The people who you became a person through. And even, to reflect on the people who make up the cloud of witnesses surrounding University UMC. As your new pastor, I want to learn your history. I want to hear every rich story you all have to share - stories of this church, of what it means to you, of your hopes and dreams, of your challenges and frustrations, and stories from your own lives that help me get to know you. I invite you to share with me!
As we begin ministry together, I want you to know that I am very excited to get to know you all - a new cloud of witnesses, new saints of the Christian church, people who I am sure will become a wonderful part of my life story.
Today I especially give thanks for those through whom I became me, and those through whom you all became the church community and the people that you are. Thanks be to God!