Celebrating with a Cloud of Witnesses
Lake Louise Tennant Chapel, September 2, 2012
Rev. Deborah Johnson
Scripture Reading: Hebrews 11:1-3, 8-16, 12:1-2
For me, one of the most reassuring sentences in scripture is from Hebrews 12:1-2, "Since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses." This is a scripture we can actually feel at Lake Louise. Whether in a cabin or lodge named for a saint who has gone before us, or a cottage where the memories of those who built it are so close, or walking the paths where we once walked with those we love, or worshipping in Tennant Chapel or Strong Chapel, the names of saints echo in our minds. The presence of those who've gone before us this year are still in our hearts as we remember them today.
"A saint," Peter Gomes of Harvard wrote before his death, "is one who reflects the sanctity of the God he or she serves; to be a saint in this sense is a sign not of perfection, but of fidelity." As we read through the biographies of those we remember today we see that fidelity, that faithfulness, to God, to Lake Louise Christian Community, to families, to their world. Those we honor and remember today were pastors, teachers, peace makers, pastoral spouses, well diggers and engineers, musicians, physical therapists, volunteers, camp staff, philanthropists. They represent what we are called to as children of God and followers of Jesus; to love God, to love neighbor and to be faithful.
Hebrews begins the listing of saints and their faithfulness to God but what I love most about this scripture is that it isn't finished yet. It includes those we named last year, those we name today and all of us gathered in worship. The faithful didn't end with the canonization of the Bible but we continue to be surrounded by an ever increasing cloud of witnesses. This morning we'll sing one of my favorite hymns, "I Sing a Song of the Saints of God". As I taught it to a children's choir in my home church and as I've sung it in every church I've served, the words reflect what we are about today. The verses speak, as scripture does, of those who were named Saints by the early and later Church, but, again, that is not the end. We're a part of it all, too. Listen to these words. "They lived not only in ages past; there are hundreds of thousands still. The world is bright with the joyous saints who love to do Jesus' will. You can meet them in school, on the street, in the store, in church, by the sea, in the house next door; they are saints of God, whether rich or poor, and I mean to be one too." Our faithfulness counts now and not just when we die.
By faith our ancestors built a camp and a community of cottages and by faith we keep building and welcoming new persons into Christian Community.
It was by faith as I came on the Lake Louise Board of Trustees and John Ross Thompson was our Board President that we began a process of looking at our mission, our vision and our core values.
It was by faith that we did a search for a new executive director and Vaughn Maatman came to us and led us into the future we had dreamed in our ministry and master plans. We built two lodges and did long needed repairs and remodeling and created a playground. We hired new staff and Myke, Terry, Tom and Rob created a place of hospitality for all of us.
Then it was by faith that when Vaughn moved to a new opportunity and we lost Terry to eternity, David Gladstone and Hillary Thurston-Cox came to join our team.
By faith the Saints of God pass cottages to family members and sell their cottages to new families and new faithful people come to live among us.
By faith new camps are created and new communities are formed in retreat settings and new trustees dream new dreams and see new visions.
The circle grows, the cloud of witnesses expands and the people of God called to be the Lake Louise Community persevere in the race set before us. Thanks be to God for the Saints who went before us, the ones we celebrate today and that God has called us into that company of the Saints of God. The Saints of God are just folks like us, and we mean to be ones, too.