When you visit someone at the Holland Christian Home and are told to stay for lunch, you accept the invitation with gratitude. Those are just the rules. Recently I got to do just that. Now, I grew up in that area and spent much of my childhood visiting some of my aging family members in the Holland Christian Home. My great aunt and grandmother lived there years ago so I got familiar with a certain wing of the building. I knew which entrances would be open during what times so I could get to their rooms quicker. I knew what goodies would await me when I got there. I went to several memorial services in the little chapel there for people I've known through my church and Christian school community. I've known many of the staff. Yet with all my familiarity with the place, this was the first time I actually stayed for a meal. That is a very different experience. The dining room was filled with people from my childhood church who watched me grow up. While I was there functioning as a pastor, I quickly found myself remembering what it was like to be a kid growing up in the church. These were the grandparents of my friends and classmates. These were people that I knew prayed for my generation. I looked up to many of these men and women because of the ways they lived out their faith in Jesus. I couldn't help but feel like I was surrounded by "such a great cloud of witnesses" like Hebrews 12 talks about.
In the previous chapter, we get to remember the great heroes of the faith. Like Noah, Abraham, Moses, Rahab, David, and many other prophets, judges and even martyrs for the faith. These were people the following generations always looked up to. When the world looked one way, they followed the one true God. When life looked impossible, they trusted God anyways. They were faithful to God and passed their faith down to many generations after them. While the audience of Hebrews looks to those heroes of the faith, they do so as inspiration to keep being faithful in their own day.
"Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God." (Heb. 12:1-2)
Looking at our own church, we are blessed to have so many faithful witnesses of Jesus' Christ. We see immigrants who came to a new land and started a church right away. We see those who have endured great suffering draw closer to God. We see two, three, sometimes even four generations represented in worship. We see people who have poured out their lives in joyful service to God, their families, church and communities. We see people teaching the faith to the next generation of worshipers and making sure a faithful witness continues in our community. All of this is because of Jesus Christ. He's the one we fix our eyes on today. He's the one we pursue with all our hearts. And he's the one who gives us strength to continue "running the race marked out for us". By the grace of Jesus, may we continue to be that great cloud of witnesses today.