pastorEric aug2014Sermon for 13th Pentecost -

That Great Cloud of Witnesses
By The Rev. Eric Christopher Shafer -


What is the old cliché?  “The only things certain in this life are death and taxes?” 
Well, that certainly is true about death and also true about taxes, at least for most of us.
However, I want to add two other certainties:  The only things certain for us as Christians in this life are God’s continued love for us and that we did not get where we are today on our own.
I got thinking about this because of today’s second lesson from Hebrews, a lesson which includes the words, “we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses.” 
I hope you will not mind my sharing again a story I shared two years ago on All Saints Sunday:
HGeorgeAnderson1Some years ago I had the privilege of accompanying then ELCA Presiding Bishop H. George Anderson on an ecumenical journey, Presiding Bishop Anderson’s first visit with the Roman Catholic Pope in Rome, the Orthodox Christian Patriarch in Istanbul, and the Anglican Archbishop of Canterbury in London.  As you can imagine, it was an amazing trip.  I could share lots of stories.
But the experience from that trip I am thinking of today happened while our delegation was in Rome.  Our hosts took us to visit the Catecombe San Calisto outside of the city.  There, 300,000 people, including early Christians and Christian martyrs from the first to the fourth century, had been buried in what are now empty crypts carved out of volcanic rock on four underground levels, each level with rows and rows of tombs stretching high up the wall.  And, nearly half of these tombs were for children.
Surprising, it was not a place that was cold or dark or one that felt closed-in.  Instead it was light, even airy, cool and open.  We saw the first use of well-known Christian symbols – the fish, the Chi-Rho, the anchor, the dove.  We gathered in one tomb and prayed and sang “The Church’s One Foundation.”
As we prayed and sang that day I was struck again with the thought that we, you and I, exist today only because of our forebears in the faith, that “great cloud of witnesses” spoken of by the writer of today’s lesson from Hebrews, those who have gone before us, known and unknown, who now rest with Jesus Christ.
It is said that the Christian faith is always just one generation away from extinction, that, unless we tell others about Jesus, our faith will die.  Those who came before us and told us of Jesus, they are part of that “great cloud of witnesses” in and for our lives.
I have thought about this a lot in recent weeks.  Celebrating 40 years in ministry has me thinking about all those who have been my own “great cloud of witnesses.”
I am here today because of Pastors Al Stott and Paul Howells and Sister Collette Brice and my father in the faith, Bishop Wilson Touhsaent.  They are the people who first pointed me towards ordained ministry and said, “You have gifts for ministry and you should consider this.”  And they also said, “I will help you on our journey.”
WithBettyAndPeggyI am here today because of Peggy Riegel and Betty Robbins, two members of my first congregation in Catasauqua, Pennsylvania.  Peggy and Betty, they made my ministry in Catasauqua whatever success that it was.
I could go on, Bishops who had the trust to call me onto their staffs and be my colleague in ministry, Bishops Weiss, Chilstrom, and, especially, H. George Anderson.
You see, none of us gets to where we are today on our own.  We all stand on the shoulders, so to speak, of the others who have come before us, just like those early Christians who were once buried in the catacombs outside of Rome.
I cannot help be reminded of this during this Presidential campaign as more than one candidate has claimed that he was a “self-made man.” 
Sorry, no one is a self-made man or woman.
I was reminded of this again this past week while I was in New Orleans helping out at the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America’s churchwide assembly, the every-three-year national gathering for our church.  So many of the others who are in my cloud of witnesses were there and I was reminded of so many others, including some now safe with Jesus.
And, I am reminded of this once again as we say “farewell” and “Godspeed” to our vicar Julie Kelly.  Julie has her own cloud of witnesses who have brought her to this day and soon will bring her to that day of first call and ordination. 
Vicar Julie spoke of the “cloud of witnesses” from her own life, family and friends and pastors who have encouraged her and stood up for and beside her in her journey to become a Lutheran pastor.  She noted that the members of Mt. Olive are now par to her “great cloud of witnesses.” 
As Julie has said, she is now part of our cloud of witnesses, too.
And, you all have your own cloud of witness in and for your life.  We are here because of them all.  We remember them today and many days, and give thanks for their presence in our lives.
So, today, think of the witnesses for faith in your life.  Thank God for them.  And, think of how you have been, already are, and can be witnesses to and for your faith for others.
I thank God for you all every day.  You who are part of this great cloud of witnesses we call the church.

The Rev. Eric Christopher Shafer
Senior Pastor - Mt. Olive Lutheran Church
Santa Monica, California

That Great Cloud of Witnesses
Sermon for 13th Pentecost
Written by Rev. Eric Christopher Shafer
August 13 & 14, 2016
Mt. Olive Lutheran, Santa Monica, California


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