Don’t Worry; Be Grateful: Thoughts on giving thanks .

Don’t Worry; Be Grateful

Matthew 6: 25-34

25 ‘Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? 26Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? 27And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? 28And why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, 29yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. 30But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? 31Therefore do not worry, saying, “What will we eat?” or “What will we drink?” or “What will we wear?” 32For it is the Gentiles who strive for all these things; and indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. 33But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.

34 ‘So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today.

Philippians 4: 4-7

4 Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. 5Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. 6Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

In 1939, the British government created a department called the Ministry of Information.

Its primary function was to create morale boosting propaganda to encourage the British people faced with the outbreak of WWII.

The MOI created a poster that has become a popular modern meme.

The poster simply said:

“Keep Calm and Carry On.”

Now, I want you to think about that for a moment.

Your country is at war with an enemy 21 miles away across the Straits of Dover.

Their goal is to conquer your country.

Keep calm and carry on?

Good advice, perhaps, but doable?

Stiff upper lip and all that?

Here is a bit of trivia that might surprise you.

That poster was never used.

Maybe because the MOI realized that “keep calm and carry on” was contrary to human nature and really not very inspiring.

This reminded me of Bobby McFerrin’s song “Don’t Worry, Be Happy.”

You know how it goes.

Here’s a little song I wrote
You might want to sing it note for note
Don’t worry, be happy
In every life we have some trouble
When you worry you make it double
Don’t worry, be happy

Good advice, maybe, but doable?

Like the British Ministry of Information poster, I think this song is contrary to human nature and just not very helpful.

Because frankly, it’s normal and healthy to worry a bit, right?

I mean worry is a word with many connotations.

It includes everything from concern over a planned dinner party to an anxiety disorder that requires medication.

It can cause a bit of a bad mood or it can cause major depression.

And there are difficult times in our lives that we simply cannot overcome by keeping calm and being happy.

So, saying things like “keep calm and carry on” or “don’t worry, be happy” might be instructive when we are concerned with the Thanksgiving menu, but are not really all that meaningful to someone facing an enemy at its shores or a personal crisis or an anxiety disorder or major depression.

To tell someone who is experiencing a serious illness or job loss or some other life changing time to keep calm or be happy can be downright insulting.

But when we read today’s scripture texts, doesn’t it sound like we are being told that when faced with any of these things we are to start singing McFerrin’s song or put on our t-shirt that says, “Keep Calm and Play the Trombone”?

That would be incorrect.

To understand what Jesus is saying we need to first understand its context.

Jesus is preaching his Sermon on the Mount.

Just before our text, Jesus is talking about where we should store our “treasures”.

His preference?

In heaven, where it cannot be taken away.

What is the treasure Jesus says we should not be worried about?

The stuff we think we need that … well … we already have!

That is what Paul is saying, too.

Paul is telling the Philippians that God provides for all our true needs and that we should be thankful for it.

When we read these words we are called to change the orientation of how we approach worrisome things in our lives.

It’s not “Don’t worry, be happy”.

It should be, “Don’t worry, be grateful”.

So, let’s break that down.

First, we need to look at the Greek word we translate as “worry”.

That word is merimnao.

That word means to be so anxious about a particular thing that you become distracted from what is really important.


Jesus and Paul make a subtle distinction between the normal cares of life that must be attended to and an obsessive concern for more of what we already have.

It is normal to care about some things.

Here is what I mean.

I am the Chair of the Board of Baptist Homes Society.

I meet with the Residents Council from time to time to hear about their concerns and requests.

Recently, I was told that the residents wanted an ap for their phones that would tell them with a touch of the screen what was going on that day.

One of the residents described why he wanted such a thing.

“When I wake up in the morning, I want to know three things. What am I doing? What am I eating? And what am I wearing (which is often determined by the first two questions)?”

I thought about that for a moment and realized that this is the kind of thing we all do, right?

Maybe these are the most important things that are on our minds each morning.

Maybe this is a list or things we do in our lives generally.

What are we doing?

What are we eating?

What are we wearing?

Which is what Jesus talks about in our Gospel text.

While it is normal and appropriate to care about what we will eat, wear and do, we should not allow ourselves to be over concerned to the point we don’t notice what we already have.

Things that God has already provided.

Things that we should be grateful for.

And these days, we really do take for granted many things we should be grateful for.

And its more than food, water and clothing.

I listened to a TED Talk a while ago given by Brother David Steindl-Rast called simply “gratitude”.

I listened to it again this week.

Brother David’s philosophy of life is that we need to find gratitude in every moment.

But to do that, we need to stop and look for it.

And notice the things we should be grateful for but overlook because we take them for granted or are anxious about something else.

Brother David described how he came to this conclusion:

When I was in Africa some years ago and then came back, I noticed water. In Africa where I was, I didn’t have drinkable water. Every time I turned on the faucet, I was overwhelmed. Every time I clicked on the light, I was so grateful. It made me so happy. But after a while, this wears off. So I put little stickers on the light switch and on the water faucet, and every time I turned it on, water. 

Think about that for a moment.

How many things should we put little stickers on to remind us to notice the things we should be grateful for.

Brother David’s remarks rang true to me.

Twenty-three years ago, my son AJ and I went on a kayaking trip with his Boy Scout Troop.

We spent a hot summer week kayaking up the intercostal waters between Chincoteague Island and the Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge.

We were required to pack into our kayaks everything we would need to eat and drink and wear and sleep in for the week.

It was pretty primitive.

The food we ate was all stuff that needed no refrigeration.

The water we drank was contained in five-gallon jugs.

The only other water available was the warm tidal saltwater surrounding us.

Everything we ate and drank was rationed.

Personal hygiene was a casualty.

Bathing in the saltwater was counterproductive.

Basically, we just brushed our teeth.

At night the only light we had was from the fires we built or our flashlights.

Oh, yeah.

No toilets.

One night, two of us paddled for a couple hours to a habited spot with a small store.

We bought a case of Coke and a couple watermelons for the boys.

When we got back, you would have thought we brought a king’s feast.

On our last night, we were camped in a public park that offered showers – cold showers.

The next day we headed home.

When AJ and I got home, I immediately got in the hot shower and stayed there for a long time.

I shampooed and scrubbed and shaved and even put cream rinse in my hair!

Then we ordered pizza.

We watched a bit of television.

Then I got into my comfortable bed with dry clean sheets.

The light was on so I could read a bit before sleep.

It was when I listened to Brother David that I realized how much I took for granted the simple things that made my life comfortable.

Even happy.

A case of Coke.


Like the ability to bathe.

The availability of drinkable water.



A clean comfortable bed.



Why is gratitude so important?

According to Psychology Today:

  • Gratitude opens the door to more relationships.
  • Gratitude improves physical health.
  • Gratitude improves psychological health.
  • Gratitude enhances empathy and reduces aggression.
  • Grateful people sleep better.
  • Gratitude improves self-esteem.
  • Gratitude increases mental strength.

So those are some pretty good reasons, right?

It’s like that practice I talked about a while back.

Three good things.

Every night before you go to bed, write down three things that you are grateful for that day.

That practice reorients your mind.

It makes us notice things that we otherwise might not.

Things we should be grateful for.

And it is good for us.

Both Paul and Jesus would agree.

Which is a more profound reason to notice the things we should be grateful for.

It is what Jesus says on our text this morning.

And it is also what Paul is telling the Philippians.

If we are going to be grateful … well … grateful to who?

Jesus puts it this way:

Seek God first, because God is the source of all the rest that you already have.

Paul puts it this way:

Rejoice and give thanks to God.

And that gives us the peace of Christ.

Jesus and Paul are saying that we miss the point of life if we focus solely on getting more of what we already are being given by God.

Life is more than that.

We are called to a higher purpose.

We are called to be in a relationship with God.

We are called to be grateful to God.

We are called to notice God.

And when we notice God, we don’t need to be overanxious.

We can be thankful.

And then we can live with a new orientation.

It’s good for us!

It really takes me back to what I talked about in the sermon on the 23rd Psalm.

God cares for us.

God provides for us.

God protects us.

God takes us to Godself.

God is with us.

And because of that, we can say:

Don’t worry, be grateful.

This Week at John McMillan Presbyterian Church (November 24, 2019)

In the old movie Starting Over with Burt Reynolds and Jill Clayburgh, the two meet in a store. Clayburgh suffers an anxiety attack. Reynolds tries to calm her down as a large crowd gathers. Finally, Reynolds yells, “Quick, does anyone have a valium?” Everyone in the crowd reaches into their pockets of purses to get one for him. It is a funny scene. That is the world we live in right now. A world of anxiety. And I think I know why. Every day we are told that there are new things to worry about. Those things we worried about yesterday? Old news. Today’s coming disasters are much worse. And wait until tomorrow! Usually these prophets of doom are telling us to spend money on something that will eliminate the worry. Look at all the ads for medications. We did not know we needed them, until we saw the ad. Now we have all the symptoms. Gotta call the doctor! Gotta get a prescription!

In the Gospel of Matthew, we hear Jesus tell us “Don’t worry! Not about what you will eat, drink or wear.” Paul tells the Philippians in his letter to them that we should not worry about anything! Really? How do we do that? Well, we need to understand what Jesus and Paul are talking about and it is not quite what you think. It’s really about gratitude. Come and hear about it this Sunday at John McMillan Presbyterian Church when Pastor Jeff preaches, “Don’t Worry, Be Grateful” based on Matthew 6: 25-34 and Philippians 4: 4-7. We will look forward to seeing you at 8:30 or 11!

An Attitude of Gratitude: Thoughts on the 23rd Psalm and its message of trust and thanks.

An Attitude of Gratitude

Because November is the month where we celebrate Thanksgiving, Matt and I are preaching about gratitude.

Last week, we were grateful for all the saints who came before us and passed along their faith and trust in God.

This week, we will think about another presence in our lives for which we should be grateful.


And the best scripture passage I could think of for this was the 23rd Psalm.

Have you ever noticed that we almost never refer to is as Psalm 23?

It’s always the “23rd” and everyone know what that means.

The 23rd Psalm is the best-known passage of scripture … ever!

Way back in ancient times I went through Confirmation at Pleasant Hills Community Church.

I have to confess I remember almost nothing about it.

The one thing I do remember was that I was required to memorize and recite the “23rd Psalm”.

I am sure many here had to do that or did it on your own just because it is so … well … comforting.

Even folks who are not church people probably can recite it verbatim, and in the King James Version to boot!

So today for a change, I want us to read our scripture passage in unison.

Recite it from memory or pull out a Bible.

Whichever version you like.

Psalm 23

A Psalm of David.
1 The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.
2   He makes me lie down in green pastures;
he leads me beside still waters;
3   he restores my soul.
He leads me in right paths
   for his name’s sake.
4 Even though I walk through the darkest valley,
   I fear no evil;
for you are with me;
   your rod and your staff—
   they comfort me.
5 You prepare a table before me
   in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil;
   my cup overflows.
6 Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
   all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord
   my whole life long.

One of the difficulties with really familiar scripture passages is that we tend to just recite words while giving little thought to what the words really say.

Hymns are like that.

We sing the words but don’t actually pay attention to what they say and mean.

I can’t tell you haw many times I am asked what the heck an ebeneezer is after we sing “Come Now Font of Every Blessing”.

What about that cleft in the rock from the hymn “Rock of Ages”?

Anyone ever wonder what that’s about?

That is one of the problems with the 23rd.

We are so familiar with it that we really don’t think about what the words mean.

And understanding what the words means is not an easy task.

All the Psalms are antient Hebrew poetry written in a dead language and are full of metaphors, similes, exaggerations, repetition, and archaic idioms.

The Psalms are hard to translate.

They are even harder to interpret.

The 23rd is no different.

Here is an example.

Many people think the 23rd is a Psalm for funerals.

People think that because many translations talk about the shadow of death and dwelling with God forever.

Others think it is a lament.

A lament is a plea to God to be saved from difficulty.

The difficulty being that dark place where evil is found.

But I don’t think either of those things is what the 23rd is about.

I think the 23rd is about faith and gratitude.

The faith and gratitude of the Psalmist.

But when we recited it a few moments ago, we were applying it to ourselves.

So, what was it we were saying?

The 23rd opens with an important metaphor.

The Lord is “my shepherd”, says the Psalmist.

This is pretty intimate.

There is relationship between the God of all creation and me.

What is that relationship?

Well, God is a shepherd.

What does a shepherd do?

A shepherd takes care of the sheep.

And if God is my shepherd, that makes me one of God’s sheep.

That is my relationship with God.

God takes care of me because God is my shepherd and I am one of God’s sheep.

And because God takes care of me, I shall not want.


I mean I can want many things.

That word “want” reminds me of something funny someone said to me, at least I think it was supposed to be funny.

“I’m not a needy person. I’m a wanty person.”

If we are “wanty” people, the 23rd might sound like a prosperity gospel meme that means God gives us everything we want.

But that is not what the Psalmist is talking about.

The idea is that the shepherd will make sure we have access to everything we need.

Maybe that’s what Mick Jaggar means when he sings “You can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometimes, you just might find, you get what you need.”

You need something?

The shepherd will make it available.

But it is the shepherd who decides what it is you need.

What needs does the Psalmist say the shepherd supplies?

There is a list:

Green pastures.

A place where we can be fed.

Still waters.

A place where you can find rest.

A place where we will be restored, fed, rested and refreshed.

How does the shepherd to this?

The shepherd leads us there.

And the shepherd knows the way.

The right way.

The safe way.

It’s the way of the Lord.

And God the shepherd does this because God has promised to do it.

God staked God’s name on it.

The opening words of the 23rd might be the most powerful statement of faith in the Bible.

God provides sustenance, rest, restoration.

Everything we need.

We trust that God will do these things.

And when we are done with these words, don’t we want to insert, “Thanks be to God”?

I do.

But then the Psalmist takes an interesting turn.

Just a minute ago, we were in green pastures by still waters getting fed, rested and restored.

Now, where are we?

We are walking in a really dark place.

The darkest valley in the NRSV.

The valley of the shadow of death in other translations.

Either way it’s a dark place.

A place where evil is found.

How did we get there?

That is just what the world throws at us from time to time as we live our lives as we follow the shepherd from place to place.

But even when we are there, we need be not fear any evil.


Here is where the 23rd is most powerful.

Right here in the middle we find the true meaning of the Psalm.

The true confession of faith.

The true reason for thanks.

“[F]or you are with me”.

For the shepherd is with us even in those times.

There are some folks here who are in one of those dark places right now.

The 23rd should give you those words of comfort.

“God is with me”.

Make that your mantra.

God is ever present.

Always there.

Leading you.

Protecting you.

Guarding you.

With rod and staff.

I like that image.

The staff was to direct the sheep to make sure they stayed on the safe path.

I have this image of that.

I had a friend who told me that as a little girl she entered her pet pig into a pig goading contest.

The object of the contest was to lead the pig through a maze by goading it with a stick.

She would tickle the pig’s ears or nudge its rear end to make the pig turn the corners and get through the maze.

She did not whip the pig, she guided it.

Once out the other side, the pig got some food.

And maybe she got a prize.

That is the shepherd’s staff.

The shepherd’s rod, on the other hand was a weapon used for protection of the sheep.

A rod is a thick stick with a big heavy ball on the end.

The rod was not used on the sheep.

If a wild animal went for one of the sheep, the shepherd would take the rod and beat the predator away.

That’s what God does for us.

So, God should be comforting, right?

Not frightening.

As I heard one preacher put it, the Psalm does not say, “Thy rod and thy staff, they beat me!”

God guides us on the right path and keeps us safe.

And again, aren’t we compelled to add, “Thanks be to God?”

I think so.

Now the Psalmist gives other reasons for thanks and trust.

God is no longer a shepherd, but a dinner host.

A dinner host who brings us food while in the presence of enemies.

The one’s who besiege us on a daily basis it often seems.

I have an image of God standing between the wolves and the sheep, keeping the wolves away while feeding the sheep.

Maybe pouring oil on wounds acquired along the way.

And there is more than enough food and water.

Enough to survive the siege.

Don’t we want to add, “Thanks be to God?”

And now the Psalmist turns to hope.

Because God is good and loving and caring, God follows us.

But a better translation is that God pursues us.

Why is that important?

Because even though God provides for and protects us, sometimes we wander off, right?

And when we wander off the safe path, we want the shepherd to pursue us, right?

To come and save us and put us back on the safe path, right?

And we want that pursuit to keep going for as long as we live, right?

That is what God does.

God pursues.

Which should be comforting to those who know folks who have wandered off the path.

Or have never been on the path.

Know this.

God pursues them.

All the days of their lives.

And when we get to the end of our shepherd guided journey, where will we be?

In the dwelling of the Lord.

With God.

In God’s presence.

For how long?

The Hebrew words used to answer that question can mean many things: perpetually; the length of my days; for all time; forever; my whole life long.

Regardless, the main point is that at the end of our journey through life, with God feeding us, resting us, restoring us, leading us, protecting us, pursuing us, we end up in the dwelling of God.

The Psalmist does not describe what that is like, but Jesus does.


So, the 23rd is comforting.

It’s kind of describes the journey of our lives with confidence and trust and faith that God will be with us.

And so, we should add again, “Thanks be to God!”.

But we are New Testament people, aren’t we?

Does this Psalm speak to us?

You bet.

Listen to Jesus:

John 10

‘I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. …

27My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me. 28I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one will snatch them out of my hand. 29What my Father has given me is greater than all else, and no one can snatch it out of the Father’s hand.

Did Jesus have the 23rd in mind?

No doubt.

Was he equating himself with “the Lord”?

You bet!

The shepherd?


Was Jesus saying we are his sheep?


If we hear his voice and follow him, Jesus leads us to sustenance, rest, safe paths and protects us from evil, he pursues us and takes us into God’s presence.

That is a reason for thanksgiving!

That is a reason for gratitude.

An attitude of gratitude!

For green pastures.

Still waters.

Life restoration.






And for that, like the Psalmist, we should have faith and gratitude.

For God is with us all along the way!

Which brings me to Thanksgiving.

When you are sitting down to Thanksgiving dinner, maybe you should recite the 23rd.

1 The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.
2   He makes me lie down in green pastures;
he leads me beside still waters;
3   he restores my soul.
He leads me in right paths
   for his name’s sake.

Thanks be to God

4 Even though I walk through the darkest valley,
   I fear no evil;
for you are with me;
   your rod and your staff—
   they comfort me.

Thanks be to God!

5 You prepare a table before me
   in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil;
   my cup overflows.

Thanks be to God!

6 Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
   all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord
   my whole life long.

Thanks be to God.

This week at John McMillan Presbyterian Church (November 10, 2019)

If someone were to ask you what the most well-known passage in the Bible is, I would venture that most, if not all, would say the 23rd Psalm. It is a passage that is well known even to those who might surprise you. Verse 4 of Psalm 23 opens rapper Coolio’s hit song, “Gangsta’s Paradise” and is heard in Kanye West’s song “Jesus Walks”, both using it to describe urban violence as the valley of death they walk through. The entire Psalm opens Clint Eastwood’s movie “Pale Rider” as a prayer from a young girl whose dog has been killed by local thugs to … well … demand God do what the Psalm seems to promise. (It works, because Clint Eastwood shows up immediately and uses his rod and staff to bring a little mayhem down on the evil people in the town.) It is also in a scene from the 1953 movie “War of the Worlds” when the local pastor walks toward the attacking Martians with Bible raised while reciting the Psalm. (It did not work so well for him because he gets incinerated by the Martian death ray.) It was used in an old Gunsmoke episode where a dying man asked a criminal disguised as a preacher for “the 23rd” to comfort him as he lay dying. (Doc had to tell the criminal what to read and where to find it, but when he read it, the dying man was comforted.). Psalm 23 is also the most commonly requested scripture reading for funerals. I think that is true mainly because it is the one scripture passage everyone knows. Everyone knows it because it has been heard so often. But familiarity can prevent us from understanding what Psalm 23 is about. Why does Psalm 23 have such power? Come and hear about it this Sunday, November 10, 2019, at 8:30 and 11 when Pastor Jeff preaches, “An Attitude of Gratitude” based on Psalm 23. Come and be comforted and give thanks. We will look forward to seeing you.

Cloud of Witnesses: Thoughts on the Saints who gave us our trust in God on All Saints’ Sunday

Cloud of Witnesses

Hebrews 11: 1-3; 8-13; 12: 1-3

11Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. 2Indeed, by faith our ancestors received approval. 3By faith we understand that the worlds were prepared by the word of God, so that what is seen was made from things that are not visible. …

8 By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to set out for a place that he was to receive as an inheritance; and he set out, not knowing where he was going. 9By faith he stayed for a time in the land he had been promised, as in a foreign land, living in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. 10For he looked forward to the city that has foundations, whose architect and builder is God. 11By faith he received power of procreation, even though he was too old—and Sarah herself was barren—because he considered him faithful who had promised. 12Therefore from one person, and this one as good as dead, descendants were born, ‘as many as the stars of heaven and as the innumerable grains of sand by the seashore.’ 13 All of these died in faith without having received the promises, but from a distance they saw and greeted them. …

12Therefore, 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, 2looking to Jesus the pioneer 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. 3 Consider him who endured such hostility against himself from sinners, so that you may not grow weary or lose heart.

On September 1, 2018, my niece Krista D’Adamo gave birth to a son – Ian James D’Adamo.

It was a big event in the family.

The first grandchild of one of the Tindall boys.

The week after that I found myself in McKeesport visiting a parishioner.

On my way home I stopped at the Richland Cemetery in Dravosburg.

I knew that my grandfather, Henry Tindall was buried there.

I had visited the cemetery a few times over the years trying to find the grave but to no avail.

But on that trip, the caretaker was at the office and took me to the grave.

So, I spent a little bit of time with Henry, a man I never knew.

Then, I took a picture of his headstone.

On my way home after my visit with Henry, I decided to stop by Jefferson Memorial Cemetery.

My parents are buried there next to my grandmother Fay, Henry’s first wife.

A bit of a visit with mom and dad, and with Fay who I met maybe once.

More pictures.

Then I went to the grave of my grandparents on my mother’s side, Gladys and George Thursby.

I knew them well.

Another visit and another picture.

Finally, I found my great grandparents on my dad’s side, TJ and Edith Tindall.

I never knew them.

A quick visit and a final picture.

That was as far back as I could go to visit any of my ancestors who were buried nearby.

I am not sure I can explain exactly why I took such a journey that day, but I ended up compiling all the headstone and grave marker pictures and sent them to my brother Tom so he could share them with his daughter Krista and one-week old grandson Ian.

For some reason I felt compelled to do all this because the family that had included all these people had just acquired a new member, Ian.

I guess wanted to make sure that Ian had a chance to know at least the names of his ancestors and maybe even a few stories.

After all, these are the stories that culminated in Ian, and hopefully a few more down the road.

What will Ian learn from these stories?

Maybe nothing specific.

But he will learn when they lived and maybe something about the times they lived in and so might get a bit of enlightenment or even inspiration from them.

Or maybe not.

But I am still glad I did it.

I guess I wanted to sort of be with the family that day.

It felt good to be there.

This is kind of what the author of Hebrews is doing in our text today.

The author is visiting the graves of the ancestors of the Israelites who are the ancestors of the followers of Jesus.

Of course, there were no graves to be actually visited, so the author used the Hebrew Bible as the place where such folks could be honored and remembered.

Hebrews 11 and the first couple of verses of Chapter 12 is where the author does this.

The author starts with Abel, moves through the Exodus, the 40 years in the wilderness, the judges, the kingdom, the prophets.

Many names are provided, most left out.

Some are identified by deeds and suffering alone.

Some we are familiar with.

Many not at all.

Some we like.

Some we don’t.

Some perform great exploits.

Some deeds are – well – distasteful; even horrible.

But the one thing that connects them all is this:

They all trusted God.

And in some big or small or mysterious ways, they passed that trust on to the next generation.

And that is kind of what we do here today.

Like the author of Hebrews, we recall our ancestors.

The ones who passed on their trust in God.

We come forward and light candles for those we want to “visit”, at least in our hearts and minds.

To honor them.

To Remember them.

Maybe people we loved dearly.

Maybe some we never knew.

Maybe those who were heroic in some way.

Maybe those who weren’t.

Why do we think of them today?

Because their history is our history.

And their history is part of who we are whether we like it or not.

Just like the author of Hebrews taking this trip down through the Hebrew Bible.

The author is reminding the readers of a particular part of their history.

The history of their trust in God, which has been passed down to them by those who came before them.

Their ancestors who received promises from God and trusted in them.

Because of that trust, they were able to persevere through the hard times.

The text I chose today focuses mainly on Abraham.

Abraham left his home, not knowing where he was going, but trusted that God would keep the promise that Abraham would be the father of a great nation.

Abraham never saw it but trusted that it would happen.

His descendants were many but even they did not see the fulfilment of God’s promise to Abraham.

Which brings us to one of my favorite verses:

All of these died in faith without having received the promises, but from a distance they saw and greeted them.

They saw the fulfilment of God’s promises from far off and welcomed them from a distance.

In many respects that is what we do.

We observe the fulfillment of God’s promises from a distance and welcome them from far off.

Next, we jump to chapter 12 and are told by the author that these past generations are a “cloud of witnesses” (another phrase I love) who though dead, surround us with their trust in God.

They help us persevere in our faith, our trust in God, so that we can continue on without growing weary.

And so, cloud of witnesses, those who came before, push us forward.

But the author now adds a new member to that list.


The one who is the “pioneer and perfecter of our faith”.

The one who trusted God to such an extent that he went to the cross for our sake.

Jesus did that so that we would not grow weary and lose our trust in God.

Now since that time, there have been many more people who have demonstrated trust in God.

In our reformed tradition we have Luther, Calvin, Zwingli, Tyndale (not me, the guy who translated the Bible into English and was burned at the stake for doing it), Knox, Wesley, and many more.

Then we have more modern folks.

Peter Marshall, Fredrich Buechner, R. C. Sproul (to name some Presbyterians), Billy Graham, Martin Luther King, Jr. and that is just a precious few.

But then there are those who were not so famous.

The pastors at the churches we grew up in.

The Sunday school teachers that taught us about Jesus.

Our parents, grandparents, uncles and aunts.

Friends who brought US to church.

The folks whose lives you remember with these lit candles.

It helps us to remember that we are not the first trust God’s promises from afar, and we won’t be the last.

We can look to those who came before us for inspiration.

Their time has come and gone.

A baton has been passed on to us!

And we can begin to fashion our lives so we can inspire those who come after.

Because this is our time.

Until it’s time to pass the baton on to our children, and their children.

And so, it will continue.

Until we all arrive in the Kingdom of God.

When the promise is fulfilled.

That is how we should see ourselves.

Part of the great cloud of witnesses who walk through time waiting and trusting in the promise of God to bring us home to God’s kingdom.

And like all those who came before us, look at that promise from afar, while looking to Jesus as the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, so that we do not grow weary or lose heart.

That is why we come to this table today.

We come here for a visit with Jesus.

To honor him.

To remember him.

And to be encouraged as we do our part to pass along our trust to those who come after us.

And for all this, we should be profoundly grateful.