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St. Andrew's Presbyterian Church January 11th, 2009 (#330a) Title: "Surrounded!" Text: Hebrews 12:1 "Surrounded!" .... What's the first thing that comes to your mind when I say that word? A lot probably depends on what you have been watching or listening to lately. If you've been watching an old John Wayne movie, you may have pictured in your mind a band of Apaches encircling a wagon train. Or maybe you've seen a television report on the Israeli / Palestinian conflict in Gaza and noticed the fences surrounding that troubled part of our world. Maybe it was from a camera crew's report - showing rising waters that had surrounded businesses and homes in the Chilliwack area. Or maybe you remember the story of the man who - a number of years ago fell off a B.C. ferry - and for eight hours was surrounded by ocean water and thick darkness before being rescued. In these type of situations, being surrounded can be very frightening. But in another context, being surrounded can also be very comforting and reassuring. We talk of being surrounded by the support of friends and family and caring people ... and of being surrounded by the prayers of God's people. This morning I want us to turn to our text which is found in the book of Hebrews. I will be reading beginning with verse 32 of chapter 11 and continuing into chapter 12 through verse 3. Hear the Word of the Lord. And what more shall I say? I do not have time to tell about Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, Samuel and the prophets, who through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, and gained what was promised; who shut the mouths of lions, quenched the fury of the flames, and escaped the edge of the sword; whose weakness was turned to strength; and who became powerful in battle and routed foreign armies. Women received back their dead, raised to life again. Others were tortured and refused to be released, so that they might gain a better resurrection. Some faced jeers and flogging, while still others were chained and put in prison. They were stoned; they were sawn in two; they were put to death by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and ill-treated -- the world was not worthy of them. They wandered in deserts and mountains, and in caves and holes in the ground. These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised. God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect. 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. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. (Hebrews 11:32 - 12:3, NIV). This is God's unchanging Word. Chapter 11 of the Book of Hebrews is a roll call of those who lived by faith. It is inspiring just to read their exploits. It speaks of Abel and Enoch and Noah; of Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Jacob. It speaks of Joseph and Moses and all those who passed through the Red Sea. It speaks of David and Samson and Samuel ... of Rahab and Barak and Jephthah and the prophets. It speaks of the tortured, humiliated, imprisoned, stoned, ill-treated, sawn in two, "of whom the world was not worthy." Read Hebrews 11, or better yet, go back to their stories in the Old Testament and

see if they do not inspire you. It is simply amazing what a difference faith in God can make in the life of an individual! Chapter 11 is a litany of the faithful in the Old Testament who found themselves in ordinary circumstances, but who made them extraordinary events by living out their faith on a daily basis. The author of the Book of Hebrews makes it crystal clear what made these ordinary people extraordinary: it was faith! It was almost as if each had as their first name "By faith." "By faith" Abel, "by faith" Enoch, "by faith" Noah, "by faith" Abraham, "by faith" Sarah. On and on we read about ''by faith." Their life stories as recorded in Hebrews 11 are introduced with these words "by faith." Wouldn't it be wonderful to have your life story introduced that way? "By faith" Carol, "by faith" Mary, "by faith" Jim, "by faith" John. But after this litany of faith in Chapter 11 we come to chapter 12. It is written in response to this inspiring listing of how people lived out their lives "by faith." In fact, Chapter 11 is the prologue for Chapter 12. We know that because of the word which starts chapter 12 - "therefore." It answers for us the "so what" question. So what if all those people in chapter 11 had faith? So what? What difference is that going to make in my life today? The first 3 verses of chapter 12 answer that "so what" question. "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. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him, endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart." You and I who are living today are surrounded by all the faithful who ever committed their lives to the living God. The writer of the book of Hebrews is drawing a picture of an athletic event perhaps the early Olympic Games. We have entered the arena to run the race of life, using Jesus as our inspiration. As we look up into the stands, we find ourselves surrounded by millions of others who at one time placed their lives in God's hands, and who were successful runners in this race of life. These millions in the stands are there cheering us on. They have already successfully completed their race; they are cheering us on, waiting for us to join them one day. It is encouraging to know that many of them experienced great difficulties in life. In spite of great adversity, they never lost their faith. Some of them were even martyred and tortured because of their faith. Wagdi Iskander, a former Muslim from Sudan who will be giving a presentation next Sunday evening at the Alliance Church on "Understanding the Muslim Mindset," tells how he and two of his friends were thrown into prison and facing death because they had decided to follow Jesus. The authorities decided that on three consecutive Fridays, they would give pick one of the three, give them a chance to deny their faith in Christ, and kill them if they didn't. The first Friday one of his friends was picked, and asked to deny Christ. When he didn't, he was shot to death. The next Friday, his other friend was chosen, with the same results. Wagdi knew that he would be brought before the authorities the following Friday. He didn't know if he could be as brave and courageous as his two friends, and he told the Lord that. Just before the fateful day arrived, Muammar Qudaffi of Libya decided to invade Sudan, and in the ensuing chaos, Wagdi was able to escape. He has since moved to Canada. We, today, are encircled by the greatness of the past. We are surrounded by this great body - this great cloud - of witnesses. They, including Wagdi's two friends, are our cheerleaders.

When Napoleon was seeking to motivate his tired, dispirited troops in Egypt fighting almost under the very shadows of the great pyramids, he told his men, "Remember, 40 centuries are looking at you." And this is what our text is telling us this morning. Remember that you are not alone. Remember that 40 centuries (and more) of faithful believers surround you. Have you ever thought about the fact that so many people of great faith are watching us today? Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Sarah are looking in on you. But there are also others in faith's "hall of fame" who, if you knew who they were, you'd be surprised. David's story, of course, we know. A man of incongruities - a "man after God's own heart" on one hand, and adulterer and a murderer on the other. There is Rahab the harlot; Barak, a fearful leader; and Jephthah who winds up killing his daughter because of an unfortunate oath. In other words, some in this "cloud of witnesses" are listed for their strengths; others are listed for the weaknesses that they were able to overcome because of their relationship with God. It's a good reminder that those whom God calls are always a mixed bag. They are always like us! The followers of God who live by faith include every race, every geographical area, every handicap, every background that there is in God's world. God has created us all, and He calls us all into a relationship with him through following Christ; when we do, this "great cloud of witnesses" becomes even more diverse. A dramatic example of that can be seen in the two Presbyterian ministers who at one time used to serve First Presbyterian Church in Burlingame, California. One of them, Paul Watermulder, was a former policeman. The other, Jeff Magruder, spent time in jail after his conviction in the Watergate affair. A San Francisco newspaper got wind of this and reported on it in an article entitled, "Pastors in Church are Ex-Cop and Ex-Con." There's a diverse bunch in that cloud of witnesses. This diverse cloud of witnesses is there cheering us on to be more like Jesus. In our text, the writer of the book of Hebrews encourages us to "look to Jesus." That is our race in life, our goal in life to conform more to the life of Jesus. Out of our relationship with God, to love more, as Jesus did. To sacrifice more, as Jesus did. To be compassionate as Jesus. To be forgiving as Jesus. This is to be our aim and objective in life: "looking to Jesus." Our goal is not simply to cross the-finish line, but to cross the finish line "looking to Jesus." The great cloud of witnesses that surrounds us cheers when our lives reflect the glory of Christ. In life's marathon, the goal is not so much to cross the finish line first, but to simply finish. The goal is not to win, but to complete the race within the framework that God has set up for our lives. This is our goal in life: not to be first, but to cross the finish line glorifying God. And those who do that will find that they are the true winners! Phillip Kelly was a Franciscan Brother. He was stationed in New Jersey to work with the Puerto Rican migrant workers who came north to pick tomatoes for Campbell's Soup, vegetables for Bird's Eye, and blueberries for whoever wanted them. Many of these workers brought their families. Everyone's dream was to earn enough money to build a house back on the island. Walter Jansen was retiring after forty years with the canning company; for the past 25 years he had been the factory foreman. He loved and cared for the people he worked with! And they loved him. Every December, the 200 Puerto Rican families in the parish would gather, and each family would place about a day's pay in a pot - and write his own name on a slip of paper. Then someone would be blindfolded and asked to draw the name of the family that would go home for 2 glorious weeks on the island. "Why don't you come to the drawing?" Walter suggested to Father Kelly. "I'll introduce you to

everyone." Father Kelly wrote later, "I can still see the paper streamers strung from the rafters under the roof. I can still see on the wall the travel posters of Puerto Rico." By 3:00 o'clock each family had parted with its money. But before the drawing, the announcer called Walter up and presented him with a plaque commemorating his service and expressing their gratitude for his years of care and friendship. Everyone madly applauded. Then Father Kelly was asked to draw the name of the lucky family. As Father Kelly later recounted, "On went the blindfold, and I was led to the drum. I reached in, sorted out a handful of entries, and finally settled on one. "I took off the blindfold and read the slip of paper: "Walter Jansen!" The cheers were deafening. Everyone surrounded him, congratulating him, hugging him. Father Kelly continues: "While the commotion continued down on the floor, I casually reached back into the drum and drew out a handful of slips. Each one, in different handwriting, carried the name - Walter Jansen." You are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses and they are all cheering for you, and they have all placed your name on their ballot. AMEN.


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