31 Maple Street
Bristol, Connecticut USA
May 27, 2018
Exodus 13:17-18, 20-22
Rev. Kristen J. Kleiman
Life can be hard. Life can be downright difficult at times. The newspaper is depressing. The TV news is worse. I cannot even watch the night show monologues because their commentary on what is going on in our world is too on point.
And as we are bombarded with what is wrong with our world, as we are surrounded by bad news, it can be easy to walk around in a cloud of hopelessness, in a cloud of despair, in a cloud of depression.
We are familiar with those clouds. We can even picture them – that gray cloud raining down, just on top of us! We know about the clouds of hopelessness, despair, and depression.
Do you know about the cloud of inspiration though? Do you remember how God used a cloud to lead the Israelites out of Egypt? How on that long journey the cloud never “left its place in front of the people.” (Exodus 13:22) How that cloud encouraged and inspired the people to keep persevering on their journey to the Promised Land? A land of hope, peace, and justice.
God continues to lead us with a cloud – that great cloud of witnesses that surrounds us each and every day, that great cloud of saints who not only inspire our lives with their earthly role model, they continue to dwell in heaven encouraging us to persevere even when things look dark and hopeless. They continue to be with us, in sacred memory and in living spirit.
Who is in your great cloud of witnesses? Is it your mother or a woman who was like a mother to you? Is a dear friend? A Grandfather? Brother-in-law? Former mentor? Who is in your great cloud of witnesses?
We, as a Christian community, have a great cloud of witnesses that continually surrounds us as we run this race: The Rev. Samuel Newell, our first pastor and more recently, our Associate Pastor Emeritus, Rev. Aubrey Murphy; historic and faithful families of saints whose names live on in our endowment – Atwood, Bean, Beckwith, Brewster, Dunbar, Barnes, Brackett, Holt, Leide, Treadway, Mink, and Peck.
And we add Farken for Arthur, Laura, Eleanor, Frank, and Adelaide Farken. They were not a prominent family in Bristol. They lived humbly a few blocks from the church on Summer Street, and they quietly went about their lives and work. Frank was a supervisor at New Departure, and Adelaide was a secretary at GE. Just ordinary people like us, a mother, father, and three grown children who never married or had children, who faithfully attended the First Congregational Church. Adelaide taught church school and Frank painted and did crosswords puzzles. And yet, when Adelaide passed away at 96 years old, the Farken family left the church’s ministry $1.4 million.
I lift up to you saints of our church like Jennie Webster and Phyllis Michaud who faithfully and tirelessly nurtured our children’s Christian faith journeys that we might be blessed with faithful adults who are deacons and choir members and good stewards of our churches ministry.
And we celebrate Jean Greger, Madeline Wozley, and Beverly Brazina who began our Century Nursery School ministry sixty plus years ago, and we celebrate Hap Barnes and Dave Powell, who recently joined him. I can picture them in their straw hats doing a little soft shoe shuffle tap like they used to do for the church variety shows, and we give thanks for their faithful example of taking care of this church facility that we might welcome all, nurture all, and transform the world with Christ’s love.
We, at the First Congregational Church, are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses, so many more names than I could ever mention. Their earthly role model inspires us to give more, to love more, to be more, and their heavenly presence in our lives encourages us to persevere, as they did, in this journey of life.
All for the purpose, all to the destination of Jesus. These good, good people that we remember this day. These saints of the church. These good stewards of God surround us in a great cloud of witnesses that we may lay aside every weight, untangle ourselves from every sin that seeks to hold us back and run with perseverance the race that God has set before us – looking always to Jesus. Looking to Jesus “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.” (Hebrews 12:2)
We honor and celebrate the saints in our lives because through their lives on earth and through their new lives in heaven, they encourage us, they inspire us to look to Jesus, to share his love, to spread his good news.
They encourage us to remember ‘Nothing in heaven or on earth can ever separate us from God’s love. Death and sin have lost their sting. All things are possible with God.’
The next time you are feeling in a funk, feeling like that cloud of hopelessness and despair is following you around, remind yourself that you are surrounded by a different cloud, a cloud of witnesses, a cloud of saints, a cloud of love, a cloud of God, and that cloud will never leave you.