What is “the Cloud?”
Most of us have things being stored in “the Cloud.” We have pictures and emails and documents that are being kept there. We’re able to watch Netflix and Hulu and Amazon Prime movies and TV shows because of it. And today “the Cloud” touches almost every aspect of our lives in some way. But what is it? If you’re not a very technical person, hearing that your things are being stored in “the Cloud” might seem almost like magic. But “the Cloud” is just a cute term for the storage of materials remotely instead of locally. “The Cloud” is just a term for storing data remotely instead of locally. Back in the old days, like in the 1980’s and 90’s, if you didn’t have your data downloaded to your computer or stored on a floppy disc, it didn’t exist. Computer games, photos, and documents all had to be stored somewhere in your home. And you could almost forget about video. The amount of data it took to transmit video was enormous by those standards. But with advances made in communications and technology, we can now store and transmit all of that material in different places. We call that accumulation of material, “the Cloud.” Sometimes, I think of “the Cloud” sort of like The Force. As Obi-Wan Kenobi of Star Wars fame would describe it, “It surrounds us, penetrates us, and binds the galaxy together.” We imagine that “the Cloud” is all around us and in a way it is.
The Bible talks about us being surrounded by a cloud, too.
And it too is all around us. If you have your Bibles or a Bible app with you, please go to Hebrews 11 beginning with verse 39. Hebrews 11:39. This passage is part of the famous “faith” narrative in the letter to the Hebrew people living in Jerusalem. The writer of the letter gives many examples of what it means to live by faith using people that the Hebrews would be familiar with. People like Abel and Noah and Abraham. People like Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, and Moses. He talks about all the trials and tribulations they dealt with and about the trials and tribulations of the Israelites in general – the crossing of the Red Sea and the walls of Jericho falling. And then the writer adds this from our reading this morning.
39 These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised, 40 since 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, 2 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. 3 Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.
We are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses.
Kind of intimidating actually. There are some places I don’t want a “cloud of witnesses” to be watching. But even though it’s been interpreted by some people in this way, that’s not what the writer of Hebrews intended. What he meant by the saying is simply that our belief in God is not empty, it isn’t imaginary or created in our heads, but is instead built upon the experiences of our forefathers in faith. People like Noah and Joseph and Moses help us to understand God in a better way and to know who he is. Because of the disciples like Peter, John, and James, we know the person of Christ and have come to trust in his promises. Our “cloud of witnesses” then are all those people who have come before and whose stories form the foundation of what we believe. Our “cloud of witnesses” then are all those people who have come before and whose stories form the foundation of our faith. As it says in John 20, “30 Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. 31 But these are written that you may believe[b] that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” We tell the stories of those who have passed to give us strength and inspiration in tough times and to help us have confidence in what we believe.
It’s heartening to me to read that first line.
“None of them received what had been promised.” Sometimes we get trapped into thinking in the ways of the world. That when we act as expected or better than expected, we get rewarded as we expect. Whether that’s in money or prestige or power, when we do a job well done, we expect what we believe we deserve. But that doesn’t always happen. And it can be disappointing. It can weaken our faith and trust in the system. The same is true with our faith in Christ. Sometimes things don’t work out as expected and we become disappointed in God. We think somehow God has reneged on his end of the deal. But this passage reminds us that is not the case. Those who act in faith, even if they don’t get the reward they expect, it’s only because God had something better planned. Even if they didn’t get the reward they expected, it’s only because God had something better planned. That “something better” may not always seem obvious to us because we see through a much different lens than God does. God can see the whole picture while we can only see our piece of it. But the writer of Hebrews here is trying to encourage us to keep our trust in God and shares this “cloud of witnesses” as testimony to God’s faithfulness so that we can remain strong, even in difficult times. So the writer of Hebrews encourages us to throw off our fears and trust in God. To continue to live a life of faith, to act and behave in a way that is consistent with a person who believes in the living Christ.
Today we pay tribute to our own “cloud of witnesses.”
We honor and remember those who have since passed on who helped us to grow in our faith. We remember those who helped to mold us and shape us into the people we are today. We honor loved ones we miss. With so many in our congregation having passed away lately, it seemed even more important to take part in this tradition. Whether they were related to you or not, these saints of the church having passed on has made us all reflect on the uncertainty of life and it didn’t seem that a sermon series on death and dying would be complete if we didn’t reflect on those loved ones who have gone ahead of us. In our denomination, we do this on the first Sunday after Halloween and we refer to it as an All Saints’ Day celebration. Our definition of “saints” is probably different than what you traditionally imagine. It might even feel a bit uncomfortable to talk about our loved ones as saints. We think of saints as people who are beyond reproach and most of us are far from that. When people hear the word “saint” they think of St. Patrick or St. Valentine or even St. Nicholas – specific people who have been honored by the Catholic Church for extraordinary service to God. In that instance, the title of “saint” is like the Queen bestowing a knighthood upon one of her people. It’s a human title instead of a Heavenly one. “Saint” is a human title instead of a Heavenly one. For us, we believe that all Christians are saints. We believe that ALL Christians are saints. The word “saint” comes from the Greek hagios which means “consecrated to God, holy, sacred, pious.” So to say we are saints doesn’t mean that we are without flaws or that we deserve to be revered because the truth is only God deserves to be revered. Instead we understand it to mean that we are set apart in service to God. When we talk about All Saints’ Day, it’s a way of honoring ALL those who have participated in the life of God. Let us share this prayer for our own “cloud of witnesses” today (from the General Board of Discipleship).
Almighty God, your people of all the ages live and praise you without ceasing.
In our communion with you,
we have communion with generations past and generations yet unborn.
Before your throne we are one
with a great multitude, which no one could number,
and in praising you we join with those from every nation.
Grant to your church on earth
that as we celebrate the triumph of your saints in glory
we may profit by their example
and enter with them into the inexpressible joys
you have prepared for those who love you,
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.