Why are you here today? I know I have asked that question of you before. But this morning I ask you that question in a different context. I know that you are here to worship, to lift your hearts and hands and voices together in praise of the One true God, the one who created us, sustains us, and redeems us.
I know many of you are here because you need a church family. You’re friends are here and so this is a chance for you to get together to catch up on the week’s events, a chance to greet one another with a hug or a hand shake, a chance to have some company for a change.
I know you are here to engage in the process of growing to spiritual maturity, becoming a disciple. To learn, study, and develop the character and mind of Christ.
Worship, fellowship, discipleship. All of these are vital and important. But there is one other reason you are here today. And I believe that it is an even more fundamental reason.
You are here this morning because somewhere along the way, at some point in your life there was someone who planted a seed of faith in your heart. Somewhere along the way there was someone in your life who helped to nurture you. There was a person or persons who helped to mold and shape your faith. Somewhere along the way there was that person in which you saw a life of faith and love demonstrated and modeled in such a way that you were touched by it. You were drawn to it. And you are here today because that person’s life and legacy has taken root within in you and helped to make you the person that you are today.
And on this very special Sunday one of the main reasons we are here today is to remember and to give thanks.
Who is that person in your life? Whose face do you picture? Maybe there’s just one or two or maybe there are many. Maybe that person is here with you today. Reach out your hand today and touch them, take hold of their hand and thank them for that wonderful gift.
Maybe you are separated by some distance. Don’t let this day go by without picking up the phone and calling them and let them know what they mean to you. For me that’s my parents. I have been so blessed with a mom and dad who have passed on to me a legacy of love and faith that I am so tremendously thankful for. They instilled in me the importance of faith in God, who by their example have over the years and continue today to model today.
For most of us when I ask that question we picture someone in our mind that has gone on before us, someone who have lived their life on this earth and they now live with God in heaven. Some of you have brought their pictures and added them to this beautiful display.
What was it about that person that made them so special? Why does their memory today serve as such a powerful source of strength and encouragement? What is their lasting legacy that continues to mold and shape your life today?
For me when I think about that question the faces of persons pictured here on the table come to mind.
This is John Dyksen. Many of you have heard me speak about John before. John and I were appointed serve First UMC Winchester in 1992. John was the Senior Pastor and I was appointed as the Associate Pastor there in my first appointment right out of seminary. John was an amazing pastor and an amazing person. He was a mentor and a friend and taught me so much about what it means to be a pastor. He taught me how to love and serve the church, how to preach the Word of God, and work in the structure of the church to accomplish God’s plans. Unfortunately about 18 months after we arrived John was diagnosed with cancer. And through that difficult journey he taught me even greater lessons. He taught me about true faith and confidence in God even in the midst of suffering. John’s life was cut way too short. He passed away almost exactly a year after he was diagnosed, but his life, his ministry, his testimony, and his legacy of faith continue to inspire me today nearly 20 years later.
Another person I think of is the lady here in this picture. Her name is Mary Branton and she was Robin’s grandmother. I had 2 wonderful grandmothers of my own but since I have known Robin since we were about 14 years old Mrs. B as everyone knew her was like a third grandmother to me. Mrs. B was a very Godly woman. She was someone who loved God and loved God’s Word. And she was a woman of prayer. If you ever had a need or a concern or an urgent prayer request Mrs. B was the one you would want to go to. It seemed that she had a direct connection with God. Her witness and testimony of faith and trust in God’s power has left a lasting legacy and continues to bless me and Robin today.
The apostle Paul likens the Christian life as a race. It is a race that we do not run alone. We have each other and as we run this race we are here to encourage one another and to help each other along. In our scripture lesson the writer of Hebrews picks up on that theme.
He says that there is this great cloud of witnesses that surrounds us as we live our life and run the race that is marked out before us. I like to imagine that they are there lining the way cheering us on as we strive to run the race of faith.
And you know what I’m so glad for that. Why? Because as much as we enjoying remembering the past; reminiscing, recalling and giving thanks; as we enjoy doing that, and as good as it is to do that, we cannot live in the past, and we cannot stay in the present. We must look ahead; we look ahead to a bright future. We have to continue to run the race set out before us.
We must remember those who have gone before us and their dedication and faithfulness and be inspired by their example. We must be strengthened and energized by God’s presence with us in the present. But then we must look to the future with hope and anticipation. We must pick up the torch and carry it on into tomorrow. Just as God’s grace and love have been shared with us and passed down to us through the years, it must continue to go forward for ages to come.
The Scripture that we heard from Hebrews 12 says, “Therefore since we are surrounded by so great a 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; fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith.”
Sometimes it’s easy for us to become frustrated and discouraged, we live in changing and challenging times, but we must remember we do not struggle alone, and we are not the first to face the challenges we face. We have others, who run that race with us now, and there are others who have run the race before us, and their witness must stir us to run and win.
You see I believe the promise that Paul claimed in his prayer for the Philippian church when he said, “I am confident that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Jesus Christ.” My friends that is my prayer of hope and anticipation for us today.
You see for us the race is not over. There is much more that needs to be done. There is a lot of distance to cover.
And I don’t stand here today and say that it is going to be easy. It won’t be. But as it has gone forward through the ages, God’s good work must continue to go forward into the age to come so that it can be carried on to completion until the day of Jesus Christ.
And every one of us here today has an important part to play in seeing God’s promise fulfilled in this world and here in this place. God will complete a good work in you, in this church, but we must let him. He can’t do it without every one of us doing our part; focusing not on people, not on ourselves or on the negatives or the problems but he will do it only as we throw off all the things that hinder and entangle us and keep our eyes on Jesus Christ, the author and finisher of our faith. Then and only then it will move forward and we will win the race and God’s good work will be complete.
So let me ask you this morning, what is your part in this good work that God wants to do? Where do you fit in? What can you do to help? Five years from now, 10 years from now, 50 years from now, what will those who gather in this place on a day like today say about us? What kind of example are we setting? What kind of heritage will we pass on? What kind of legacy will we leave?
Obviously the first thing we think about when we hear the word legacy is all the material possessions that we have that when we are gone we will pass on to those who follow in our footsteps.
But my friends I believe there is a far more important legacy that each and every one of us will leave to our descendants. It is a legacy not measured in dollars and cents, or in cars, or homes, or property. For these are things that do not last. It is a legacy of the heart. A legacy of the soul. A spiritual legacy. A living and lasting legacy.
I believe that each day you live you are determining your legacy. By the way you live; by the things you say; by the things you do; by the attitudes you portray, you are handing down to those who come after you a piece of yourself. You are leaving a lasting mark in the hearts and minds of all you meet, and especially in the heart and minds of your children and your grandchildren. Proverbs 13:22 sums it up well. It says: “A good man Ieaveth an inheritance to his children’s children: and the wealth of the sinner is laid up for the just.” In other words the measure of one’s character is not what he gets from his ancestors, but what he leaves his descendants.
Today we remember and celebrate the lives of some of God’s saints. We remember all those who have gone before us but especially those we have lost in this past year. We rejoice that they have finished their race and have received their inheritance of life eternal. These persons have left us with a legacy, a living legacy. But their legacy is not dollars and cents. It is a legacy of faithfulness and devotion passed on to us through their Godly lives.
And so I leave you with a question to ponder. What kind of legacy are you leaving? Will your legacy be measured only in dollars and cents, or will it be measured in terms of character? Will it be seen it what you have gained, or in what you have given? How will your life be remembered? Are seeking to follow after Jesus Christ? Are you building a legacy of love and life?
My friends today, as you come to this altar, as you humble yourself before God, as you literally are surround by a great cloud of witnesses, and as you graciously partake of Christ’s lasting legacy, I pray that you will give some serious thought and prayer to that question. What will be my legacy? For it is never too early to begin afresh, and what is even better, it is never too late start anew.