Dear Friends, Easter!
The church gives us 50 days of Easter, often called Eastertide. It’s a season of joy. God has done something wonderful for all humanity, in the form of Jesus, and so we celebrate. Our celebrations usually include festive worship, shared meals, egg hunts, and gathering with family and friends.
Sometimes I think about the Christians that have gone before us, those we knew and so very many we never met. The letter to the Hebrews talks about being surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses. There weren’t a whole lot of Christians when that was written, maybe ten thousand or fewer. For them, the great cloud of witnesses also included the people who anticipated the coming of the messiah. They were hoping.
Through history, many have become Christians. Many of looked for truth and attempted to follow the Way of Love. How many? About 1.6 billion is the estimated number of Christians through the end of the 19th century. There are an estimated 2.2 billion Christians alive today. And we need to count those born in the 1900’s who have since passed. It is probably safe to say that over history there have lived, with some still living, about 4 billion Christians.
The problem is that some people are really good at Christianity, some try hard, and some are Christians in name only. I don’t know how many people are in each category. I do know the name-only Christians create problems for the rest of us.
Name-only Christians can be found everywhere, manipulating situations to their benefit, lying, cheating and stealing and putting others at risk. Making life harder for the poor. Ignoring the needs of the stranger. Refusing to forgive.
It is tempting to call ourselves Christians and selfishly put ourselves first all the time. But that’s not a good temptation. Rather, we are supported, in ways we can only guess, by a cloud of witnesses. By souls who have gone before us and by souls on earth today.
I became a serious Christian in 1990. Before that I would have been a name-only Christian. I didn’t know God at all. Before I found God, there were people praying for me to seek God. Probably not praying for me by name, but praying for me. And praying for you.
And so we pray for those who do not know God and those who have walked away from faith. We pray for the name-only Christians. And we join together to care for the poor and offer hospitality for the stranger.
This Eastertide, I hope you will join me by taking one of the little United Thank Offering (UTO) boxes. I put coins in mine when I pray and coins when I give thanks. I try to do this everyday in Eastertide. The UTO funds go to help churches with projects that they can’t readily fund. Our first Junction Shuttle was partially funded by UTO. A church I served on the Big Island of Hawai’i was rebuilt after a fire in the 1940’s. They forgot to build bathrooms, but UTO gave them the money for toilets. These little UTO boxes connect us with other Christians. Let us be really-good-Christians or trying-hard-Christians, and let us give thanks to the Risen Lord!
Alleluia, Christ is Risen!
Therefore, 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, looking 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. Hebrews 12:1-2