I became very close to my wife, Sidney’s grandmother Neva. On paper, we were an oddball pairing for frequent conversation partners. I’m a Christian minister with an evangelical and outreach based orientation. She was a lifelong agnostic, who could never really wrap her powerful intellect around the life of faith. Yet, there was kindness and openness behind her curiosity, and I would look forward to our conversations at family gatherings. One time, she asked me something to the effect of, “What is that you see yourself as doing in being a pastor? And, how do you know its true?” Part of the answer to that question is simple. I try to connect people with God, and I feel God moving in my own life and in the life of the church. That’s part of my proof. For her, that would have been too grounded in fleeting feelings – too squishy. So, the answer that I gave is that I connect people to an ancient truth, and part of how I know that it is true is that the work that I’m doing now has been going on for thousands of years in an unbroken line.

When I got ordained as a United Methodist Pastor, along with my clergy credential, I was given my ordination lineage tracing the unbroken line of who ordained who back to John Wesley. I have a tattoo of my left arm of John Wesley preaching on his father’s grave because his work among the industrial working class of England calling folks to a life of discipleship inspires me and helps propel me forward in my own work. He’s a part of my ordination lineage.

On my right forearm, I have a tattoo of a circuit rider. These were Methodist pastors who rode across the entire frontier of America sharing the Gospel, planting religious communities, and enduring tremendous hardship and risk to do so. The circuit rider par excellence is Francis Asbury, who was one of the first circuit riders in this country and dedicated the majority of his life to it. His example inspires me and helps propel me forward in my own work. He’s a part of my ordination lineage.

Catholic and Episcopal Priests can trace their lineage in further back than I can in an unbroken line. They know the list of who ordained who all the way back to Peter, the Rock on which Christ built the church. It is worth asking, why does this idea of a spiritual genealogy matter? Is it merely to bask in the glory of a connection to people more important than ourselves? To me, it’s more than that. It’s a powerful witness to just how many people and how many generations have dedicated their lives to sharing the story and reality of God with a world in need of it. We are all connected, in an unbroken line, to Francis Asbury, John Wesley, Peter, and millions of others.

Our text from the end of Hebrews takes that lineage one step further. In one of the most beautiful pieces of writing in the entire New Testament, the author of Hebrews connects those in the early church with their Old Testament forbearers to show them the same thing that the early church shows us. They are a part of an unbroken lineage of people who strove, suffered, and succeeded for God. Mighty things have been done, and so mighty things can be done. Pain and hardship have been overcome, and so pain and hardship can be overcome. See what faith has done, and so see what faith can do. Rahab, Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, Samuel and the prophets are all a part of our lineage, and their example should inspire us to keep moving forward.

We indeed have a tremendous cloud of witnesses. The Letter to the Hebrews, as a text written for Jewish Christians, highlights the witnesses most relevant for them. For me, as a Methodist Pastor, my life (and my literal body) is filled with the ones that are closet to me. For a Catholic priest, having that direct connection to Peter, as their standout witness in the cloud, is no doubt something powerful. It isn’t just the Biblical headliners and major historical figures in that cloud though. It’s our parents, grandparents, Sunday School teachers, pastors, mentors, and millions of unnamed faithful striving servants of Christ. As Abraham passed the torch to Isaac who passed it to Jacob, as Jesus passed the torch of earthly leadership to Peter, as John Wesley passed the torch in America to Asbury and Coke, so too has the torch been passed to us to keep striving – even through hardship – to carry the story of God’s people forward.