In 1912, my maternal grandfather Georg Recht announced to his family, then living in Essen, Germany, that they were going to relocate. He had been given a church assignment in a small German-speaking rural community in Wisconsin. They were going to begin a new life.
He was the first to travel, and he soon was able to send for his family. His wife spent the entire voyage in her bunk being very seasick. Her eight children, the oldest being 16, had the run of the ship. Only the 16-year-old could speak any English. It was a long trip on the ship and the train, but eventually, they arrived safely at their destination. A new life was beginning.
The whole family worked to keep the church alive. One of the tasks for the children was to clip the grass in the small church cemetery with hand scissors. One Sunday, the father announced to his congregation that everyone needed to be “Americanized,” and he would lead the effort. Henceforth, he would present his sermons in English instead of German. His reward for this enthusiasm was that the congregation immediately fired him. I imagine that if each of you traced your family heritage, you would eventually find a similar story.
As I think about the verse in Hebrews, I can see this faith being lived every day in the lives of our ancestors as well as our lives today. My wife and I were raised in Tennessee, trained to be mathematics teachers, married in 1962, and departed in an old car to Ohio to our first jobs. We embarked, as you did also, on a journey of life that would take many twists and turns that now has us as members of the Alpharetta Presbyterian Church.
None of us knew where we were going, the paths we would take, the adventures we would have, the calamities that would befall us, the things we would achieve, the joys we would experience, or the losses we would suffer. We are still on this journey of life, yet knowing we have no way to predict what will happen to us in the time we have remaining.
But, as Christians, we have an anchor of faith. We go to church on Sunday and are surrounded by a “cloud of witnesses.” The Bible says in Acts 2:25, “I see that the Lord is always with me. I will not be shaken, for he is right beside me. No wonder my heart is glad, and my tongue shouts his praises! My body rests in hope.” In about 1890, Mrs. Jesse Pounds, who wrote over 400 hymns, composed these favorite lyrics:
We are going down the valley one by one:
Human comrade you or I will there have none;
But a tender hand will guide us lest we fall;
Christ is going down the valley with us all.