A Baptist All Saints’ Day
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, 2 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 (Heb. 12:1–2, NRSV).
Do you know Don Lambert or Larry Van Spriell or James Peters or Molly Marshall, Glenn McCoy or Sister Mary Colleen? I hope you do. Some of you know them better than I do, but I wish all of you could know these great saints.
Did you know Dwight Neuenschwander or Paul Edie or Truett Rodgers? If you were never blessed to know them, they are the embodiment of “a great cloud of witnesses.” Not because they are (or were) perfect. No, they make up part of that great cloud of witnesses because they have lived out the words of Hebrews 12:1-2, “let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us.”
A couple weeks ago, I attended Dwight Neuenshwander’s (pictured above) memorial service. Rev. Andrew Daugherty did a phenomenal job of helping people remember and bid farewell to this saint and “parson.”
At the service, I ran into Don and Fran Lambert. A week later, I ran into Larry and Tam Van Spriell at Becky Gruber’s ordination. At the Gathering, I was blessed to see Dr. Peters. I guess these “saint sightings” made me nostalgic. I realized I had no words to express a deep awareness of what each of these people have been in my life. A deep sense of awe and gratitude overwhelmed my heart and left me almost speechless. I could barely get out words to say “thank you.” Though I physically “tower over” both Larry and Don, I realize that just as God does not consider the exterior, I was (and have been) standing in the presence of giants. They may be slowing down, getting a little forgetful, but they are giants none the less. I have to admit, I often chaffed against this generation of pastors and leaders when I was young. I wanted to take the reins. In my impatience, I often forgot to express my gratitude and unfortunately often missed the lessons they were trying to teach me. In spite of my impatience, they often gave me the simple gift of their presence, encouragement, and more often than I care to admit, their forgiveness.
Now I am in that generation, the generation of white hair and more years behind than in front of me. God is raising up a whole new generation of leaders: Dan, Lauren, Katie, Miranda, Alex, Owen, Juan, and Brian. I am guessing that often they grow impatient with this old man. I pray that they also see one who is running with perseverance.
The sustaining nature of the church (universal and local) is that just as we do funerals, we have weddings and baby dedications. Just as we have retirement parties, we also have ordinations for a new generation of pastors. The church is a continually growing cloud of witnesses who point not to our own wisdom, but to “Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith.”
I know that we are Baptists (some of us anyways), but this year, I celebrated All Saints Day. I have been blessed with more mentors, friends, and guides than I can count. I want to sit with this gift, but I also want to live up to their example of running with perseverance.
I hope you take a few minutes in the coming days to make your own list of people that you know have shaped you and have called you up. People who mentored you, encouraged you in the faith, or just lived as an example.
Lord, thank you for a beautiful cloud of witnesses. You have blessed me with spiritual friends and mentors. May I take up that mantle for others and run this race with perseverance and faithfulness. Amen.
Missions and Ministry Coach
American Baptist Churches of the Rocky Mountains