Today is All Saints Day. We will actually celebrate it in the church this Sunday, but as is the case with quite a few festivals, the day of celebration does not necessarily occur on the traditional day of worship. Today, I've been reflecting upon those saints who have been most influential in my life of faith.
Interestingly enough, at the top of the list are no clergy. No heroes of the faith (think Mother Teresa, Martin Luther, Augustine, St. Francis, et.al.). No televangelists or widely known authors.
At the top of my list of most influential people in my life of faith are family, particularly my parents and grandparents.
Actually, this probably shouldn't be a surprise. Most people receive their knowledge and understanding of faith from their closest relatives. Sometimes it's a mentor or pastor or good friend, but mostly, it's family.
My family was particularly strong when it comes to the importance of faith. As I was maturing, sometimes this bugged me, even angered me, but now, I have come to appreciate the lessons learned and the wisdom gleaned just by being a part of my family.
My dad's dad showed me what it meant to be saint and sinner. He was a WWII vet and dry land farmer. He could cuss with the best of them, hold his liquor, think he was the only one who was right about a given topic even in the face of other evidence, and would stay home from family gatherings if asked to cease smoking out of respect for someone who was allergic to the smoke. Yet, despite this, he believed he had experienced a miracle from God and proclaimed it one morning to my home congregation--shaking up a traditional Lutheran service in the process. He made no bones about telling an ag extension agent why he didn't carry crop insurance, "If God wants me to have a crop, I'll have a crop." And he showed his grandson how God was in the cotton.
My dad's mom showed me the quiet faith of prayer and action behind the scenes. When my great-grandmother on my mom's side passed away, her funeral was held at our church. I remember walking into the fellowship hall seeing my grandmother putting out food. I made a remark about her being there, and she said, "This is what we do to help out." The lesson stuck as did her silent prayers lifted as she did her cross stitch and sewing.
My mom's dad was a Lutheran pastor. He never shied away from talking church. When I was ordained, he presented me with my stole and laid it around my neck. He gave me his communion kit and his set of stoles that I might now wear them. As Elijah passed the mantle to Elisha, so my grandfather passed his mantle down to me. A heavy burden? Not so much. More a privilege.
My mom's mom was an old fashioned pastor's wife. She was strict about prayer and watching your language. But she showed kindness, compassion, and a whole lot of understanding to her grandkids. One of my most favored memories is the day we were visiting up in Arkansas shortly after our second child was born. Grandma rocked Kaylee on her lap and sang "Jesus Loves Me" even in the midst of her mind beginning to fail. That song wouldn't depart from her, and I have the video of that event. I cannot wait until my children can grasp the significance of it.
My mom. Too much to talk about. She taught me how to truly depend upon God and His guidance. She taught me the value of prayer. She taught me the necessity of watching what words come out of my mouth (couldn't even say "fart" around her when growing up without getting a really, really dirty look). She helped me discern the difference between religious fanatics and true believers, and she taught me how to take time for discernment when seeking and understanding God's will. To this day, she still offers her timely advice and support in the midst of all the things I go through as a public servant of the Almighty.
My dad. Again. Too much. Much too much. Dad taught me how to pray-based on his own conversations with God. I learned how to wrestle with the Almighty and not hold back when it comes to laying out the difficult questions of life. I learned from dad how to listen to God's voice, "You'll know it when you hear it." Dad taught me humility as he constantly reinforced in me how pastors are human--no better than anyone else and no worse than anyone else. Dad taught me to think, to consider multiple options and ways to approach a problem or issue. He taught me to listen to those who have more experience and follow their lead instead of being headstrong and determined to do it my way. And he taught me to stand on conviction--to go against the flow even if you are the only one, and particularly to do it when you believe you are right.
Looking back at my family life, it is no wonder I am who I am as a pastor and as a person. I was surrounded by tremendous people of faith, and perhaps one day I will be seen as such as well. I can only hope the lessons I learned and the wisdom I attained from those who have gone before, I can share with my children and my children's children--and perhaps anyone else who views me as a trustworthy servant of the Lord.
There are still many others who I have learned from and am learning from, and this day as well as quite a few other days, I give thanks to God for them.
For all the saints...