According to the holy calendar, today is All Saints Day- a day set aside to remember the faithful who have gone before us. To be honest, the Baptist tradition (of which I am a part) has not done a good job of remembering the saints throughout the ages. It is so easy for all of us to forget that the church spans time, even as it spans space. It is so easy to forget that many of the churches of which we are a part existed long before we frequented the pews. It is so easy to forget that the faith we now cherish has passed down to us through the blood, sweat, and tears of the "great cloud of witnesses". We are stewards of the faith we inherited- not creators of it.
So today, I've been thinking of the saints who have been canonized (in my mind at least). I see the faces of my parents and grandparents who provided my first glimpses of God's love. I see the the people in the churches of my youth who taught me the stories that shape my life. I see the professors who not only stretched my thinking and faith, but also my character and commitment. I see the faces of congregants whom I've pastored, people who cultivated more faith in me than I in them. I think about those in years past who worked to make Second Baptist what it is today, from those who opposed the oppressive racism of the 1950's to those who ministered to AIDS victims in the 1990's. I think about the lay leaders who sacrificed because they cared more about building God's kingdom than building their own.
And I think about the nameless saints on whose shoulders we now stand. I think about those who gave their lives for the church and the good news which had so captured them. I think about those whose thinking propelled the church into unknown futures. Or those who preserved the scriptures that we tend to take for granted. I think about the nameless pastors who have served in small churches for a glory not their own. Or the missionaries who abandoned the comforts of home to make the lives of other people better. I think about preachers who courageously announced truth when it wasn't in their best interests to do so, and the lay leaders who selflessly gave time and money to a cause that now outlives them.
For all these people I know and the multitudes I don't, I offer a humble, "Thank you." Today, while many people disregard the church because they judge it by its worst, I give thanks for those who embodied it at its best.
And today, as I look my boys in their eyes, I'll pray that- when they reflect on their canon of saints- I might be among them, even if I'm in the corner somewhere.