In one of my first classes of seminary we were given a note card and asked to put down the names of two or three people who have been key in our faith life. It wasn’t a hard task, except for narrowing it down to just a few. The top three names were people in my home congregation that had shown grace, joy, wisdom, and a deep life of faith.
One was a mentor who had taught me to put a roof on a house by giving me a summer job. Yet, it wasn’t just a job. He took the wages he earned on each roof and put it toward a scholarship fund at the church.
Another was a deacon in the congregation who showed amazing self-knowledge, and demonstrated what service meant in so many ways.
The other was a woman who noticed how restless I was one Sunday. After church she asked if I wanted to learn how to light the Christ candle. Every kid in that church went to her for a big bear hug after worship every Sunday. She included me in church, and she showed us all how to be loving and joyful in everything.
The first two men on my list passed away almost twenty years ago. And I learned today that the joyful woman, so ready to embrace everyone, passed away last night.
All the people I named in that seminary class have now passed. And it gives me pause.
Have I lived up to the gifts they gave me so long ago?
Am I passing on those gifts?
My ministry now focuses on discipleship. So I often talk about the process of following Jesus. Yet, that is really only half the equation. The Christian life, while ultimately aimed at following Jesus, involves generations of followers before us. Though I read about who Jesus was and what Jesus taught in the scriptures, it is those around me who have taught me what it actually looks like to follow the Jesus of the Bible. Put another way, being a disciple of Jesus means being discipled by someone else.
For me there a many of those disciplers I should include on my list. Some have passed, and some I see only so often. Yet, each one has in some way reflected a part of Jesus in the flesh.
In these persons I have seen Jesus’ generosity, compassion, joy, and selflessness.
In others I have come to value deep study, love of the church, the beauty of ministry, and the centrality of prayer.
Today I mourn that some of these reflections of Jesus are no longer shining among us. And I feel a the weight of knowing that those of us who have been discipled by them have a great responsibility to mirror a bit more of Jesus in their absence.
I am grateful for the gifts they have given me, for I simply would not be the disciple of Jesus I am today without them.
Godspeed Naomi Robenstine. I patiently wait the resurrection, when I will once again cherish your hug.