I’ve spent some time this morning reflecting on the nature of All Saints Day and what it might mean for me; a Protestant who rejects using the word saint for anything other than a description of any Christ-follower; which is how the New Testament uses it. The problem is I completely understand the human impulse to want to emulate other human beings. I just think that perhaps the best word is not saint but maybe hero. So on this All Heroes Day I am thinking about those who have served as heroes for me. Their pictures hang in my study, just over the door. They hang high so they can watch me do my work. There are four of them.
C. S. Lewis. Lewis was not only a great writer but a great thinker. He reminds me of two things. One, he teaches me to be creative in my writing and in my preaching. The imagination is a powerful tool in doing the work of ministry. Second, his brilliant mind encourages me to think through things logically and critically; particularly issues of how the Christian faith interacts with the world around me.
Ernest Hemingway. Hemingway could never be characterized as Christian, but he still teaches me something that relates to my work. Hemingway wrote what he knew and he wrote it precisely and concisely. His stories, though fictional, are always anchored to his real world experiences. This gives him credibility in his subject matter that comes through on the page. I need to keep that in mind if I am to keep credibility in my daily life and my ministry. I must stick to what I know and not pretend to be an expert on things I don’t know about. When I write, I should center my stories in a setting about which I am conversant.
C. H. Spurgeon. Spurgeon is still the Prince of Preachers even though he’s been dead a very long time. Like Lewis, Spurgeon teaches me multiple lessons about my ministry. One, he encourages me that being a Baptist is not a bad thing. Second, he affirms that controversy is not bad either. Most of Spurgeon’s ministry was bathed in one controversy or another and whenever there was a lull, he invented it! Spurgeon was a very complicated man whom the Lord used to do wonderful things. May I be as blessed.
Calvin Miller. I’d never heard of this great preacher and writer until I attended Southwestern Seminary. It was hearing him preach in chapel one day that I realized I could be me—who I was—and not a cookie cutter product of a bland seminary. But as I learned from him at Southwestern and later at Beeson he opened my eyes to a fundamental truth that informs my sermonizing: The sermon has work to do, and as the preacher my job is to accomplish the work which the text demands. A non-preacher might not understand that, but it is easy to get sidetracked in the preaching task and lose sight of the fundamental work of the text, which must be accomplished in the sermon.
Photos of these four people hang in my study and watch me. I will probably add Bonhoeffer sometime this year, and who knows the great cloud of witnesses may grow over the years. These heroes keep me focused; and provide a path for me to travel.
O Almighty God, who has knit together thine elect in one communion and fellowship in the mystical body of thy Son Christ our Lord: Grant us grace so to follow thy blessed saints in all virtuous and godly living, that we may come to those ineffable joys which thou has prepared for those who unfeignedly love thee; through the same Jesus Christ our Lord, who with thee and the Holy Spirit liveth and reigneth, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen. (BCP–Collect for All Saints Day)