Cloud of Witnesses
Lesson Nine: In Community with All the Saints
Scripture: Hebrews 6:9–12; 13:24–25; 12:1–2; 11:35–40
The Power of the Saints
“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, . . . let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us . . .” (Hebrews 12:1)
My first grade teacher left a powerful impression on me. Wava Pippin was a person who cared about each student and made sure we treated each other with respect; she was firm but never mean. She not only taught me to read, but made me stop reading for a while when I developed eyestrain, and gave me jobs to do around the classroom (certainly so I would not ask her ten times an hour when I could start reading again). I loved nothing more than reading, and I’d cried the first day I brought a note from home saying I wasn’t allowed to read for several days. I felt lonely without my books, and sad that my classmates were reading all around me.
My favorite job was cleaning the chalkboard erasers. We had a black chalkboard and white chalk and, after some use, the erasers pushed the chalk dust around on the surface of the board and left a gray board that made it hard to read what was written there. The person who was given this task—the lucky eraser cleaner—was allowed to go outside the school building and bang the erasers against the brick wall, in the process making eraser-shaped white marks on the building (and you didn’t even get in trouble for that!) and releasing chalk dust from the erasers into the air and lungs. Coughing but proud, I carried clean erasers back into the classroom in front of my envious classmates who were reading. Then I filled a bucket with water and used a sponge to wash the chalkboard. I felt incredibly special, even though 10 minutes before I’d felt lonely and sad.
It takes a person with a teacher’s heart to work with each individual child’s needs, and to help each child be successful every day. Wava Pippin’s lasting impact on my intellect was to teach me to read, but almost any teacher could’ve done that. Her lasting impact on my psyche was to help me understand something I never could have articulated then: needs change over time, and the learning process has to be flexible, creative and, most of all, loving and supportive.
Though you have never heard of her, Wava Pippin was a powerful person. Her power lay in how she supported generations of first graders by loving them toward their own paths, their own futures, and their own selves.
Think of a person who helped mold you in a powerful way. Was she a schoolteacher or a teacher of the faith, a relative or neighbor, a friend or a teammate? What were the qualities of that person that made her stand out? How did his manner of being alongside you, of seeing you as a unique human being, make you feel?
The writer of Hebrews would have you go and practice what you’ve learned from these saints. Be the person who lives what you say, who notices the people in the background, who cares more about lifting up others than about making yourself look good.
We—all of us—are charged with noticing the deeper needs of the people around us. Far beyond the words we say ought to be the kindness other people need to experience, the hope they long for, the courage they require to move forward.
Power is not what one achieves by having an important job or lots of money or status. It’s only when we empower others to live their lives with strength and dignity that we understand the power of sainthood.
Melissa Bane Sevier, 2018
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