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When Leaders Depart, Disciples Apply Lessons Learned

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One of the refrains we have heard over and over again regarding the loss of Maya Angelou is this: “There was just so much more she had to teach us.”
Certainly that is true; she was constantly writing and composing truths for us to hear and read.

Thus, I feel certain there are works to be published in the near future that will be discovered in her files and journals.

We have heard numerous testimonies of what she did teach us.

One of my favorite stories about Angelou comes from a preacher, who tells about having her to his church right about the time he was starting to write a memoir regarding his difficult relationship with his father.

Before the service, they were in his office and she asked him if he was writing anything. He told her he was seriously considering writing about his relationship with his dad.

Angelou came over to him, took his hands and began to sing, “Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child.”

When she finished the song, she said to him, “I was brave for you, to sing for you. … Now you go and be brave and tell the world your story.”

That takes courage, but that is what she did best, allowing her life to call out more in those around her and her readers.

Many of us have heard and read different stories of her and what she inspired in those who knew her and those who read her works. She is an author and person of profound inspiration who will be most missed.

She died the Sunday before Ascension Sunday, the Sunday where we try to celebrate Jesus’ return to the Kingdom.

It’s a difficult Sunday to celebrate because in some odd ways we are celebrating the absence of the one whose presence we most need.

We celebrate the leaving of the one for whom we most long. It’s not only a Sunday we don’t entirely understand, but it is also a Sunday where we don’t quite know how to act.

There is a mixture of grief and joy, which I think Jesus shared.

Jesus grieved leaving us but had deep joy for our future as well. Jesus knew it was time, and the future work was supposed to be accomplished by us. He began the work and we continue the work.

While being careful not to press the comparison too far, I think Angelou and Jesus have this in common.

While there was plenty more that both of them could have accomplished and taught, they were fine to leave the application of their words and deeds to those whom they had touched, inspired and who had received their ministry of words and life.

They both did the work assigned to them, and then it was and now it is their students’ time and turn to finish their work.

Both of them took humanity to new places and then said, “Now go and finish what was begun.”

This means that in the mixture of joy and grief, there needs to be a sense of calling that emerges in the wake of this observance.

We must know this is the season where Jesus commanded us to go and finish what he began.

We need to understand we now carry a most important story and we need to work our hardest to bring it into reality as deeply as we can.

Griff Martin is co-pastor of University Baptist Church in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.