October 1 ushers in Pastor Appreciation Month, and for the first time in 94 years, James Townsend is not here to greet a new October. Townsend, a retired United Methodist minister, died Saturday, October 6, 2012, at age 93. His funeral was held at Louisville United Methodist Church in Ackerman, MS on October 9, and he was buried near his parents at Parkway Cemetery in Kosciusko, MS.
Known in the community as “Bro. Townsend”, he was this examiner’s great uncle and affectionately known among family members as “Uncle Bubba”. The atmosphere at Uncle Bubba’s burial was somber, but not one of despair. When a Christian dies, it really is supposed to be in one sense a joyful occasion. His trials were over, never again would he be exposed to sickness, never again would he ever be tempted. Never again would he be separated in any way from the presence of the Savior. The pastor officiating remarked that Uncle Bubba had died, to use the words of Scripture, “old and full of years”. He’d lived a full life, remained in good health until the end and retained a sharp, keen mind. People in their 90s who are still able to sing in their church choir are hard to come by, but Uncle Bubba was such a man.
He had already retired in 1983 when this examiner was born, so opportunities to hear him preach were few, but the main occasions that stick out were at the annual Homecoming celebrations at Shady Grove Methodist Church in Kosciusko.
Uncle Bubba liked to preach on Hebrews 12, the text that encourages Christians to remember the “great cloud of witnesses” in heaven—saints who have finished the race and gone on before and are cheering us on as we run the race ourselves. Verses 1-3 say:
“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of God.”
Remembering the cloud of witnesses can be a tremendous encouragement. They are there to remind us that, even in this fallen world, this veil of tears, it is actually possible to run the race and finish well—with God’s grace. The way to finish well is to do what the cloud of witnesses in heaven did before us; they kept their eyes on Jesus. They persevered, but not in their own strength. Jesus is the one who enables us to have faith, and he is the one who perfects our faith. We can only run the race without falling away if we do so in his strength, not our own. Jesus is able to keep us running because he is all-powerful, seated at the right hand of God. He endured the cross, atoning for our sins, but now death has no hold on him. He lives forever and the life he has he gives to us when we believe in him.
This may be the first Pastor Appreciation Month Uncle Bubba isn’t here to usher in, but we can rest assured Uncle Bubba feels appreciated today. We can rest assured that his life and ministry have been appreciated by our Lord. We can also rest assured that Bro. James Townsend has joined the great cloud of witnesses that Hebrews 12 talks about. Thank God for the life of Bro. James Townsend.