My Grandfather, Leonard Larson, spent his life as a Covenant Pastor in Kansas City, after serving as a Christian Educator in China. He was a character, an extreme extrovert. When we visited him in his last years, his doctor had to turn his pace-maker down to keep him from getting too excited. More than anything, he loved Jesus and loved helping others come to love Jesus too: his heart was that of an evangelist. I’m told by my large Larson family that I look very much like him.
Two stories that linger down through the generations have lived with me in my years of ministry. The first my mother (his daughter) told me. Leonard was an amazing cook, and he decided one fall to make his award winning chili and invite the neighborhood to come and visit the church. When the time came, and all was prepared, no one from the neighborhood came. But Leonard wasn’t discouraged. He went to the store and purchased a number of Tupperware containers (which he could ill afford) and brought meals out to the doorsteps of the neighborhood, with a note attached that said “Taste and see that the Lord is good” along with an invitation to come and worship. This reflected his heart for ministry and love for people.
The second does the same. It comes in his own words from a sermon he was preaching in 1937:
Driving to Salina one day we picked up a young man at a filling station who was going west. As we drove along the conversation turned to spiritual things and he confessed he was not a Christian and ddid not know ho to become one. Verse by verse we showed him what it meant to be a Christian and how to appropriate Christ unto salvation. At last he yielded and asked the Lord to accept him and cleanse him from his sins and make him his child. Then somewhat bashfully he asked, “Is this all there is to it? I don’t feel like a Christian.” Taking a quarter from our pocket we gave it to him and he taken by surprise thanked us and confessed he only had fifteen cents left with which to buy lunch until he got to Denver. “Are you sure this quarter is yours now?” we asked. “Sure, you gave it to me, didn’t you?” was his response. “Well, do you feel it belongs to you?” “No, but I know it is mine because you said I could have it.” Then he smiled and his face lighted up, “O now I see, that’s just the way it is with being a Christian. I took Jesus like God told me to so I must be a Christian even though I don’t understand all that it means yet.”
Leonard and my grandmother Alice faithfully loved God and their neighbors. They had experienced Grace, and passed the invitation along. They gave of themselves sacrificially. They let their lights shine, as what they said and what they did melded together so beautifully into a witness for Christ.
Leonard died when I was just 9. A year before, at their 50th wedding celebration, he caught my eye, motioned to me from across the room to come to him, plopped me on his lap, took a ribbon from a gift and put it around my neck. Then he held me up with some effort and shouted out, “First prize, First prize!” And I’ll never forget how special, and how loved I felt in his arms.
At gravesides, we speak the word of John the Revelator: Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord. Blessed indeed, says the Spirit, for they rest from their labors, and their deeds follow after them.” (14:13)
Blessed too are those of us who have known and been loved by them, and formed by their witness. Whoever they are for you, remember them give thanks — and remember too, the living opportunities you have too share the love of Christ with those along your road.
Rest in Peace and Rise in Glory, Leonard and Alice!