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Big shoes to fill

Raise your hand and tell me who the 17th president of the United States was. Okay, I’m waiting. 

I am sure there is a young lady in the back of the classroom who would raise her hand and spout off his name as if she were reading it from a book. There’s always one, you know; and we are all indebted to those young ladies for saving us. But most would answer the question by calling out random guesses, “U.S. Grant? Thomas Jefferson? Hank Williams?”

Hank Williams? Oh, don’t be surprised. Fame fades fast, and the bad thing is not that most under the age of 50 could not tell you he is responsible for “Your Cheatin’ Heart” and “I saw the Light” but that they are liable to ask, “Now, which president was he?” 

I laugh at that myself but, truth is, if you asked me to name 15 presidents I’d probably leave out some key ones, too. But while we may stumble at the question regarding the 17th president, we likely would be the first to wave our hand in the air when asked about the 16th. Most of us would holler out and exclaim immediately, “Oh, that was Abraham Lincoln” – and you would be right. But it is hard to remember who had the unenviable task of following the man most people would regard as our greatest president ever. 

The 17th president was Andrew Johnson, a Southern democrat that Lincoln chose to run with him in his reelection campaign in 1864. History turns out to be a bit ambivalent to Lincoln’s successor: He was a president with strong views that endeared him to some, while those views – and, evidently, his brashness – eventually led him to impeachment. He survived removal from office by one tiny vote. I guess it wasn’t all that tiny. Probably what he lacked that the 16th president had an abundance of was a certain Lincoln-esque grace that is difficult to duplicate.

Some men really do have some big shoes to fill, and – as far as American history goes – none had bigger than Andrew Johnson. But even if you go back to Bible history, you will note that there are good many Andrew Johnson’s in there, too. Elisha has to take the mantle from Elijah, Timothy fills the pulpit after Paul, Isaac steps into the shoes of his father Abraham, and Jacob has to stand in the place of Isaac. And, perhaps the biggest of all, Joshua has to become the point man in the place of Moses. Can you imagine having to follow Moses?

But what I wanted to remind you of today, in kind of a funny way, is this: When someone walks through your door one day holding a big pair of shoes – oh, and they will – remember not to sell yourself short: The world needs the Andrew Johnsons of the world, too.