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And on into eternity

by davesandel on March 13th, 2021

Saturday, March 13, 2021                   (today’s lectionary)

And on into eternity

It is mercy that I desire, not sacrifice, declares the Lord. Get to know me, rather than burn more offerings. Yes, Lord, I want my sacrifice to be a contrite spirit and humble heart.

Driving home from getting gas at Sam’s Club, in the left lane to turn toward home, we stopped at the light. A wrinkled, middle-aged blond woman talking to herself walked up and down the median with a sign. We couldn’t read the sign. “We have something for you,” I said, and gave her $5.

She took the money and said, “There’s a bad cop up there. His name is David.” She kept talking but I interrupted her with a smile.

“My name is David.”

“Well, you don’t look like a bad cop, but that David is bad.” And then she looked into the car and saw Margaret. “How long have you been married?”

“Forty-two years.” Actually that’s jumping the gun a bit. We were married Sunday, August 19, 1979 at about noon.

“And on into eternity,” she said. Her face shone for a moment as she broke into a smile. The light turned and we were home in a couple of minutes.

Of course we didn’t get to know this gal, although we may see her again walking up and down her part of the highway. But as we left I felt warm inside, remembering her smile and hearing her words again. How quickly she turned from regret to hope, from fear to confidence, from suffering bitterness to sending a blessing.

Come, let us return to the Lord. It is he who has struck us, but he will also bind our wounds. On the third day he will raise us up to live in his presence. He will come to us like the rain.

“… and on into eternity.” She gave, and we received, her gift. I think of our pastor Matt’s simple words on Sunday: “When things are bad, do good … it’s never wrong to do right.” How much practice does it take to do this? I think our blond-haired friend-of-the-moment has had plenty. Until things go bad and I lose rights or privileges or comforts, I don’t get much practice.

Jesus compared the self-righteous Pharisee who pays tithes on his whole income to the tax collector who beat his breast and cried, “O God, be merciful to me, a sinner.” And Jesus said, “I tell you the latter went home justified, not the first. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”

In his parable Jesus describes moments in each person’s life. But does the Pharisee later become humble, perhaps through unexpected pain and loss? Does the tax collector later turn away from his repentance if he becomes successful and promoted in the Roman hierarchy?

Our piety is like a morning cloud, like the dew that passes away so soon in the morning.

As Jeremiah said, “The human heart is deceitful above all things.” Humility often uncovers me for a moment, and then I sink back into entitlement and privilege. Others, accustomed to victimhood, have the opposite experience: they feel empowered and strong for a moment but then fall back into their self-pity. In all our lives, no matter our position, God requires the simple act of noticing, and then he moves us back toward humility.

If we ask him, God will teach us this practice. But it’s like asking for patience: be careful what you ask for, because God is not safe, he is good.

(Hosea 6, Psalm 51, Psalm 95, Luke 18)

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