Monday, December 19, 2011

God Bless You for Your Goodness

Saturday evening, I went to retrieve my T-post puller from the chipper truck so as to be able to replace the broken top bar/lever and as I put it into the cab of my pickup I tore a hole in the headliner. Boo hoo.

Then I went to Blockbuster to pick up a couple of free videos. From there I went to Braums to buy the gallon of milk that Stephanie requested.

As I drove into the parking lot I observed a frail looking man hobbling toward the sidewalk beside the store building. He very cautiously toppled over onto the raised sidewalk. I parked the truck and walked over toward him asking as I walked whether he was alright. He was half lying and half sitting, bracing himself with his arm. He informed me that he was not hurt. Then he looked up and said that he was staying in a motel about two blocks away. Furthermore he informed me that he had no money but could use a sandwich and milk.

I knew when I walked to him that I was setting myself up, but I had to check. I did not want to buy this man’s supper. I told him, I don’t have any spare money either . . . I cannot afford these things for myself . . . but I’ll get you something to eat.

I asked him, “Can you manage to walk into the store to pick out a sandwich.” He replied, “Yes, I can do that.”

He truly had difficulty walking. He told me that his legs cramp badly. I asked him what caused his legs to cramp. I could not tell whether he said “AIDS” or “Age.” I asked again. I still could not understand. Then he added that he was 68 years old. The cause of his cramps did not really matter, but I cared about his condition, and wondered whether anything could help him.

His hands were as thin as the rest of his body and were covered with callouses, but not the kind that my hands have from hard and abusive work. His callouses were the kind that people have from sleeping and living in harsh weather.

According to my flesh, I did not want to help this man. I have been taken advantage of many, many, many times. Now I was going to spend more on him than I spend on myself in a week. I did not really want to help him, but I had no choice. My heart, or more accurately, the one who lives in my heart, overruled my selfishness and fearfulness.

The fact is that if I did as I really want, I would do nothing else than go around helping people. But I have little resources left to utilize. I have spent myself and my resources, and also my wife’s. And so, I tend to think that I need to protect myself and my wife from what the Spirit moves me to desire. I find myself relying not upon the Lord but upon my own false presumptions.

But the Lord’s love lives in me and is greater than my lack of love, and so this man and I walked slowly to the entrance to the store/restaurant. I cannot remember whether or not I asked the man his name.

As we walked, he said, “God will bless you for your goodness.”

I responded with a bit of a smile, “God has blessed me. He blesses me even though I do not do well.”

He said, “Yes. Yes, of course.”

As we entered, the little eating booths were near and he approached the closest one and sat down. I asked what kind of sandwich he would like. He shrugged his shoulders. I asked whether he wanted a warm sandwich or a cold one, and he said that a cold one would be fine. I said that I did not know where those were kept, and again he shrugged. I inquired regarding the kind of milk that he would like me to purchase for him. We buy the skim milk, that has not been corrupted through homogenization, so I asked first whether he would like skim milk. He preferred the homogenized, and requested a half gallon. I did not find the cold sandwiches and thought, “He really does not need a cold sandwich. A hot sandwich would be much better.” And again I also shrank back at the thought that it would cost more money, too.

I went back and told him that I could not find the cold sandwiches, but perhaps he would enjoy a nice burger instead. His eyes lit up a bit and he said that would be nice. So I went and ordered him a third pound deluxe cheese burger, and then went to select the milk. By the time I paid for the milk the sweet counter clerk had given him his burger and it was half consumed. I went to him and gave him his milk.

He turned and thanked me repeatedly with statements of “God bless you” and the like. He reached out to hug me saying, “I love you,” and more blessings. As I bent over and hugged him I told him, “I love you, too.” As we hugged, I saw a dried and crumpled leaf fall to the floor, a leaf that he likely picked up from lying on the ground.

He again told me that he was staying two blocks away, from which I did not know quite what to understand. As he was not done eating, I only thought of his need for time to finish and did not even think that he may have been telling me more. Besides, I feared what more he could be implying. I “kindly” reminded him to be careful crossing the street.

At the time, it was a genuine comment of care, and I think that it was even spoken innocently. But what was he really telling me?

Afterwards I thought of much more. Here was a man who was barely able to walk into the store. Why did I not offer to wait and take him to his motel?

Moreover, whom did this man have? He apparently is all alone in the world. Was he asking for someone to be with him for a little while?

This man thanked me for what I did. But I did not even tell him about the love of God in Christ. I did not even tell him about the life that Christ purchased for him. With Christmas only week away, I did not even speak of the good news of the birth of God in the flesh to save us. Instead, I left him with thoughts of what a kind and loving man he perceived me to be.

What a load of crap!

I cried when I came home and realized more fully how selfishly I acted. Here was a hurting and lonely man who may not have lived another day. I had the bread of life and the Lord’s righteousness to give to him and I gave him the filth of my “righteousness.” I gave him a burger and some milk and hug and a mere snippet of the Gospel.

Two days later my eyes still fill with tears and I choke as I ponder this.

Over my lifetime I have helped many people. I have paid for motel bills for weeks on end. I have paid medical bills. I have taken people to the hospital and to doctors and sometimes paid their bills. I have shared the Gospel, the pure Gospel with many such people, only to have most of them become angry and some even to curse me, when I said that I had no more money to give.

And so I have become sometimes jaded and hard of heart, or at least not as eager and willing to be used and abused.

Yet I know that I cannot be the helper of the entire world. I can only give what I have received. I have God given responsibilities to my wife, to be home at a reasonable hour, to attempt to provide for our financial needs, to be available to her, etc.

In the end, a person has to say with Luther:

     If you are a preacher of grace, then preach a true and not a fictitious grace; if grace is true, you must bear a true and not a fictitious sin. God does not save people who are only fictitious sinners. Be a sinner and sin boldly, but believe and rejoice in Christ even more boldly, for he is victorious over sin, death, and the world. As long as we are here [in this world] we have to sin. This life is not the dwelling place of righteousness, but, as Peter says, we look for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells. It is enough that by the riches of God’s glory we have come to know the Lamb that takes away the sin of the world. No sin will separate us from the Lamb, even though we commit fornication and murder a thousand times a day. Do you think that the purchase price that was paid for the redemption of our sins by so great a Lamb is too small? Pray boldly—you too are a mighty sinner.

People love to quote this from Luther apart from the greater context. But for those who are struggling with the reality that “all of our righteousness are as filthy rags,” this is blessed comfort. It certainly is not an excuse to choose to sin. It is, however, redemption, as we all learn that even our best intentions and best efforts are still corrupt and fall short of the glory of God. The merits of Christ are what make our deeds to be counted as righteousness.

And so we may go forth in true faith and “sin boldly” with our Spirit led consciences, doing good in as much as we are able, trusting not in these for any merit, but looking only to the merits of Christ which are accounted as ours through the faith that the Holy Spirit gives us in Baptism.

Since this is so easily misunderstood and often misapplied, a brief additional word of explanation. For example, a Christian may offer gentle and holy counsel to a hurting person of the opposite sex. That person, moved by the love that is demonstrated can begin to feel attraction to the lover. That attraction can begin to move toward sexual desire, which then tempts both persons to fornication in their hearts. And so the good and loving efforts become sinful thoughts.

Moreover, since we are by nature sinners, everything that we think, say, and do is corrupt.

Our only hope is Jesus and His merits that are accounted to us for His sake within the sanctity of His Holy Communion. To this we flee from our “good works” as well as what is more easily recognized as sin. And so we do our corrupt “good works” boldly, even though even the best of them are still impure and damning according to their own worth, trusting in Christ and His redemption alone.

And in this, while we continue to learn to trust Christ more and more fully for our redemption, we also learn to trust Him again and again as we grow fearful and jaded and thereby hindered from even those things that we would be moved by God’s love to do. We then in faith go forward, not looking back to our past failings, nor fearing our present and future failings, but trusting in God’s grace in Christ we “sin boldly,” giving thanks to God for His merciful goodness. How wonderful it is to realize that we have this doctrine declared in the Athanasian Creed, teaching us that the catholic faith is this very doctrine that at the last day our failures will be counted as good works in accord with this faith given by the Holy Spirit, even though all stand as condemned according to their own works apart from this faith in what Christ has earned for us.

+ + +

An additional realization:

This man said, likely unaware of the greater meaning, “God will bless you for your goodness.”

Actually, he was entirely correct, since Christ is my goodness. Indeed, with Christ as my goodness, God does bless me for His sake.

+ + +


Gary Cepek said...


"God Bless You for Your Goodness" poignantly reflects the tension we each, as God's children, always experience as we live by faith and not by sight. The constant warfare between the flesh and the spirit in every and any situation, each moment of the day, remains beyond our limited ability to fathom, much less truly address and solve. Yet, as you so regularly highlight, The LORD's mercies in Christ that are made ours us through the Holy Word and the blessed Sacraments alone grant us both true willingness to love others in His Name that He may be glorified, and true comfort as our imperfect efforts fall short of His glory.

I Timothy 6:17-21 also comes to mind: "Tell those who are rich in this world not to feel proud and not to trust in anything so uncertain as riches - but to trust God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy. Tell them to do good, to rich in good works, to be glad to give to others, and to share. In this way they are storing up for themselves a treasure, as a good foundation for the future, that they may take hold of the life that really is life. Timothy, guard what has been entrusted to you. Turn away from empty, worldly talk and contradictory statements of what is falsely called 'knowledge.' Although some claim to have it, they have lost their faith. Grace be with you."

Gary Cepek

Not Alone +++ PAS said...

Thanks for your comments, Gary. You always have additional helpful and worthy thoughts to share, and Scriptural admonition and encouragement.

God keep you safe bodily and spiritually.