Monday, October 18, 2010

'God, be merciful to me, a sinner!'

There are places you can get to in life, positions you can fill, status you can gain, prizes you can win, by following the rules, checking the boxes off the list, getting the signatures in the right spaces on the forms, and satisfying the tribunal.

There are places you can't.

There are rewards you cannot earn, standards you cannot meet, and tribunals you cannot satisfy - not on your own.

"For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted."
(Luke 18:14)

As St. James says,

God opposes the proud,
but gives grace to the humble.

(James 4:6)

When I joined the Boy Scouts I tried to follow the rules - spoken and unspoken. I was very taken with the Boy Scout Handbook, and tried to instill its precepts in my self like holy writ. I learned to recite the Scout Law, the Scout Oath, and the Scout Motto.

And I followed the rules. You can see in my copy of the Boy Scout Handbook checkmarks against each of the steps to become a Tenderfoot Scout, then a Second-Class Scout. And on it goes...

There were all sorts of very useful rules and instructions. They were helpful - if you kept the purpose in mind.

The purpose was, to my fourteen-year-old mind, to learn the skills to have fun - safely - in woods or on water.

We learned how to canoe, to hike, to camp, to cook outdoors over an open fire, to make the fire, to chop the wood. We learned first aid, surveying techniques, and woodcraft.

We learned a lot of things - to have fun, safely and skillfully, and to be changed. We became better boys - on the way to becoming better men. We learned how to work together. We learned how to lead. We learned how to follow, even when somebody confused leading with bossing other boys around. We learned how to make our way on our own, when that was necessary.

Of course you are never really alone.

(Even Eagle Scouts need help from the other boys.)

God is always walking with you.

And of course you will never make it, on your own. Not to the place that really matters. Not to becoming the person that you were really made to be. You can't - and you don't have to. You weren't made to. You were made to walk with God.

For He has told you, O mortal, what is good;
and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
and to walk humbly with your God?

(Micah 6:8)

If you are wondering how to find God's will for your life - there it is. Do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with your God.

Or, to put it another way - one of Jesus' favorites - you can sum up the whole Law for living in two phrases:

Hear what our Lord Jesus Christ saith:
Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it: Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.

(The Book of Common Prayer, The Holy Eucharist, Rite One)

Do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with my God? Oh! Is that all?

It'll only take a lifetime to learn.

And a good lifetime it will be.

For we are not made to make it on our own - despite all the strivings of the earnest but overconfident Pharisee, neither he - nor any one of us - is able to exalt ourselves.

He did all the 'right' things - checked all the right boxes. He tithed, he fasted. He gained position, and won status for himself. He had forgotten the purpose. He just wanted to make it to the top. But - nobody makes it on their own.

You cannot get into heaven by pulling up on your own bootstraps.

The repentant tax collector knew this. He may not have lived a good life - in fact, he was sure he hadn't, and repented for it - but he did know this:

All he was able to offer, all he had, was humility, a prayer of humble access before the Lord.

Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner.

Christ, have mercy on me, a sinner.

Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner.



For the Lord is good, and a merciful maker of righteousness:

Our sins are stronger than we are, *
but you will blot them out.

Happy are they whom you choose
and draw to your courts to dwell there! *
they will be satisfied by the beauty of your house,
by the holiness of your temple.

Awesome things will you show us in your righteousness,
O God of our salvation, *
O Hope of all the ends of the earth
and of the seas that are far away.

(Psalm 65:3-5)


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