Parting Words

The aged professor shuffled into the stately old lecture hall as he’d done for better than half a century. He ambled over to a rickety desk that looked as though it had seen a dozen winters too many. With drawers sagging and legs slightly hobbled, the old desk resembled more and more the kindly octogenarian who had occupied it these many decades. It’s rough face scarred by the tumbles and spills of toilsome years was bare save for a battered Greek New Testament, two pairs of once forgotten reading glasses, a coffee mug etched with an image of Luther, and a half-eaten sleeve of Rolaids. His face too had its share of scars and lines; each one a valley strewn with a thousand Ebenezer stones.

In a moment the hall grew quiet. It was lecture day. For most of these budding theologians and ministers in training such times were more like holy convocations than classroom talks. So much so that the ongoing debate among the Doctors of the Dormitory revolved around which metaphor best described these moments of sacred instruction. Some held the notion that the lectures were reminiscent of Moses fresh from Horeb’s lofty crags, others argued that the image of Solomon was more appropriate. One rather exuberant fellow who had no qualms mixing his metaphors or his medicines marshaled the greater part of biblical typology to his cause. One of his more lucid pronouncements maintained that their venerable teacher could easily be likened to the two tables of the law, the pot of manna, and Aaron’s rod locked away inside God’s treasure box. Like the Manna he was the gift that kept on giving but always took off on the Sabbath, like the budding rod he had vitality that was inexplicable save for an infusion of supernatural power, and the tables of the law had something to do with inflexible policies on grading term papers or something of the sort but at least you get the picture. At any rate, when he spoke they all became little Moseses ‘turning aside to see the great sight.’

The professor pulled out the old oak chair which had been his desk’s constant companion since the Eisenhower administration, and unceremoniously let himself down. There was a thud and a grunt but between the old saint and the old seat no one can be sure which made what sound. He chuckled in the general direction of his students as he cracked, “Here I sit; I can do no other. God help me.”

After a moment or so of peering into the faces of the dozens of young seminarians seated before him he bowed his head and prayed, “Thy mercy, O LORD, is in the heavens; and thy faithfulness reacheth unto the clouds. Amen.” Then he gave what would be his last lecture:

“Most of you have come to these hallowed halls in search of knowledge. You want to fill your heads so that you can set your hands to the work to which our Lord has called you. That is a noble endeavor and I do not disparage it. But today I want to offer you more than knowledge—I proffer wisdom instead. You see, brothers, wisdom is that sort of thing that you can learn by falling and rising better than by books and lectures. It’s the sort of understanding that gets into you best when you’ve been kicked around, knocked over, beaten down, and roughed up. Wisdom gets in through cuts and scrapes. When tears roll down wisdom rushes in. But it is not automatic, mind you. You have to set your heart to receive it. You have to learn the art of holy fear. You have to fear your strengths as much, if not more, than your weaknesses. And you have to fear God above all else. That is, after all, the very beginning of wisdom.

Remember, one can be a knowledgable fool just as easily as one can be an idiot. But I would not recommend either course. Rather, give yourself over to wisdom. Entrust yourself to that heavenly folly which stubbornly believes every promise of God. This is the foolishness of God which breaks the wisdom of the world in pieces. It is also that which puts those shattered pieces back together according to his own good pleasure.

Throw yourself wholly upon the One who is called Holy. God is faithful. Burn those three words upon your memories. Then write them upon your eyelids for when your failing memory gives way. Trace them upon your hands in the event that blindness overtakes you but never lose sight or sense of those three words: God is faithful.

I hear tales about my growing legend in the dorms and hallways but I would like to put an end to the rumors. I am not Moses, nor am I Solomon. I am not a patriarch nor a prophet. I am not even the least of the apostles. I am a chief among sinners and that is no noble office to which to aspire. All that I am, if I am anything at all, I am because of the faithfulness of Him which has kept me in the grip of grace. If there is anything in me that is worth mentioning just call it the faithfulness of God.

In these eighty-six years I have fought in two wars, shepherded one flock, taught in four institutions, loved one woman, buried three sons, and been blessed by four grandchildren. It is because of the Lord’s mercy that I have not been utterly consumed because his compassions fail not. Every day that I have been privileged to get out of bed and place one foot in front of the other has landed those feet right square in a fresh pile of new morning mercies! The Psalmist declared, “Thy faithfulness reacheth unto the clouds.” Well, beloved, it has an even greater sweep than that. It fetches from the dunghill and sets us among princes. Having lived almost a full century I can attest to having learned one overarching lesson; this is the marrow of all my theology, this is the sum of all my wisdom—God is faithful.”

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