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November 18, 2016

odds and ends of mercy

It was a Saturday evening and I saw the man I married standing over a dirty pile of dishes in and around our one tiny sink. He was patiently cleaning every dish our guests had dirtied. If he were the cook, the dishes would have been neatly stacked, and fewer pots and pans would have been dirtied. But no matter—there he was, patiently and quietly cleaning up after his wife, the Tasmanian Devil of the kitchen. The task took him at least one hour, but he didn't complain.

On Sunday during the service, I  heard a pounding on the church door. Before anyone else could react, my husband jumped up to answer the door and pull the knocking man's wheelchair into the building. During the service, my husband was up and down several more times. Once to look for the easel the speaker wanted to write on. Multiple times to play his guitar, in his un-showy way. Once to close the bathroom door which stays open when someone with a wheelchair uses the bathroom.

At the coffee break between services, I saw him sitting at a table full of misfits. My husband is intelligent, athletic, musical, good looking and could mingle with most anyone. But he chose to sit with a simple immigrant lady with whom conversations are always about the same four or five topics. On his other side was the elderly German man who doesn't seem to do much more than eat cookies and praise my husband's language skills. The handicapped Russian-speaking man wearing a pirate-like eye patch was at the table too. He is difficult to understand and 3/5 of his jokes revolve around vodka. In human terms, the people at the table had nothing to offer my husband. And there he was, in the midst of them.

One of the unexpected blessings of marriage has been catching my husband employing his gift of mercy. We got to know each other long distance, so I didn't know I'd be the wife of the guy who buys popsicles for his coworkers on the hottest day of the summer. The one who patiently bears with long-lasting annoyances at work. The one who can be around a noisy child without getting upset. The one who nearly endlessly bears with his wife, who has more ideas than she has time to organize them...who starts a third or fourth project or sentence before wrapping up the first. It's unusual to hear him say a negative word about anyone. His spiritual gift is a gift to me and to everyone else.

I've noticed that usually the area where we feel most tempted to criticize our local fellowship—or the area where we see a giant need in the church—is probably an area of our own spiritual gifting. A friend of ours whose gifting is obviously in outreach is always perturbed that our fellowship doesn't have a clearer, more direct message going out every Sunday. I tend to be critical of sloppy, disorganized teaching and I think this is probably because teaching is one of my spiritual gifts. And when my husband sees that someone is suffering or needy, his "helps" or "mercy" sensor breaks his heart and sets him in motion. We can help with a variety of needs in our fellowships, but there are probably particular needs that we will feel especially drawn to, and be especially equipped to meet.

One evening my husband referred to a group of people who had been at our house as "odds and ends". It was a good description. The group was a bit of this and that: from different cultures, ages, and backgrounds. They didn't have much in common except that we'd met them through our fellowship, and none of them had much in common with my husband or me. His comment reminded me that while we might avoid gatherings of odds and ends (that night was a bit awkward), God thrives on gathering odds and ends and making them One in Him.

Titus said, He saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of His mercy. Do we think He made us part of the Church because we were so attractive to Him? Because we cut our hair in reasonably stylish ways, spoke unaccented English or made decent money? Because we could carry on interesting conversations and He liked our personalities? Because we had something impressive to offer Him?

No, we had nothing to bring to Him. The mess was our fault, but He came along to clean it up. We were outside knocking, and He didn't have to let us in. We were at the table full of misfits who had nothing to offer Him. Somehow, He had mercy on us anyway. Not because of who we are, but because of Who He is.

We are His miscellaneous remnants.
We are odds and ends of mercy.

Will we show mercy to His other odds and ends?

"For I say, through the grace given to me, to everyone who is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think soberly, as God has dealt to each one a measure of faith. For as we have many members in one body, but all the members do not have the same function, so we, being many, are one body in Christ, and individually members of one another. Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, let us prophesy in proportion to our faith; or ministry, let us use it in our ministering; he who teaches, in teaching; he who exhorts, in exhortation; he who gives, with liberality; he who leads, with diligence; he who shows mercy, with cheerfulness. Let love be without hypocrisy." —Paul to the Romans

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