Wednesday of Lent 2

Jeremiah 3:6-18

The Throwaway Man

There was a time when I was a young instant parent by marriage that I thought parenting got easier with age. Oh, yes, it is very intensive work through the youngest years. At thirty, after fourteen months of marriage, I had an 11-year-old, an 8-year-old, and a newborn. It seemed I was always running. No more than three nights out per week, per my bishop’s orders, but both work and family were all-consuming. I learned the meaning of multi-tasking before I ever learned the word. Parenting can be such hard work.

As an adjunct family member of each family in each parish, I was dispossessed very quickly of the notion that parenting would come to an end. Rather, it was precisely as each child grew closer to majority age that I began to realize how very different each one was, and that prayers for each were very different based upon the most pressing concerns in and about their lives.

The description of the man implied by the above title may give the impression his life was wasted. While I do think he hid many of his gifts under a bushel basket and was often a spendthrift from his pampered youth, he was a genuinely affable man given to some pomposity and to the kind of loosey-goosey liberal pietism one finds among some baby boomers. That was no surprise given where and when he had grown up. His mother often worried about his alcohol consumption and wished I could be more confrontational and directive about it. But, as I reminded her, folks have to want to change, and the man clearly thought he had no problem of that sort. His lack of self-awareness in that regard made him unapproachable.

By all accounts, he was very successful in business and given to annual displays of magnanimity with employees and clients alike. He never saw that his world was about to collapse until it was too late. As my late and first hospital chaplain supervisor used to say: “You can better trust a professional gambler than a Christian, because one knows if he cheats he is a dead man, while the other expects to be forgiven.” Just like that there was a major sea change, and the man was thrown away with a golden parachute.

As I wrote recently, many men do not do well in retirement… especially those who were not at all ready. He dabbled in this and that, fantasized not a little, but, frankly, he had no idea who he was apart from a world into which he had been born, a life that had always been there. Personal disappointments followed. These were the logical consequences of ignoring what was, as opposed to what he wanted to believe.

In the mid-1980s as I came to grips with being the adult child of an upstanding alcoholic father, the brother of a spiraling down drunk, the son-in-law of a mean drunk, and the husband of a woman who hated her father and was often given to rage with or without drinking, I started going to daytime meetings of a 12-step group for adult children of alcoholics. The group was filled with the offspring of highly successful men and women in Dallas. The stories they told helped me to understand that alcoholism and addiction cut across socioeconomic strata. As I have often said since, addiction can just as easily be found among the well-educated and the wealthy. Some of the group’s stories were hair-raising, and yet, the advantages of class had plastered a veneer of urbanity over their considerable sins, often behind closed doors.

The throwaway man was not a monster by any means. He was a man for whom Jesus was the object of good feelings and happy thoughts rather than the Lord and Savior to whom every area of the old sinful life must be exposed, confessed, and subjected to healing that begins here and is completed in one’s death.

Thank you, Father, that when we return to your merciful, waiting arms, you forgive us for your dear Son Jesus’ sake. Grant us grace to be honest with ourselves in your presence. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Put fifteen pennies, nickels, or dimes in a bowl or box to feed the poor (Mother Hubbard’s Cupboard).

Pastor Samuel D. Zumwalt, STS
St Matthew's Evangelical Lutheran Church
Wilmington, NC

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Text Edition: 2016. Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.