Today’s service is a little bit different from what we would normally do on the Second Sunday in Lent. As you know, this week our parishioner David Abner died after a stay in hospice. David’s children preferred not to have a formal funeral for their father, but will plan a future time to remember him, as they did for their mother years ago.

I always want to respect a family’s wishes. But I’m also aware that we, as David’s church family, have a need to remember him with prayers and to commend him into the care of the God who created and loves him. So we are doing that this morning.

David came to St. Dunstan’s from the Church of the Atonement, another small Episcopal Church in Sandy Springs that closed a few years ago. When he walked through St. Dunstan’s doors for the first time he did not enter as a stranger. There were several of his former Atonement friends here, along with his longtime friend and golfing buddy, Keith Latimore. I won’t repeat some of the stories David told me about their golfing adventures.

David was soon a fixture in that third row from the front, sitting next to Keith. His booming voice made him a natural lector.

One of the memories I have of David was during the pandemic, when the building was shut down. He called me one day to say how much he missed coming to church. He understood why we weren’t gathering in person, but he really wished he could just come and sit in the church and read his Bible.

That simple request moved me. “Well David,” I said, “if you promise you won’t tell the bishop I’ll let you in to read your Bible. Just call before you come to make sure I’m here and I will unlock the front door for you.” He came several times.

Faith was such an important part of David’s life. The first time I visited him in hospice he was very weak and his booming voice was reduced to a whisper. He had his Bible by his bed, but he was too weak to hold and read it.

I asked if he would like for me to read a passage to him and he nodded, and said “from Matthew.” The Bible naturally opened to Matthew’s sixth chapter. The passage that we heard in today’s Gospel reading was marked.

Matthew was his favorite, David said. When I asked why he replied, “because he understands me.”

I was puzzled by that at first, but then I made the connection. Matthew was a tax collector and David was a tax accountant. 

Now there is a big difference between those two things. As a tax collector, Matthew was an agent of the despised Roman Empire, that occupied the land. He was told how much needed to be sent to Rome. Anything he collected above that was his to keep. That Matthew was wealthy tells. us what his relationship with his fellow Jews was — at least until he responded to the call to follow Jesus.

As a tax accountant, David worked to be fair to both his clients and the government — helping his clients to keep all they were legally entitled to while also making sure the government got its fair share.

But David wasn’t bothered by those distinctions. “Matthew and I have an affinity for each other,” he said.

Notice those words — not that David had an affinity for Matthew, but that they had an affinity for each other. Matthew wasn’t just words on a page to David. It was a real, living relationship.

The passage we heard today was David’s favorite. In it Jesus admonishes us not to worry four times. David lived out that admonition.

After I read this passage, he told me he was dying. I told him I knew and asked if he was afraid. He looked at me with puzzlement. “Why would I be afraid?” he asked.

“Well,” I replied, “it’s not unusual to be afraid of the unknown.”

“But I know,” he responded. “It is going to be wonderful, and I can’t wait to get there.”

The purity, the strength, the depth of David’s faith humbled me and my own faith with its doubts and questions.

And so today we pray,

Into your hands, O merciful Savior, we commend your servant David. Acknowledge, we beseech you, a sheep of your own fold, a lamb of your own flock, a sinner of your own redeeming. Receive him into the arms of your mercy, into the blessed rest of everlasting peace, and into the glorious company of the saints in light. Amen.

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