Posted by: skokiecentralchurch | August 25, 2013

2013.08.25 “Psalm 71 – A Psalm for All of Life”

Central United Methodist Church

Psalm 71 – A Psalm for All of Life

Pastor David L. Haley

August 25th, 2013

Psalm 71

 

 

Psalm 71: 1 – 6, 17 – 24)

(Grail Version)

In you, O LORD, I take refuge; let me never be put to shame.

In your justice, rescue me, free me; incline your ear to me and save me.

Be my rock, my constant refuge, a mighty stronghold to save me,

for you are my rock, my stronghold.

My God, free me from the hand of the wicked,

from the grip of the unjust, of the oppressor.

It is you, O LORD, who are my hope, my trust, O LORD, from my youth.

On you I have leaned from my birth; from my mother’s womb,

you have been my help. At all times I give you praise.

*     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *

 

O God, you have taught me from my youth, and I proclaim your wonders still.

Even till I am old and gray-headed, do not forsake me, O God.

Let me tell of your mighty arm to every coming generation;

your strength and your justice, O God, reach to the highest heavens.

It is you who have worked such wonders. O God, who is like you?

You have made me witness many troubles and evils,

but you will give me back my life.

You will raise me from the depths of the earth;

you will exalt me and console me again.

So I will give you thanks on the lyre for your faithfulness, O my God.

To you will I sing with the harp, to you, the Holy One of Israel.

When I sing to you, my lips shall shout for joy, and my soul,

which you have redeemed.

And all the day long my tongue shall tell the tale of your justice,

for they are put to shame and disgraced, those who seek to harm me.

 

An elderly woman walks the hall of an assisted living center; haltingly, because she suffers from Parkinson’s Disease.  Many of her friends have died, her family lives far away. She never thought that in her old age, she would face such challenges. As she walks, under her breath, she mumbles a prayer.

A retired priest lives in a monastic community. Each morning, as he prays and studies, he is reminded of the words of a favorite Psalm, which he has taped on the wall over his desk.

An older Jewish man prays in front of the Western Wall, holding in his hands a book from which he prays, swaying (davening) back and forth as he prays.

You or I sit in a quiet place to pray our prayers. As we reflect upon our life we are thankful, and our prayers to God are thankful, because we have had a long, good, life, although – like everyone else – we have seen our share of difficulties.

What might all these have in common? All could be praying the words of this ancient Psalm, Psalm 71. It is a prayer of gratitude for the life God has given us, and a prayer that in our old age God will continue to help us, through whatever challenges we face.

We have looked at many Psalms this summer, and week by week have learned a vocabulary of prayer, for the ups and downs of life. We have marveled at the imagery of the Psalms, such as God our Rock and Refuge, for example, in Psalm 71. We have been amazed at the realism of the Psalms, teaching us how to talk to God in honesty. Perhaps most amazing, we have been humbled by the intimacy of the Psalms in their conversation with God. It’s hard not to feel that we are listening someone’s else’s prayers, and in fact we are. But then to realize, that, even though we don’t know who these people were or what their circumstances were, they invite us to join them in their prayers, to make them our prayers.

What’s most important is not to know about it, not to see it as words on a page, and pages in a book, but to pray it, to say it, to sound out the words in our mouths and in our hearts, such that they become not just ancient prayers prayed by someone else, but our prayer:

“In you, O LORD, I take refuge;

let me never be put to shame.

In your justice, rescue me, free me;

incline your ear to me and save me.

Be my rock, my constant refuge,

a mighty stronghold to save me,

for you are my rock, my stronghold.”

You will sometimes see Psalm 71 called, “A Psalm for Old Age,” because it so expressively prays, “Even when I am old and gray-headed, do not forsake me, O God.” (Not that we know anyone who is old and gray-headed!) Since the psalmist speaks as one who is old and looks back on a long life, Psalm 71 has been a favorite of the old through the centuries.

But really, all we need to know is that the Psalmist, as he writes, is old or aging, that he has seen trouble, which shows no signs of abating, even in his latter years. If we are old, we understand that, for, as the actress Bette Davis once said, “Old age is not for sissies.”  If you are not old, but young, remember this: If you are fortunate, you will one day be old, and in fact, may from time to time – even when you are young – you may sometimes be infirm and in need of help like those who are old.

In contrast to his failing strength, the Psalmist recalls a lifetime of memories of God’s faithfulness. Amazingly, these memories of God’s goodness predate his personal memory: they are from his mother’s womb. What an amazing image this is, not of God as Rock and Refuge, but of God as “midwife”:

“It is you, O LORD, who are my hope, my trust,

O LORD, from my youth.

On you I have leaned from my birth;

from my mother’s womb, you have been my help.

At all times I give you praise.”

In our United Methodist tradition, this is what our dear old Daddy John Wesley called prevenient faith; the grace of God which goes before us, even before we are aware of it or know it, even from our mother’s wombs.  It is not true – as some portray – that everyone suffers a crisis of faith and sudden conversion; for some of us the love of God was a loving, nurturing relationship from our earliest memories.

So, really, instead of being a Psalm 71 of old age, Psalm is really a psalm for all of life, from the cradle to the grave.

O God, you have taught me from my youth,

and I proclaim your wonders still.” (v. 17)

To know and thus experience the love of God in our lives does not mean we do not experience hard times, not even in our old age, when we hope to live in peace and comfort, and Psalm 71 is clear about that too:

“Do not reject me now that I am old;

when my strength fails do not forsake me.

For my enemies are speaking about me;

those who watch me take counsel together,

saying: “God has forsaken him; follow him.

Seize him; there is no one to save him.”

O God, do not stay afar off;

O my God, make haste to help me!”

As we all know, terrible things can happen, even to the elderly.  Did you read about that sad case this last week, of 88 year-old Delbert Belton, from Spokane, WA? Mr. Belton was a WWII veteran who fought in the WWII Battle of Okinawa, where he took a bullet to the leg and continued fighting.  Wednesday night, outside a pool hall, he was beaten to death by two male teens, in what police describe as a random attack.  One 16 year-old juvenile is in custody, with leads to another.  Even in our old age, when we should be most deserving of respect and honor, horrible things happen.

“Let them be put to shame and destroyed, those who seek my life.

Let them be covered with shame and confusion,

those who seek to harm me.” (v. 12)

And so, in contrast to this, perhaps what is most amazing of all, is the rising optimism and hope with which Psalm 71 ends:

But as for me, I will always hope,

and praise you more and more.

My mouth will tell of your justice,

and all the day long of your salvation,

though I can never tell it all.

Even till I am old and gray-headed,

do not forsake me, O God.

Let me tell of your mighty arm

to every coming generation . . .

What a privilege, for those of us who are in the “older and gray-haired” generations, to share our faith – a faith not always easily attained – with the younger generations.

I really wonder if I would be here today, if I had not had the privilege of growing up in such a church, which I shared with my parents and grand-parents, and scores of other respected elders whom I heard talk and teach and sing and pray and demonstrate their faith, in memorable ways.  I could give you a list of names and faces of people who did that for me; I expect most of you could provide one as well.

Sometimes those of us who are in the church – especially in multi-generational churches such as ours, moan and whine about the difficulty of bridging the generations, but in reality, it is a privilege, a blessing, which we often overlook.

Rev. John Buchanan, who retired in January of 2012 after 50 years of ministry, 25 of which were as Pastor of Fourth Presbyterian Church in Chicago, recently wrote in the Christian Century magazine, of which he is the Editor, about what he misses most about the ministry.

Like most denominations and most pastors, when he retired, Rev. Buchanan honored the clergy covenant not to interfere in the life of the congregation he left; not to preside at weddings, funerals or baptisms, and under no conditions to offer advice or become involved in decisions and conflicts. The assumption is that the retiring minister will not be present in the life of the congregation until the successor is established and invited by the former pastor to return.  But like most of us, John Buchanan found it more difficult than he anticipated.

And so when an elderly church member who had become a dear friend to him and his wife over the years, died at the age of 102, he said, “I wanted with everything in me to be part of the church’s celebration of her life and joyful affirmation of the resurrection. But as a newly retired pastor, I honored our denomination’s policy and stayed home.

And then he said, “A year after I retired I was leading a workshop when a participant asked me what I missed most about ministry. I remembered Barbara Brown Taylor’s book Leaving Church in which she said that she missed baptisms, beautiful infants, hopefully earnest young parents, and little children hugging her knees after worship. I began my own list right there, and in front of 30 professionals I was so overcome with emotion that I couldn’t continue.”  (John Buchanan, “Sunday Morning Blues,” The Christian Century, August 9, 2013)

This is the treasure and the wonderful opportunity we have in the Church, in the community of faith, whose members stretch from the cradle to the grave, so wonderfully expressed in Psalm 71, A Psalm for All of Life.

“O God, you have taught me from my youth,

and I proclaim your wonders still.

Even till I am old and gray-headed,

do not forsake me, O God.

Let me tell of your mighty arm

to every coming generation . . . .

O God, who is like you?

You have made me witness many troubles and evils,

but you will give me back my life.

You will raise me from the depths of the earth;

you will exalt me and console me again.”  Amen.

 

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Categories

%d bloggers like this: