An Old Man Talks to God

Now David is an old man, and in Psalm 71 David once again is pleading with God.

David is in trouble.  Again.  One more time he is being pursued by those who want his throat and his throne.  It’s a nasty business, this being king of Israel. To be fair, David never asked for the job. He was out taking care of the sheep when God insisted that David be anointed king.  Wouldn’t one of his brothers do? No, it had to be David.

Now David is an old man, and in Psalm 71 David once again is pleading with God. Many commentaries believe the psalm describes the circumstances when David was fleeing from his rebellious son Absalom, the story of which is told in the book of 2 Samuel. But even if David is not the author, the psalm poignantly tells of the faith of an elder with a good memory. 

To also be fair, David’s problems were often his own doing. There was that whole Bathsheba thing when David lusted then tried to cover up that sin with murder. There was David’s looking the other way when one of his sons raped his half-sister, which has brought him to his present predicament.

To also be fair, David’s problems were often his own doing.

Even so, David dares to call upon God for mercy. And what he remembers now, in his old age and failing strength, is that God has sustained him all his life. God has been his hope and confidence since he was young, his strength from his birth: For you, O Lord, are my hope, my trust, O Lord, from my youth. Upon you I have leaned from my birth (vss 5-6).

His task, as he sees it from this vantage point of having sinned and been forgiven, of having failed and been rescued, is to proclaim the faithfulness of God that he has witnessed. “My mouth will tell of your righteous acts, of your deeds of salvation all day long,” he promises. (vs 15).

Just when we think the job is finished, whether we are of old age or not; just when we think we are too sinful to speak for God; just when we are giving up hope, our God calls us to continue to proclaim God’s presence among us and favor towards us. 

Today read Psalm 71. Remember and rejoice. Then tell someone.  

Psalm 71

A Prayer for Lifelong Protection and Help

1 In you, O Lord, I take refuge;
    let me never be put to shame.
2 In your righteousness deliver me and rescue me;
    incline your ear to me and save me.
3 Be to me a rock of refuge,
    a strong fortress, to save me,
    for you are my rock and my fortress.

4 Rescue me, O my God, from the hand of the wicked,
    from the grasp of the unjust and cruel.
5 For you, O Lord, are my hope,
    my trust, O Lord, from my youth.
6 Upon you I have leaned from my birth;
    it was you who took me from my mother’s womb.
My praise is continually of you.

7 I have been like a portent to many,
    but you are my strong refuge.
8 My mouth is filled with your praise,
    and with your glory all day long.
9 Do not cast me off in the time of old age;
    do not forsake me when my strength is spent.
10 For my enemies speak concerning me,
    and those who watch for my life consult together.
11 They say, “Pursue and seize that person
    whom God has forsaken,
    for there is no one to deliver.”

12 O God, do not be far from me;
    O my God, make haste to help me!
13 Let my accusers be put to shame and consumed;
    let those who seek to hurt me
    be covered with scorn and disgrace.
14 But I will hope continually,
    and will praise you yet more and more.
15 My mouth will tell of your righteous acts,
    of your deeds of salvation all day long,
    though their number is past my knowledge.
16 I will come praising the mighty deeds of the Lord God,
    I will praise your righteousness, yours alone.

17 O God, from my youth you have taught me,
    and I still proclaim your wondrous deeds.
18 So even to old age and gray hairs,
    O God, do not forsake me,
until I proclaim your might
    to all the generations to come.
 
19 Your power and your righteousness, O God,
    reach the high heavens.
You who have done great things,
    O God, who is like you?
20 You who have made me see many troubles and calamities
    will revive me again;
from the depths of the earth
    you will bring me up again.
21 You will increase my honor,
    and comfort me once again.

22 I will also praise you with the harp
    for your faithfulness, O my God;
I will sing praises to you with the lyre,
    O Holy One of Israel.
23 My lips will shout for joy
    when I sing praises to you;
    my soul also, which you have rescued.
24 All day long my tongue will talk of your righteous help,
for those who tried to do me harm
    have been put to shame, and disgraced.

Find all of the lectionary readings for Tuesday in Holy Week here. 

Marjorie George serves the Diocese of West Texas as a consultant for Adult Christian Formation. Reach her at marjorie.george@dwtx.org.  Or leave a reply below.

Light in the Darkness

Even the darkness is not dark to you;
the night is as bright as the day,
for darkness is as light to you (Psalm 139:12).

There’s a lot of talk about darkness these days. The darkness of Holy Week. The darkness of this pandemic we are in. My doctor telling me to be sure to use a night light so I won’t trip over the throw rugs in the dark. (“We worry about older people falling,” she explains. Politely.)

In the exquisite prologue to John’s gospel, the writer names Jesus as the light of all mankind at the very creation of the world. “The light shines in the darkness,” says John, “and the darkness has not overcome it” (1:4-5).

Now as we begin to walk once again with Jesus to his cross, we are reminded of the Christ light in the lectionary readings for Monday in Holy Week. “In your light we see light” says the psalmist (36:9). 

Were we to read all of Psalm 36 – only verses 5-11 are assigned – we would see that light contrasted with the darkness of those who do not know God. 

Verses 1 to 4 of the psalm describe the way of the unrighteous: they flatter themselves, they lie and cheat, they plot evil:

Transgression speaks to the wicked
    deep in their hearts;
there is no fear of God
    before their eyes.
For they flatter themselves in their own eyes
    that their iniquity cannot be found out and hated.
The words of their mouths are mischief and deceit;
    they have ceased to act wisely and do good.
They plot mischief while on their beds;
    they are set on a way that is not good;
    they do not reject evil
.

In contrast, the psalmist compares the virtues of God, addressing God directly:

How precious is your steadfast love, O God!
    All people may take refuge in the shadow of your wings.
They feast on the abundance of your house,
    and you give them drink from the river of your delights.
For with you is the fountain of life;
    in your light we see light
(vss 7-9)

In God’s light, we are reminded in other psalms, darkness has no place to hide:

Even the darkness is not dark to you;
    the night is as bright as the day,
    for darkness is as light to you
(139:12).

Are your wonders known in the darkness,
    or your saving help in the land of forgetfulness?
(88:12) 

Your word is a lamp to my feet
    and a light to my path
(119:105).

The Lord is my light and my salvation;
    whom shall I fear?
The Lord is the stronghold of my life;
    of whom shall I be afraid?
(27:1)

The unfolding of your words gives light;
    it imparts understanding to the simple
(119:130).

For you have delivered my soul from death,
    and my feet from falling,
so that I may walk before God
    in the light of life
(56:13).

The clarity that light reveals is made even more significant when we consider that in the ancient world one did not walk into a room and flip a switch to obtain light.  The darkness of night was penetrated only by the stars in the sky or by candle or oil lamp. One rose to each new day by the light of dawn. The light of creation.

The prophet Isaiah told God’s people to expect this light of Christ in the Old Testament reading for today (42:1-9). What’s more, says Isaiah as he describes the chosen servant of God, this light would reveal God’s love for all mankind:

I have given you as a covenant to the people, 
    a light to the nations,
to open the eyes that are blind,
to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon,
    from the prison those who sit in darkness
(42:6-7).

We can even see the contrast between darkness and light in the gospel reading – John 12:1-11.

After arriving in Jerusalem, Jesus has gone to Bethany to visit Lazarus whom he had raised from the dead. A dinner party is held to honor Jesus, and Mary, the sister of Lazarus, brings a jar of very expensive perfume, anoints Jesus’ feet, and wipes them with her hair.  She is preparing him for his burial.

But Judas, the one who will betray his leader, can only see waste.  “Why wasn’t this perfume sold and the money used for the poor?” he demands. Jesus responds: You can always take care of the poor, but right now we need to focus on what my crucifixion will mean for all of humanity (my paraphrase).

The Christ light shines, but Judas is not able to see by it, for he is blinded by his own agenda.

It’s hard to shine like Jesus this week in the midst of our own reaction to COVID-19.  We are so scared.  We do not know what is ahead of us. Will I have a job at the end of this? Will I be able to complete my schooling? Will my family get sick? Will my elderly parents die sooner than I had planned for?

Did Jesus’ followers wonder what was ahead of their friend, their leader, the one they thought had come to save the world? How was it all going to end?

The hope of Easter is what we are hanging on this week. The light of Christ still shines in the darkness.  We can choose to see by it. Or we can stumble in darkness. 

– Marjorie George

For all of the readings for Monday in Holy Week, click here https://www.lectionarypage.net/YearABC_RCL/HolyWk/HolyMon_RCL.html#gsp1  

Marjorie serves the Diocese of West Texas as a consultant in Adult Christian Formation.  Reach her at marjorie.george@dwtx.org.  Or leave a reply below.

Entering Jerusalem

When Jesus and his disciples had come near Jerusalem and had reached Bethphage, at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them, “Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her; untie them and bring them to me (Matt 21:1-2).

By Marjorie George 

Jerusalem was a city under siege in 30 AD.   Almost as if taking their places on the stage of the drama, as Jesus entered the city from the east riding on a donkey and hailed as a king, the forces of Pontius Pilate were entering from the west in a military column of imperial cavalry and soldiers. Although Pilate lived in opulence at Caesarea on the Sea, it was his custom to be in Jerusalem during major Jewish festivals to put down any riot or rebellion the locals might incite. “Jesus’s procession proclaimed the kingdom of God; Pilate’s proclaimed the power of empire,” say Borg and Crossan in The Last Week, (Harper San Francisco, chapter 1).

Jerusalem – the City of David – had been corrupted both by its Roman occupiers and by the Jewish authorities who acquiesced to keep the peace.

“Jerusalem, Jerusalem,” Jesus had once said, “the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!” (Luke 13:34)

Now as he entered Jerusalem, Jesus wept over the city. “If you, even you, had only recognized on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes” (Luke 19:41).

Jerusalem was not just the political and economic center of Judaism; it was, from the time of David, the religious center, for it was the home of the Temple – the place where God’s glory dwelt.

The psalmist thirsts to be in the presence of the temple, to see the living God, as much as a deer yearns for running streams in psalm 42 (vss 1-2). The psalmist recalls how he led the people in procession to the house of God with glad shouts and songs of thanksgiving (vs 4).  One thing he asks of the Lord: 
to live in the house of the Lord
    all the days of my life,
to behold the beauty of the Lord,
    and to inquire in his temple
(Psalm 27:4).

In Old Testament times, as Jewish pilgrims approached Jerusalem, they sang psalms of ascent – generally recognized as psalms 120 to 134 – expressing their delight at coming into God’s presence:
I was glad when they said to me,
    “Let us go to the house of the Lord!
(Psalm 122:1).

Thus Jerusalem, while maintaining its place as the center of Jewish devotion, embodied the corruption of the time.  And that is where Jesus chose to go. 

This week, as we enter Jerusalem with Jesus, we know something of the tension between faithful devotion and the effects of living in a broken world. Later in this Holy Week we will read that, after demonstrating to the disciples what loves means by washing their feet and sharing bread and wine with them, Jesus poured out his heart in what is known as the “farewell discourse” (John chapters 14-17). In it he asked God to protect his followers: ”I am not asking you to take them out of the world, but I ask you to protect them from the evil one,” he prayed to his Father  (17:11,15).  

Then he prayed for us: “I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me (17:20-21).

What must be said, of course, is that Palm Sunday is not the end. Jerusalem does not only mean death, it also means resurrection. 

Christians around the nation will grieve this Easter because we cannot celebrate the glorious day in the company of those we love. Even so, we know the end of the story.  We know that evil does not win. We know the darkness of Holy Week, and we know the truth of Easter.

We enter Jerusalem in hope.

Today, read the psalms appointed for Palm Sunday:

For the Liturgy of the Palms: 

Psalm 118:1-2, 19-29
1 Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; *
his mercy endures for ever.

2 Let Israel now proclaim, *
“His mercy endures for ever.” 

19 Open for me the gates of righteousness; *
I will enter them;
I will offer thanks to the Lord.

20 “This is the gate of the Lord; *
he who is righteous may enter.”

21 I will give thanks to you, for you answered me *
and have become my salvation.

22 The same stone which the builders rejected *
has become the chief cornerstone.

23 This is the Lord’s doing, *
and it is marvelous in our eyes.

24 On this day the Lord has acted; *
we will rejoice and be glad in it.

25 Hosannah, Lord, hosannah! *
Lord, send us now success.

26 Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord; *
we bless you from the house of the Lord.

27 God is the Lord; he has shined upon us; *
form a procession with branches up to the horns of the altar.

28 “You are my God, and I will thank you; *
you are my God, and I will exalt you.”

29 Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; *
his mercy endures for ever.

For the Liturgy of the Word:

Psalm 31:9-16
9 Have mercy on me, O Lord, for I am in trouble; *
my eye is consumed with sorrow,
and also my throat and my belly.

10 For my life is wasted with grief,
and my years with sighing; *
my strength fails me because of affliction,
and my bones are consumed.

11 I have become a reproach to all my enemies and even to my neighbors,
a dismay to those of my acquaintance; *
when they see me in the street they avoid me.

12 I am forgotten like a dead man, out of mind; *
I am as useless as a broken pot.

13 For I have heard the whispering of the crowd;
fear is all around; *
they put their heads together against me;
they plot to take my life.

14 But as for me, I have trusted in you, O Lord. *
I have said, “You are my God.

15 My times are in your hand; *
rescue me from the hand of my enemies,
and from those who persecute me.

16 Make your face to shine upon your servant, *
and in your loving-kindness save me.”

More for your Holy Week: Some Online resources

The Diocese of West Texas offers four short videos featuring Bishop David Reed as he engages Holy Week in this time of separation from our home churches. The episodes of “Tangible Resurrection” were introduced on Thursday Apr. 2; four additional episodes will be released for Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter Sunday. To view them, visit the diocesan social media vehicles including the diocesan Facebook page – “Episcopal Diocese of West Texas – Bishop Jones Center.” 

The brothers of Society of St. John the Evangelist in Cambridge, Massachusetts, offer nightly Compline with text and audio at https://www.ssje.org/chapel/. They are preparing other resources for Holy Week that will be posted on their site at www.ssje.org

Trinity Church Wall Street in New York City will live-stream Holy Week and Easter services. The schedule is below. (We presume times are Eastern Daylight Time.) 

Sunday, April 5 | Palm Sunday
Palm Sunday Holy Eucharist
11:15am-12:30pm 

Wednesday, April 8
Tenebrae (encore presentation of 2018)
6pm-7pm 

Thursday, April 9
Maundy Thursday
6pm-7:15pm 

Liturgy of Good Friday
12:05-1:30pm 

Saturday, April 11
The Great Vigil of Easter
7:30pm-9:30pm

Sunday, April 12
Easter Festive Eucharist
11:15am-12:30pm 

To access the live stream, visit trinitywallstreet.org about 5 minutes prior to the event. At the top of the page under the header, you will see a white banner with the name of the current live broadcast and text that reads, “Watch Live Now.” Alternatively, follow Trinity Church Wall Street on Facebook to watch the services on Facebook live. To watch on-demand after a service has ended, visit trinitywallstreet.org/videos.