Psalm 90 Reflections
I know we are doing things a little differently this Sunrise service than you probably have in the past here at Pierecton Presbyterian church. I stripped the sunrise service to the bones and oriented it around Psalm 90. I did so because there is a stirring in my Spirit to call the saints of God in this church to arise, to pray, to turn to the Lord for new life and wisdom.
A friend of mine asked me recently what I do as a minister when my spiritual batteries run low? How do I cope when I am discouraged when I am not being fed? It is a perpetual question, who pastors the pastors? Who comforts the comforters? Easter Sunday is about the hope of the Resurrection and I think part of a pastor’s job is to point people to that hope with conviction. And there have been some Sundays that I have not felt that conviction. That it is all I can do to preach a Truth that I know in my head but am not necessarily feeling in my heart. I fear those Sundays. Each week I wonder what I am going to say that hasn’t already been said? How do I make talk not cheap? How do I preach a word that is Spirit and Truth?
To all of you today I say that the only thing I have found that helps is, as the psalmist declares, to seek the Lord that he may satisfy me with his “steadfast love in the morning.” I am not here to direct your prayer life but I find when I sacrifice sleep, and arise in the stillness of the morning, to study God’s Word, pray for God’s people, and pray for myself, there is a filling that I experience, and I am not as weary as I thought I would be not having gotten eight hours of sleep. Surely, in prayer it is okay to ask for our needs and wants, and the needs and wants of others. We see in the Psalms an honesty with God in prayer that many religious people today would consider rude and inappropriate. I can’t tell you how many people I have met who have confessed to me that they don’t know how to pray, or even why they should pray. Once I sat down with some Muslim friends at a Ramadan dinner, Ramadan being the 40 day period of fasting from sunrise to sunset that is a requirement for observant Muslims. Somehow we got into the discussion about prayer. A Muslim that I was eating with asked me how I prayed? He asked if, like Muslim’s, I recited verses from the Bible as he did from the Quran, the Quran being a Arabic word for recitation. I told him that we did have the Lord’s prayer but mostly I just spent time talking to God. He didn’t really understand this concept. Islam, you see is built on practice and function. In many branches of Islam they believe that you are not actually reciting the Quran unless you do so in Arabic. And honestly, many Christians are not far from that. We know the functions, the traditions of our faith. For us Presbyterians we know how to do things decently in order. But when it comes to being overcome by the LORD’s steadfast love, a love that seeks us though we may deny him, we don’t really know how to deal with that. All I have to say is seek God. Make a sacrifice of prayer and praise in the time and place that works for you. The scriptures tell us that if we seek we shall find.
We should also note that the Psalmist is very honest about the mortality of humanity and facing death. As many scholars have noted there isn’t much of a concept of heaven and hell in the Old Testament. The most they had was the concept of Sheol a shadowy underworld that most people went to whether they believed or not, whether they were good or bad. Modern people who think of religion as an opiate for the masses might find this lack of an afterlife in the Old Testament rather surprising. But C.S Lewis in his commentary on the Psalms argues that this is not surprising at all. To quote Lewis, “ For one thing there were nations close to the Jews whose religion was overwhelmingly concerned with the after life. In reading about ancient Egypt one gets the impression of a culture in which the main business of life as the attempt to secure the well being of the dead. It looks as if God did not want the chosen people to follow that example. We may ask why. Is it possible for men to be too much concerned with their eternal destiny? In one sense, paradoxical though it sounds, I should reply, Yes. For the joy or misery beyond death, simply in themselves, are not even religious subjects at all. A man who believes in them will of course be prudent to seek the one and avoid the other. But that seems to have no more to do with religion than looking after one’s health or saving money for one’s old age. The only difference here is that these stakes are so very much higher. And this means that, granted a real and steady conviction, the hopes and anxieties aroused are overwhelming. But they are not on that account the more religious. They are hopes for oneself, anxieties for oneself. God is not in the centre. He is still important only for the sake of something else. Indeed such a belief can exist without a belief in God at all. Buddhists are much concerned with what will happen to them after death, but are not in any true sense, Theists.” ( Reflections on the Psalms pg 39-41). In our seeking the Lord what are we looking for? Do we love the Lord more than our own lives?
Finally, we should note that the Psalm ends with a plea from the Psalmist to have the Lord, “establish the work of our hands.” In our recent youth group meeting I was teaching the kids about what it meant to be made in the image of God. When I asked them what they thought it meant to be made in the image of God, how are we like God, Cora simply replied, “we make stuff.” Simply put I couldn’t have said it better myself. To be made in the image of God means that we take part in creation like God. No other creature in God’s creation creates like we do. And yet, as the Psalmist suggests, human life seems to be like the grass, it flourishes in the morning, and withers in the evening. If we are but dust how can we make anything that it lasting? But the psalmist suggests that the Lord, “can establish the work of our hands.” And Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 15:58 that through the power of the Resurrection we “do not labor in vain.” To quote N.T Wright author of Surprised By Hope, “ Every act of love, gratitude, and kindness; every work of art or music inspired by the love of God and delight in the beauty of his creation; every minute spent teaching a severely handicapped child to read or to walk,; every act of care and nurture, of comfort and support, for one’s fellow human beings and for that matter one’s fellow nonhuman creatures; and of course very prayer, all Spirit-led teaching, every deed that spreads the gospel, builds up the church, embraces and embodies holiness rather than corruption , and makes the name of Jesus honored in the world- all of this will find its way, through the resurrecting power of God, into the new creation that God will one day make.” ( Wright, pg 208). Oh Lord, may your favor, your beauty be upon us. May you establish the work of this church. May your people in this church, whom you have called by name, arise, and cast off their shame. In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.