Psalm 71 - I will always have hope

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A Psalm of David.
1) In you, Lord, I have taken refuge;
let me never be put to shame.
2) In your righteousness, rescue me and deliver me;
turn your ear to me and save me.
3) Be my rock of refuge,
to which I can always go;
give the command to save me,
for you are my rock and my fortress.
4) Deliver me, my God, from the hand of the wicked,
from the grasp of those who are evil and cruel.

5) For you have been my hope, Sovereign Lord,
my confidence since my youth.
6) From birth I have relied on you;
you brought me forth from my mother’s womb.
I will ever praise you.
7) I have become a sign to many;
you are my strong refuge.
8) My mouth is filled with your praise,
declaring your splendor all day long.

9) Do not cast me away when I am old;
do not forsake me when my strength is gone.
10) For my enemies speak against me;
those who wait to kill me conspire together.
11) They say, “God has forsaken him;
pursue him and seize him,
for no one will rescue him.”
12) Do not be far from me, my God;
come quickly, God, to help me.
13) May my accusers perish in shame;
may those who want to harm me
be covered with scorn and disgrace.

14) As for me, I will always have hope;
I will praise you more and more.
15) My mouth will tell of your righteous deeds,
of your saving acts all day long—
though I know not how to relate them all.
16) I will come and proclaim your mighty acts, Sovereign Lord;
I will proclaim your righteous deeds, yours alone.
17) Since my youth, God, you have taught me,
and to this day I declare your marvelous deeds.
18) Even when I am old and gray,
do not forsake me, my God,
till I declare your power to the next generation,
your mighty acts to all who are to come.

19 Your righteousness, God, reaches to the heavens,
you who have done great things.
Who is like you, God?
20 Though you have made me see troubles,
many and bitter,
you will restore my life again;
from the depths of the earth
you will again bring me up.
21 You will increase my honor
and comfort me once more.

22 I will praise you with the harp
for your faithfulness, my God;
I will sing praise to you with the lyre,
Holy One of Israel.
23 My lips will shout for joy
when I sing praise to you—
I whom you have delivered.
24 My tongue will tell of your righteous acts
all day long,
for those who wanted to harm me
have been put to shame and confusion.

Psalm 71 (NRSV*)
2nd Sunday after Epiphany, Year A
Monday of Holy Week

Do not cast me away when I am old, or forsake me when my strength is gone.

In the animal kingdom, life seldom ends well. Wild animals almost always end their lives with disease, injury, hunger. The weak get eaten by the strong. As humans, we have developed the ability to sometimes change that reality. We hope for a life that is long enough, healthy enough, prosperous enough, happy enough, that ends without extreme suffering.

Sadly, that is too often a dream and not a reality. The strong do not stay strong forever. Health seldom lasts a lifetime.

This psalm seems to speak from (or at least anticipate) this reality. A lifelong walk with the Lord has not prevented enemies and accusers from striking fear into the heart of this faithful one. For they know that uprightness before the Lord does not provide immunity from danger. Enemies conspire to commit cruelty, to pursue, capture, and kill. And they have had some success. For "you [the Lord] have made me see troubles, many and bitter."

The prayer here is not to keep trouble away, but for deliverance from the enemies actively seeking destruction.

The psalms often allow a variety of interpretations. Like many, the person praying, represents themselves as faithful. "I'm a good person" is something I hear from the innocent, from scoundrels, and from everyone in between. There is a certain kind of honesty and hope in touching your own best self. "Enemies pursuing me" may be anything from foreign armies to political plots to disputes with neighbors to poverty, disease, addiction, or ill-fortune. This allows you to use the psalm to fit your circumstances for the experience of being attacked is real to the person who needs these prayers.

But the prayer goes to God because God is in charge. God will do with them as God sees best. So the best we can do is speak as forthrightly as we can.

Let me never be put to shame... Be my rock, to which I can always go.... Deliver me, my God.

Whether spoken from the depths of the Pit, or a shallow pothole, the truth of prayer is bringing what we have before God, the Universe, that Power beyond us which we cannot fully understand, and may know only vaguely or in hope. No matter. A good and loving God will listen. A supportive community may also overhear. And, in faith, we may ourselves be more attenative and more engaged in the plan for our deliverance.

God has a way of always working for good. In this, I will always have hope.

Credits:
Rodrigo Butta, Homeless and forgotten old man in Argentina. Public domain (CC0 1.0)
* New Revised Standard Version Bible (NRSV), copyright © 1989 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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