Just who is in control of what happens in my life? It’s complicated …
The suggested title for your sermon is a not-so-thinly-disguised reference to an improv show that originated in the United Kingdom in the waning years of the last millennium: “Whose Line Is It Anyway?”
When ABC picked up this short-form improvisational comedy show, it ran until 2007, and since then has reappeared in various incarnations around the world, and segments can still be seen on social media. Often, the audience made suggestions for topics, or ideas were tendered as predetermined prompts from the host, which for a long time was Drew Carey. The show was modeled on a game show during which the host arbitrarily assigned phony points and likewise chose a fake winner at the end of each episode.
In the rapid-fire spontaneity of the dialogue, it was easy to understand how someone could wonder, “Whose line is it, anyway?”
By looking at this droll and surprisingly witty show, one can tease out a number of lessons. But the one that is suggested by today’s psalm text leaps at us in verse 15: “My times are in your hands.”
What Time Is It?
Knowing the time is critically important in our fast-paced society. Fortunately, we seldom need to ask, “What time is it?” The current time is right there in the corner of our laptops, at the top of our tablets or on the face of our smartwatches, accurate to the second, courtesy of the internet. If we’re in the car, we can find the time glowing at us digitally on the dash somewhere.
But, if we are traveling internationally, time becomes a more common question. We need to know so we don’t miss our train, connecting flight, or time slot at the Van Gogh museum, all while moving through changing local time zones. We might even learn how to say, “What time is it?” in the language of the country we’re in. In Mexico, it is, “¿Qué hora es?” In Mandarin, it’s “Xiànzài shì ji dian?” In French, “Quelle heure est-il?” In German, “Wie spät ist es?” And so on. Feel free to jump in with a language you know.
The point is that we generally are well aware of time, and of our need to know what time it is. We need to get to work on time. We need to catch a flight and be on time. We need to arrive early for our daughter’s ballet performance in The Nutcracker. The office won’t wait for us; the plane won’t wait for us; the performance will not be delayed until we arrive.
We use a variety of devices to ensure we’re on time. We have pop-up reminders on our laptops, tablets and smartphones. We maintain online calendars — probably several of them — to manage appointments, travel plans and school events. We may even buy a book or two to help us manage our time more efficiently. All of this happens because we assume, and to some extent correctly, that our time is ours alone to manage. If we mismanage it, we have no one to blame but ourselves.
Whose Time Is It?
What if we rephrased the “what” question to ask: “Whose time is it, anyway?” The psalmist emphatically gives us the answer: “My times are in your hands” (v. 16).
Time does not belong to us; it belongs to God. Well, that’s not such a novel view. If God is the Creator of everything, God is therefore the Creator of time. God, after all, existed before time. That there is such a thing as time is because God made it so.
Rather than saying, “Time does not belong to us” — which is certainly true — perhaps we should say, “Our time does not belong to us.” This makes it personal. Now, it’s not like we’re talking about an abstract idea, a Theory of Everything or string theory. The conversation suddenly is about our 24/7 lives. The next 16 hours of our personal and work time is in the hands of God. Now we must take a different perspective on the time we are trying to manage. It is not, after all, our time, but God’s time. This changes everything: a truth that is both comforting and terrifying — terrifying because it is God; comforting, for the same reason.
A Novel Idea
The notion that one’s life was in the hands of an eternal god and not in one’s own hands (or those of a pantheon of deities) was rather novel in David’s time 3,000 years ago, and it still is today. The Greeks and Roman understood the lives of human beings to be in the hands of the gods, a multitude of them. David believed his life was in the hands of the One True God, Yahweh, who listened to him, rescued him, delivered him and redeemed him. Even more striking, his monotheistic conception of God envisioned a deity who was in a personal relationship with him! How else can you explain the psalmist’s emotional outburst in verse 21? “Blessed be the LORD, for he has wondrously shown his steadfast love to me!” The death of even one of God’s “faithful ones” is “precious,” he writes elsewhere (116:15).
The Greeks, on the other hand, believed in Fate (Moira) or the Fates (Moirai), and these gods dictated how long a person lived, their destiny while alive, and how much suffering and misery they would undergo. Homer and Hesiod wrote about Fate, and it wasn’t long before the Fates were thought of as three crones of advanced years who “spun the threads of human destiny.” Clotho spun the thread of human fate, Lachesis belayed it out and Atropos cut the rope, thus determining the precise point of one’s death.
David, however, believed in God, and understood this God to be his Creator and One who advocated for him and rescued him and who, all things being equal, did not want to see him suffer. David, then, was willing — sometimes reluctantly, as we are, too — to surrender his life to the providential care and protection of God.
But, there was a problem.
When you’re staring into the face of your mortality, as David was, you realize that you’re living on borrowed time. Since tomorrow is never guaranteed, we are always living on borrowed time. Yet, we feel this in our bones more intensely when we’re in crisis. As much as we believe in God, this uncertainty is a problem, and thus, we’re tempted to take over the management of our lives ourselves. Please God, leave me alone; I’d rather do it myself.
David writes, “My times are in your hands.” It is a revealing confession. David knows that his future is uncertain. The time he has left on earth is borrowed time. We are the borrowers, God is the lender and, according to the prophet Micah, we’re expected to make payments in the currency of mercy, justice and love (Micah 6:8).
The psalmist confesses that he is having a devil of a time, that time is running out, that the sands of time are shifting and that therefore, he can’t simply bide his time, hoping it is only a matter of time when time will heal all his wounds. Rather, he begins by looking up for help from his divine Patron, Yahweh, a practice he would continue throughout his life. “I lift up my eyes to the hills — from where will my help come?” So begins Psalm 121. David answers his own question: “My help comes from the LORD, who made heaven and earth.”
In our text, Psalm 31, David makes it clear that he’s in need of intervention. In verses 1-5, he uses expressions like deliver me, rescue me, save me, guide me, and take me out of the net that is hidden for me. Yes, this is a man who knows he’s on the razor’s edge, living on borrowed time. For the psalmist, as for many of us, it’s crunch time, and when we totally understand this, we want to know who is keeping track of our mortality. “My times are in your hands.” Or, in words that have been attributed to civil rights activist Ralph Abernathy, the Dutch protector of Jews Corrie ten Boom, and the ancient poet Homer, “I may not know what the future holds, but I know who holds the future.”
Adversity helped David understand that he was not in charge of time, but merely a borrower of it. And whatever time may hold, in the fullness or time or the nick of time, God will come to David’s rescue — and to ours.
The writer of this desperate plea for deliverance was not always so time-conscious, nor was he always so willing to concede that his “times are in your hand.” Like many of us, we still think we’re in charge. Consider the Yiddish expression, “Want to make God laugh? Tell him your plans.” Life had gone pretty well for David, when you think about it. He was in the right place at the right time when the old prophet Samuel anointed him the second king of Israel. After all, David was still a boy tending sheep and singing sheep songs to lambs. (See 1 Samuel 16.)
When Israel was mocked and threatened by the Philistines in the valley of Elah, David, still a teenager, wasted no time in dispatching the giant Goliath who, were he alive today, would surely be under contract with the Las Vegas Raiders (insert your own regional team) as a defensive tackle. For David, it was a heady victory, and he could not help but enjoy the national hoopla, and especially that merry little jingle about the king slaying thousands, but David killing 10,000! He was becoming a legend in his own time.
Of course, the king at this point has not been deposed, and although King Saul liked the kid, David could push his buttons. So, for a considerable time, David was on the run, buying time until that day when he could be the acknowledged ruler over the entire kingdom.
When we still can’t bring ourselves to say to God, “My times are in your hands,” we often try to buy time against the day when we run out of time and concede the inevitable. Saint Augustine knew his destiny lay with God and the church, but there was a time in his life when he wasn’t ready to commit. Struggling with some moral issues, he once said, “Da mihi castitatem et continentiam, sed noli modo!” (Give me chastity and continence [moderation, or temperance, meaning sexual probity], but not just yet!)
When Jesus was in the early stages of finding disciples, one would-be follower wanted to buy some time: “‘Lord, first let me go and bury my father.’ But Jesus said to him, ‘Follow me, and let the dead bury their own dead’” (Matthew 8:21-22). When we need more time to prepare to do the right thing, or we’re looking for ways to postpone a commitment, we’re trying to buy time. Usually, God will not have it.
Do you have a feeling that God is calling you to be of service in some way? The call may be in reference to something great with many responsibilities. It could also be as small as the voice that tells you to quit a bad habit; or to work on saying nice things, not destructive things; responding positively; or resisting the temptation to pass on an untrustworthy tidbit of gossip. But, we want more time. We tell God, “You’re catching me at a bad time.” And God says — as did your mother, who was holding a broom or a vacuum cleaner — “There’s no time like the present.”
We are not ready to be mature Christians, surrender everything and go all in. Not ready to say, “My times are in your hands.”
At some point, God gets through to David that it’s high time he acknowledges that Yahweh is Lord. David knew that God was right. God is God, and David is David. It’s a humbling moment, and perhaps we’ve already had this moment.
David, however, was only brought to his knees in abject humility because the arm of adversity had pushed him there. Tough times should help us turn to the author of time and help us beseech this divinity with cries for a reset, adjustment or salvation. Time’s a-wastin’. Adversity is a huge reminder that our time is not our own. And things often don’t go well when we think it is.
Is it high time for us to have — as David does in this psalm — an inner conversation with God, with the One who has our time in his hands? When David wrote this psalm, he was ready. His opening words are, “In thee, O Lord, do I put my trust” (KJV). He knew, as did the ancient Job, that despite his suffering, “In his hand [God’s] is the life of every living thing and the breath of every human being” (Job 12:10). This is why David could finally say, “Riches and honor come from you, and you rule over all. In your hand are power and might; and it is in your hand to make great and to give strength to all” (1 Chronicles 29:12). It was about time.
Ahead of His Time
In acknowledging that his life and times were in the hands of God, David seems to have arrived at a conclusion that was ahead of his time. Perhaps, he wished he had come to this conclusion more quickly, but it was quick enough. Maybe even more than quick enough — he was ahead of most of his contemporaries. There is one God, and David put his trust in his God, and it was this trust that gave him peace.
Isn’t this where we want to be? Ahead of time. Early and eager. Ready and steady. Living life to the fullest.
But in the hands of God.
—Timothy Merrill and Carl Wilton contributed to this material.
What Is One Possible Approach to the Text?
Earmuffs. Spring is unlikely to be a season when earmuffs are needed — although freak snowstorms in Colorado and other parts of the country in May are not unheard of. If earmuffs are needed, retailers have a wide selection to offer. Check out the internet. Some earmuffs look like headphones, while others are made of faux white Arctic fox fur. This is germane because the angry authorities of this text are wearing earmuffs: “They covered their ears” (v. 57). But why? They weren’t cold. Clearly, they covered their ears because they didn’t want to hear something. Have we done that? Sometimes, people will stick their fingers in their ears and at the same time repeat some silly mantra to avoid hearing what someone else is saying. Perhaps these folks didn’t want to hear what they thought was blasphemy. More likely, they didn’t want to hear the piteous cries of this innocent person they were sending to an early grave. So, they covered their ears. The sermon explores the questions of when and why we cover our ears. Whose cries do we not want to hear? What blasphemy do we not want to listen to?
What Does the Text Say?
The enmity recounted in this passage offers a theologically rich tapestry to consider because of its relationship to other well-known narratives. First, the violent reaction of the religious leaders to Stephen’s sermon stands in sharp contrast to the response Peter received when the people “welcomed his message” and the church had “the goodwill of all the people” (2:41, 47). However, on this occasion, the authorities carried out previous threats (i.e., “they were enraged and wanted to kill them” [5:33]) Second, Stephen saw Jesus adorned with heaven’s glory as did Peter, John and James on the Mount of Transfiguration (v. 55; cf. Luke 9:28-32). Third, Stephen’s behavior as he was being stoned to death echoes Jesus’ demeanor on the cross. Stephen’s request, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit,” parallels Jesus’ entreaty as he was dying (v. 59; cf. Luke 23:46). Then, as he was taking his final breath, Stephen, like Jesus, offers an extraordinary supplication on behalf of his accusers: “He knelt down and cried out in a loud voice, ‘Lord, do not hold this sin against them’” (v. 60; cf. Luke 23:34).
1 Peter 2:2-10
What Is One Possible Approach to the Text?
Metaphor Mall. If you’re shopping for metaphors, this passage is your one-stop shop. You have babies and milk, a stone, a living stone, a precious stone, a cornerstone, a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, a chosen race, a holy nation, darkness, light and the people of God. All are images that convey a specific, spiritual truth. What is your choice today, as you survey this smorgasbord of metaphors? The dominant metaphor, one could safely argue, is that of the cornerstone, a stone that forms the base of a corner of a building, joining two walls. One source says, “All other stones will be set in reference to this stone, thus determining the position of the entire structure.” Peter says that Jesus Christ is the cornerstone. And what is amazing about this is that he is a cornerstone that the masons rejected! “Ah, this stone is flawed, worthless. Get rid of it. We can’t use it.” A rejected stone becomes the most important stone of the entire edifice! Wow! The sermon, then, requires some research into the importance of a cornerstone. Find a mason, if possible, and conduct a brief interview to discuss the importance of a cornerstone. Describe how Jesus Christ is the cornerstone, and if so, what is the building?
What Does the Text Say?
This brief reading shifts rapidly from one image to another. It opens with an image focused on the need for the readers to be nourished for their new lives in Christ. They are mere “newborn infants” who must be nursed on “spiritual milk” in order that they “may grow into salvation” (v. 2). The imagery presents God as the nursing mother, as is clear from both the explicit statement that they have “tasted that the Lord is good” (v. 3) and the absence of association of “milk” with the “word” (as in Hebrews 5:12-13). The imagery shifts dramatically in verse 4, both in its reference to Christ rather than to the readers and in likening him to a “living stone” that is “precious in God’s sight” even if “rejected by mortals.” The readers are then encouraged to themselves become “living stones” that are being “built into a spiritual house” (v. 5a). The association with a “spiritual house”/temple leads to yet another image for the readers as “a holy priesthood” that can “offer spiritual sacrifices that are acceptable to God” (v. 5b). Following a return focus on Christ through proof texts that establish the image of him as a “stone,” the passage concludes by resuming the image of the readers as “a royal priesthood, a holy nation” (v. 9). The emphasis is placed upon the role they are to fulfill for others by “proclaiming the mighty acts” of God so that others may also receive the mercy they have come to know.
What Is One Possible Approach to the Text?
Satisfaction Guaranteed! The title is a very common expression, seen everywhere in shops and malls. Technically, the phrase “refers to a legally binding express guarantee of satisfaction in the contract of a sale of goods.” But these two words have also appeared in many other contexts. “Satisfaction Guaranteed” is a short story by Isaac Asimov. It’s also a song by “The Firm,” a song by Christina Milian from her 2001 eponymous album, a 2004 compilation album by Teddy Pendergrass, and a song by Alyssa Reid from her 2014 album, Time Bomb. But today’s text tells us something else. It tells us that even in Jesus’ day, people wanted to be satisfied. Philip says to Jesus, “Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied” (v. 8). Before people buy in, sign up and take delivery, they want to be assured that their satisfaction is guaranteed! The sermon, then, explores the question of our satisfaction level. Do you suppose Philip was satisfied with Jesus’ response to his demand? Are we? If not, why not?
What Does the Text Say?
The text follows Jesus’ disturbing words concerning his betrayal and Peter’s future denial (13:21-38). Thus, broadly speaking, today’s passage offers words of comfort and promise to his disciples of his assured return. In verse 1, Jesus admonishes his disciples not to be troubled in heart. He encourages his disciples, as he prepares to face the very power that has caused him so much anguish in the previous chapters, by instructing them to believe or trust in him even as they believe in God. In verse 2, the phrases “my Father’s house” and dwelling places” probably refer to heaven in light of the Jewish background of this terminology. Verse 3, often taken as a reference to the parousia, highlights the eschatological nature of the pericope. Jesus goes to prepare a place for the disciples through his death and resurrection. His declaration that he will come again assures the Johannine community that he overcomes death, as well as emphasizes that he hasn’t abandoned them. Such a declaration serves to strengthen Jesus’ earlier imperative to them not to be troubled. The phrase “the way” dominates verses 4-6 and becomes an occasion for misunderstanding on Thomas’ part, by thinking that Jesus speaks of “the way” in terms of direction to his destination. But Jesus speaks in terms of his person as the way to God. He assures them that he provides access to the Father, and they need not worry about separation from God, despite being put out of the synagogues (9:22). Those who know Jesus also know the Father. “The way” language opens the door for further affirmation of Jesus’ unity with God. In verses 12-14, Jesus links the believers’ works with those of himself and the Father. Thus, Jesus’ works continue among the believers; they embody his deeds and bear witness to his presence in the world. The greater works occur because Jesus goes to the Father and not because of the disciples themselves. To pray in Jesus’ name means to be in relationship with him and thus with his Father.
Leader: Grant, I beg you, merciful Lord, that the designs of a new and better life, which by your grace we have now formed, may not pass away without effect.
People: Incite and enable us, by your Holy Spirit, to improve the time which you shall grant us;
Leader: To avoid all evil thoughts, words and actions,
People: And to do all the duties which you shall set before us.
All: Hear our prayer, O Lord, for the sake of Jesus Christ.
—Samuel Johnson (1709-1784)
One: God gives us one day at a time:
All: Long enough for laughter to follow any tears;
One: Deep enough for prayer and silence to dance together;
All: Time enough to help someone in need;
One: Plenty of time to notice beauty and praise the Maker;
All: Sufficient time to build a bridge of forgiveness or tear down a wall of resentment;
One: The right time to embrace friends, smile at strangers, play with children, sing praise to God.
All: Praise God for this day we are given.
Let us know the Lord gives strength to all who trust and gives us courage even to be fearless. Let us know the Lord gives us faith even in our doubting and gives us peace at all times. Let us know the Lord is our stronghold today and always, and may we go forth in hope with joy. May our Lord’s many blessings fill us now and always. Amen.
Be Still, My Soul
Lead Me, Guide Me
Only Trust Him
Worship and Praise*
Be Unto Your Name (DeShazo/Sadler)
When It’s All Been Said and Done (Cowan)
God Is in This Story (Nichole/Weave)
*For licensing and permission to reprint or display these songs on screen, go to ccli.com. The worship and praise songs suggested by Homiletics can be found in most cases on Google by using the title as the search term.
on Psalm 31:1-5, 15-16
Because of who God has already shown himself to be, David urgently and prayerfully pours out his heart to God. He entrusts his very being to him, relying on the divine presence to rescue him from his vicious, plotting enemies and to continue to keep him safe.
David prayerfully acknowledges his pain to the Lord. He is facing persecution and multiple death-threats. His enemies, although unspecified, are real, and they cause him severe distress. They are among those “who pay regard to worthless idols” (v. 6). Because of them he faces affliction (v. 7). David lays all his hurt out before God in his lament in verses 9-13. He cries out, “Have mercy on me,” (many translations of v. 9) because of his extreme distress (the Hebrew word means dire straits — a severe narrowing situation), which has constricted him physically and emotionally. He speaks of his sorrow, his sighing, his misery and his wasting away. Not only that, but his adversaries scorn him and even his neighbors turn away from him in alarm when he needs them the most. He’s afraid that he is forgotten. Many folks engage in whispering campaigns as they plot against him (see also v. 20).
But note that right after the pain of verses 9-13, David speaks words of great contrast, “But I [emphatic in Hebrew] trust in you, O Lord; I say, ‘You are my God’” (v. 14). There’s a close parallel in verse 6: While others “pay regard to worthless idols,” David says, “I [emphatic in Hebrew] trust in the Lord.” The verb “trust” in both verses comes from batah, which appears in 47 verses in Psalms. The Hebrew word means that people feel safe and secure, as they place themselves confidently into God’s caring hands, relying assuredly on him in threatening times.
Notice all the verbs and metaphors David uses to indicate that he is prayerfully seeking God’s saving, delivering and protective power. In verse 1, “I seek refuge” comes from a Hebrew verb which means to flee for shelter in bad weather or when escaping from enemies. In verse 2, he sees the Lord as his “rock of refuge” and his strong fortress/fortified citadel to save him. Note verse 3’s metaphors: “rock” (a different word than v. 2’s rock; here it means a high ridge or cliff) and the repetition of verse 2’s “fortress,” the Hebrew word metsudah, pronounced muh-tsoo-DAH. (“Masada” — Google it — is closely akin to this word!) David uses metsudah in 2 Samuel 22:2-3a (and its parallel Psalm 18:2a): “The Lord is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer, my God, my rock in whom I take refuge.” At the end of 31:3, David requests that God lead and guide him; see Psalm 23:3. The Lord’s “Name” (v. 3) refers to his being, reputation, honor, majestic power and character.
“Deliver me,” at the end of verse 1, has the sense of “help me escape.” “Rescue me,” early in verse 2, means to snatch away or to extricate someone from a situation. “Save,” at the end of verse 2, comes from the high-frequency verb yasha‘, which means to save, to deliver, to preserve, to help or to give victory to. The names “Joshua” and “Jesus” are cognates of the verb. Verse 4 contains yet another verb for deliverance, in this case to free from the hidden entrapping net. And David again calls God his “refuge,” using the same word as in verse 2. In verse 5, David uses the word “redeemed,” which can also be translated “ransomed” or “rescued.” See Psalm 31:19-23 and much of Psalm 71 for numerous parallels. God shows abundant goodness to his people.
Because of David’s confidence in God (based in part on what he has mentioned, as summarized in the two paragraphs immediately above), he can declare, “Into your hand I commit my spirit” (v. 5a). Christian people will readily remember Jesus’ final, dying words spoken on the cross: “Then Jesus, crying with a loud voice, said, ‘Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.’ Having said this, he breathed his last.” (Luke 23:46). The deacon-martyr Stephen’s last words are similar: “While they were stoning Stephen, he prayed, ‘Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.’” (Acts 7:59). Even though David himself was not dying, he was nevertheless trusting God in the midst of mortal danger. NET and similarly Tanakh translate his words in verse 5a as, “Into your hand I entrust my life.” David relies primarily on the Lord, not on himself, even though he is a strong, skilled and shrewd warrior and leader.
David’s words in verse 15a, “My times are in your hand,” mean essentially the same thing as his words in verse 5a.
David is not speaking about the length of his life, but about what will be happening in his life, which depends largely on God. “My times” (NRSV, NIV, NASB, KJV) is translated “my destiny” (NET, NAB), “my future” (NLT, CEB), “my fate” (Tanakh), and “every moment of my life” (NJB). David trustingly places his precarious life (due to his persecuting enemies and snubbing acquaintances) in God’s trustworthy, providential care.
At the end of verse 5, David calls his redeeming Lord “faithful God” (’el ’emet). In this regard, James L. Mays (Interpretation-series Psalms, p. 143) says: “The psalm speaks to the Lord as … the God who can be relied on and believed in because he is true to himself and continues always to be what he has shown himself.”
David confidently asks that the Lord let his smiling face shine and look with favor upon him (v. 16a; see Numbers 6:24-26), and “Save me in [because of or by] your steadfast love” (v. 16b; see also vv. 7 and 21). “Steadfast love” is hesed (with a hard “h”), a key word of the Hebrew Bible/OT. Hesed can also be translated or understood as loyal love, covenant-love, unfailing love, faithfulness, faithful care, faithful love, lovingkindness and mercy. God graciously, mercifully and dependably displays persistent, protective and caring loyal love for his people and for his servant David.
David does not want to be put to shame (vv. 1 and 17), but asks God to let that shame fall on the wicked, as they succumb; see v. 23 and much of Psalm 37 also. See 2 Timothy 1:11-12.
The concluding verse of Psalm 31 reads: “Be strong [you faithful followers of the Lord — v. 23], and let your heart take courage, all you who wait for the Lord” (v. 24). It is one of the Bible’s many passages that offer hope to God’s people who find themselves in threatening situations. “Wait for/on” (NRSV, NET, Tanakh, CEB) can also be translated “hope in” (NIV, NLT, NAB, NJB, NASB, KJV). The expression comes from the Hebrew verb yahal. Unlike modern English’s watering down of the word “hope,” yahal means a confident anticipation and trust that God will act. The same word appears in Psalm 130:5, 7; Psalm 119:74; Lamentations 3:21, 24. Yahal is commonly translated in the Septuagint (early Greek OT) by ελπiξω (cf. the noun-form ελπiς), used frequently in the NT to refer to our confident hope/trust in God’s promises to us in Jesus Christ. It has this sense: “If God says it, we can and will count on it.” See Romans 8:22-28; 15:13.
*Go to Scripture Index for additional commentaries on this text.
AT A GLANCE
We often wonder what time it is. But “Whose time is it?” might be a better question. In today’s psalm reading, David confesses that tough times led him to rethink his life and times, and he came to a startling conclusion.
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MEANING OF LIFE
(As people enter retirement, this question, “Whose time is it?” quickly comes to the fore. One who faced that dilemma was the late retired physician, Dr. Jack McConnell, of Hilton Head Island, South Carolina. In 1993, Dr. McConnell opened a free medical clinic on the island.
What led him to do so was an encounter he had with a hitchhiker named James. The Volunteers in Medicine Clinic website tells the story …)
James was a husband and father of two — soon to be three — who was looking for work as he had recently been laid off. Hoping to be able to provide for his family, he was committed to finding work, even if that meant he had to walk miles in the rain to find the right opportunity. …
Dr. Jack happened to drive by and offer the stranger a ride to get him out of the dreary weather. James shared with Dr. Jack that his wife was pregnant, and he was recently laid off. As they continued to drive … Dr. Jack asked him if his expectant wife had access to medical care. James replied, “No. Ain’t none of us does.”
The pair passed a construction site and James mentioned he might find work there. Dr. Jack parked the car and together the two of them entered the on-site trailer in hopes of speaking with the manager.
Luck would have it that one of the employees at the site failed to show up to work and so James was offered work for a few days on the condition that he could begin at that moment. Dr. Jack and James shook hands and as the VIM founder headed for the door, James whispered to him, “I thank God for you, brother. You have been a big help to me. Why did you do it?”
Dr. Jack’s response? “I don’t know.” But, in fact, he did know. The next words are from Dr. Jack himself …
“Over time I realized that the answer, in one respect, was that I could not do otherwise. My faith gives me the unconscious desire and need to understand and help others. But in truth I expect it was, at a deeper level, my desire and need to understand and help myself. Throughout the whole of my life, I have learned and relearned that it is only in service to others that we find and begin to understand ourselves.”
—“Our Story,” Volunteers in Medicine Clinic, https://vimclinic.org/about/.
Retrieved December 12, 2022.
“Lord, what shall I do?” That is never an idle question, and at times it becomes the question above all others. We have but the one life to live, and how we pour out that life is among our most solemn concerns. Entire industries are built on making that a trivial concern, a consumer whim or someone else’s choices. But they lie.
While none of us has an infinite array of options, we do choose whether or not to love, to serve, to trust, to ask for God’s help and to press onward.
Life’s significant choices, in other words, remain ours to make.
We are tenants on someone else’s land. Some tenants grow one crop, some grow another. Some tenants produce in abundance, some have modest output. Some tenants live well, some live meagerly. But we are all tenants, given “land” by another and given time to make our way. The delusion that will kill us is to think ourselves the owners.
What any of us does next must start in knowing whose life we are farming.
That knowledge conveys obligation — the owner’s share — but it also grounds us in God’s authority. That authority, in turn, has never been about power and control, for we aren’t slaves. God’s authority is about love, compassion, mercy and hope.
—Tom Ehrich, Just Wondering, Jesus: 100 Questions People Want to Ask (Church Publishing, 2005), 140.
We live in the time of no room, which is the time of the end. The time when everyone is obsessed with lack of time, lack of space, with saving time, conquering space, projecting into time and space the anguish produced within them by the technological furies of size, volume, quantity, speed, number, price, power and acceleration.
The primordial blessing, “increase and multiply,” has suddenly become a hemorrhage of terror. We are numbered in billions, and massed together, marshalled, numbered, marched here and there, taxed, drilled, armed, worked to the point of insensibility, dazed by information, drugged by entertainment, surfeited with everything, nauseated with the human race and with ourselves, nauseated with life.
As the end approaches, there is no room for nature. The cities crowd it off the face of the earth.
As the end approaches, there is no room for quiet. There is no room for solitude. There is no room for thought. There is no room for attention, for the awareness of our state. …
A life that has not been chosen, and can hardly be accepted, has no more room for hope. Yet it must pretend to go on hoping. It is haunted by the demon of emptiness.
—Thomas Merton, “The Time of No Room,” from Watch for the Light: Readings for Advent and Christmas, (Plough Publishing House, 2001).
From “On Turning Ten”
The whole idea of it makes me feel
Like I’m coming down with something,
Something worse than any stomach ache,
Or headaches I get from reading in bad light —
A kind of measles of the spirit. …
You tell me it is too early to be looking back,
But that is because you have forgotten
The perfect simplicity of being one
And the beautiful complexity introduced by two.
But I can lie on my bed and remember every digit.
At four I was an Arabian wizard.
I could make myself invisible
By drinking a glass of milk a certain way.
At seven I was a soldier, at nine a prince.
But now I am mostly at the window
Watching the late afternoon light. …
It seems only yesterday I used to believe
There was nothing under my skin but light.
If you cut me I would shine.
But now when I fall upon the sidewalks of life, I skin my knees, I bleed.
—Billy Collins, from The Art of Drowning (University of Pittsburgh Press, 1995).
Full text of the poem may be found at https://upittpress.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/07/
Advice columnist Ann Landers wrote about a gift a friend of hers received when he was a boy. He told her it was the greatest gift he’d ever received.
One Christmas, the boy’s father gave him this letter: “Son, this year I will give you 365 hours. An hour every day after dinner. We’ll talk about whatever you want to talk about. We’ll go wherever you want to go, play whatever you want to play. It will be your hour.”
The boy’s father kept that promise and renewed it every year.
Put a large rock in front of the children on the floor and have them describe it. They may say “hard,” “heavy” or “strong.” Tell them that God is described in Psalm 31 as “my rock” (v. 3). Explain that God is not really a piece of stone like the one in front of them, but the Bible says this to tell us that God is solid, strong and an unmovable foundation for our lives. Then say that God is also described as “a rock of refuge” (v. 2) and ask if they know what kind of rock this is. Explain that a refuge is a place we go for protection and shelter, a safe spot when we are facing danger or hardship. Ask them to name the refuges in their homes, classrooms or church. Touch the rock on the floor and say that God is “a rock of refuge,” meaning that God is solid and strong, and also a place of protection and shelter. Say that we can go to this place when we close our eyes and pray, and that God will answer our prayers by giving us a feeling of safety and peace. Tell the children that they can pray to God in their homes, in their schools and in the church, and that God will always answer them, because God is a God of unchanging “steadfast love” (v. 16). Invite the children to close their eyes and join you in prayer. Begin by saying, “In you, O Lord, we seek refuge” (v. 1), then lift some of the concerns for safety that the children might have. Close by saying, “Be a rock of refuge for us, a strong fortress to save us. Amen” (v. 2).
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