Let us pray.
Holy God, open our eyes to your presence, open our ears to your call, open our hearts to your love. Amen.
Lord, you have been our refuge from generation to generation before the mountains were brought forth, before the land and the earth were born. From age to age, you are God.
These opening verses of Psalm 90 that relay the greatness and steadfastness of God are right now words of assurance that bring comfort to the heart. What you may not know about Psalm 90 is that it is the only Psalm attributed to Moses, suggesting that it is the oldest in the Psalter. And just to give a bit of context, Moses and the people of Israel were in the wilderness. It would be 40 long years before they reached the promised land. Almost all of those who were part of the Exodus would die along the way, including Moses’ sister, Miriam and his brother, Aaron. So Moses begins this song with this sense of home. Lord, you have been our refuge from one generation to another. The New International Version translates it this way, Lord, you have been our dwelling place throughout all generations. But the New Living Translation makes it more direct, Lord through all generations, you have been our home.
So home, it’s not a place at all, but a person. To be with God is to be at home, wherever you are. It makes sense that Moses is associated with this text. Moses knew homelessness. He was raised as a foster child. He grew up to become a fugitive from Egyptian law and he crossed the border to live in the land of Midian as an alien with a past. He lives the rest of his life as a migrant, camping in tents, pulling up stakes and moving from one spot to the next with the people of Israel. He never makes it to the promised land that he’s been leading them to. He never makes it to that physical destination, but he is at home in the Lord.
And if we think about it, Moses represents many who are most vulnerable in our day, for human experience is constant throughout history. Now Psalm 90 may sound familiar to many of you because it is often read at funerals. And it’s no wonder, given the content, the language is that of someone who is acutely aware of mortality. You sweep us away like a dream, we fade away suddenly like grass. In the morning it is green and flourishes, in the evening, it is dried up and withered.
The Psalmist has grown tired and introspective. Looking back over his life gives him a keen sense of limitation and failure. That of course also comes with age. Our memories aren’t always heartwarming. They’re often filled with regret. In my 60 years, my regrets are much more about the things I haven’t done, over the things I have. Whatever your regrets, fill in the blank, but being human means having regrets because we live in time and with each other. The Psalmist stands with an open heart before God in confession, fully aware of his failures and the dead ends of his life. And I know that talking about sin and confession is uncomfortable for many, but confession isn’t about beating yourself up. It’s about honesty. It’s about owning up to the truth about ourselves that God knows anyway. We prayed that in earnest, as we started our worship. Almighty God to you, all hearts are open, all desires known and from you, no secrets are hid.
Psalm 90 isn’t so much a personal prayer, but a corporate one. And I think that’s important to point out. The pronouns are all plural. They are about us. Our iniquity, our sin. Ancient Israel knew that there was a place for corporate confession. They knew that the evils of injustice and oppression could be systemic. And they also knew their own sin against God. It is not easy for us as Americans to name and claim our societal evils, the sins of our collective history or our present reality. Racism and white privilege, violence, poverty are all deeply rooted in the culture in which we live and breathe. And we are corporately responsible to confess and address these realities of our common life. This is a Psalm of corporate confession, but it doesn’t just end there. For after confession comes the request of the Psalmist. So teach us to number our days that we may apply our hearts to wisdom.
With this request, the Psalm turns toward hope. So what is this wisdom? It is being able to discern how our lives are interconnected with God and one another. And to truly engage each other requires both trust and risk. This is particularly true in the time that we are living. Sometimes I look around at our deeply troubled world, our divisions and our distrust in our nation, our lack of faith and discouragement. And I am inclined to think my feeble efforts at resolving things aren’t going to matter much in the whole scheme of things.
And that’s why the message of Jesus’ parable of the talents remains relevant today. Now it could be easy just to get stuck thinking that the parable is about money. This parable is really an invitation to a full-hearted response to God’s lavish gifts of faith and purpose. And that purpose is building the kingdom of God. Our choice is how we will use God’s gifts, so generously bestowed. Will you multiply or bury? Embrace or reject? And the question is for us as individuals, as well as a community.
We are living in a uniquely challenging period in history. We are in the middle of the worst global pandemic of our lifetimes with COVID-19 cases surging across our nation and the world, and more than 245,000 deaths in this country. The unexpected consequence of this health crisis, however, has been to reveal the deep wounds of our society that have been denied, suppressed, and too often ignored.
Over the past months we have experienced an awakening to the institutional and societal structures that keep us separated. And they are many and they are deep. Racial, political, socioeconomic, and cultural, just to start. And as the memories of thousands of people taking to the streets in protest this summer, during a pandemic, as that memory fades, as we move to the next news cycle, we must remember Brianna Taylor, George Floyd, Ahmad Aubrey, and continue to say their names because black lives matter. There was still more work to be done to mend the very fabric of our nation that feels so torn. We need what Bishop Curry calls “a great relationship revival,” that demands that we see one another as beloved children of God. But we can’t accomplish this without love, without trust, without vulnerability, without risk.
It has been said what God does first and best, and most often, is to trust people in their moment in history. God is trusting us now in our moment of history. It is ours to do something with. As people of faith, if we truly want to see the kingdom in our day, it is going to come by our full use of what God has placed in our care. We have today’s parable to inspire us, to choose another way, a new way of living together, to stared fear in the face and stand on the side of Christ, to be bold enough to stand in the face of what tries to render us helpless and hopeless.
We have not been entrusted with the gospel of Jesus Christ to treat it as a personal treasure, to place on a shelf for our own comfort. No, now is not the time to deny the power of the gospel. Pretending we don’t have that power by avoiding our responsibility to use that power, to help the most vulnerable, to fight for justice, to change the status quo and to build God’s kingdom, that’s just not an option. Dear friends, may we not be afraid. In the midst of these uncertain times, God, who is our refuge, our home, God who is faithful from one generation to another will empower us for the days before us. Amen.