Saturday, May 11, 2019

From Remembrance to Hope, Year C, Easter 4, Psalm 23,

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus the Christ.  Amen

Life is an ever changing journey.
As we walk along life’s way, there will be times of tranquility and contentedness.
And there will be times of trial and conflict that test our souls.
For some, this journey through times of darkness and light seems to be a daily experience, a constant companion that shapes life.
For others, life is more predictable.  More stable.  And hardship rarely shows itself.
Still for others, each day is marked by almost constant struggles for life itself.
Psalm 23 speaks to this journey of life.
It is in three parts.
First it speaks of trust, recalling God’s care for us.
1 The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.
2 He makes me lie down in green pastures;
he leads me beside still waters;
3 he restores my soul.
He leads me in right paths
for his name's sake.
These are words of assurance, in which the Psalmist, David, speaks about God, and all that God has done for us.
The purpose of these words is to encourage us to trust in the Lord for the time is coming when we will need to have such faith.
In the next section of the Psalm, the grammar itself changes.
No longer does David speak about the Lord, he is speaking to the Lord.
It is a prayer in time of need.
4 Even though I walk through the darkest valley,
I fear no evil;
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff—
they comfort me.
5 You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
We are more familiar with the older version which speaks of “the valley of the shadow of death”.
David also lifts up the concern about our enemies, those adversaries that would undo us and the evil that threatens us.
It is here that each of our experiences of life may be quite unique, and yet common to one another as well.
We all will face our challenges in life.  That we have in common.
But each of our journeys will be different.
For some the challenges of life may come early, even in childhood, with the various forces of evil that assail us, from poverty to abuse or deprivation.
And for others, we may escape many of life’s challenges until the end, when we must face the final foe, death itself, and from that there is no escape.
And the prayer is this:  “I fear no evil; for you are with me; “
Having prayed to the Lord during his time of trial, David concludes with hope and assurance.
6 Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord
my whole life long.
This is the journey of faith.
We begin by remembering all that the Lord has done for us.
Then we call out to the Lord during our times of trial.
And we look forward in hope to the end of our suffering.
The constant throughout all of this is the assurance that God is by our side, present with us at all times, in all places.
Throughout my past, the Lord has been with me.
The Lord is with me now.
And I will dwell in the house of the Lord, forever.
And nothing else matters.

And Hope.
This is the journey of faith.

One of the things I experience at this time in my life is a certain degree of anxiety with respect to our financial security.
I have just a few more years until I hope to retire.
I envision retiring from the cabinet shop first, and then, when the time is right retiring from ministry down the road a bit.
The anxiety is quite simple.  Am I adequately prepared for retirement?  Adding to that anxiety is the simple fact that there is very little time left to make any substantial changes in my retirement portfolio.  Sure, I hope to build up a bit more savings, but my pensions are pretty much what they will be.  Will it be enough?
Faced with that uncertainty, we begin by remembering.
Karla and I started out our marriage during college.
We didn’t have much. 
Looking back at it, I remember a number of things.
One of our wedding gifts was a collection of coffee mugs, and bless them, also a three pound can of coffee.  I say bless them because coffee was expensive for us.
In order to minimize the cost we used to percolate the coffee.  Then, instead of dumping the grounds out before the making the next pot, we’d simply refresh them, putting in another tablespoon or so, and making another pot.  We’d do this until the basket was full of grounds, and then, we’d empty them and start over again. 
I also remember the struggles during seminary. 
Karla got paid twice a month, and as a secretary those wages were not great. 
One of her paychecks was not sufficient to pay the rent.  Rent cost us more than half of what our monthly income was.  And so life was a constant scramble.
The one thing I’ll say about those four years was that tax time was a delight, because Minnesota had rent subsidies.  The landlord would pay the property taxes, and then the renter would receive a refund based on your income level.  It was support like this that sustained us.
What I remember now is that throughout all the uncertainty, we never were in want.  We had what we needed. 
Throughout our life together those experiences of our youth continue to provide us with a reason to trust in the Lord regarding our current situation.
Another memory.
When I received my first call to be the pastor of Our Savior’s Lutheran in Thompson Falls, I thought that finally, after the years struggling in seminary, we’d have a degree of financial security.
Then I saw the offerings on Sunday morning.
I ran the numbers through my head and quickly realized that they were not giving enough to pay my salary.  And yet, we survived. 
Somehow we survived once again.
Throughout our lives we’ve experienced a variety of financial challenges.  Major expenses.  A time of disability.  Changes in vocation.  You name it.
We remembered how we made it through in the past.
We prayed.
And we hoped.
The journey of faith.
And so now, I face the uncertainty of retirement with the conviction that if we could make it through those early years of our marriage when we had nothing, we’ll make it through our later years as well, because God will be with us.
It’s that simple.
And if God is with us, nothing else will matter.
Ok, well, I do hope that I’ll never have to go back to reusing coffee grounds to brew a pot of coffee. 
I actually hope that I’ll be able to afford a Mocha now and then, as well. 
And I hope that I’ll be able to make our mortgage payments.  I’ll be paying on the house until I’m 85, part of the problem of having lived in a parsonage most of my career.
But regardless what happens, we have the assurance that God will be with us throughout our time on this earth, that he will never forsake us, and that even if we experience hardship or peril, he will see us through.
Remember how God has been with you in the past.
Pray for his support today.
And look forward in hope to the goodness and mercy of God that will follow you all the days of your life.
This is the life of faith.

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