Sermon August 2, 2020

Psalms of Dis-Orientation
Preached by Dr. Terry Swicegood
August 2 2020 Text: Psalm 60

We’ve been looking at the Book of Psalms over the past several Sundays.  The Psalms are my favorite book of the Bible.  We read a Psalm every night at 6 pm during our conference call in prayer meeting.  

There are 150 Psalms all in all.   The Psalms were written across a long period of time from the era of Moses around 1445 B.C. (Psalm 90), to the return of the Jews from captivity in Babylon in 536 B.C. (Psalm 126). Many of the Psalms were written during the time of King David around the years 1020-971 B.C. Although some of the Psalms are attributed to David, his authorship is questioned by most scholars.

What is a Psalm?  A Psalm is a conversation with God, thanking God, questioning God, accusing God.  Psalms were used as songs in temple worship, very much like our hymns in Sunday worship.   I’m missing singing in church; how about you?  That’s why I put hymns on Zoom when you sign so you can hear them when you enter our worship service.

The OT scholar Walter Brueggemann has developed a most helpful way of categorizing the Psalms.  He says that the content of the Psalms mirror where we find ourselves at any given time.   There are times when everything is going great guns, when life is full of rainbows and roses.  Brueggemann calls this time in our lives “a place of orientation.”

Then there are times of disorientation when things just stink. At those times life is unpredictable and chaotic.   We’re in that time now as the pandemic rages.

And third there are time when we discover that God has been with us all along, that God has picked us up off the mat, when we were sure we were down or the count.  Brueggemann calls this a place of reorientation, a place when we feel God’s presence more palpably than ever before.

Orientation, Disorientation, Re-Orientation.

The Psalms of disorientation fall into two categories.  Individual laments and community laments.  A quick word about laments.  Laments are painful cries of the heart, an expression of deep sorrow and regret.  

There’s actually a book in the Bible called “The Book of Lamentations.”  

It was written by the prophet Jeremiah in the 6th century BC.  Jeremiah wrote the book after the Babylonian empire laid siege to Jerusalem for 2 years until it finally fell in the year 586 BC.

The prominent leaders of Jerusalem were captured and carried off to Babylon and many of them never returned.   Jeremiah was among them.    The book is filled with pathos, best expressed in chapter 1 verse 12: “Is it nothing to all you who pass by.  Look and see if there is any sorrow like my sorrow.”

“Like my sorrow”.  The sorrow of the people of Israel who lost everything.   

If you live long enough, you come to know that kind of sorrow, that kind of lament.

As we age, we come to know increasing frailty and sorrow.  Our bodies break down.  Our friends and loved ones die.  An 80 year old  friend whose life was filled with loss said to me, “These are supposed to be the golden years, but there’s no sparkle for me.”

And so the Psalmist in Psalm 60 speaks for my friend and for many of us when he writes:   
God, it seems like you walked off and left us!
Why have you turned against us?
Have you been angry with us?
O Lord, we plead, come back and help us as a parent helps a vulnerable child.

Clint Eastwood is now 92 years old.  The last movie I saw him in was “The Mule.” which came out in 2016.  Eastwood plays an old man who runs narcotics for the Mexican drug cartel.   It’s a true story of a WWII veteran who needs money, so he runs drugs.   He has been in prison before and assuredly going back again if he’s apprehended.

Eastwood was 88 when he starred and directed “The Mule.”  “The Mule’s theme song is called: “Don’t Let The Old Man In.” “Don’t Let The Old Man In” is sung by country music star, Toby Keith.  Here’s how it came about.

Keith and Eastwood were playing golf in Eastwood’s charity tournament at Pebble Beach. When they got to the green, Eastwood shared that he’d be starting work on “The Mule” in two days, which also happened to be his 88th birthday. Struck by Eastwood’s relentless energy at an age when many are content to sit and reflect, Keith asked how he keeps going.

“He said, ‘I just get up every morning and go out. And I don’t let the old man in.”

Toby Keith said: “I’m gonna make a song about that.”   Here are the lyrics.

Can’t leave it up to him, he’s knocking on my door
And I knew all of my life, that someday it would end
Get up and go outside, don’t let the old man in

Many moons I have lived
My body’s weathered and worn
Ask yourself how would you be
If you didn’t know the day you were born

[Verse 2]
Try to love on your wife
And stay close to your friends
Toast each sundown with wine
Don’t let the old man in

Many moons I have lived
My body’s weathered and worn
Ask yourself how would you be
If you didn’t know the day you were born

[Verse 3]
When he rides up on his horse
And you feel that cold bitter wind
Look out your window and smile
Don’t let the old man in

I like the defiant attitude of that song.  There’s plenty to lament about as we age.  But we don’t have to let the old man– or the old woman–in.  

Elise Maclay says: “Today I read about a man who slashed his wrists because he lost his hat.  He was old, and of course they say he was crazy.  I think not.  I think he’s just had all the losses he could take.  He said as much.  His last words were, “O God, now I’ve lost my hat, too.”  I know how he felt.

Every turn your turn around, time–with a little help from your friends–grabs off something else.  Something precious, at least to you.

Hearing, sight, beauty, job, house.  Even the corner grocery turns into a parking lot and is lost.  Finally, you lose the thing you can’t do without–hope (that it can get better.)

Dear God, when he gets to heaven, let that man find his hat on the gatepost.  

One more thing before we go.  About a third of the Psalms are Psalms of lament.  Roughly 50 out of 150.  And every one of them–except for Psalm 88– concludes with a prayer of thanksgiving expressing faith that God will rescue us and bring us up from the depths.

 Do you remember how Psalm 60 ends?

O Lord, we plead, come back and help us as a parent helps a vulnerable child.
For to trust in any human being is an empty hope.
With God’s help we will fight like heroes
and He will trample down our every foe!