Psalm 103

Rev. Tasha Blackburn

September 11, 2016


When thinking about the future, sometimes it helps to start with the past. Last month my mother was going through some old correspondence between her parents during World War II. My grandma wrote to my grandpa every day during the two years he was gone. As my mom went through the letters, she came upon a Father’s Day card. She opened it and read, “We love you Daddy and we can’t wait until you get home so we can start our lives as a family. Love, Jimmy and Marilyn” It was written in a childish scrawl.

My mom stared at that card for a minute. Why had a Father’s Day card from years later gotten bundled together with war correspondence? As she continued through the letters she found several more. All of them cards from Jimmy and Marilyn to their Daddy whom they loved so much. Why were they here? She turned one of them over and found her answer. She read there, in my grandma’s handwriting now, “Dutch, your children are waiting for you. When you come home we will have such a wonderful life together.”

As you have probably figured out by now, there were no children born yet—no Jimmy and no Marilyn. My grandma had bought these Father’s Day cards, written in them with a childish style, letting him know that his future children were waiting for him.

So my mom told me this story and she said, “Can you believe it?” And I said, “No.” Then she said, “I think it’s just wonderful.” And I said, “I think maybe she was mentally ill!”

I have thought about those cards a great deal in the weeks since and I think I know why my grandma did it. As crazy as it seems, my grandma saw her role as the caretaker of their future. Theirs was like so many stories of the time. They married just before grandpa went off to war and she went to work in a factory. During those years, I think she saw it as her job to help him never forget their love; to never forget the life they could have, how wonderful the future would be.

Theirs was a time when people both assumed there would be a future and that that future would only get better and better. We call it the Modern era and it came with the belief that the world was only improving with time. Now the page has turned and we live in what is called the Post-Modern era and that belief about improvement has dissolved. We don’t assume that the future will only get better. We don’t even assume there will be a future. Instead, we are more likely to hear folks say things like, “I’m just glad I won’t be around to see it.”

We have good reasons for this pessimism. Of course we do, because the wars seem to keep coming—both inside our country and outside it, both inside us and outside of us. Especially on this day, 15 years after the date 09-11 became infamous, it is easy to feel like the future may not be something any of us should look forward to.

Combine that with the recognition that we humans are so transitory, our lives are but a blip in the timeline of the world, and you can understand this post-modern feeling; the feeling that we might as well give up on the future. Our lives are like grass, the psalm says, so what is the point. Let’s just forget this world and get to the next.

And there is only one problem with this throwing in the towel. Only one problem but it is a major one.

It is “hesed”. “Hesed” means “steadfast love” and it is the core of Psalm 103. “The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.” “As for mortals, their days are like grass…but the steadfast love of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting.”

Hesed—steadfast love—means simply this: that God is committed to loving the world. For him, abandoning the world is not an option. Even though we are like grass, even though we sin, even when we are in a pit—even when the world is in a pit—God answers these things with steadfast love. Abandoning the world is not an option for God. Which means it cannot be an option for us, his children, either.

Because if we abandon the future who will shape and form it? Only swindlers and thieves and forces of hate will be left to set our course then. Instead of abandoning the future because we are afraid, or the wars within and without have become too great, we need to be caretakers of our future. That is our job.

And that is what a steward is, right? A steward is a caretaker who ensures that the ones who come after are given something that has been maintained and cared for as best as they could. That is how we should face the future: as those who are stewards of it, passing it on in the best condition we can.

But how would we even begin? Psalm 103 gives us a guide. If you notice, it begins with the singer talking to himself. He says to himself, “Self, bless the Lord. Bless the Lord, Self!” Stewarding the future may begin with something as simple as us talking to ourselves more. Continually ask yourself, “How do I live today so that I bless the Lord? How do I live so that children’s children know they can bless the Lord as well?” By talking to ourselves in this way we become more intentional and our stewardship—like the psalm—will not be able to stay in the first person. It will inevitably grow to encompass all creation. Just as the song moves from “bless the Lord, o my Soul” to “bless the Lord, all his works in all places of his dominion,” what begins as something so small in us can grow to shape something as large as the future.

After we talk to ourselves and become more intentional, we can steward the future by offering praise. Think of the way the lines of this one song of praise have changed peoples’ lives for over 3,000 years! “God redeems your life from the pit…so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s…the Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love…as far as the east is from the west, so far he removes our transgressions from us.” These words have changed the world.

And yet we have no idea of why they were written or by whom or for what event. Some say it was a single individual who wrote this following a serious illness. Others say it was written by court musicians in preparation for a large festival. Still others believe it was written by a cloistered community for their small group prayer time. We do not know. And we do not know because their lives were like grass and lasted but for a moment. But look how long their praise has lasted!  Our praise may seem a small thing but it is the best way we have to steward the future.

Finally, we are caretakers of the future when we strive to remember. “Forget not all his benefits” the psalm says. And forgetting God is the same as separation from God. Forgetting the future God will have with his children is the same thing as throwing in the towel on that future. Even as the wars around us and within us would have us forget, we steward the future when we refuse to forget; when we remember and we help others remember too.

Talking to ourselves to force intentionality, praising God even when both the present and future look bleak, remembering God’s benefits that occurred thousands of years ago and yesterday: living like this will put us out of step with many of those around us. Committing ourselves to love this world, even when it seems fruitless and overwhelming, that tone and attitude will make some people think you are mentally ill. They might even say it out loud. But that tone and attitude will make God say, “I think it’s wonderful.”

Because if we can remember, and praise, and live as an intentional blessing then we will be living with hesed, with steadfast love that is committed to loving this world. In that hesed, we will show the children’s children how much we love the Father. And, in that one simple act, we will have taken care of the future. Amen