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YEAR C: PENTECOST 13
August 22, 2010
Psalm 71:1-6


This is another lament psalm where the psalmist seeks Godís help. To get the full picture of the psalm we cannot restrict ourselves to vv. 1-6 as set in the lectionary. Neither is such a restriction helpful because it gives a skewed view of the trust in God about which those early verses speak.

It is clear that the psalmist is old and aware of the limitations due to age (v. 9 etc.) but there are also enemies who threaten the psalmist (v. 10). It appears to those enemies that God has forsaken the psalmist (v. 11) but the psalmistís words tell another story (e.g. vv. 14, 16, 22-24).

This is the second last psalm in Book II of the Book of Psalms. Its reference to old age is appropriate in this context. At the end of Psalm 72 (v. 20) we will be told that the prayers of David are over. We should not literally assume that David wrote the psalms we read in the whole book. The dedication Ďof Davidí which appears at the head of many psalms, especially in the early ones (e.g. Psalms 69, 70 etc.), could also mean Ďdedicated to Davidí or Ďbelonging to a collection gathered in Davidís nameí. Nevertheless, it seems clear that the people who collected the psalms in this long book and ordered them the way we have them today, did believe that David had composed many of them. It is also clear that they saw the psalms (especially those in Books I-II, Psalms 1-72) tracing Davidís life in some way. In Psalm 72 we hear in this prayer Ďof Solomoní or Ďfor Solomoní what ancient collectors believed to be Davidís prayer for his son as the latter was about to take the throne in his fatherís place. Psalm 71, although not designated as a psalm of David (but it is in the Septuagint, LXX, the ancient Greek translation) fits his situation well. As an old man David, for whom God has been his hope and trust since youth (v. 5-6), prays that such trust will still be rewarded in his old age (v. 9) and that not he but his accusers will be shamed (vv. 1, 13). The psalm echoes something of the family troubles that surrounded David as he grew older. In spite of the difficulties Davidís prayer ends in confidence of fulfillment in v. 24 (cf. 69:6-7, 19; 70:2-3) as David takes up his lyre and sings praises to God continuing to tell of Godís wonderful deeds (vv. 15-16).

The first six verses, selected for today in the lectionary bring forth the theme of youthful trust (especially vv. 5-6) that fits the context of Jeremiahís call to prophesy. But these verses brim over with a confidence that hides the real nature of trust in God. That is seen as we move through the psalm. The psalmist, be it imagined as David or anyone else, knows that trust is not easy and must confront not only those who would deny it, the enemies as the psalmist calls them, but even our own weakness and struggle to endure. The trust that the psalmist knew in their youth, and which is maintained even at advanced age, is one that confronts enemies constantly, be they external or internal ones that attack us from within. This is the nature of the trust that was called for from both Jeremiah in his calling and Jesus in his. The past experience of that trust met by Godís presence is what sustains the psalmist to the end. The psalmist knows that only a life of praise of God can sustain.

Suggestions for the use of the psalm in worship

Most of the verses set for today would form an appropriate litany at the conclusion of the prayer of confession:

In your righteousness deliver us and rescue us;
incline your ear to us and save us.
Be to us a rock of refuge, a strong fortress, to save us,
for you are our rock and our fortress.
Rescue us, O God, from the hand of the wicked,
from the grasp of the unjust and cruel.
For you, O Lord, are our hope,
our trust, O LORD, from our youth.
Upon you we have leaned from birth;
it was you who took us from the motherís womb.
Our praise is continually of you.
Verse 14 could be adapted as a refrain in the prayer of intercession used after each section of the prayer
But I will hope continually, and will praise you yet more and more.
Finally the end of the psalm (vv. 22-24), not set for today, could be adapted as part of the benediction at the conclusion of the service:
Praise God for Godís faithfulness;
sing praises to the Holy One of Israel.
Let your lips shout for joy when we sing praises to God;
your soul also, which God has rescued.
All day long let your tongue talk of your righteous help,
and the blessing of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit,
be with you and remain with you always.
Amen.
Old Testament Reading: Jeremiah 1:4-10
 

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