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When I was growing up, if ever I took problems or complaints to my father, his answer was always the same; look on the bright side. Sometimes he would give me the bright side, other times, I would have to come up with it myself. But every now and then, his response would be “look on the bright side, in a hundred years, we’ll all be dead”, and then he would laugh. If you don’t know my father’s sense of humour then this may sound strange to you, but the sentiment he was getting at is the same one found in our Psalm this morning. People have read this Psalm and found it to be depressing, or one that should be reserved for funerals only. I agree, it’s a great reading to mark one’s death, but it’s also a great reading for life. Particularly life during difficult times.
Psalm 90 is the only psalm associated with Moses, although there is some disagreement as to whether or not he is the author. The poem is a meditation on God, humanity, and time. One author describes it as a theological plea written in the key of hope. The psalmist gives us a contrast between humans and God. God is described as a dwelling place for all generations, the Creator, God from everlasting to everlasting, and One for whom a thousand years is like a day. Humans, on the other hand, are those who turn to dust, those who are like a dream, those who are like the grass that withers before evening. They have a lifespan that is 70 years, or 80 if they are strong. The Psalmist brings a lament to God and the problems he presents are these: that for humans, life is without purpose, that nothing we do matters since we will all die someday, and that there is nothing that can satisfy or give joy. You can probably see by now how this psalm can be perceived as such a downer. Whoever the writer was, he doesn’t seem like someone who would be much fun at a party.
This Psalm is the cry of a community in crisis. The Israelites were wandering in the desert and knew they would be wandering for 40 years. There was an end to their problems, but the end was not in sight. They are stuck in this in-between place of knowing that good things are coming, but aware that they still have a long way to go. And from this wandering community, we get a lament about the struggle of life. A lament about the harsh realizations you come to when asking existential questions and no good answer comes. The days of our life are 70 years, the author writes, or eighty if we are strong, and even then, the span is only toil and trouble. In other words, life is short and full of pain, so what’s the point?
A home for Moses
Regardless of whether Moses authored this psalm, someone wanted to attach it to Moses and what was happening in his lifetime. Moses had it rough. He was given a task he didn’t want, he was leading people who didn’t want him, and he had to listen to complaints about his leadership regularly. On top of all that, he wasn’t even allowed to enter the Promised Land at the end of his long and arduous journey. But we see God’s faithfulness to Moses through all this, in that God was his shelter. As he nears the end of his life, his name is lengthened from Moses to ‘Moses the man of God’ or ‘Moses the servant of the Lord’. We’re told that at the end of his life, God himself buried him. God was his home in a time when he had no other home. We read in Numbers 33 that Moses and the Israelites camped at 42 different locations during their journey. And Moses learned through all these transitions and troubles to make God his home. Perhaps that’s why Moses didn’t need to enter the Promised Land. He had experienced God in a way no one else had on this journey. After he had led the Israelites to Canaan, their designated home, he was allowed to go to his true home and be with God. For Moses’ the journey was not so much about the destination, but about learning to speak with, listen to and live with God.
A home for us
That was the point of the journey for Moses. That was the answer to his existential questions. Perhaps it is the answer to ours as well, which is why this morning, I am telling you to stay home. Hearing the phrase “stay home” may cause you to cringe. I know for some of us, it has been easy to be at home all the time. If you were able to work from home and get amazon deliveries to your home then you’re ahead of much of the global population. For some of us, the pandemic is the problem in our lives right now. In short order, we’ll be vaccinated, and things will start to get better. We can spend time with each other again, we can move about freely, we can get babysitters again. If the pandemic is the only problem in our lives, then the bright side is that the end is in sight. But for others, the problems were there before the pandemic. A strained relationship, financial trouble, emotional turmoil, or maybe you were asking questions about your life and your purpose and you weren’t coming up with any good answers. The pandemic ending will be good, but it won’t solve your problems. They run deep and there’s no clear way out. If that’s where you are, then this message is for you. Stay home. Learn as Moses had to learn what it means to make God your shelter. Resolve to pray first and act second, to dive into God’s word daily, and to find a spiritual friend who will help and support you on your journey. And then stay in that place of dependence on God. Stay in the comfort of the Saviour. Stay with God who promises to have compassion on his servants. No matter what is going on in our lives, good or bad, dwelling with God is always the best course of action.
Our sole comfort
Something else my dad liked to remind me of is the first question of The Heidelberg Catechism which is a series of questions and answers that explain Christian doctrine. The very first question is “What is your only comfort in life and in death?”. And the answer: “That I am not my own, but belong — body and soul, in life and in death — to my faithful Savior, Jesus Christ.” This is our comfort. This is our reason for joy. This is our home.
Pastor David shared this great quote with us last week, that says “God is revealed in the past but he is always more than the past reveals”. God has been delivering his people since the Exodus from Egypt and even before then. From the life of Moses, we learn that there is something better than making it to the Promised Land. It is better to make God your dwelling place while you wander in the desert. To make God your dwelling place is to know him and be known by him. We are given some indication of what this looks like: (verses 14-17)
Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love, so that we may rejoice and be glad all our days. Make us glad as many days as you have afflicted us, and as many years as we have seen evil. Let your work be manifest to your servants, and your glorious power to their children. Let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us, and prosper for us the work of our hands— O prosper the work of our hands!
It’s important to note the plural noun in this passage. Just as it is a lament for the community, the requests are that God would bless the whole community. The plea is that God would prosper the work of our hands. In other words, the work of the community of God, or what we call today the Church. And when we look at history, we can see how God has been faithful in answering this plea. We see how God has worked through the Church in the past to be agents of his love and reconciliation and healing. When we look at our families, we see how God has been faithful to our grandparents and our parents in bringing them through the trials and troubles that life inevitably brings. And when we look at our own lives, I pray that our eyes are opened to see God’s hand weaving in and out of our days and that as we close our eyes each night we can reflect on our day and say, yes Lord, you are good.
Number our days
As we consider our purpose and how we should spend our time, we receive this wise counsel to number our days. Teach us to count our days that we may gain a wise heart. This doesn’t mean that we literally need to keep a counter on our days (although I did the math and as of today, I am 12,716 days old). This means that we shouldn’t live as if we will live forever because we won’t. This means that coming to terms with our humanity is wise because then we don’t take time for granted. And that’s our challenge as we read Psalm 90. As we consider the finitude of our lives, is there something we’re doing that we shouldn’t be spending our time on? And is there something we’re not giving time to, that we should be doing?
If you want to know what matters, it’s this: the work of the kingdom, for the glory of God. The promise is that even though we are finite, our participation in the mission of God will live on beyond our 70 or 80 years. What we do with God as our home, will outlive us and will affect generations to come.
So, if you can find comfort in my dad’s version of the bright side, then you know God as your home. You can rest in the knowledge that God is with you now and will carry you from this life to the next when the time comes. But know that God is available and present with us now. He longs to be our home. Amidst the uncertainty and the pain and the joy, God is our refuge, our shelter, our dwelling place.
You are the memory of where we have been and the anticipation of where we are going. Though we are not yet in possession of all we have been promised, here and there along the way we catch glimpses of our eternal home. O Lord, you are our home along the way and at the end of the journey. For traveling with us, for rescuing us when we are lost, and for calling us into your holy place, thanks be to you, O God, our eternal home. (Sharlande Sledge, Prayers & Litanies for the Christian Season, 31)