By Michael Fitzpatrick
A Reading from Psalm 71
1 In you, O LORD, have I taken refuge;
let me never be ashamed.
2 In your righteousness, deliver me and set me free;
incline your ear to me and save me.
3 Be my strong rock, a castle to keep me safe;
you are my crag and my stronghold.
4 Deliver me, my God, from the hand of the wicked,
from the clutches of the evildoer and the oppressor.
5 For you are my hope, O LORD God,
my confidence since I was young.
6 I have been sustained by you ever since I was born;
from my mother’s womb you have been my strength;
my praise shall be always of you.
7 I have become a portent to many;
but you are my refuge and my strength.
8 Let my mouth be full of your praise
and your glory all the day long.
9 Do not cast me off in my old age;
forsake me not when my strength fails.
10 For my enemies are talking against me,
and those who lie in wait for my life take counsel together.
11 They say, “God has forsaken him;
go after him and seize him;
because there is none who will save.”
12 O God, be not far from me;
come quickly to help me, O my God.
13 Let those who set themselves against me be put to shame and
let those who seek to do me evil be covered with scorn
14 But I shall always wait in patience,
and shall praise you more and more.
15 My mouth shall recount your mighty acts
and saving deeds all day long;
though I cannot know the number of them.
16 I will begin with the mighty works of the Lord GOD;
I will recall your righteousness, yours alone.
17 O God, you have taught me since I was young,
and to this day I tell of your wonderful works.
18 And now that I am old and gray-headed, O God, do not
till I make known your strength to this generation
and your power to all who are to come.
19 Your righteousness, O God, reaches to the heavens;
you have done great things;
who is like you, O God?
20 You have showed me great troubles and adversities,
but you will restore my life
and bring me up again from the deep places of the earth.
21 You strengthen me more and more;
you enfold and comfort me,
22 Therefore I will praise you upon the lyre for your
faithfulness, O my God;
I will sing to you with the harp, O Holy One of Israel.
23 My lips will sing with joy when I play to you,
and so will my soul, which you have redeemed.
24 My tongue will proclaim your righteousness all day long,
for they are ashamed and disgraced who sought
to do me harm.
“Oh my God, make haste to help me!”
Christian faith is rooted in Jewish realism about the brutalities of daily living. The ancient Israelite and Jewish communities experienced repeated enslavement and foreign captivity as a people, and individual members of the community were subject to the vicissitudes of Middle Eastern life, including famines, disease, war, or marauders. If you were a slave or a woman, little respite was to be found in any dimension of daily life.
I mention this because our contemporary culture can sometimes give the impression that Christian faith has nothing to do with daily struggles. The violation of civil rights, the abscence of political advocacy, the difficulty of paying bills or keeping a job, the loss of a child to senseless violence, the ravages of a seemingly endless pandemic — if our faith is not of use in these contexts, then I suggest it is not the faith written about in the Christian Scriptures.
Psalm 71 is a remarkable lament from someone suffering real, physical, daily persecution. They are being hunted and exploited by cruel people, yet joy is on their lips. How is this possible? Because they know that even if human societies fail to see and advocate for them, they always have a deliverer in heaven who will act on their behalf. Let us soak in Psalm 71 today, not simply to find our own story in it, but to let their story train and inspire us on how to ground our hope in God in the face of an often unforgiving world.
Michael Fitzpatrick is a doctoral student in philosophy at Stanford University. He attends St. Mark’s Episcopal Church in Palo Alto, Calif., where he serves as a lay preacher and teacher.
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The Diocese of Masvingo – The Church of the Province of Central Africa
Church of the Incarnation, Dallas, Texas