Today we are in week 6 of our Make Room series, and my goodness, what a series it has been so far! I feel that each week has been equally challenging… but I’m not a bit surprised by the challenging nature of this series because as I was preparing for this message, I went back and read the official Grace Church statement that describes our value about ‘Making Room’ and that statement convinced me that there was no way that a series like this wouldn’t be challenging. Lisen to what Grace Church officially says we believe about Making Room: ‘Grace Church is dedicated to becoming a community which reflects the unity and diversity of God’s kingdom, a community where we must all humble ourselves and seek to elevate the voices, influence, and giftings of those who don’t look the same, think the same, talk the same, or have the same age or abilities as ourselves.’ That is one strong statement; it is a statement that challenges us to a huge amount of room-making… which as we have seen each week in our series, calls us all to a kind of open-handed humility that, to be honest, is just plain difficult… but as difficult as it is to make room for other voices and influences, we believe with all our hearts this kind of open-handed humility is possible through the power of the Holy Spirit! And so, we are talking openly about this difficult subject. My role today is to speak to yet another place where some difficult, open-handed, humble, room-making is needed… today I will be speaking primarily to those of us who are older and I include myself in the ‘older crowd,’ and I will be calling us, we older folk, to making room by elevating the voices, the influence and the giftings of those who are in the generations behind us… people who, and let’s be honest older folk, people who often don’t look like us, think like us, talk like us, or see the world the way we do. But it’s my conviction that when we get this aspect of church unity right it will help make Grace Church the light that God wants us to be in his world! Now, next week the shoe will be on the other foot… Barry will be challenging those of you that are younger to ‘make room’ for those of us who are older, but this week I’m talking primarily to those of us who are older. And can I say right off the bat that I don’t honestly feel like I’m in the ‘older’ category… I know that I am, but I don’t feel all that much different in many ways than I did when I was much younger… but the truth still is that I am older… I will be 70 in a few months, and I’ll admit that 70 has an old ring, even to me… I also want you to know that over the last couple of years I’ve been thinking a lot about this subject of making room for younger people as it relates to my role here at Grace as an older man… Truth is, I have been here since before day one. I stood in the parking lot of Faith Church with Dave Rod and Jim Falk in early 1990 right after the idea of launching this church was first hatched and to their wide-eyed surprise, I told them in my at-the-time, salty, landscaper’s language that I was with them 100% and I was certain that with God’s help we youngsters were going to do something amazing together. But on that day, I was 36 and I had no idea then that almost half-a-life later I’d be asked to speak as an older man to my generation about how we can best make room for those who like me and Dave and Jim in 1990 are now in 2023 being called to lead God’s people. But here I am and it’s an honor to be here.
What I want to do today is what I tend to normally do: take a passage that honestly speaks to the issues we are wanting to talk about… put the passage in context and parse out its language in ways that best help us understand what God originally wanted to say through the author’s words. And then we’ll see in what ways those original lessons can be applied to our lives today. And today’s passage is a good one for our Make Room series… I’ve been excited about this sermon for a long time. Today’s passage is Psalm 71, and it can be found on page ???? in the house Bible. Welcome etc…
Some intro: no author is named with this Psalm, and believe it or not, this psalm’s authorship matters! Many scholars say this psalm was clearly written by David; the situation matches David’s life, and the poetry absolutely sounds like David’s other songs. Yet, other scholars say no, this psalm was written by an anonymous, older person, probably after a career as a musician in the temple, whose actual life-story is unknown. And boy, do scholars fuss about this psalm’s authorship! Well, after much thinking about this I’m going to go out on a limb and say that I believe this is a psalm by David. Some scholars may disagree, but today we’re going to assume that King David, in the middle of his own son trying to take his thrown away from him because that son thought his father was far too over-the-hill to rule any longer, wrote this song to express all that this betrayal was stirring up in his soul. That is this psalms’ context. And one other thing: at first it is going to seem like this psalm was written to say that younger people should respect their elders, but there is a turning point in the psalm that I’m certain will show you why we chose this psalm to talk about ‘making room’ for the coming generations. So here we go… King David was thinking about his life and the fact that his own son had betrayed him, and this is the song that came bubbling out of his soul… verse 1 of Psalm 71. O LORD, I have come to you for protection; don’t let me be disgraced. I must stop and say that the word that is translated as ‘disgraced’ here is the Hebrew word ‘Boosh’ and its meaning is actually more along the line of Confused, ashamed, not relevant. Remember, David’s son is trying to get rid of him because David is older and to this young man, David seemed confused and inept… and boy do I understand why the first thing on David’s mind is asking the Lord to keep him from being disgraced because he seems confused and irrelevant. I am certain that there are other older folks in the room today who know exactly what it is to find yourself confused by something that is commonplace in the world of younger folks… I’m sure there are other older folks that know what it is to feel irrelevant in the never-ending swirl of today’s world… and what David is saying in this first verse is that he wants God to protect him from the disgrace of irrelevancy… and boy do I get that! And then, in the next 5 verses David essentially says, ‘Lord, you need to save me from this disgrace because I’ve been so faithful to you.’ Now, I don’t want anyone to think that we can have a quid-pro-quo relationship with God… there is no you-scratch-my-back-I’ll-scratch-yours when dealing with God… no I’ve been good, so you owe me. But keep in mind that David was emotionally worked up when he wrote these words; his own son was trying to get rid of him, for heaven’s sake! You can hear how worked up he is in what he says next! He says, ‘Save me and rescue me, for you do what is right. Turn your ear to listen to me and set me free. Be my rock of safety where I can always hide. Give the order to save me, for you are my rock and my fortress. My God, rescue me from the power of the wicked, from the clutches of cruel oppressors. O Lord, you alone are my hope. I’ve trusted you, O LORD, from childhood. Yes, you have been with me from birth; from my mother’s womb you have cared for me. No wonder I am always praising you! I think we can all see his point here… he is saying something like, ‘I’m feeling very vulnerable here, Lord and even though I know you have been taking care of me all of my life and I have been following you all my life, I really need you to step up and come through now!’ And once again, I understand this! I haven’t been trusting and praising the Lord from the days I was in my mother’s womb, but I have been walking with God for a long time… at least 54 years… and I can understand why David, in the situation he was in, would feel like God should protect him after such a long time of trusting God. He was just being honest with God in a way that I understand. And then David says this, 7 My life is an example to many, because you have been my strength and protection. 8 That is why I can never stop praising you; I declare your glory all day long. I need to stop here and say that much of the Hebrew here is difficult. The word that our house bibles have translated as ‘example’ is the word ‘mofaith… and it is a word that literally means ‘A miraculous sign that is almost always a sign of God’s judgement.’ What we all need to keep in mind is that in the ancient Hebrew mind everything that happened, and I do mean everything, happened because it was caused by God. For instance, we say, ‘It is raining.’ They would have said, ‘He is raining.’ All events and circumstances, every single one of them, said something about God’s attitude toward someone… and in the ancient world an old man who seemed to be failing and fading would have looked like someone God was abandoning. This line, ‘my life is an example to many’ is not a good line. It’s actually saying, the things that are going on in my life, are a sign… a mofaith, to many younger people that you, God, have abandoned me… and the word that the translators have translated next as ‘because’ is actually the word, ‘but.’ This sentence is a not saying that in his old age he is an example to many people because he has been faithful. No! What David is literally saying is this, ‘What is happening to me has many people saying that God has left me behind, but I have continued to praise you, God!’ It’s no wonder that he says this in verse 9. And now, in my old age, don’t set me aside. Don’t abandon me when my strength is failing. For my enemies are whispering against me. They are plotting together to kill me. They say, “God has abandoned him. Let’s go and get him, for no one will help him now.” O, God, don’t stay away. My God, please hurry to help me. Now, I’m pretty certain that I’ve never had enemies that were out to kill me… but there have been a few times when there were younger folk who made it a point to let me know that I was too ‘old school’ to be any good for Jesus. And I will be honest today and say, as humiliating as it is for me to admit this, David’s next words are not that far off from what I’ve thought in those moments… Bring disgrace and destruction on my accusers. Humiliate and shame those who want to harm me… how about we just save talking about that kind of an attitude for another day.
Now, if I had written this song, I’m thinking the next verse would probably have said something like, ‘Hey, you who think I’m over the hill, do you know who I am? Do you know where I’ve been and what I have done? How dare you!’ I’d most likely have promoted why I should have every right to still be in charge, but David doesn’t go there. He still asks God to take care of him, but for a reason that makes this entire psalm take an unexpected turn. Up to this point, as I said earlier, it looks like what we should be talking about is how younger people should respect and honor older folks but look at what David says in verse 14. But I will keep on hoping for your help; I will praise you more and more. I will tell everyone about your righteousness. All day long I will proclaim your saving power, though I am not skilled with words. I will praise your mighty deeds, O Sovereign LORD. I will tell everyone that you alone are just. O God, you have taught me from my earliest childhood, and I constantly tell others about the wonderful things you do. Then here comes the shift! Now that I am old and gray, do not abandon me, O God. Let me proclaim your power to this new generation, your mighty miracles to all who come after me. Your righteousness, O God, reaches to the highest heavens. You have done such wonderful things. Who can compare with you, O God? You have allowed me to suffer much hardship, but you will restore me to life again and lift me up from the depths of the earth. You will restore me to even greater honor and comfort me once again. Then I will praise you with music on the harp, because you are faithful to your promises, O my God. I will sing praises to you with a lyre, O Holy One of Israel. I will shout for joy and sing your praises, for you have ransomed me. Now, I know there is a lot to take in in these verses, but did you notice that when David asked God to save him, he wasn’t asking for this help so he could continue being King. No, he was asking for God’s help so he would be in a position to continually declare to the next generation in every way he could imagine… whether by words or by singing or even playing a musical instrument, that Israel’s God is powerful; that their God is the one who works mighty miracles; that their God is righteous beyond imagination and that God alone is the one who can restore honor and comfort those in their lowest moments. And when I realized this, that David wanted to be saved from those that were out to get him so he could help the next generations enter leadership knowing the truth about God, it changed everything about this psalm for me… I think it is amazing that even in the middle of being betrayed by his own son David could honestly say that his heart’s desire was to make certain that the coming generations, those that would legitimately soon take his place as rulers over Israel, would hear from him that their God is the incomparable, righteous, wonder-working one who alone is watching over them. This psalm tells me that David, the old, grey-haired man that he was, wanted to live out his life pointing the coming generations to the goodness and the faithfulness of God. He wasn’t in this for himself. He was in this for the lifting up of the Holy One of Israel… and I have to say that this is exactly what we older folk should be in this for today as well! I’ve come to a pretty strong conclusion after living in this psalm over the past few weeks and it is this: When I point the coming generations to the goodness and the faithfulness of God and not to my own wisdom or sense of accomplishment or entitlement, making room for those coming up after me will lose much of its difficulty. I think the most difficult thing in all of this for me is trying to never forget what it was like to be younger. I certainly know that there was a time when I had a confidence in myself that outsized my actual knowledge of the world, but I also know that I longed to know that someone who’d been there before had confidence in me. I’ll never forget the day right as the leaders of Faith Church were thinking about what it would look like to plant this church, that the chairman of the Board of Elders, an older man named Jim Shepley, someone who had helped birth Faith Church, and also someone that at the time I honestly believed thought I was a just a goofball, stopped me out of the blue and said something like, ‘You need to join Dave in this. He needs someone who thinks like you. God has powerfully helped me lead this church over the years and He’ll help you help Dave.’ In just a few words, he’d pointed me to the goodness and faithfulness of God and he’d opened a door for me to step into all of this! And it was all it took to change my life. I think Jim Shepley was remembering what it was like to be my age and he knew I just needed to know that someone believed that God was with me… even in my ‘goofballiness.’
So, I’m going to get ridiculously practical now, my dear older friends. I’m going to suggest 3 things we can do that will help us as our values statement says, ‘make room for younger people by elevating the voices, influence, and giftings of those who don’t look the same, think the same, talk the same, or have the same age or abilities as we do’ Number one: as I’ve already said, Let’s all do our best to try and never forget what it was like to be younger. Try and remember how you felt when your voice was marginalized because you were younger, because I am sure there were times when it was… and how differently you felt when someone older was looking for opportunities for you to step up and showed confidence in you. Don’t forget about your Jim Shepley. Also, and I know this is hard to do, but try to keep in mind what it was like to have great excitement about things coupled with an excess of energy. I remind myself all the time that much of the reason I feel like I have a lot to say about things now is that back when I was younger, I had the energy to spin a lot of plates. And now, at a time when younger people are leaving the church in droves, I want to be looking for ways to open doors for any younger person that has an excitement about the things of God and the energy to spin His plates. So, let’s do our best to remember what it was like to be younger and look for ways to engage with them in what God is doing.
Secondly, Let’s focus on God’s faithfulness to us in the past rather than our own sense of success or skill. If we’re going to talk about back-in-the-day, let’s be like David and talk about all that God has done for us back-in-the-day… not what we have done. What younger people need from us is the confidence that God will be with them as they try their best at this stage of their lives to follow Jesus. Psalm 71 showed me that what I need to be proclaiming to the next generation is how God was there for me and how he will be there for them… and in particular, for the specific generations that are coming up behind us, it’s important that they hear how God has restored us and comforted us in our lowest moments. Let’s do our best to point younger people to Jesus’ work on our behalf and not to what we consider was our work on Jesus’ behalf.
And thirdly, and this comes more out of my experience than anything… Being silent but vigilant is a good thing. I know that David said he would continually be proclaiming things, but older folks, there is much wisdom in being quiet and listening. What I have learned is that any legacy I may have will only exist if I open the doors for those behind me and they take up the mantle of carrying on what I have given my life to building. I am far better off listening to how they see that mantle being carried into their world then telling them how they should carry that mantle. I’ve helped build a foundation, but each new generation will build a new house on that foundation…. and I’ve found that the less I speak up the more likely I will be heard… and that is especially true when my younger friends, first, know that I am committed to seeing them being successful in following Jesus and secondly, when my words lift them up and point them to trusting God. So, let’s speak less, listen more and be vigilant in our support of the next generations desire to follow Jesus.
My dear older friends, I know that it is a difficult thing to hand the reigns to someone younger and less experienced. I know that it is hard to be silent when you are confident that you know what should be said. I know all about these kinds of difficulties, but I also know that this church looks a great deal different than the church that Jim Shepley helped build because he made room for some younger people… and I’m also certain that the church of tomorrow will most likely look a great deal different than the church that Dave Rod and Jim Falk helped build, but whatever the church may look like in the future it will only exist at all if we who are older make room… make room for younger voices, make room for those younger voices that are equally dedicated to proclaiming the truth about our God… make room for the younger voices that want to join our older voices in proclaiming that God is powerful and present and He longs to see his goodness filling everyone and everything, everywhere in his world.