June 2, 2019

“Into Your Hands”

Psalm 31

Today, we continue our sermon series on the psalms. This morning’s psalm is another one attributed to David. And also like last week, this is also another psalm of lament. It is a request for help from God, and once again a statement of faith. Let us look at the outline for Psalm 31 and dig in to find out how it might apply to us today.

The psalm begins by praying for refuge. As we spoke of last week, David had enemies- King Saul, as well as enemies of the court. Refuge, meaning a safe haven, a place of protection or shelter is a word used often in psalms attributed to David. As I contemplate that word today, it brings to mind or the stories in our most recent church Dialogue Newsletter of desperate refugees recently treated by John and Kathy Sager on the island of Samos-fleeing wars in Afghanistan, Cameroon, Congo, Iraq and Syria; or of refugees trying to come across our border seeking refuge from drug gangs in El Salvador, Guatemala or Honduras.

I saw a news story on the CBS Evening news Thursday night highlighting a story about a father and his two children trying to cross the border, who were seeking refuge from a drug gang and their threats to his family in El Salvador. The father, Adolpho came across the border, fleeing for his life and the lives of his two children, ages 11 and 7. He showed the CBS reporter the texts from gang members threatening his family. Yet when he came across the border in Texas, hoping to make his plea for asylum to a U.S. judge, instead he was accused of being a gang member by U.S. border patrol agents. The agents also began to threaten to take his 2 children from him. They kept asking what gang he was affiliated with, despite the facts that

1) He had no gang tattoos, which are a trademark of gangs in El Salvador; and

2) He had a letter from the El Salvadoran government stating he had no criminal activity in that country.

“I asked to speak with a lawyer, and they said, ‘No, you have no rights here!’” They then took his 2 children away to live with relatives in Seattle, while he was detained in Mc Allum Texas. For 6 months attorneys from RAICES argued he was not a danger to society.180 days after being separated from his children, Adolpho was finally reunited this past week. He is finally awaiting an asylum hearing before a U.S. judge. CBS reached out to U.S. Customs but did not hear anything back. The Trump administration is looking to fast track asylum seekers at the border by training border agents to handle those seeking refuge. Immigration Rights attorneys argue that those seeking refuge will be mishandled just like Adolpho’s case was. And despite the claim by the current administration family separation has stopped, it continues. Dozens of children are still being separated from their parents at the border every week as they seek refuge from violence in their home countries.

Most of us haven’t faced a threat like those on the island of Samos, or like Adolpho and his family, but many of us have sought refuge- from situations, from people, or from threats. The desperate imperatives in this psalm calling for refuge pile up: "do not let...deliver...Incline...rescue...Be a rock of refuge...a strong fortress" (verses 1-3). This psalm applies both to those seeking refuge all over the world, as well as to us personally. Perhaps you can remember times in your own life where you sought refuge when you have sought safety. In the midst of such times, how was God present for you?

After these urgent requests for refuge, the psalmist expresses trust in God with the words: "Into your hand, I commit my spirit." My guess is there was a pause after those first three verses, perhaps a sigh and deep breath, then: "Into your hand, I commit my spirit." That trust is based on previous experience with God, who has redeemed David(verses 8,22) by not delivering him into the hands of the enemy. And, even though he felt far from God, he believed God heard him when he cried for help. Also, David felt even in the midst of this lament that God is his rock and fortress, and who has proved faithful (verse 3).

 

The last words that Jesus spoke from the cross, according to Luke, were taken from this psalm: "Then Jesus, crying with a loud voice, said, 'Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.' Having said this, he breathed his last." (Luke 23:46; see Psalm 31:5). The last words of Stephen before he died as a martyr were also from this psalm, "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit." (Acts 7:59)- These are two examples of ultimate trust in the most desperate of times.

 

It is interesting to see the recurring theme of the word or concept of "hand" which occurs in the psalm. First, David’s faithful statement-"Into your hand I commit my spirit" (verse 5). Later on, the psalmist again addresses God, entrusting his life to God, "My times are in your hand" (verse 15). In verse 20 the psalmist declares that God holds God's people safe, presumably holding them in divine hands (verse 20). Twice the psalmist refers to the hand of the enemy (verses 8, 15b). In verse 15a the psalmist “puts” his life in the hand of God. Finally, verse 20 declares that God shelters and "holds" people, presumably once again in divine hands.

I have had a number of experiences of being in someone else’s hands:

-In the hands of my mother-climbing a cliff at Dillon Beach for the first time. I must’ve been around 5 or 6. Mom said it was time to learn how to climb cliffs at the beach. So she pointed me up my first cliff and told me to start climbing. She was down below, pushing me with her hand, keeping me from slipping, grabbing me with her hands when I did. I felt as safe as I could be in that moment, despite my heart being in my mouth the whole time. I have another memory of my mother and her hands as well-Whenever we were going somewhere in the car, my mom would often put her hand in front of me when she had to stop suddenly. This used to happen even when she was in her 80’s and still driving, and I in my 40’s and early 50’s. I somehow doubt her hand would’ve stopped me from going into the windshield had an accident occurred, but I appreciated the thought at least.

-In the hands of My Father-I remember once going to baseball practice, riding in Dad’s old Green pickup truck. For some reason, I wasn’t wearing a seatbelt, and it just so happened I didn’t close the truck door all the way. I didn’t know it hadn’t latched. It was an old Chevy truck from the ’50s, and some of the parts didn’t work quite as well as they used to. So as we were driving to practice, I leaned against the door, and it opened- I suddenly found myself holding onto the armrest with one hand, and the seat on the other, with my legs flailing in the air with the road zooming beneath them. Dad grabbed my arm, slowed down calmly and got me back in the cab. Said, “that is why you should always wear your seatbelt.” Lesson learned…

-In the Hands of a Massage therapist in Mendocino-Someone recommended this massage therapist to me, and I enjoyed one of the best massages ever. It was transformative. I had to totally relax and was literally “in her hands” as she massaged muscles deeply and manipulated joints. Everything worked so well for a few days after.

However, the hands I have spent my entire life in are in the Hands of God, from the time I took my first breath, until now. I felt a closeness to God around the age of 5, and it has grown ever since. I remember drawing a stick figure of myself around the age of 12, being held in the hand of God. I think I was inspired by the art of the Good News Bible, popular at the time with its stick figure art. It is an image I have held onto in my heart and mind over the decades. In those times I have gone through the valley of the shadow, or times in the desert, I remember the image of being held in God’s hands. In particularly difficult times, I have fallen much farther than I was comfortable with before being caught in God’s hands. There have been times when I thought I might hit the bottom of whatever is under the hand of God. However, God has been there and caught or held me my entire life, and for that I am grateful.

Coming here to Ashland from Fort Bragg CA, accepting a call for the first time out of the state of Ca in our entire lives, I had to trust we were in God’s hands in so many situations:

  1. Would I find a church that would match my theology, skills, etc?
  2. Would Paula find a hospital to land in that provided a good working environment?
  3. Would there be more resources for our son Sam and his struggles with mental health?
  4. Would our daughter, Abigail, coming in the midst of her freshman year in high school, adjust to a brand new, much larger, more academically strenuous environment?
  5. Would my mother, who was ailing at the time, be all right adjusting to her assisted living apartment in Eureka, and that we could be that far away from her, after having been her main support for the last 5 plus years?

The answers to all of those things was, “Yes.” All of those situations were and still are and will be in God’s hands, and for that, I am so grateful.

Into your hands, God we commit our spirits… At the healing prayer station today, and at the world station today you will see a pair of plaster hands, representing the hands of God. Some of you may notice that one hand is male and the other is female. This for me represents two things- the hands of my parents and the male/femaleness of God. For the requests of healing, you can place them in those hands. At the world prayer table, you will notice the globe is in those hands.

The psalm closes with verse 24, an encouragement to all who read the psalm- “Be strong and let your heart take courage, all you who wait for God.” Waiting can be difficult-I have waited for word from the hospital on family and friends; I have waited for news on whether or not our adoptions of our two children were final; I waited for my then girlfriend Paula, to decide to start dating me again after she needed a “3-month hiatus.” Things turned out quite well in the end, as we are about to celebrate our 32nd wedding anniversary Waiting is difficult. Waiting for God can be even more difficult. For when we wait for God, the matters are often heavy, the stakes are often higher; having to do with life and death, requests for help in time of trouble, desperate pleas for healing, help with serious conflict or some other important matter.

 

Last Sunday in our Celtic Vesper’s service, I found a prayer written by Irishman Padraig O Tuama which fits the notion of waiting quite well:

 

God of promises, sometimes we wait generations for the dawn from on high;

Sometimes only years.

We wait for justice and hope and light and kindness to mingle in the tangle of our days.

And we age while we hope.

So may we age and hope with tenderness and truth.

Because You are tender and true, even though we sometimes wonder. Amen

 

Whether the decisions be big life changing ones, or smaller day to day, may God give us the faith to see we are in gentle, loving hands while we wait and sometimes wonder. Into Your hands O God we commit our spirits. Alleluia. Amen.

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