Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Psalm 90: Autumn Leaves are Falling

Please click HERE to read Psalm 90:1-12

I love autumn.  I love spring.  Winter I get tired of quickly and the heat and humidity can be too much for me in the summer, here in Columbia, SC.  The church that I serve is in a community called "Forest Acres" and for the first year or two that we lived here, I just took main roads to get to church from our home.  Over the last year, however, I have been going through the communities that make up Forest Acres.  This area is just what its name states.  Trees are abundant and in the spring and fall, the colors are vibrant and rich.

Over the last week, there have been a few trees that I have looked at on the rides to and from work (the church).  I have seen green, to yellow, to bright fiery yellow until today when the yellow turns a burnt orange color.  As beautiful as it is, these are the last signs of color and life before the trees are rid of their leaves for the winter months.  Knowing each day that the next day may bring fewer leaves and turning colors, I was saddened today to see that the end is indeed near.

I wrote about Psalm 90 this past February and I was tempted to just submit a "reblog" and be done with it, but I believe that these verses take on another meaning in the fall, particularly in the late fall when leaves are falling, night approaches more quickly and our hearts long for light and warmth.

In these falling leaves we look around and see that our world is changing and is making its annual pilgrimage to the darker months.  In the northern hemisphere, the air is crisper and the night is darker.

In these falling leaves we see the brilliance of color and the dying of beauty.  All things must end.

In these falling leaves we are reminded of the acute brevity of life and often that which we take for granted.

Our rituals are changing.  Perhaps some of us are transitioning from white wines to red.  Maybe you've turned your heat on for the first time on these brisk nights; perhaps you've added that extra blanket.  You come in earlier in the evening.  Or, if you're like me, you want to go to bed at an unreasonably early hour.  We're going from cool and crisp meals to warm and hearty soups.

This is a journey we take each year, but by doing so, we are reminded that life is a series of change and ultimately like the falling leaves, we too will see our end.  We hope that the end is in a period of fiery and captivating, God-given beauty like we see in the trees around us.  But, life is not always so gracious.

Psalm 90, though some scholars term it a lament, is a psalm of hope and promise.  In the falling leaves of the psalm, the psalmist sings of the fleeting nature of life and the certain hope of God as refuge.  While we are daily dying and though some of us may be in the spring or summer of our lives, many we love are in the autumn of our short lives.  There is a promise that holds us all together and that is the sure and certain hope that God is indeed our refuge.  God is our dwelling place, holding us all together; those green leaves full of life and those changing colors to those falling leaves.

Before anything was, God is.  It is God who binds us together from one generation to another.  In Jewish wisdom literature, the preacher talks about the brevity of life and counters it with the necessity of eating and drinking and enjoying all the days that God gives us.  In psalm 90, the impermanence of life is countered by a request to God to "teach us to number our days that we may apply our hearts to wisdom."  Jesus says in St. John's gospel that he came not only to give life but to give it abundantly.  Therefore, God calls us to make the most of the time that we have.  Understanding this on a regular basis can come only by the grace of God.

We see in psalm 90 an "ultimate" of wisdom that the psalms can teach us.  It looks at the reality that life is short and not always gracious.  It identifies the unfairness of our days being filled with toil and trouble and just about the time that we're getting used to it, it's over.  Psalm 90 is exactly why the faithful people of God should spend more time with the psalms  --- these are all thoughts that we've had.  We aren't equipped to deal with the reality of life being short and especially of the reality of sudden death.  Somehow, we gain comfort (maybe not today or tomorrow, but at some point) in the fact that God is the common denominator.  From one generation to another, it is God who ties all of this together.  In life, struggle, toil, trouble and ultimately death, it is God's grace that breaks the fall of the descending leaf.  And then, it is God's grace, that though a leaf must fall to the ground every autumn and die, a new bud will break forth as a sign of new life and resurrection.

All of the world shows forth your creation.  All of the world shows forth life and death and resurrection.  May we be faithful in the days you give us.  Comfort us in ways that we need to be comforted and strengthen us in this brief life for the work of your kingdom.  And, when the leaves must fall, by your grace, help us to be received into your loving arms.  Amen.

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