Psalm 71:9–18a; Proverbs 24; 2 Corinthians 6:3–18

Originally published 6/02/2017. Revised and updated 6/01/2019.

Psalm 71:9–18a: While this is a pretty standard psalm of supplication, we do learn one interesting thing about its author: he’s old. So I identify! There is a feeling of pathos as he pleads for God to stay close to him:
Do not fling me away in old age,
as my strength fails, do not forsake me. (9)

He goes on to explain to God that it appears to his enemies, anyway, that God has already abandoned him:
For my enemies said of me,
who stalk me counseled together,
Saying, ‘God has forsaken him.
Pursue and catch him, for no one will save him.’ (10, 11)

That he is already being pursued by enemies who are convinced he’s unprotected lends all even more urgency to his prayer:
God, do not keep far from men.
My God, hasten to my help! (12)

Following the almost formulaic wish for disaster to befall his enemies, who mock God, our poet once again affirms his trust in God, whom he worships faithfully:
As for me, I shall always hope
and add to all Your praise. (14)

For me, this short verse is the centerpiece of the psalm because it expresses his faith as resolute hope and worship in such a compact form. This verse is surely from the heart—a marvelous prayer to carry with me at all times.

Our psalmist continues to reaffirm his trust in a generous, rescuing God as he promises to witness to others:
My mouth will recount Your bounty,
all day long Your rescue,
for I know not numbers. (15)

He asserts that he has been diligent and faithful, that he has trusted, worshipped, and told others about God for his entire life:
God, You have taught me since my youth,
and till now I have told Your wonders. (17)

But now, approaching the end of his life, he needs God more than ever:
And even in hoary old age,
O God, do not forsake me. (18a)

This stanza brings home the idea that a relationship with God is a dynamic, often fraught, lifelong process. We do not get extra points in our old age for simply assuming God will watch over us. We must continue to be actively engaged in worship and prayer.

Even though we know God will never abandon us, it’s important to our own faith that we engage always, reminding ourselves by the act of reminding God how grateful we are for the sure rescue he has provided across the years. This reality needs  more that just being conceptualized in our minds. Rather our faith needs to be spoken aloud in prayer from our hearts.

Proverbs 24:  Opening with the now standard advice to “not envy the wicked,/ nor desire to be with them” (1), this chapter reminds us that there are three elements to true wisdom. There is first knowledge, what today we could call data collection. Then there is understanding which arises out of the act of our minds exploring and organizing that knowledge. The operating metaphor here for me is that of a detective who pieces together the clues that give him understanding about who committed the crime. Then only with knowledge and understanding can true wisdom be achieved:
By wisdom a house is built,
    and by understanding it is established;
 by knowledge the rooms are filled
    with all precious and pleasant riches. (3,4)

There’s a remarkable assertion that conspiracy is certainly a sin, but an even greater sin is cynicism and laughing at others:
The devising of folly is sin,
    and the scoffer is an abomination to all. (9)

There’s also good advice about courage and our obligation to help others in distress. There are no excuses for inaction because God sees all, knows all. And in the deuteronomic framework of that time, if you sin God will demand recompense:
If you faint in the day of adversity,
    your strength being small;
if you hold back from rescuing those taken away to death,
    those who go staggering to the slaughter;
if you say, “Look, we did not know this”—
    does not he who weighs the heart perceive it?
Does not he who keeps watch over your soul know it?
    And will he not repay all according to their deeds? (10-12)

We even see a hint of what Jesus may have been thinking about when he expanded the rules about loving our enemies. Our author advises,
Do not rejoice when your enemies fall,
    and do not let your heart be glad when they stumble,
or else the Lord will see it and be displeased,
    and turn away his anger from them. (17, 18)

Here of course is the usual deuteronomic arrangement rather than grace: You sin and God will turn his punishing attention to you instead of your enemies.

On a different topic, our author reminds us that planning and preparation is a part of wisdom that is acted out:
Prepare your work outside,
    get everything ready for you in the field;
    and after that build your house. (27)

Work also lays at the root of wisdom and laziness cannot be abided by the wise man who passes by a (physical or metaphorical) untended vineyard that is “all overgrown with thorns;/ the ground was covered with nettles,/ and its stone wall was broken down.” (31) The reason for this decrepit state is obvious to our author:
Then I saw and considered it;
    I looked and received instruction.
A little sleep, a little slumber,
    a little folding of the hands to rest,
and poverty will come upon you like a robber,
    and want, like an armed warrior. (32-34)

While that seems a harsh judgement, there’s little doubt that even today as Jesus followers we are called upon to labor diligently. This is something Jesus affirmed in his parable of the talents, where the man who buried his talent was given no reward. For us Lutherans this is all about vocation—the work we do—being a holy calling.

2 Corinthians 6:3–18: Paul again asserts that he has not been a hinderance to the ministry at Corinth (which must have been the primary accusation in the letter he received): “We are putting no obstacle in anyone’s way, so that no fault may be found with our ministry, ” (3) He then goes on to with a very long list of things he has done and endured on behalf of his calling to carry the Gospel to the world. One has the feeling the Corinthians listed had Paul’s every fault in their letter, all of which he strongly rebuts here by contrasting the accusation with this actual effort:

as servants of God we have commended ourselves in every way: through great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, hunger; by purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, holiness of spirit, genuine love, truthful speech, and the power of God; with the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and for the left; in honor and dishonor, in ill repute and good repute. We are treated as impostors, and yet are true; as unknown, and yet are well known; as dying, and see—we are alive; as punished, and yet not killed; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing everything.” (4-10)

I guess if we ever needed catalog of the qualities of the Christian life we would find it right here. Paul again reminds them that the fault is theirs, not his, and he asks them to open their hearts as he has opened his: “There is no restriction in our affections, but only in yours. In return—I speak as to children—open wide your hearts also.” (12, 13)

These are important words to remember when I’m angry with what other Christians have done or said, especially in the church. I need to “open wide” my heart as well.

Paul then shifts the subject to the matter of people dividing their loyalties between the church and false gods. In fact he sets up a clear, if rather harsh rule: “Do not be mismatched with unbelievers. For what partnership is there between righteousness and lawlessness?” (14) Is he castigating so-called mixed marriages as many have interpreted this chapter? Or is he telling us to not engage in syncretism? I personally think he’s getting at the latter in his temple metaphor: “What agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God.” (15b, 16)

We can only worship God because the Holy Spirit is dwelling in our bodies, our living temples. Therefore, to worship an altered version of the Gospel where other gods have been attached is a grave sin. We see evidence of syncretism in some Caribbean and South American countries where the Gospel has been conflated with local witchcraft.

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