Proper 28, Year A, Otey Parish, Sewanee

Lord, you have been our refuge * from one generation to another.” (Ps. 90:1).

Otey Parish celebrates a significant anniversary this month, remembering fifteen decades of Christian ministry in this part of the Diocese of Tennessee. Many persons, in many places across the church, are giving thanks along with you today, for the blessings that have been received from God, here in this place, in the course of that time. Today we remember faithful lay leaders; devoted clergy; generous benefactors. We give thanks for mercies given; for sacraments celebrated; for salvation received. One hundred and fifty years of service are an occasion for thanksgiving.

Yet our psalm today sets our celebration within a particular context and frame, that far exceeds a century and a half. We begin, as the psalmist does, with time as human beings reckon it: with the generations that have elapsed since the beginning. “From one generation to another” (Ps. 90:1), the psalmist says: that’s the human perspective, from Adam onward. “The span of our life is seventy years, perhaps in strength even eighty” (Ps. 90:10), we’re told, giving us an idea of the outer limits of the generational compass. “We fade away suddenly like the grass” (Ps. 90:5), the psalter says, calling to mind our creaturely limitations. “You turn us back to the dust and say, ‘Go back, O child of earth’” (Ps. 90:3): in other words, in the eyes of the psalmist, generation succeeds generation precisely because we are creatures of a time that is passing away.

What really inspires the psalm, however, is not this time sensitive perspective, but God’s perspective, which sets all of this in its proper place. The psalm celebrates God’s preserving power, which far exceeds any number of generations, or any succession of years. “Lord, you have been our refuge” (Ps. 90:1), the psalm begins, announcing the theme. “Before the mountains were brought forth, or the land and the earth were born” (Ps. 90:2): God is God before we begin our generational reckoning; before we begin to tally the time and mark the anniversary. That’s the true context and frame. “For a thousand years in your sight are like yesterday when it is past, and like a watch in the night” (Ps. 90:4): that’s God’s perspective.

Fifteen decades are not enough to rightly reckon God’s providence, from the beginning of time; nor does it do justice to the limitless mercy of God on which we depend. Again, the psalm: “Our iniquities you have set before you, and our secret sins in the light of your countenance” (Ps. 90:8). A true reckoning of human limitation brings the psalmist, and each of us, to acknowledge our failings, and to a renewed sense of God’s forgiveness and mercy. God has indeed been our refuge, not simply as year follows year, but forever, in spite of our time bound constraints and our human sinfulness. God is reliable, for this age and the age to come.

Our psalm selection ends with this: “So teach us to number our days that we may apply our hearts to wisdom” (Ps. 90:12). Our own reckoning of time is limited in its scope; we cannot hope to account for the time we’ve been given in an adequate way, given our own limitations and our own failings. Like the slave in the Gospel parable today, when called to account we’re just as likely to be caught out by our own lack of faith and our own inaction in the face of the Master’s return.

Our psalm, however, is suggesting that there is wisdom that we can learn; that we can be taught the true reckoning of our days; that we can offer an account of our time. Jesus, of course, is the wisdom from God (1 Cor. 1:30), in whom all our days are reckoned. A significant anniversary like this, I think, gives us an opportunity so to number our days that we may apply our hearts to wisdom.

Today, like the patriarch Abraham journeying through the Promised Land, we stop in transit to build an altar to the Lord (Gen. 13:18). Today, we stand at the crossroads that the prophet Jeremiah described, looking for the ancient paths “where the good way lies” (Jer. 6:16), as the prophet says. Today, as we celebrate this eucharist, we stand at the crossroads that is Christ himself, the Wisdom from God: the crossroads of his death and resurrection. Today, at Otey Parish, we place a way mark for others, in their turn, to discover and follow.

Thank you, Otey Parish, for your extraordinary ministry over many years. Thank you for spending your time in the pursuit of the wisdom that is Christ; for numbering your days and offering account to God for your lives. God will continue to be your refuge, and will bless this parish in its ministry in the days to come.

  • The Rt. Rev’d John Bauerschmidt, Bishop of Tennessee