Wednesday of Epiphany IV – Psalm 71:1-11

1 In you, O Lord, do I take refuge;
    let me never be put to shame!
In your righteousness deliver me and rescue me;
    incline your ear to me, and save me!
Be to me a rock of refuge,
    to which I may continually come;
you have given the command to save me,
    for you are my rock and my fortress.

Rescue me, O my God, from the hand of the wicked,
    from the grasp of the unjust and cruel man.
For you, O Lord, are my hope,
    my trust, O Lord, from my youth.
Upon you I have leaned from before my birth;
    you are he who took me from my mother’s womb.
My praise is continually of you.

I have been as a portent to many,
    but you are my strong refuge.
My mouth is filled with your praise,
    and with your glory all the day.
Do not cast me off in the time of old age;
    forsake me not when my strength is spent.
10 For my enemies speak concerning me;
    those who watch for my life consult together
11 and say, “God has forsaken him;
    pursue and seize him,
    for there is none to deliver him.”

Gary had joined the faculty several years earlier, a member of the business college, he always had the most interesting things to say in faculty meetings. He and I had some fascinating discussions as he had an interest in theology. I can still remember the day that he told me that he had been diagnosed with brain cancer. We were standing in front of Centennial hall. It was a beautiful day. The sun was shining down on us both. Gary was rather matter of fact about it all. The prognosis was not hopeless, but it was not good either.

Over the coming months Gary put up a good fight, but it was difficult to watch. His already sparse hair was gone, his movements became somewhat tenuous. I think either the treatment or the tumor affected his balance or perhaps his joints pained him because of the treatments. His robust frame became gaunt.

The psalmist asks God not to forsake him on the day of his strength is spent and in the time of his old age. He says that he has become a portent, a sign, a thing to wonder at which one simply cannot but see. I think of the days I watched across campus as Gary made his way painfully to his classes. He brought home all our mortality and frailty. The strong and vigorous man whom we had known was passing slowing before us. He was a portent, a prophecy, for all of us to read and learn. We are all mortal and must yield before that pitiless foe. Gary could not carry on the next semester. Soon after we heard of his death. No one was surprised, but we were all saddened. Yet, Gary was not done being a portent and a witness. For God had strengthened him and sustained him. I remember to the beautiful words of faith which he had written and spoken for us who grieved. In the Lord he took refuge. In God’s righteousness, Gary is delivered from death. The Lord has given the command and death cannot hold him, but must yield him up to the Rock, the Fortress, the Lord of all.

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