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Psalm 145:1-7

I will exalt you, my God the King; I will praise your name for ever and ever. Every day I will praise you and extol your name for ever and ever. Great is the Lord and most worthy of praise; his greatness no one can fathom. One generation commends your works to another; they tell of your mighty acts. They speak of the glorious splendor of your majesty – and I will meditate on your wonderful works. They tell of the power of your awesome works – and I will proclaim your great deeds. They celebrate your abundant goodness and joyfully sing of your righteousness.

The first church I served was a small(ish) congregation of – at least when I first started – primarily aging members. For the first year, whenever there was an elders’ meeting or council meeting (Elders are the group charged with theological and pastoral [shepherding] care of the congregation; council [in that church, made of the elders and deacons] is the group responsible for the general leadership and administration of the church) I would enter the room and lower the average age by at least half – I was 27 when I started pastoring. Gratefully, over the next while God blessed our church with young members returning from university and new members joining after moving to the city. Within 5 years of starting, our church had grown by 15% or so, and I was the median age of the people serving as elders and deacons. Many of those new people were capable leaders and willing to serve.

A new generation of leadership comes with a host of changes and opportunities to discern: why do we do it this way? Is the “way we’ve always done it” enough of a reason to continue doing it that way? As well, we had to spend a lot of time early on training first time leaders in what it means to lead theologically and in a spiritually discerning way; we trained on how to make visits and on church governance; we trained on urgent and expectant prayer and on the procedures of church order and Robert’s Rules.

At first, the transition to new leadership was hard for some people. There was a lot of change and a lot of people had questions about new direction and new ideas. Especially for those people not in on these leadership conversations and training, “the way we’ve always done it” felt fine; why did we have to change? As leadership we worked our way through conversations and townhalls, visits, phone calls, and emails answering the questions of those who felt anxiety over the changes. And, while I’m sure we could have done a better job, eventually the system seemed to accept the new direction and new leaders. In fact, coming out the other side of that particular leadership challenge, we found ourselves in the middle of another one: when it came time to find new people to serve (or asking previous leaders to serve again), we were met with an almost constant refrain: “I’ve put my time in. Leave that to the younger people.” I will always remember one year when at least three people said the same thing, “I’m retired from church work.”

And while I recognize that God calls people to a particular service in the church for a season, not necessarily for a lifetime, it remains true that all Christians are called to be active and functioning members of the body of believers gathered in a particular location (cf. 1 Pt. 4:10; 1 Cor. 12:7, 12-26; Rom. 12:3-8). In short, there is no retirement from serving the body of Jesus – individual service will vary, but the call to serve remains.

I believe this is the call of Psalm 145: having one generation commend the works of God to another.

David begins this psalm of praise by stating his intent to “exalt you, my God the King; I will praise your name for ever and ever.” (vs. 1) The reason for David’s praise is, simply put, the nature and being of God – in a phrase, God being God is the only reason any one needs to praise him. “Great is the Lord and most worthy of praise; his greatness no one can fathom.” Often times we praise God and worship him because of what he has done. Of course, we know that the greatest thing he has done is redeem for himself a people out of sin and death; we also know that God is working all of history towards the fullest realization of his kingdom come and coming. We know that God created the universe and everything in it – that his creation praises him (Ps. 19) and that everything that has breath ought to praise him (Ps. 150:6). And, many of us can look back on our lives and see countless other reasons to praise God: for the gift of friends, for a job, for living in a country of relative peace and security, for plenty of food, and for family and church family. If we’re honest, it is most often this second category of blessings that move us to worship (to be clear, personal blessings should move us to give thanks to the God who blesses; but, it is worth reflecting on this: if I had none of the blessings and trappings of the world, would I still praise God?).

David’s first point in Psalm 145, however, is that even before God does anything he is worthy of praise; the reason God moves into history is because he is consistent in his character and being – he is immutable (unchanging). God is the Lord, he is worthy of praise, he is the absolute greatest, and that truth about who God is compels him to act consistent with his nature. Even if God had not yet done anything he would still be “most worthy of praise” – but because of who he is, he would do something; and because of our vantage point in history we know that he has. And so, how much more so can we say with David, “Every day I will praise you and extol your name for ever and ever.” (vs. 2)?

When a person comes to see and understand God this way, he or she can’t but tell of him to others. “One generation commends your works to another; they tell of your mighty acts.” (vs. 4) When the older generation has a testimony of God’s faithfulness and mighty action in the world – say for instance, in surviving a World War; or in immigrating to a foreign country with just a few dollars in your pocket; or in the founding of Christian schools compelled by a sweeping vision of the kingdom of Jesus claiming every square inch of lives together – “they [ought to] tell of the power of your awesome works.” (vs. 6) 

Further, I’m left wondering: since there is a generation of young(er) people leaving the church; as we hear heartbreaking testimony of people deconstructing the faith of their youth (or of their parents)… And not just in this generation: we don’t often hear about it, but there is a hole in many churches of adults in their 50’s – it’s like their kids have all matriculated through the “church system” of kid’s programs and youth programs, and now mom and dad are struggling to find a purpose for their connection to the church family. I’m just speculating at this point, but it is probably a phenomena related to the spike in divorce rates when parents become empty-nesters; all of a sudden we have to find each other again in these (re)new(ed) relationships to each other – the busyness of kids schedules is no longer a buffer between parents. Whether it’s 20 somethings or 50 somethings, I hear the same question all the time: “What is the point of church? Why be part of something that doesn’t ‘move’ me?”

And while I know there are bigger trends at play and that there are many good and legitimate reasons or circumstances that come with changes to one’s beliefs and expressions of belief, and I know that books, dissertations, and sociological studies have been written on the topic; and I know that pertinent to this discussion is the more theological discussion on election and regeneration… still, I always come back to one question: if we don’t give the next generation a compelling reason to stay, or serve, or worship – why should we expect them to? Look closely at the poetic structure of vs. 5 and 6, “they speak of the glorious splendor of your majesty…” – that is, the “one generation,” presumably the older one, proclaims something of God. And then, “and I will meditate on your wonderful works.” The generation before speaks, and David meditates. Their speaking has given him something to meditate on.

The Psalm continues: “they tell of the power of your awesome works…” that is, the one generation says, “Come and see what the Lord has done!” There is an invitation, but it is compelling: “awesome” is an adjective of affection, a modifier of motivation. This generation’s opinion of the works of God are that they are awesome – and they can’t but proclaim it! And again, David responds: “and I will proclaim your great deeds.

To be clear, I’m not suggesting that the “quick fix” to the problem of hemorrhaging faith is for the older generation to proclaim more – though, if you can see God at work, why wouldn’t you tell it? Nor am I trying to suggest culpability for a generational crisis faced by many churches – but the question, hard as it is, is worth asking: is what we’ve tried to hand the next generation actually a compelling story of the God who is most worthy of praise, or have we (accidently?) passed on a vision of the good life that looks more worldly than heavenly? Has the story we’ve told been the extraordinary gospel of Jesus or has it actually been a “churchify-ed” version of the consumer, materialist vision of our modern, western world?

Does the idea of a Christian retiring from church ministry come from the Bible or is that a value of the materialist consumer society we live in?

When we wrestled with this question during that season of life in my first church, it was the lived testimony of an 80-year-old retired pastor who changed the narrative. As a member of our church he accepted the call to serve as an elder. When he did so, he said, “The church needs me and all these old people need to see we still have a job to do.” His was a voice I came to cherish and respect; he could move people with a gentle word where I couldn’t; his was a compelling testimony for a whole new generation of leaders. He commended the works of the Lord and proclaimed his mighty acts. We saw it, and together we extoled the name of the Lord.

My God the King, whether young or old, help me to commend your works to the next generation. Move me to hear your call for how I might serve in the church you’ve placed me in. May we all together praise you and extol your name. In Jesus’ name, Amen!