Recently my dear friend’s father died of COVID 19. Noble Dean was a member of Faith Lutheran Church in Caldwell, and a man whose life embodied, it seemed to me, Christ’s promise of joy. It’s hard to imagine a man who had a greater zest for life and for sharing it with everyone he met. You can read Noble’s obituary here.
As Noble was dying, his family gathered around him. His oldest grandson, an accomplished bass, led the family in some of Noble’s favorite hymns, including the stirring Easter hymn, Thine is the Glory. And his son-in-law read one of his favorite psalms, Psalm 121:
– Psalm 121 (ESV)
I was deeply moved when my friend told me how they ushered her father from this life into the next with these words of faith and hope. Psalm 121 is known as the traveler’s psalm. It was a psalm believed to have been uttered by pilgrims on their way to the temple in Jerusalem. But it’s also used in Lutheran practice as a psalm appropriate for baptism as well as burial, because it represents our relationship to God throughout the journey of our lifetimes.
As I read the story of Noble’s life, I was reminded what it means to live a life of faith. During a time of war, Noble took an assignment to help Vietnamese farmers learn to grow a hardier strain of rice so they might have sufficient food. He left a prestigious job because it required him to do things that did not align with what he knew to be just and right. He always welcomed the foreigner and stranger, being a host dad for a number of international exchange students over the years. And Noble took Christ’s promise—that He came that we might have life and have it abundantly—to heart. He never lost a moment to enjoy nature, his family, and God’s many blessings.
It is hard to find moments of hope and joy during this pandemic. It’s much easier to allow fear and anger to take hold. Despair and anger are understandable, but they don’t get us very far. In fact, when hopelessness gains a foothold, evil does its best work. Psalm 121 reminds us that God is our source of strength, especially during times of uncertainty, and even when tragic things happen over which we have no control. God is maker of heaven and earth. He watches over our going in and coming out. He alone is steadfast.
With this assurance, we can act, like Noble did, to share Christ’s love with others—to spread hope instead of despair, anger, or hate. Noble’s life was a light in the world and so can ours be at a time when light is desperately needed. That is how despair and hopelessness lose their foothold. That is how evil loses its foothold—when everyday people of faith refuse to hide their light.
When we lift our eyes to the hills, we remember how steadfast and unchanging those hills and mountains are, like God’s faithfulness. And then we can take an example from Noble’s life and live our lives in a way that defeats despair and embraces hope.