THE LAST TABOO – REV. PAUL DAKIN

THE LAST TABOO
A sermon on Psalm 62:5-12
First Baptist Church of Lynchburg
January 24, 2021
By Paul Dakin
May the words of my mouth and the mediations of our hearts be acceptable in Your sight, O Lord our Strength and our Redeemer. Amen.
“Those of low estate are but a breath, those of high estate are a delusion; in the balances they go up; they are together lighter than a breath.” Psalm 62:9


Taboo—(noun) “A social or religious custom prohibiting or forbidding discussion of a particular practice or topic…A social practice that is prohibited or restricted.” That is the internet dictionary’s definition of the word “taboo.”1
In the 21st Century, there really are not many taboos left in our society—things that are not openly discussed in various media nor in day-to-day interactions with others. To use an antiquated phrase from the 1960’s, we are in time where “let-it-all-hang-out” is the norm rather than the exception.
There is not much that people will not talk about nowadays. No topic of conversation seems to be off-limits or regarded in poor taste. TV documentaries tell “true crime” stories of actions—hideous and depraved accounts of serial rapists and serial murderers recounted sometimes in graphic detail. These stories are told all for our entertainment. Reality TV shows let us into the private lives of people, and in the process, we learn things about celebrities that ought to make them—and us—blush with shame. Instead such programs simply whet our appetites for more. On TV talk shows, the hosts engage their guests and talk about topics that no one should be privy to except those who are directly involved. And then people post all kinds of things on various social media platforms—intimate details of which no one else really needs to know. Sexual escapades of all kinds are the subjects of films and social media…lying…deceit…deception…greed…hatred…all these things, which we once subjects considered taboo, are now perfectly acceptable to talk about in all sorts of company. Most anything goes nowadays…
Really, there are only two things that I can think of that are still taboo to talk about in our society. One is money. You just don’t talk much about money. Oh, there are plenty of TV shows and publications that talk about money—how to make it, how to invest it, how to prepare for the next stock market crash and those kinds of things. One can find plenty of information about those things. But when
1 The word “taboo” has its origin from the Tongan language. Tongan is a Polynesian dialect and the word was first introduced into the English language by the 18th Century explorer/adventurer Captain James Cook. I just found that interesting. I cannot think of any other Tongan words in our language…
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it gets personal, when the talk moves to the specifics of one’s own personal finances, then money
becomes a taboo subject.
For an example of what I mean, start talking about money at your place of employment and see
what the reaction is. If you start asking people how much money they make and the size of their
paycheck, they are very quickly going to become unhappy with you. They will not answer your question,
because asking that kind of question is something that you just don’t do. That kind of information is
considered to be “too personal.” People don’t want others—especially their coworkers—to know how
much (or how little) they are being paid. And once the boss gets wind of it, you will likely be told to stop
…or else you will be fired.
Or else, try going around to folks telling them how much money you have in the bank and then
ask them how much they have. Over the years, I have worked with people who did not mind talking
about how drunk they got on Friday night or brag about their sexual conquests the previous weekend.
(Perhaps some of you have worked with or known people like that too. I felt uncomfortable around
them whenever those became the topic of conversation…) But if I had asked them about how much
their bank balances were, I imagine that they would have clammed right up. No one is ever forthcoming
with that kind of information. And once again, if you persist in asking those questions in the workplace,
then you will soon be out of a job. People do not want to talk about their personal finances. You just do
not talk about money…
The other taboo in our society is death. No one wants to talk about death—especially
theirs…Ours is a death-denying culture…It is worth saying again: no one wants to talk about death…
But here is a plain and undeniable truth: We are all mortal. We will all one day confront death.
And yet, the refusal to confront death has been called by one author and scholar as “the 20th Century
evasion, a distinctive mark of modern humanity.”2 The average person in our day and age rarely thinks
about the day when his or her name will appear in an obituary column. We push the thought from the
foreground of our consciousness. It remains in the background, where it uneasily festers from time to
time.
Think with me: A man dies in the hospital after a prolonged illness. His wife searches for
insurance policies and his will, and perhaps she finds neither. Her husband did not make a will because it
did not occur to him that, yes, he needed to make preparations for his death. And then the funeral
director takes his body from the hospital and, ironically, uses his skill as a makeup artist to make it
appear as if he has not died. He dresses the body up in fine clothes, applies the makeup, and lays him in
a narrow box as if he were only sleeping. Around the casket are wreaths of flowers that give off lovely
fragrances and splashes of color that are reminiscent of life. At the funeral service, his loved ones look at
the body in the casket and remark to themselves, “How natural he looks!” But of course he does not
2 George A. Buttrick, Christ and Man’s Dilemma (Nashville: Abingdon-Cokesbury Press, 1946), 24.
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look natural. There is no denying that the man has died. It seems a strange ritual to try to smooth over
the reality of death even when we are forced to confront its results face to face.
Psalm 62 covers a lot of ground in its twelve verses. In the opening verses, David writes that he
waits in silence for the Lord, for he knows that God alone is his fortress and strength. He counsels his
soul, and then all the people of God’s congregation, to rest in the Lord and to pour out their hearts to
Him. He ends the psalm by speaking of the power of God’s steadfast love, concluding with the assurance
that God repays all according to their work.
The middle of the passage is the focus of our thoughts. In those verses, David writes,
Those of low estate are but a breath,
Those of high estate are a delusion;
In the balances they go up;
They are together lighter than a breath.
Put no confidence in extortion,
And set no vain hopes on robbery;
If riches increase, do not set your heart on them.
The word translated as “breath” in both instances in this passage is the Hebrew word hebel. This
word is notably used in the book of Ecclesiastes over and over again. There hebel is translated as
“meaninglessness” or (in the King James Version), “vanity.” It is one of the key words of Ecclesiastes as
the theme can be summed up in Ecclesiastes 2:11, “Yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done and
what I had toiled to achieve, everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind; nothing was gained
under the sun.” David tells us that the fact that you are rich or poor ultimately means nothing in the end
as both meet the same fate. Then interestingly, he mentions extortion and robbery. These two things
are ways in which some people are tempted to leverage power and to gain advantages over others.
David warns us to stay away from them. And then warns us not to be taken in by the false sense of
security that riches can bring…
Why does he say that? Because having money—or not having money—has no bearing on the
kind of person that you are. Being wealthy does not make you any more virtuous than being poor does.
And being poor does not make you more or less virtuous than anyone else.
David uses the image of weighing our lives on a set of scales to illustrate his point. He says that
the lives of both those who are well-off and those who are poor are lighter than a feather. The point of
David’s words is that, when we come to our final hours on this earth, the things that people prize on this
earth like money and influence will mean nothing. They are “but a breath.” They are little more than a
vapor that appears today and is gone tomorrow. They are meaningless. It is not how much wealth you
have amassed or how much power you wield that determines the quality of life that you live. It is how
we spend our lives—and what the content of our character is—that will ultimately matter…
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Jesus talked about his very same topic in Luke 12:16-20. This is our Lord’s teaching widely
known as “The Parable of the Rich Fool.” In that parable, Jesus told this story,
The ground of a certain rich man produced a good crop. He thought to himself, “What shall I do? I have
no place to store my crops.” Then he said, ‘This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger
ones, and there I will store all my grains and goods. And I will say to myself, “You have plenty of good
things laid up for you for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.’’ But God said to him, “You
fool! This very night your life will be demanded of you. Then who will get what you have prepared for
yourself?” And then Jesus concluded, “This is how it will be with anyone who stores up things for himself
but is not rich toward God.
The rich man’s problem was not that he was wealthy. There is no indication that any of his
abundance was wrongfully acquired. It was not that he wished to enjoy the fruits of his labor. Nor does
he seem to have been particularly mean or vindictive toward others. He just seems to have been an
honest, hard-working guy who happened to be lucky. His mistake wasn’t in acquiring his money. His
mistake was not considering the fact that his days were numbered—and that there is more to life than
money, ease, and comfort. In his comfortable state of his life, he failed to consider the implications of
the final taboo…
What about you today? Have you taken into account that we all will “shuffle off this mortal coil”
when we come to the end of our days? How are you preparing for that day? What will be the legacy that
you will leave behind? What will live beyond the time when your physical body wears out? Things like
money and power will not mean much then. Instead, what will matter is the kind of life you lived…the
way that the love of God was evident as flowed through you to others…the time and the investments
that you made in others. Today’s psalm reading says that those are the things that will last. Those are
the things that will remain long after memories fade. Those are the things that count as being rich
toward God.
Wherever you are in your life’s journey, there is still time to make a course correction. There is
still time to set your heart on the things of the Spirit…of growing deeper in Christ…of allowing yourself
to be transformed by the indwelling Holy Spirit as you follow the Lord Jesus. What is your answer today?
To God alone be the glory! Amen.