(preached at St. John’s UMC on 7/14/2013)
To you, O Lord, I lift up my soul. O my God, in you I trust; do not let me be put to shame; do not let my enemies exult over me. Do not let those who wait for you be put to shame; let them be ashamed who are wantonly treacherous. Make me to know your ways, O Lord; teach me your paths. Lead me in your truth, and teach me, for you are the God of my salvation; for you I wait all day long. Be mindful of your mercy, O Lord, and of your steadfast love, for they have been from of old. Do not remember the sins of my youth or my transgressions; according to your steadfast love remember me, for your goodness’ sake, O Lord! Good and upright is the Lord; therefore he instructs sinners in the way. He leads the humble in what is right, and teaches the humble his way. All the paths of the Lord are steadfast love and faithfulness, for those who keep his covenant and decrees.
I remember being really cold. I had walked out of my house in a hurry with books in one hand and my lunch box in the other. I jogged down the hill to the bus stop hoping that I would make it in time. As my feet swept over the damp and life-less leaves on the path I struggled to maintain my balance, hurrying to the sign at the bottom. After reaching my destination, and seeing my breach hanging in the air, I reached into my pocket in order to check the time on my iPhone, but my pocket was empty. In the rush out of my house that morning, I had forgotten to unplug my phone from the wall and place it in my pocket.
So there I stood, all alone at the bus stop, waiting for my transportation to arrive, with nothing to do. Every other normal day I would pull out my phone, check some emails, send a few texts messages, play some games, listen to music, examine the news; But not that day. I stood there shivering and bored. After what seemed like an hour, but was probably only a few minutes, the bus arrived and I hopped on. As I made my way to a seat, I found myself even more frustrated that I had left my phone at home, and I would have to wait a whole 7 minutes on the bus with nothing to do. So I looked around hoping to strike up a conversation with someone on the bus in order to pass the time. My eyes scanned from back to front, side to side, and literally every single person on the bus was starring at their cell phone, or had headphones in. And that’s when I noticed the silence; no one was talking to anyone else. Admittedly I remember again wishing that I had not forgotten my phone, so that, ironically, I wouldn’t have to feel so lonely on the bus.
We are increasingly moving away from a relational society, toward a functional one. We are so caught up in what we need and want that we put up blinders to those around us and we seek to serve ourselves rather than others. The advents of technological developments have benefited our society greatly, but at the same time I fear that they are actually driving us farther and farther apart. I no longer see families praying together at restaurants, but I do see families who are all on their cell phones at the same time.
In a similar way we no longer know how to read anymore. We become so caught up with the quantity of texts rather than the quality. Young people are no longer taught handwriting in school, but instead are given computers that can spell-check their words faster than you could say them. Our culture is moving rapidly toward an increasing fast-paced existence and the church is barely holding on. Our culture has begun to reshape what the church looks like, what is says, and what it hopes to accomplish. I took a class at school during my final year of seminary where we were actively encouraged to tweet during a few class periods, which only resulted in me no longer remembering what we covered during those days.
Now I’m not saying that any of these technological developments, or cultural shifts, are necessarily bad things, but what they say about us and how they affect us makes all the difference. When we approach something like the Bible today, it is nearly impossible to take it up in a way that rejects the pressures of our surrounding culture. We are not called to read the bible like everything else. We are called to be servants of the Word, rather than masters of the text.
What we discover in the Bible, what we read, informs what we believe. And what we believe shapes how we behave.
If we wanted to talk about Psalm 25 in the way that our culture would dictate I could deliver to you short and concise facts, so that you could become masters of the texts: Psalm 25, in its original Hebrew is an acrostic individual lament psalm. It can be attributed to the post-exilic period because of its acrostic form and its combination of hymnic and wisdom motifs. It contains three subsections: a prayer of faith, a description of the uprightness of God, and what to do when lonely or in trouble.
But, if we wanted to talk about Psalm 25 in a way that we could be shaped by the Word, we have to slow down, we have to let it rest on our souls, and we have to listen for what the text is saying to us, rather than what we can dig out of it.
To you, O Lord, I lift up my soul. O my God, in you I trust;
The psalmist did not compose these words on his own behalf, but instead constructed a form of prayer that can be used by anyone who seeks help from God during a time of fear and frustration. Above all there is a confession of trust in the midst of a plea for help. This is not done because of religious constancy of blind faith, but because the psalmist knows of God’s unchangeable character. Our stories, our past with God, confirms our trust and hope in God. In the deepest and darkest moments of our lives there has always been a shimmer of God’s light ready to break through, we have never been abandoned to our own devices, but God has always resided with us in everything that we have done. O my God, in you I trust.
Do not let me be put to shame; do not let my enemies exult over me. Do not let those who wait for you be put to shame, let them be ashamed who are wantonly treacherous.
These enemies don’t have to be just physical beings; our enemies can be spiritual as well. How helpful might it be for us to personify the impersonal, and to imagine spiritual enemies worthy to be combatted? God do not put me to shame, do not let my addictions, do not let my doubts, do not let my fears exult over me.
Some of us are terribly tempted, but all of us know what it is like to succumb to simple temptations. We make them more formidable by dwelling on them and continue to tempt ourselves. As the psalmist cries out, we should be ashamed of those easily avoided temptations. Like putting off calling your son or daughter who has been bothering you, like neglecting to reach out to those around you that truly need help, like pretending everything in your life is peachy when its really not. Do not let my enemies exult over me.
Make me to know your ways, O Lord; teach me your paths. Lead me in your truth, and teach me, for you are the God of my salvation; for you I wait all day long.
This is perhaps one of the greatest and simplest lines throughout the psalms. If there was ever an ancient prayer that should be on our lips constantly it is this: “make me to know your ways, O Lord.” If we can learn to pray this sincerely, then we first need to be willing to be taught and to be changed. With open hearts, minds, and souls we can give everything we have to give in order to answer the demands that Christ places on our lives. There are times when the darkness will seem to overshadow and encompass all things, but we can trust that the Lord our God is with us. Make me to know your ways, O Lord.
Be mindful of your mercy, O Lord, and of your steadfast love, for they have been told from old. Do not remember the sins of my youth or my transgressions; according to your steadfast love remember me, for your goodness’ sake, O Lord!
Do not remember my sins God! How bold are we to ask this of the almighty, and how blessed are we that he hears this prayer? But just because God forgets our sin, that we can be forgiven for our wrongs and nothing divides us from the love of God in Jesus Christ, the consequences from our sins can continue to affect out lives. We can be courageous enough to call God to forget our sins because we are not defined by how, and how often we fall. There is also the spark of God within each and every single one of us and while there is life – that breath of life breathed into us by God – there is hope.
Good and upright is the Lord; therefore he instructs sinners in the way. He leads the humble in what is right, and teaches the humble his way. All the paths of the Lord are steadfast love and faithfulness, for those who keep his covenant and his decrees.
It is certainly not always true that if we are good we shall necessarily be happy and prosperous. Bad things happen to good people. So how do we wrestle with this final verse: those who keep God’s testimonies remain unshaken in their confidence of the outcome for humanity as a whole, and for themselves as a part of that whole. Those who trust in the goodness of God, those who are shaped by the Word can be confident in what God will do through us and for us. The paths of the Lord are steadfast love and faithfulness so long as we remember that they come from the God who loves us.
The first ten verses of Psalm 25 open up for us the depth of God’s being and give us a glimpse of what God has done, and will continue to do for us: Psalm 25 is a prayer that we can keep close to our hearts and lips because it conveys the spectrum of feelings that we experience within the world. The words are meant to be pondered over again and again, not something merely to be read quickly for understanding, but to resonate within our own lives and bear fruit.
Being shaped by the Word allows us to enter into a state of being harmoniously in relationship with God. It gives us the capacity for praise and lament, slowing down our ways of life to remember that God is in control. It means that we cannot treat the Bible like an app on our smart phones, a website to be skimmed over, or even a 30 minute television show. If we can remember that the bible is the living Word of God then we will be thankfully open and receptive to the shaping purpose of God in all the circumstances of life, humbly yielded to being the word God speaks us forth to be for others.
If we allow our lives to reverberate the Word of God, then we can begin to experience increasing levels of wholeness in our being because to be fully human, as the psalmist conveys, is to have a profound, unshakable, elemental trust in Yahweh as reliable, present, and strong. To be fully human means acting on the basis of that confidence in God even when He is not visible and everything attests to the contrary.
I encourage you to come back to this psalm in times of distress or uncertainty. Read the words and let them sink into every fiber of your being because this psalm reminds us what it means to be shaped by the Word: to have everlasting hope, faith, and trust in God. We are called to be a people of hope, not in the sense of foolish optimism, but in the conviction that our destinies are powerfully presided over by the One who has greater plans for us than we can possibly imagine.