Sermon by Pastor Tim Woodard
February 18th, 2018
Psalm 25: 1-10
“Let us now open our hearts as well as our ears as we now hear the words from the Old Testament, in the Book of Psalms, chapter 25, verses 1-10.”
1 To you, O Lord, I lift up my soul. 2 O my God, in you I trust; do not let me be put to shame; do not let my enemies exult over me. 3 Do not let those who wait for you be put to shame; let them be ashamed who are wantonly treacherous. 4 Make me to know your ways, O Lord; teach me your paths. 5 Lead me in your truth, and teach me, for you are the God of my salvation; for you I wait all day long. 6 Be mindful of your mercy, O Lord, and of your steadfast love, for they have been from of old. 7 Do not remember the sins of my youth or my transgressions; according to your steadfast love remember me, for your goodness’ sake, O Lord! 8 Good and upright is the Lord; therefore, he instructs sinners in the way. 9 He leads the humble in what is right and teaches the humble his way. 10 All the paths of the Lord are steadfast love and faithfulness, for those who keep his covenant and his decrees.
“If we allow ourselves to stay open, to this ancient writing, we shall come to more fully grasp the richness of this message. Once we do, then we shall understand how it relates to modern Christians like ourselves.”
“Lead On! Lead On!”
Putting the Psalmist’s message into Twenty-First Century language tells us to “Let go and let God!” /AA slogan/ It really is that simple. However, for a great many of us, it is not that easy. For you see, you and I, we are only mortal. We suffer from the human condition. As human’s we are subject to all sorts of things, things outside the spiritual realm, and deep into the marsh and quagmire of life. Our lives are often a combination of beautiful and soft sandy beaches, with the gentle waves of the surf splashing at our feet; yet, at a turn of a page or a broken shoe lace, things can turn into a swampland as our basic instincts run out of control, leaving us awash in the fallout of unfounded fears and mis-stated or over-stated opinions. The very moment we turn our backs on the constant love and guidance of our Creator God, we find ourselves caught up in the quicksand of our darker side. Prayerfully, these moments are brief and do not encompass large amounts of our journey, as the consequences can be and often are devastating, not only to us as individuals, but also to those around us. May God have mercy on those of us whom travel this lonely dark road.
The Psalmist has put forth, for our consumption, words of trust and devotion to the Holy God of our ancestors and the mighty grace of our Creator. The Psalmist is leading us in a thought process which causes those who are willing, to enter into this method, this manner and practice of seeing God; perceiving God with their whole hearts, souls and minds. Thereby, seizing the opportunity to feel the deep, deep love of a God who is here for us now, just as the Almighty was there for those who came before us. “O my God, in you I trust;” /Psalm 25:2a/ The Psalmist puts the word trust squarely in the center of this reading. Take out the word trust, and the implied trust throughout the reading, and the writing itself – falls lifeless on the page. These words are more than a sweet-smelling balm to ‘heal the sin sick soul;’ these words are meant to set a benchmark, a pattern of thought where all who seek to know the fullness of God are urged, challenged even, to incorporate the love of God into their lives and their patterns of living. Again, I must remind us all, these are easy words to display and explain to others, it is a very different thing to actually take this line of thought to ‘heart’ and seek to redirect one’s way of thinking and responding to the world around them.
The difficulty with putting one’s trust’ fully in the hands of our God’ is fundamentally problematic! It truly is. Many of us humans, inside and outside of religious institutions find this trust thing very, very difficult indeed! The crux of the matter is that in order to do this, we must first put less trust in our personal belief… that we can do this on our own! We have seen this problem manifested in our society frequently in recent times. We could fill these next precious moments together discussing a multitude of examples, all to easily visible to us… in the front pages of our news media headlines. We shall not go down this muddle of public examples of distrust throughout our society today! You already know all about it! If you do not, I would strongly suggest you stop listening to your own voice and listen to the voices of thousands who are crying out, every day! Homelessness, poverty, hunger, nakedness, all wrapped up in a fundamental distrust of society! Then there are the voices of the sick, the helpless, whom find themselves marginalized and displaced due to out of reach ‘medical resources’ caused by a restrictive system! Why, why do we have so much fear of trusting in someone or something other than ourselves? Clearly, our way is not all that successful! Maybe, we need to acknowledge how much we have in common with those who are ‘outside’ the system of privilege which permeates our society! Why? Because, many ‘like ourselves’ are unwilling to turn to God and have become desperate for help. Yet, we continue to stumble and fall aside, still confused and untrusting in a God ‘whom’ has stretched out a hand to us every time we sincerely ask for assistance!
One theologian expresses her understanding of this Psalm’s central theme. “This Psalm is a plea from the depth of a suffering soul to the God in whom the speaker trusts for deliverance and mercy. Yet despite this trust, the text is a cry of desperation.” /Elizabeth Webb/ Perhaps, this would be a good moment to reflect on the recently passed celebration of the life of Dr. Martin Luther King. From our monthly newsletter from our Florida Conference Office of the United Church of Christ, I found this article. Within contained a January e-message to members of the Christ Congregational UCC in Miami. Pastor Bernice Powell Jackson spoke of economic justice championed by Dr. King. I now lift up to our ears the words of Dr. King. “I look forward confidently to the day when all who work for a living will be one with no thought to their separateness as Negroes, Jews, Italians or any other distinctions. This will be the day when we bring into full realization the American dream – a dream yet unfulfilled. A dream of equality of opportunity, of privilege and property widely distributed; a dream of a land where men will not take necessities from the many to give luxuries to the few; a dream of a land where men will not argue that the color of a man’s skin determines the content of his character; a dream of a nation where all our gifts and resources are held not only for ourselves alone, but as instruments of service for the rest of humanity; the dream of a country where every man will respect the dignity and worth of the human personality – that is the dream.” Dr. Martin Luther King, spoke these remarks before the AFL-CIO convention in December 1961. Let us trust, at least for a moment, that Dr. King’s priceless message shall not fall on deaf ears as we stumble and fall, confused about the simply concept of putting our trust in God.
Professor of Old Testament studies at Luther Seminary, James Limburg, points out the obvious to us, regarding Psalm 25. “Three times there is reference to God’s steadfast love (verses 6, 7, 10), (This phrase is) a translation of the Hebrew word (hesed). That word refers to God’s enduring love for the people of God.” With this as a basis of reference we can start to build upon what we already know about this Psalm. With this knowledge, we shall have the tools to begin building up the foundation of our understanding, the understanding of our relationship with the God of grace, mercy and love. It is clear, that the author of our Psalm today believed we “as a people” need to be reminded of God’s ‘steadfast and faithful love”. It is easy to let this point get lost in the midst of all the tragedies and horrors of today’s world. This is punctuated by our need to firm up some simple safety standards and practices around our own church and even in a multitude of public places we find ourselves in each day. Today as an officer from our local police department speaks to us after today’s service, let us be mindful of God’s love in the midst of these concerns for public safety. Remember, God promises to be with us, yet, our God expects us to use the tools, the gifts of ‘God given talents’ at hand – to accomplish our goals.
The questions one might ask at a time such as this, are rhetorical in nature. Yet, they are reasonable questions. “Are we teachable? Can we change? Can we grow into the image of God in which we are created?” /Nancy Koestr/ I believe the Psalmist would answer yes, to these questions as he has put words into our mouths through the pleas of the people within this writing. In verse four the Psalmist speaks for us, we the people, saying: “Make me to know your ways; teach me your paths.” If it was not believed we could be persuaded to once again, or for the first time, to trust in God’s ability to teach us new things, the writer would not have uttered these words!” If our local police chief did not believe we could be influenced to take a hand in our own wellbeing, an officer would not have been dispatched to offer up some suggestions and instructions perhaps on how to do just that! Our writing goes on with these words from verse five. “Lead me in your truth, and teach me, for you are the God of my salvation; for you I wait all day long.” Once again, the words “teach me and lead me; lead me in the truth!” Powerful words, implying that we shall come to trust in God’s leadership once again.
Moving us into the theme of our Lenten season we hear these words ring out from verse seven. “Do not remember the sins of my youth or my transgressions;” Oh yes, we all want this! We want to be forgiven for the mistakes, the wrongs we have committed! Even as youth we learn this lesson quickly. A child slips a candy bar into his pocket while his mother is checking out the groceries. The cashiers keen eye picks up the crime and asks if I was planning on paying for that tasty treat. Caught red handed! Gosh almighty! What child would not plead for mercy and forgiveness to his mortified and embarrassed mother?! As adults, we may not be so easily caught in the acts which shall need forgiveness if we are to live with integrity. None the less, if we hope to live in the light of God we shall need to “clean house” of wrong doings on a regular basis. If not, the burden, the weight of such deeds will cripple our usefulness as followers of Christ. The journey toward our annual Easter celebration has begun. Professor J. Clinton McCann’s offers this insight to assist our lesson today. “Because we trust that God is gracious, we dare to enter a season of confession and penitence, offering ourselves as a living sacrifice to God and pledging ourselves anew to discern and do God’s will.” If we are to fully experience Easter’s joy and jubilation we must begin now to purge ourselves of the impurities of any wrong mindedness which clouds our ability to be in full relationship with the Living God!
Remembering God’s steadfast love, let us allow God to take the lead in life. Amen.