Sermon Commentary for Sunday, October 1, 2023
Psalm 25:1-9 Commentary
Psalm 25 has its share of ups and downs. On the one hand there are some very sunny promises here. The opening of the psalm assures us that those who trust in the Lord will never be put to shame. Were we to peer at the dozen verses that round out Psalm 25 beyond the boundary line of verse 9 as assigned by the Lectionary, we would see also there assurances that those who follow God will “spend their days in prosperity.” That all sounds good.
But then there are other crosscurrents. Again, you see this mostly in verses 10-22 but all of a sudden there is the honest admission that life has plenty of difficulties too. In fact, in verses 16-20 unhappy things pile up quickly. The psalmist is lonely and afflicted. He has anguish, anxiety, affliction, distress and as if that were not enough, the psalmist says he has enemies who hate him completely. Finally the psalm that begins with “In you, O Lord, I put my trust” concludes with a bit of a bang with “Deliver Israel, O God, from all its troubles!”
What we have in this entry in the Psalter, then, is both a determination to follow God that should lead to prosperity, goodness, and vindication from all shame while at the same time there is here a frank acknowledgment that life can feel shot through with trouble at times. Aside from asking God for deliverance from those trials and afflictions, what is the other primary theme of Psalm 25? Well, in a sense it is what we could call getting a good divine education.
Over and over there is the plea for God to teach, to lead, to guide, to instruct. If we are going to follow God, we need to be taught how to do that first and foremost. We cannot do this on our own. And even with such divine instruction, we will fall and fail at times. The psalmist at one point asks God not to remember the sins of his rebellious youth. But then a few verses later he speaks of his iniquities in the present tense and admits they are “great.” Whether those failures are linked to the troubles and afflictions also presented in these verses is not clear. But what is more clear is that one of the ways by which God may deliver us eventually will be partly as a result of our seeking to learn and then adhere to the ways of God.
That all makes sense. Still, it can be difficult to square the broad promises of never being put to shame and inheriting the land and dwelling in prosperity with these other notes of hardship, being hated, feeling desperate affliction and loneliness. But honestly, this is combination we are familiar with, isn’t it? This describes our lives a good bit of the time. We try to learn God’s ways and follow them, but we often sin and fail. We put our trust in God above all else and suspect that being a disciple of Jesus ought to mean we have a better life than those who do not follow Christ but often we find this is not the case. And no surprise there: after all, Jesus himself said that following him would be the cause very often for persecution and being reviled by others.
The life of faith has no neat or airtight formulas. No believer in God can say “If I do X that pleases God, then I will be rewarded, protected, enriched.” Most of us do have our share of blessings in life and Christians ought never chalk that up to blind fate or sheer luck. We do believe that the blessings that come our way come finally from God. These things may not be rewards per se but they are gifts borne out of God’s great love for us in Christ Jesus the Lord.
Yet we are not insulated from all sickness, loneliness, distress, or from the harmful actions and hurtful words of people we genuinely could regard as “enemies.” We are an “already and not yet” people, living between the times. In the long run God will triumph in Christ Jesus because he already has triumphed. Those who oppose God will in the end not prevail. Wrongs will be righted, the unjustly accused and attacked will be vindicated. And now and then even in this life we see glimmers of this, instances of grace that bolster our ultimate hope. That is one of the reasons I like the fact that in the Gospel of John, Jesus’s miracles are always called “signs.” The miracles Jesus did were like arrows pointing to the nearness of God’s kingdom.
Even when Jesus was on this earth in his public ministry, the kingdom had not fully come. Not every blind person in Palestine got healed, not every disease was cured, not every dead person was brought back to life a la Lazarus. But the healings and such that Jesus did perform were arrow signs pointing insistently to the nearness of God’s coming kingdom. They were sneak previews or like those “Coming Attractions” you see in a movie theater before the main movie begins: they show what’s next. Every disease Jesus cured was a sample of the day when all diseases will be cured—banished in fact—once and for all.
Maybe that is along the lines of what we find in Psalm 25. We need instruction, we heed instruction, we fail sometimes and need mercy. We follow God’s ways and we receive many blessings. But we encounter woes, illness, disease, and nasty people too. Life is not an either-or proposition for the followers of God but a both-and one. Faith and the grace that brings faith to us in the first place is what helps us stick with God even in those moments of affliction or loneliness when there is not much we can see with our eyes to affirm that faith.
Psalm 25 begins with “I trust you God!” and it concludes with “Help, God!” If that doesn’t describe how life goes some days for a lot of us, I don’t know what does!
Writer Annie Lamott once said that the lion’s share of her prayer life can be summed up with two primary prayers she utters all the time:
Help me, Help me, Help me!
Thank you, Thank you, Thank you!
And I suspect most of us would say that pretty well sums it up for us too much of the time!
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