Sermon Commentary for Sunday, February 18, 2024
Psalm 25:1-10 Commentary
If the Lectionary decided for whatever the reason to not recommend all of Psalm 25, they could have at least extended this to verse 11. Since this is the reading for the First Sunday in Lent, you’d think the one verse of this psalm that is a straight up confession of sin would make the cut. But instead we are stopped short in verse 10. But since there are no rules about this, any of us preachers can include whatever we want, including the whole of this psalm since it’s not a very long poem. There is also some talk of the sins of the psalmist’s past in verse 7 so that part fits Lent too.
There seem to be two main things going on in Psalm 25. One is a request for God to not let the psalmist be put to shame. This is yet another psalm that mentions enemies in the poet’s life and thus the earnest plea that these foes not triumph, not succeed in belittling or otherwise harming this person. Later in the psalm it becomes clear that there have already been some victories scored by his enemies and that only serves to ratchet up the intensity in praying for vindication and protection.
The other primary emphasis in Psalm 25 is on the need for instruction and guidance. Over and over and via various locutions, the psalmist acknowledges his need for a divine education and pleads with God to provide it. There is also a sense here of a dual need: first, the revelation of what the right ways to live are and which are the correct paths to travel upon. But then second there is the need for God to equip people to be able to follows God’s decrees and stay on the right roadways through life. One without the other would clearly be insufficient. We need to know what is right and then find also the wherewithal—or better put, be provided by God with the wherewithal—to be able to act upon what is right.
If we think about preaching on something like this psalm, a few things may occur to us in terms of how this intersects with our historical and cultural milieu. First, in a time of great and rank polarization, many people who come to church may actually have an acute sense that they have “enemies” who want to put them to shame or belittle them. I recently heard a lecture that talked about the algorithms used by social media outlets. The whole goal, of course, is to make people keep coming to Facebook or TikTok or X. These are finally businesses that rely on advertising and such and so as with any product, the goal is to sell it.
Unfortunately, however, the algorithms long ago figured out that there is no better way to ensure ongoing engagement with social media than stoking rage and anger and disgust in people. Maybe elsewhere in life it’s true that you attract more bees with honey than with vinegar but in the social media world it’s vinegar that does the trick. And so we all now often get attacked, labeled and libeled even as we ourselves are goaded by invisible algorithms to give back as good as we get. The whole thing creates a sad spiral in which we at once feel the need to call out to God to help us deal with those intent on vanquishing us in various ways AND let’s be honest enough to admit that at the same time we need to confess our own complicity in this as sinful. Psalm 25 has both. We need both.
Second, there is also something pertinent about the plea for education, instruction, and guidance. Because here, too, we seem to live in a time when there is no small level of resistance to acknowledging the need for instruction and the openness to receive it when it is offered. Some of us remember during the early days of the COVID pandemic memes that circulated on social media that said things to the effect, “When did such a large percentage of the population become virologists and immunologists?” Everybody was an expert. And true experts like Dr. Fauci got pilloried even as people jumped on any slight miscue as glaring evidence that these so-called experts were incompetent and clearly disqualified to speak to something like a virus. Rather than listen to what one of the world’s leading experts in infectious diseases had to say, some sent him death threats instead. Nice.
The church has long known that the core virtue that unlocks every other Christian virtue—and the key virtue for achieving Christ-likeness as disciples—is humility. And humility is the posture being recommended by Psalm 25 as well. Students need to be humble. Humble enough to admit ignorance and the need to be educated. Humble enough to then receive what the teacher—the ultimate Teacher of God in this case—has to proffer to us. All of us who have preached or taught know that there are few things so off-putting as students who shows up on day one of a given course and who posture themselves such as to send the clear signal: “I don’t need this class and you, teacher/professor/pastor, have nothing to tell me.”
So contained in Psalm 25 are some challenges to how life goes in society and also in the church just now. May we preachers have the courage to point this out. May our congregations have the humility required to confess sins (in the social media world and elsewhere) and receive God’s patient instruction and guidance of us.
[Note: In addition to our weekly sermon commentaries, we have a special resource page for Lent and Easter for you to explore!]
I think it was Winston Churchill who once noted that when he left home at the age of 18, he did so convinced that his father knew very little about life and surely did not have much he could teach to the headstrong young man Churchill was at the time. But then he noted that some years later after he turned 30 and began to have conversations with his father on various things, it was amazing how much the old man had learned in just 12 short years!
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