“Teach me your paths”

Meditation on Psalm 25

First Sunday in Advent

Nov. 29, 2015

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 his decrees.
For your name’s sake, O Lord,
pardon my guilt, for it is great.
Who are they that fear the Lord?
He will teach them the way that they should choose.
They will abide in prosperity,
and their children shall possess the land.
The friendship of the Lord is for those who fear him,
and he makes his covenant known to them.
My eyes are ever towards the Lord,
for he will pluck my feet out of the net.
Turn to me and be gracious to me,
for I am lonely and afflicted.
Relieve the troubles of my heart,
and bring me out of my distress.
Consider my affliction and my trouble,
and forgive all my sins.
Consider how many are my foes,
and with what violent hatred they hate me.
O guard my life, and deliver me;
do not let me be put to shame, for I take refuge in you.
May integrity and uprightness preserve me,
for I wait for you.
Redeem Israel, O God, out of all its troubles.

***

I knew the breakfast was going to be good from the moment I saw Mike Smith pouring a bag of thawing blueberries onto a large griddle. Steam rose up and the berries and purple juice sizzled and danced on the hot surface. Mike expertly slid the berries and juice back and forth with his spatula, staring down at them, as if daring them to try and escape their destiny–to be the blueberries in our blueberry pancakes at our annual Thanksgiving breakfast.

“You’ve done this before,” I said to Mike. “Every year,” he answered, smiling, without looking up. And I thought to myself, “Those blueberries don’t stand a chance!!”

Thursday’s breakfast was a fundraiser for our youth and youth leaders to go to the Montreat Youth Conference next summer. Perhaps 60 or 70 people came to the breakfast. We had a good number of volunteers, too! By 9 o’clock, the room was filling up with MIPC families, some with extended family members visiting for Thanksgiving. Some came from as far away as Norway. Former youth–now young adults– came with friends and families, and it became something of a Youth Group/Kids Klub reunion. One young man, now living in Texas, nodded to the fellowship hall stage and told me with a smile that coming to the breakfast brought back memories of “Daniel and the Lion’s Den.” How he got talked into being Daniel, he said, he’ll never know.

This was my first Thanksgiving breakfast at our church, so it was a learning experience for me. I had no idea what I would be doing, but I wanted to help with whatever was needed. Right before the breakfast, though, Cindy told me there were plenty of people cooking, serving, and waiting on tables. I was free to do the “pastor thing.” My job was to meet and greet–which was good for me since I like to talk, and I am not crazy about cooking! And it was probably good for everyone else, because no sooner would I be talking to one group of people that I would receive a tap on my shoulder and be invited to meet and talk to another group of people. If I had taken any orders, those tables might still be waiting for their food!

I enjoyed meeting new people and listening to their stories, finding out how they were related to other people in the church. I liked watching the expressions on some of their faces change as they learned my identity. One person said that she had never seen a pastor wear pink tennis shoes to a “church dinner.”

I speak of the Thanksgiving breakfast today because I want to express my gratitude for everyone who came to support the youth, but also to encourage you, as a church, that the most important thing about the breakfast wasn’t the food we enjoyed, the money we raised, or even the number of people who attended. The breakfast was a medium for God’s love to be shared, Christ’s joy and peace to be experienced, and our relationships to blossom and grow! And as we seek to make new friends and people get to know us as we really are, pink tennis shoes and all– they are also getting to know and befriending our Redeemer and Lord, Emmanuel.

***

On this First Sunday in Advent, let us turn to the Psalms, ancient Israel’s hymns and prayers of praise and thanksgiving to the Lord, as well as cries for help in times of distress. The Psalms, thousands of years old, convey foundational beliefs in down to earth, accessible, even beautiful language. They were and still are ways of sharing the faith and passing it on to our children. In ancient times, people did not have written copies of the Psalms or any other Scripture in their homes. Most people did not know how to read. A leader would sing a verse and those assembled would repeat until the Psalm was learned by heart. As an aid to memorization, Psalm 25, like some of the other psalms, is an alphabetical acrostic. The first letter of the first word in each line corresponds to the 22 successive letters of the Hebrew alphabet. For example, verse 1 begins with the letter aleph or the “a” of the Hebrew ABC’s.

The prayer opens with a raising of the “soul” toward God. This is a declaration of trust. The word translated “soul” (nepes) is more concrete than we think of “soul.” It refers to “the throat area, the center of the body where vital signs such as breathing, moisture and heartbeat are palpable.” Nepes means “life, self and soul.” To lift up one’s soul involves risk and trust; it is to leave oneself completely vulnerable. This is why the psalmist follows with a request not to be “put to shame” or to lose face. The psalmist speaks of his “enemies,” so we sense he is in danger; real or metaphorical, we aren’t sure. The Psalm, attributed to David, may have been composed in battle or simply in a time of great uncertainty and fear.

The message that stands out in this prayer for me is the psalmist asking the Lord to teach him God’s paths, “Make me to know your ways, O Lord.” “Teach me, Lord,” is a recurring theme throughout the Psalms. God is the good teacher, who alone possesses the wisdom and knowledge that are needed for every day, but especially during times of urgent need, as it is for the psalmist. But the psalmist isn’t speaking just of head “knowledge” when he asks to know God’s ways. The Psalmist is concerned for being in right relationship with the Lord, the “God of my salvation.” He wants God’s love and forgiveness! But he is having trouble forgiving himself for what he has done; he needs reassurance of God’s grace. He says in verse 11, “For your name’s sake, O Lord, pardon my guilt, for it is great.” He doesn’t try to bargain with God or earn His forgiveness through good works. He assures the Lord of his fear, his desire to be pleasing and obedient to Him, and his willingness to wait on the Lord. To be patient with God’s timing. He is never presumptive or arrogant. He knows that the Lord will teach only the “humble in what is right.” God’s ways and paths–the teachings of the Lord–are “steadfast love and faithfulness.”

God’s ways are the way to “prosperity,” which doesn’t mean an abundance of possessions, but shalom–peace and wholeness– with echoes of the Exodus story with, “their children shall possess the land.” What the Psalmist greatly desires–did you catch this?– is the promise of everlasting “friendship” with the Lord.

This is not a God who cannot be known intimately! This is a God who cares that the Psalmist is “lonely and afflicted”–hurting, emotionally. “Relieve the troubles of my heart,” he says, “and bring me out of my distress.”

And finally, the cry for not just the Psalmist, but for all Israel to be saved. “Redeem, Israel, O God, of all its troubles.”

 

***

Friends, when we are tempted to be busier than ever this Advent, let us consider our activities in the light of what Christ has called us to do–to make disciples, sharing the love and light of Emmanuel in a world walking in darkness.   Do the things we do support relationship-building–with God and other people? Do they fill us with joy — or leave us feeling lonely and empty inside?

Remember our own need for forgiveness–even after we accept Jesus as our Lord and Savior! We all struggle, at times, like the psalmist, to forgive ourselves; for our guilt is great! Just because we are Christians doesn’t mean we ever stop being sinners! We need God’s reassurance. We need reminders of His loving presence with us. Let us humble ourselves before the Lord, for God’s wisdom is given only to the humble, to those who seek God’s paths and seek to walk in God’s ways. For those who are willing to patiently wait!

Let us pray.

Holy One, you are our teacher, our lover, our friend. Thank you for Jesus Christ, your only Son, who has made possible what was previously impossible–our salvation through belief in Him, in His work for us on a cross. Forgive us for our many sins, sins that we continue to commit, though our heart’s desire is to be pleasing and obedient to you. Help us to walk your paths of steadfast love and faithfulness and to learn to wait on you — to be patient, as the psalmist teaches us. We are not always good at being patient! Teach us to choose activities that build up our faith and our relationships with you and one another. Empower us to make disciples this Advent season by reaching out with the love and light of Christ, our Emmanuel. Amen.

 

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s