Sunday, March 23, 2014

Guidance Along the Pilgrim Way; Psalm 25, Isaiah 54:4-10, Zephaniah 3:14-20

Last week we looked at Psalm 121, a psalm for those setting out on the pilgrim journey and reminding us of God’s protection all the way from beginning to end. Today’s psalm is a modified acrostic wisdom psalm. It is a prayer for guidance along the pilgrim way. Our psalm begins, “Unto You, O Lord, do I lift up my soul,” or my life. The lifting of one’s soul is an invitation for God to teach. It is an openness to God. If we want God to guide us, we must surrender ourselves to God. Are you teachable? Are you open to God? Then there are several petitions in the psalm for God to teach God’s path and to show God’s ways. God’s ways and paths aren’t so much about decisions that we are to make as it is about knowing what is right and true by God’s definition. God’s way is characterized by love and faithfulness along with truth and righteousness. Truth must always be accompanied by love. God’s way is about how we are to relate to God and to one another. Four times in the psalm, the word, “ashamed” is used—three in verses 2-3 and again at the end. Shame can be paralyzing, and in some cultures is more significant than a wrong act itself. Is there something for which you still feel ashamed even though you know you have been forgiven? Shame allows our enemies to triumph, but our enemies can be defeated. Enemies are those who distract you from the Way. Who or what distracts you from following the Lord? Don’t let enemies distract you from the way. The good news is that Jesus died for our shame as well as for our sins. He didn’t just take away the penalty of sin but the effects of sin in our lives and on the lives of others. Yes, sin still has consequences, but we do not have to be bound by destructive feelings. Listen to what God promises about taking away our shame: READ Isaiah 54:4-10 and Zephaniah 3:14-20. In Jesus, we have a new identity free of shame. If our hope is in God, we cannot be put to shame. The pilgrim way involves recognition and confession of sin. Willingness to admit our faults and failures is an indication of our ability to be taught. We must recognize our tendency to be rebellious against the Way, and we must rely on God’s mercy to bring us back to the Way. David asks for forgiveness of various types of sin: he mentions, “the sins of my youth,” transgressions, which is the breaking of God’s laws, iniquity, which is deliberate wrong-doing, and sins in general—the ways we fall short of God’s standards through wrong things we do or through not doing the right thing. He is honest about the scope of his sin. We too need to be honest about the scope of our sin. The good news is that though we are rebellious, God instructs humble sinners. Note that David wrote in this psalm, “God instructs sinners in the Way,” not “God instructs the righteous in the Way.” The humble person admits that he or she needs to be instructed, and instruction is granted. If we already think we know it all, we leave no room for God to teach us. The basis for humility before the Lord is the fear of the Lord. Psalm 25 says that God confides in those who fear the Lord and they will dwell in prosperity and their descendants will inherit the earth. Fear of the Lord acknowledges God’s sovereignty, power, holiness, and utter transcendence. Too often we forget about how awesome God is. We acknowledge God’s grace but we gloss over how much we really need it, which actually trivializes grace. We have forgotten that God is holy and demands holiness, and although we cannot be holy without the Lord’s work in our lives, we seem to have lost our passion for holiness. The humble person realizes that God requires holiness even as he or she admits failure to live into holiness. But God will grant the spirit of holiness to the humble soul. Lent is a great time for examination. At the pancake supper, I gave an example of a pattern for a daily examination of conscience. But it is not only about being honest in regard to the wrong things we’ve done, but also recognizing the good things God has done in and through us. The pilgrim offers praise and prayer for God’s covenant mercies. God remembers God’s covenant with us yet forgets our sins! Too often we are the opposite—we forget and neglect the vows and promises we make and yet keenly remember every wrong done to us. How wonderful to have a God who remembers the good and forgets the bad. We can pray with confidence for the forgiveness of sins, for mercy, and for guidance because God is faithful and true to the promises God has made. Part of the journey is waiting. There are periods in our lives when we are called to stop moving and to be still. God wants us to rest as well as learn from the “in-between times” as Reverend Doctors George & Beverly Thompson like to call them. Bernhard W. Anderson says, we wait “for the time when the reality of God’s presence and the sovereignty of God’s purpose in the world will once again be clear.” To wait on the Lord is to depend on God for vindication. The Scriptures equivocate waiting on and trusting in the Lord to loving the Lord. Isaiah 64:4 says, “From of old no one has heard or perceived by the ear, no eye has seen a God besides you, who acts for those who wait for him.” Psalm 31:19 says, “Oh, how great Your goodness which You have laid up for those who fear You, which You have prepared for those who trust in You.” When the apostle Paul quotes these verses in I Corinthians 2:9, he uses the Septuagint translation, which says, “Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor have entered into the heart of man, the things which God has prepared for those who love Him.” To wait on God is to love God. And if we lovingly wait on the Lord, God has amazing things in store for us, so much so that we can’t even imagine them! I believe Paul equates waiting with love because waiting is difficult. If we want to be proper pilgrims, we need to know the way to go. Praying this psalm helps orient us to the Way. Jesus said, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life; no one comes to the Father except by Me.” Jesus is the Way. We must not only be guided by but live in Jesus. The last verse of this psalm doesn’t fit the acrostic, and goes beyond personal prayer to intercede for the community. The pilgrim on the Way remembers that there are other pilgrims on the Way and asks God to intervene on their behalf as well. Rev. Richard Burkey notes that guidance has within it the word “dance”. If we let God lead the dance and we follow, we will move gracefully in the Lord’s path.


Blogger Pastor Parato said...

Sorry I forgot to record!

March 23, 2014 at 4:06 PM


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