Sunday, March 1, 2015

Teaching Steadfast Love

Teaching Steadfast Love from Joseph Taber on Vimeo.

Mark 8:31-38
31Then he began to teach them that the son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. 32He said all this quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. 33But turning and looking at his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”34He called the crowd with this disciples, and said to them, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 35For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. 36For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? 37Indeed, what can they give in return for their life? 38Those who are ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes int he Glory of his Father with the holy angels.”
This is the Word of the LORD
Thanks be to God

Psalm 25
1Of David.
To you, O LORD, I lift up my soul.
2O my God, in you I trust; do not let me be put to shame; do not let my enemies exult over me.
3Do not let those who wait for you to be put to shame; let them be ashamed who are wantonly treacherous.
4Make me to know your ways, O LORD; teach me your paths. 
5Lead me in your truth, and teach me, for you are the God of my salvation; for you I wait all day long.
6Be mindful of your mercy, O LORD, and of your steadfast love, for they have been from of old.
7Do not remember the sins of my youth or my transgressions; according to your steadfast love remember me, for your goodness sake, O LORD!
8Good and upright is the LORD; therefore he instructs sinners in the way.
9He leads the humble in what is right, and teaches the humble his way.
10All the paths of the LORD are steadfast love and faithfulness, for those who keep his covenant and his decrees.
11For your name’s sake, O LORD, pardon my guilt, for it is great.
12Who are they that fear the LORD? He will teach them the way that they should choose.
13They will abide in prosperity, and their children shall possess the land.
14The friendship of the LORD is for those who fear him, and he makes his covenant known to them.
15My eyes are ever toward the LORD for he will pluck my feet out of the net.
16Turn to me and be gracious to me, for I am lonely and afflicted.
17Relieve the troubles of my heart, and bring me out of my distress.
18Consider my affliction and my trouble, and forgive all my sins.
19Consider how many are my foes, and with what violent hatred they hate me.
20O guard my life, and deliver me; do not let me be put to shame, for I take refuge in you.
21May integrity and uprightness preserve me, for I wait for you.
22Redeem Israel, O God, out of all its troubles.
This is the Word of the LORD
Thanks be to God.

This Psalm is more confession than lament. At first glance, it seems to tilt more towards a statement of faith, or maybe a prayer of relief from enemies. David wrote a bunch of those. This Psalm, however doesn't quite fit those categories. 

Elements of psalms of lament are a little tough to find. I was expecting the kind of anguish we saw last week in Psalm 77, "My soul refuses to be comforted." Lament and grief, to me, are closely linked. Psalm 25 isn't dripping with dark emotions the way some of the more famous laments are. It's not filled with counter testimony. There's no challenge to the LORD, or a wrestling with deep troubles of the world. Except the personal ones.

At the core of Psalm 25, we find David's grieving his own sinfulness. "For your name’s sake, O LORD, pardon my guilt, for it is great." We hold David up as a hero of the faith, he's the anointed Shepherd boy, who defeated the Philistine Giant. He conquered neighboring tribes and expanded Israel's territory. In our search for a hero, we sometimes overlook his imperfections. 

Caught in adultery, David sent a Uriah the Hittite to his death so that David could marry Bathsheba, Uriah’s wife. That's just the famous one though. We don't talk about it much, but what David allows to happen to his daughter Tamar is tragic and reprehensible. David was a good king and a mighty warrior, but he was as fallen a person as the rest of us. In Psalm 25, he laments his sinfulness.

Here in worship, we acknowledge every Sunday that we are sinners who need God's grace, echoing David's plea of "Do not remember the sins of my youth or my transgressions; according to your steadfast love remember me, for your goodness sake, O LORD!” Worship is one of the few places in our culture where it’s safe, even expected, to acknowledge our weaknesses, failures, mistakes. Imagine trying to make those claims in a job interview or on a college admissions application, or while you’re trying to get out of a traffic ticket, or while you’re ruling over the kingdom of Israel…

I wonder if perhaps David was stuck on his sinfulness. David returns again and again to his sinfulness, and he both praises and pleads with God. “[David] does pray for a change in circumstances, but also that God will act within, enabling patience and integrity.” Perhaps David is struggling to see God’s action, because all he can see is his failure as a king, as a father, as a servant of God. Perhaps the despair is behind this lament, instead of in the midst of it. 

Now we see the lament. David, despairing over his sin, takes up his lyre and writes a psalm, confessing both his sins and his faith through the poetry, trying to remind himself of the God who loves him even when he is overwhelmed and stuck in grief for his sin.

Getting stuck in that mindset happens to all of us, from time to time. I know I sometimes struggle with it. The “sins of my youth” to which David refers are not that long ago for me, and I think all of us sometimes look back on some of the dumb things we’ve done and overlook the grace we’ve been given.. I think we sometimes look at ourselves so long that all we see is the sinner in the mirror, rather than the image of our creator. I think David, in writing this psalm, has lost sight of what God is doing through him, and I think we sometimes find ourselves there too.

So David turns to the promise, I think to remind himself of the promise as much as to call for God’s intervention. Though we might sometimes get stuck in seeing only our own brokenness, David reminds us that we are not judged by our abilities, but by God’s steadfast love. “according to your steadfast love remember me, for your goodness sake, O LORD!”

The good news is that God loves us sinners, and wraps us up in the promise of love, and tells us the sacred stories that carry us through the times when all we see are darkness. Because those stories, of heroes who are also sinners, of slaves who become a nation, of crucifixion giving way to resurrection, remind us of the promise that God, who is involved in this world, loves us.

Even though sometimes we lose sight of the promise. In those moments we have to reach back to those shared stories, and express our lament in a sinful and unsettled world. Even so,“This, at least, we ought to regard as a fixed and settled point, that although the goodness of God may sometimes be hidden…it can never be extinguished.”

As David pleas with and praises God in Psalm 25, we see his view that “Good and upright is the LORD; therefore he instructs sinners in the way” God is teaching us what steadfast love looks like, so that we will not be slaves to our sin, but servants of Christ.

Doing those instructions is much more difficult that reading them in the Bible. David acknowledges the reality of our struggles, but also reminds us that God “will pluck my feet out of the net.”

For we will still get stuck in despair, we will still sin, we will still fail. That’s part of life, in this lenten wilderness. That’s part of life in this world that still has not fully realized its redemption. Sin is still our habit, and though its power to define us is already broken, the habit is not yet our of our system.

And so we return, with David, to Psalm 25, a confession of our sin and a praise to the God who rescues us. “Turn to me and be gracious to me, for I am lonely and afflicted.”

Sometimes our loneliness is the hardest part, but Psalms like this one show us that we are not alone. Heroes of our faith, like David, have been stuck on their own sinfulness. Yet God holds us all together.

This is the good news, that God loves us sinners, and will not let us go.

Love holds us close, not our loneliness or sin. Our troubles and distress will fade, God’s love, on the other hand, is all-consuming, and judges us by God’s own steadfast love. We may be sinners, but we are redeemed anyway. We may get stuck, but God moves through us anyway. We may not be able to see what God is doing, but God is our refuge anyway.

“O guard my life, and deliver me; do not let me be put to shame, for I take refuge in you.” David’s plea follows his admission that it is only God’s forgiveness that can bring him through his struggles. “God’s uncanny forgiveness is what gives us a future in the midst of our jeopardy.” God is our refuge, and promised us a future that not even the cross could break.

Views may change, our own abilities may fail, but God’s integrity and uprightness do not, neither does God’s goodness and love shift away from us.

Even in our darkest moments, God loves us sinners, and teaches us how to respond. When we cannot respond, or see, or reach out, God is still holding us in a covenant of love and grace, and is bringing us out of the wilderness of sin and death into the promise of Easter.

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