9He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and regarded others with contempt:
10"Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11The Pharisee, standing by himself, was praying thus, 'God, I thank you that I am not like other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. 12I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of all my income.' 13But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even look up to heaven, but was beating his breast and saying, 'God, be merciful to me, a sinner!' 14I tell you, this man went down to his home justified rather than the other; for all who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted."
This is the Word of the LORD
Thanks be to God
1For the music leader. A psalm of David. A song.
God of Zion, to you even silence is praise. Promises made to you are kept-
2You listen to prayer - and all living things come to you.
3When wrongdoings become too much for me, you forgive our sins.
4How happy is the one you choose to bring close, the one who lives in your courtyards! We are filled full by the goodness of your house, by the holiness of your temple.
5In your righteousness you answer us, by your awesome deeds, God of our salvation - you who are the security of all the far edges of the earth, even the distant seas;
6You establish the mountains by your strength; you are dressed in raw power;
7You calm the roaring seas; calm the roaring wakes, calm the noise of the nations.
8Those who dwell on the far edges stand in awe of your acts. You make the gateways of morning and evening sing for joy.
9You visit the earth and make it abundant, enriching it greatly by God's stream, full of water. You provide people with grain because this is what you've decided.
10Drenching the earth's furrows, leveling its ridges, you soften it with rain showers; you bless its growth.
11You crown the year with your goodness; your paths overflow with rich food.
12Even the desert pastures drip with it, and the hills are dressed in pure joy.
13The meadowlands are covered with flocks, the valleys decked out in grain - they shout for joy; they break out in song!
This is the Word of the LORD
Thanks be to God.
So I'm sitting in my study, early in the week, to-do list in hand. And it's one of those days when as soon as one thing gets checked off the to-do list, two or three more things get added. It's one of those days when the to-do list stops enabling and becomes a burden. The weight of everything in front of me, the enormity of the tasks that need doing, can simply shut a person down. Energy becomes resignation. Intelligence shifts to hypercriticism. Imagination transforms into worry. Love loses its warmth to frustration. The to-do list wasn't getting any shorter, and the next thing on it was choosing scripture for this morning.
I opened up the suggested Psalm passage, and saw the first verse: "God of Zion, to you even silence is praise..." In that moment, I felt a grace offered to me that I had forgotten. All the frustration, the worry, the criticism, and resignation, faded into the background. It was still there, but the anxiety was less important.
Now I'm not saying that these are somehow magic words that will cure any kind of anxiety. "God of Zion, to you even silence is praise." This is not a new mantra that's going to change my life forever, and to most people, this verse is perhaps not even that important.
But it reminded me. It reminded me that I ought not trust in myself and that I am righteous. The opening verse to this psalm reminded me of where my trust should remain: on God.
All of my busy-ness and its accompanying burdens were ways to exalt myself. I was trying to live the Pharisee's prayer, "God, I thank you that I am not like other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of all my income." I'm the pastor, I do all the right things. I stay so busy because the world needs me to keep doing all of the things. But we know the Pharisee’s prayer is empty.
The tasks on my to-do were important. I love my job, my role as the teaching elder for this community. And things like studying scripture, visiting church members, and writing well are ways that I serve God. The particular tasks to which God has called each one of us is a prayer that is lived, rather than spoken. But when those tasks become more about exalting myself than humbling myself in service to Jesus Christ, I’m living the Pharisee’s prayer.
When we try to live the Pharisee's prayer, when our prayer is to the idol of our own self-importance, we can expect a little judgment. That’s where the stress, the burden, comes in. It’s a gentle judgement from God for exalting ourselves. It’s a challenge towards humility, a challenge to stop praising ourselves, and instead praise God.
And we know that “to [God] even silence is praise.”
This Psalm leads the whole community in a song of praise. And if we cannot sing along, even silence is praise to God. This song re-orients us away from the idols of self-importance and back towards the one who answers us in righteousness.
The idols of self-importance lead us to be concerned with wrongdoings, watching for every thief, rogue, adulterer, and tax collector. Like the Pharisees in Jesus’s parable, we exalt ourselves. Living the Pharisee’s prayer gives us transactions to try and buy God off, to use our spiritual disciplines to keep God at bay, and those are going to quickly become too much for us, because that life leads us to trust only in ourselves that we are righteous.
But when a community sings this Psalm together, we find rest in the grace of God. “When wrongdoings become too much for me, you forgive our sins.” We don’t need to hold on to the stress of always being busy, we can sit for a moment in silent awe of the holiness of God. We can take time to be overwhelmed by amazement at the God of Zion, instead of being overwhelmed by our to-do lists.
The congregation which turns to this Psalm ignores the temptation to define themselves by programs or position and instead proclaims their identity rooted in the LORD, “We are filled full by the goodness of your house, by the holiness of your temple.” Their identity is defined by the kind of wholeness and peace that comes from trusting in God, rather than only in themselves.
And in a world so overwhelmed by busy-ness and worry, to have a community of faith that can imagine a faith-filled peace is a powerful thing. It allows us to praise God despite imperfections, despite failings, and despite the worries that follow us even on our best days. We take time away from our overwhelming busy-ness to worship, to praise the LORD, because God has brought us in and shown us grace. "We come, not because of a natural right, but because of the graciousness of a divine choosing that accepts us even when we fail to recognize that our gathering is built upon the foundation of God's forgiveness.” In a culture that pays attention to roaring seas, and the noise of nations, we instead come before God, who is “dressed in raw power, [who calms] the roaring seas, [calms] the roaring waves, [calms] the noise of nations.”
The power of God to answer us in righteousness, the strength of God to create and sustain all of creation, all give us reason to trust in God’s firm and loving grace, even if we feel separated. “Those who dwell on the far edges stand in awe of [God’s] acts.” Even standing far off, not even looking up to heaven, beating our breasts and saying “God be merciful to me, a sinner!” is a confession that we trust in the grace of God, that we can call out to the God of Zion saying “You listen to prayer - and all living things come to you.”
Christians do things for a bunch of different reasons. We react because we’re afraid we’ll lose something or someone. We choose to restrain ourselves because we might get taken advantage of. We take the time to do our work well because we want to think highly of us. But on our best days, when we are most ourselves, everything we do is an act that praises God.
From that perspective, when we approach the throne of grace with praise. We are able to see the awesome deeds of creation