Sermon for 1 Lent Yr B

1st Sunday in Lent Yr B, 21/02/2021

Ps 25:1-10

Pastor Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson

“God the loving, merciful, and gracious teacher”

My NRSV Lutheran Study Bible gives the original superscription-title of Psalm 25 as “Of David.” The Good News Bible has “By David.” The REB is different in that David is not credited as the author, and so it is titled: “For David.” According to biblical scholar, Claus Westermann (The Psalms: Structure, Content & Message, p. 17), Psalms 3-41 represent a collection attributed to David. Besides their common superscription, another characteristic is that they are all psalms of an individual. Hymnwriter Paul Gerhardt may also have been inspired by the words of Psalm 25 when he composed his hymn “Nach dir, mein Gott, verlanget mich,” loosely translated: “For thee, Lord, pants my longing heart.” 

The Lutheran Study Bible also titles Psalm 25 like this: “Prayer for Guidance and Deliverance.” The Good News Bible has the following title: “A Prayer for Guidance and Protection.” According to my NRSV Lutheran Study Bible (p. 850), this psalm is one of the eight acrostic poems in the Psalter. An acrostic or alphabetical poem starts each line with a succeeding letter of the Hebrew alphabet. However, a careful reading of Psalm 25 reveals that it is a rather “mixed bag” in terms of the type of psalm it is, along with its variety of themes. In addition to it being an acrostic poem, it is also a prayer for help, and a wisdom psalm, and a lament. 

The opening three verses focus on trusting in God for protection against his enemies whom he seems to feel threaten him, and petitioning God not to be put to shame. The contrasts between those who trust and wait for the LORD and those who are enemies and are “wantonly treacherous” are emphasized in these verses. However, the REB renders verse 3 like this: “No one whose hope is in you is put to shame, but shame comes to all who break faith without cause.” Rendered in this way, the language is similar to Proverbs and the wisdom psalms, and highlights the psalmist’s confidence in God. 

In verses four and five, there is a shift in thought. Now the psalmist makes his request that God would teach him to know God’s way, God’s path, God’s truth. Knowing the way to go and following the right path is very important in life. For example, if you are driving in a strange city and do not pay attention to signs, maps or GPS, you can easily get lost. Or if you refuse to see or read a road sign that says: “Danger Do Not Enter,” you might risk getting into an accident. The same is true of our life of faith. We can willingly learn God’s way, God’s path, God’s truth by reading and studying the Bible, praying, attending worship, loving God and neighbour. All of these help us to learn and know God’s way, God’s path, God’s truth, and to grow in our faith and life journey. 

In verses six and seven, the psalmist makes an intercession for God to be mindful of and to remember God’s mercy and steadfast love, and to forget the sins and offences of his youth. 

Both the Greeks and the Hebrews used many words where we have been satisfied with one. As there are many words for our one love, so with mercy. The Hebrew chesed is seen over and over again in the Psalms, and Coverdale frequently translates it as lovingkindness,[our NRSV renders it steadfast love] that continued forbearance shown by God even when his chosen people are slow to keep his commandments and swift to turn to foreign gods. 

Another Hebrew word for mercy is rachamim, which has to do with tender compassion, the care of the shepherd for the stray lamb, the pity shown to the weak and helpless. And there is chaninah, a joyful, generous mercy, loving and kind. 

So mercy, as all the other Beatitudes, is a Christ-like word, and I must look for understanding of it in the small and daily events of my own living, because if I do not recognize it in the little things I will not see it in the great.1

Most of us, if we’re honest with ourselves, likely regret some of the sins of our youth, and perhaps they may even rear their ugly heads when we are adults. That reminds me of the following story. 

A Catholic priest living in the Philippines was a much-loved man of God who once carried a secret burden of long-past sin buried deep in his heart. He had committed that sin once, many years before, during his time in seminary. No one else knew of this sin. He had repented of it and he had suffered years of remorse for it, but he still had no peace, no inner joy, no sense of God’s forgiveness.

There was a woman in this priest’s parish who deeply loved God, and who claimed to have visions in which she spoke with Christ, and He with her. The priest, however, was skeptical of her claims, so to test her visions he said to her, “You say you actually speak directly with Christ in your visions. Let me ask you a favour. The next time you have one of these visions, I want you to ask Him what sin your priest committed while he was in seminary.” 

The woman agreed and went home. When she returned to the church a few days later, the priest said, “Well, did Christ visit you in your dreams?”

She replied, “Yes, He did.”

“And did you ask Him what sin I committed in seminary?”

“Yes, I asked Him.”

“Well, what did He say?”

“He said, ‘I don’t remember.’”

This is what God wants you to know about the forgiveness He freely offers you. When your sins are forgiven, they are forgotten. The past—with its sins, hurts brokenness, and self-recrimination—is gone, dead, crucified, remembered no more. What God forgives, He forgets.2

Verses eight to ten of our psalm repeat the themes the psalmist made in the previous verses regarding: God’s way, God’s path, God’s steadfast love (chesed), God’s faithfulness. Again the language in these verses is very similar to Proverbs and the wisdom psalms. Here the psalmist is receiving the benefits, the blessings of God’s love, mercy and grace by responding in keeping his covenant. 

Keeping his covenant involves serving others in everyday living. God wants both justice and love for the world. Justice may involve something as practical as the fairness of standing in line at a store; if someone slips in ahead of us, we know how unjust that is. 

Love and justice belong together. Many people from hungry countries, including Christians there, have been thanking us for the love we have shown in their lands, but they are asking us to be more just as well. They point out several international trade practices which could be fairer for them. 

While we have given them shiploads of food, we have taken from them many more shiploads of resources at cheap prices—copper, bauxite for aluminum, chrome, cotton, clothes, sugar, coffee, oil, crafts, and now even meats and produce, to list some of them. It’s not that we shouldn’t have bought these goods—international trade is a good thing—but the hungry countries tell us we need to be paying a fair price so that they can gain buying power too. 

They tell us we have slipped in line ahead of them at the resource stations of the world. While they were trying to recover from the burdens of colonialism, slavery, and confinement on reservations, we gained control over the mineral supplies and many of their food-growing lands. As they tried to catch up, they were forced to sell cheap to gain what exchange they could. 

We may think sometimes they are ungrateful asking for more justice. We wonder, Why can’t they see how much our investments in their countries have helped them, and how risky those investments are? Why haven’t they used our aid to help themselves and get ahead? Why do they let their grain spoil in storage? Why don’t they kill their sacred cows? Why don’t they work as hard as us? Why isn’t our love enough? 

But maybe we have not had a chance to hear their side. They wonder about us, and may ask, Why do they demand such a high rate of return on their investments? Why do they take so much of the profits? Why does so much of the plastic that they use end up polluting our oceans and killing the marine life there? Why do they throw away their aluminum cans and left-over restaurant food? Why do mining companies come and destroy our environment? Why don’t they work as hard as us? Why aren’t they more just? 

The problems of international trade are very complex, however God’s principle of justice must be applied in every way it can. It is an attitude which changes our worldview. 

During this season of Lent, may we like the psalmist, confess and repent of our sins; willingly learn from God our loving, merciful and gracious teacher; and respond to God’s love, forgiveness and grace by treating others justly and humbly, lovingly serving them. 

1 Madeleine L’Engle with Carole F. Chase, Glimpses of Grace: Daily Thoughts, And Reflections (New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 1996 & 1998), pp. 268-269. 

2 James S. Hewett, Editor, Illustrations Unlimited: A Topical Collection of Hundreds Of Stories, Quotations, & Humor For Speakers, Writers, Pastors, and Teachers (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 1988), p. 216. 

About dimlamp
I am, among other things, a sojourner, a sinner-saint, a baptized, life-long learner and follower of Jesus, and Lutheran pastor. Dim Lamp: dimlamp.wordpress.com gwh photos: gwhphotos.wordpress.com

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