Second day of Lent, 2009
The following sermon was preached by The Rev. Stanley Olson, ELCA Executive Director for Vocation and Education, in Augustana Chapel at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago on Thursday, February 26, 2009.
Lift up your hearts, ...we lift them to the Lord.
With that piece of the Eucharistic preface, you have already almost committed to memory the first verse of Psalm 25 - I lift up my soul, I lift up my heart, I lift up my life, to God.
I've decided that I need to memorize Psalm 25. It reads like a song for my life in faith-with its ups and downs, year in, year out, cycling back, new things happening.
Listen again to a sample of these verses - this is me -is it you?
- My God, I put my trust in you;
- Let me not be put to shame - let none who trust in you be put to shame
- Don't let my opponents win, LORD.
- Show me your ways. Teach me your paths.
- The sorrows of my heart have increased; bring me out of my troubles.
- Remember not the sins of my youth and my transgressions; remember me according to your steadfast love....
On any given day, I'm singing one or more of those stanzas.
I need to memorize this Psalm because I'm part of its story. It's my faith and sin portrayed there. It's my hope in God. How about you?
Of course, the Psalm would be hard to memorize because it doesn't flow very well. The thoughts are random.
If you've had your Psalms course, you likely know this Psalm is an acrostic-in Hebrew, each verse begins with a successive letter of the alphabet. Works in the original they tell me. In English, it's a jumble of 22 thoughts.
(Do you think this is where Facebook got the idea for 25 Random Things? Hebrew just didn't have quite enough letters.)
Scholars suggest the alphabet gimmick "explains the absence of any clear, logical structure" in the Psalm.
I don't think that's why it jumps around. The Psalm writer just reflects life, lives like yours and mine. Life has no clear, logical structure. It's often random.
But there is a rhythm in this song of living faith, a rough rhythm.
- Of course, there are the repeated confessions of sin and appeals for forgiveness, - vv. 7, 11, 18.
- And there are the repeated assertions of anxiety and a sense of having enemies-vv 2, 3, 16, 19
But that's not the rhythm, at least not directly. The rhythm in the Psalm is trust-trust for a trustworthy God. Trust allows this penitent poet to confess, confident of forgiveness. The poet doesn't linger in confession, doesn't grovel, because he knows the God to whom he confesses. So do we, God is trustworthy.
Similarly, the psalm singer can talk about the enemies he fears because he's sure he'll not be embarrassed in front of them. His faith will be vindicated in his daily life. So will ours.
Walter Brueggemann wrote, "... the psalm writers will not tolerate a faith in which human well being is not honored. They are impatient with any God who thinks otherwise." (Message of the Psalms, 13)
Like the psalmist, you and I assume that our well being matters to God. So we live in trust when we experience well being, and when things aren't so good, we trust God to take the problem seriously. We live in a rough rhythm of trust.
In my years as a parish pastor, during pre-confirmation interviews I'd often say to the student, "Tell my why God is important to you." Often the answer went like this, "God's always with me," "God's just always there for me." As a young pastor, I wasn't satisfied. Those answers weren't very deep.
I think I may have been wrong. Those kids were like the psalmist, knowing from experience the deep dependability of God who is always engaged, who always hears. They just weren't poets yet.
"To you, O Lord, I lift up my soul." I hear that opening as intentional engagement with the one who engages us, as a declaration of trust in the one whose trustworthiness is established, the one who is always there.
"I lift up my soul," It's the same verb as in the familiar benediction from Numbers, "The Lord lift up his countenance upon you."
This song reflects back to God what God offers to us - presence and trust. That's the Christian life, being close to God and being shaped by what God is. Trustworthiness begets trust. We sing God's song back to God.
This Psalm is a lament - O Lord, I'm in big trouble. O Lord, I am big trouble.
But a biblical lament is not a scream into the darkness, it is not a deep sigh to an empty heaven.
I'd say this is a love song, the love that comes with trust. The lament is a love song for real people in a relationship with God. It's a love song for our messy lives. We really should memorize it.
We sing in amazement at the distance between God and ourselves and we sing in love about the closeness-the rough rhythm of trust.
Consider vv. 14
You, LORD, are a friend to those who fear you...
Think about that, " ...a friend to those who fear you."
A former colleague once asked on a church history test, "Trace through this period the themes of God as friend and God to be feared." Even the broad history of faith has the rough rhythm-trust experienced in many ways. It's the covenant we live in - sometimes with love, sometimes in awe, always in trust.
What makes the rhythm of trust rough in your life today, in your community's life, your congregation's life? Is it economic anxiety? Is it awareness of your failings or those of others? More fear than love? More awe than friendship? Are you worried about what ministry you should do, or if you should do ministry at all?
With the psalm writer, we sing a life-long love song lament.
Look deeper into the roughness of your life. I think you will find, as the Psalmist did, that God is creating trust in you, creating it and creating it and creating it.
We sing a rough rhythm of daily life and trust in God, and we don't sing alone.
Psalm 25 is an individual lament, a solo voice, but notice how the singer is aware of other singers. He's not alone.
- ...let none who look to you be put to shame
- ...you are gracious O LORD; therefore you teach sinners in your way.
- Deliver Israel, O God, out of all its troubles.
That last verse doesn't fit the alphabet pattern of the Psalm, but it's got the rough rhythm of the whole. The verse is about trust, the trust of many. Some ancient editor wanted to make clear that this psalm of trust is for all of us.
We don't sing alone. We don't trust alone. We don't hope alone.
It's good to be in your company today, trusting - despite everything, trusting.
Lift up your soul. Look God in the face because God looks you full in the face. Nothing separates us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Lift up your souls. We lift them up to the Lord.