This talk was given by Paul Wintle on as part of our worship service over the Internet.
The recording is long.
Before the talk, we had prayer and a Bible reading of Psalm 25:1–10. These are included in the audio.
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[Gill:] May we be receptive to all that we hear, specifically what you are speaking to each one of us individually. We thank you Lord, in Jesus’ name, Amen.
A Psalm of David
LORD, I worship you.[NIrV, New International Reader’s Version., 1st ed. (Zondervan, 1998), Ps 25:1–10.]
My God, I trust in you.
Don’t let me be put to shame.
Don’t let my enemies win the battle over me.
Those who put their hope in you
will never be put to shame.
But those who can’t be trusted
will be put to shame. They have no excuse.
LORD, show me your ways.
Teach me how to follow you.
Guide me in your truth. Teach me.
You are God my Savior.
I put my hope in you all day long.
LORD, remember your great mercy and love.
You have shown them to your people for a long time.
Don’t remember the sins I committed when I was young.
Don’t remember how often I refused to obey you.
Remember me because you love me.
LORD, you are good.
The LORD is honest and good.
He teaches sinners to walk in his ways.
He shows those who aren’t proud how to do what is right.
He teaches them his ways.
All of the LORD’s ways are loving and faithful
for those who obey what his covenant commands.
Paul:] Martin, thank you so much for reading those 10 verses of Psalm 25. It’s our first Sunday in Lent and that’s why we’re reading the Psalms. We’re doing a series on Psalms through Lent and I enjoyed making pancakes this week. I don’t know if you’ve done your Shrove Tuesday stuff as well, but I enjoyed making pancakes on Shrove Tuesday.
It reminded me that the next day, Ash Wednesday, would be the start of the season of Lent. Traditionally, on Ash Wednesday, last year’s palm crosses given out on a Palm Sunday would be burnt and when cooled mixed with water, a priest would then mark the sign of the cross on one’s forehead. In chatting with Father James from St. Luke’s church this week, he remarked that this year was somewhat different because COVID restrictions forbid a physical touch and so he had to sprinkle palm cross dust on people’s heads instead.
Christians will often use Lent as a time to reflect and repent and get right again with God, like a time for resetting one’s spiritual self. The Lenten season is often compared to the time when Jesus spent in the wilderness being tempted in Matthew 4, which takes place before the start of His public ministry and reminds us that perhaps we might give up something for Lent, and we often forget that Sundays are feast days, so whatever you give up for Lent, you can still do on a Sunday.
A priest friend of mine has given up alcohol for Lent and just a few hours into Ash Wednesday posted on her Facebook feed, “Is Lent nearly over? #givenupalcohol.” Temptation, whether you’re Jesus or not, is tough. Promises undertaken aren’t always easy to keep. Commitments made can be a real test of character and so we come to Psalm 25. Over the next six Sundays leading up to Easter, we will be looking at Psalms from the lectionary traditional Bible readings chosen for particular days that linked to the Christian year.
Psalm 25 is one of King David’s poems and although it’s not known what the situation or circumstances are surrounding the reasons why he wrote it, it’s obvious that like Jesus, he’s experiencing some form of trial, difficulty, aloneness in a wilderness situation. So it is that Psalm 25:1-10 is our lectionary reading for today because at the beginning of Lent, we remember difficult times.
We recall the temptations Jesus experienced and maybe because we are in lockdown at the beginning of Lent, we find it harder than usual as we are at home, perhaps struggling a bit because we can’t go out to see our friends or family as we would normally do. Originally this Psalm was a Hebrew acrostic. That is, it began with the first letter of the alphabet and ended with the last, but it’s more than a word game.
It’s about God’s A to Z mercy in life even when we feel abandoned. Taken as a whole, Psalm 25 is a prayer for help, growing more intense as it progresses. Towards the end, it says I’m lonely and afflicted, relieve the troubles of my heart. Bring me out of my distress, consider my affliction and my trouble and forgive all my sins. Consider how many are my foes and with what violent hatred they hate me. The last petition is for all of God’s people, redeem Israel oh God out of its troubles.
Through it all Psalm 25 speaks,I think, of God’s character: verse 10, all the paths of the Lord are steadfast love and faithfulness for those who keep his covenant and his decrees. The New Interpreter’s Bible finds the Psalms theological centre right here in God’s steadfast love and faithfulness. Right at the beginning, there’s an attitude of worship, “To you oh Lord, I lift up my soul.” Lifting up the hands is an ancient posture of prayer expressing dependence on God. This simple gesture opens a person to receive God’s blessing.
Too, the worshipper it lifts up their soul to receive God’s love. Remembering this is the season of Lent and of Jesus in the wilderness, so we recall the--I’ve just lost my place, sorry. … remembering this is the season of Lent and of Jesus in the wilderness so we recall the sense of spiritual emptiness or aloneness that Jesus may have felt. In these times whilst it’s easy to ignore God and give up, David here does exactly the opposite. He wholeheartedly gives himself over to God again, by honouring God with his whole life, irrespective of the hardships he is facing. David is obviously in a pickle over something that he requires guidance and wants God’s intervention to be guided into the right ways.
There’s an overwhelming issue of David wholeheartedly trusting God implicitly with the guidance that he will receive. Repeatedly, he asks, as in verses four and five here, to be taught God’s ways. “Make me to know your ways oh Lord, teach me your paths, lead me in your truth and teach me.” God instructs sinners in a way, he teaches the humble. To know about God is a starting point, but David wants something more, something much deeper. He wants to be with God, to walk in God’s path.
Show me your ways, in Hebrew that’s the word derekh דֶּרֶךְ. Teach me your paths, in Hebrew that’s ’orakh אֹרַח and both derekh and ’orakh mean path or way. It could be a physical pathway, but here, these words are perhaps used more metaphorically for the kind of life that David is leading. The prayer is that God would teach him what is involved in the kind of life and how he might lead it.
Truth, ’emet אֱמֶת, in it is that which is real, dependable and stable, that which a person can count on. David is therefore praying that God would reveal to him those things that would give his life a solid foundation. Those things that would allow him to lead a Godly life, things that he could base his life on without fear or failure. Teachers amongst you, perhaps even the homeschoolers amongst you, who know that pupils, students are not only taught, but they learn as well. Teaching and learning are at the core of every lesson.
What is it that teachers will do in order for the pupil to learn? Is it knowledge to store in one’s head or is it something deeper and more profound that is going on in a learning process? It’s merely an exchange of information, where the knower, the one who knows, pours information into the empty vessel, that’s the knowee. Is that it? If this is so, we forget that the learner might already have some inkling about that subject matter before the teacher pours it in.
Here, David needs God’s guidance and trusts that God knows the way forward and that he will be led in the right paths. For David, this kind of knowledge is not about being pulled into empty doctrine. He’s willing to be led and guided and moulded. That first part of Psalm 25:1-5 seem to have a real desire of David not only to know God’s laws but to appreciate an intimacy of the divine way.
The learner wants to sit at the feet of the teacher, and to understand and to follow in the ways. The Hebrew for such deep learning is yada' יָדַע. There we go three or four Hebrew words today, yada' יָדַע, and goes beyond mere knowledge to pass a test. yada' is to really know, to perceive, to really grasp, hold, and to understand, to have a relationship with that piece of knowledge. It’s that deep, encountering experience of God that David seeks.
It’s about gaining wisdom and applying it as he triumphs over his enemies. As God and David engage in this pathway of deep learning and walking the pathway together, David seems to become aware of his shortcomings. The sins of his youth, other transgressions. There’s a sense that the learning about life and the ways of God have somehow brought David to a place of deeper awareness. The searching within his soul that he bared to God at the start of the Psalm has now gone to a depth where he feels the need to get right with God.
Indeed, there’s something about God the teacher who knows the way through David’s difficulty, and somewhere within it all, David becomes drawn to the guilt of his own sin and silliness. Although I don’t get the sense of any shame in this passage, I do sense that because David knows God so well, the relationship is strong enough not to hold any embarrassment as David the pupil unashamedly puts his hands up as it were, as if he’d been caught out. Actually, the relationship here is deeper than the teacher-pupil, it’s more Rabbi-disciple.
Perhaps we don’t have those relationship styles in our culture and so we might liken it to the relationship of an apprentice that has with a trusted older colleague but both are willing to engage together in the learning process. Whilst the older colleague has years of experience at the craft, and the trainee wants to know about it, it’s how the experienced party puts things across in a friendly, “Let me involve you in what this is all about step-by-step rather than tell you or embarrass you through your lack of knowledge,” kind of a fashion.
The trainer learns how to train as they work together on a particular job and the trainee picks up stuff just by being around the more experienced colleague. The apprentice has a healthy awe of learning from the more experienced colleague who’s got many, many years of craft under their trade or profession and so he or she wants to do their best to follow in the footsteps. When David prays, “Remember your mercy. Remember not the sins of my youth,” there’s a longevity unveiled to the relationship he draws upon.
David hasn’t just met God to ask for help when the going gets tough, there’s a true sense that he’s walked with God in these pathways for a significant period of time. That he knows God and God knows David full well. It isn’t that David has forgotten to come to God to confess his sin either. This relationship David has is not merely transactional. It’s not really, “God, if you forgive me because I’ve become aware of my sin, then I know it’ll be okay between us.” In the same way that a pupil doesn’t receive knowledge from the teacher in the way that we described earlier that they’re the empty vessel wishing to be filled.
There’s something much more meaningful in the context of the depth of relationship that God and David have here. The context is a deep knowing open-hearted tender relationship that continues to want to go deeper and again deeper still. It can be a tricky and even scary process to go deep.
At the same time, it’s the job of an excellent tutor or counsellor to do this at the pace of the one calling out for help or guidance. There’s no point in being pulled along if one has no time on which to think and reflect upon one’s ongoing learning or understand what’s happening to them if the tutor or counsellor wants them to go through the motions only, but once the trustee relationship is established, and the right piece is found, the depth of the experience can be explored to expenses never before imagined.
I think that’s what’s happening here in Psalm 25. It’s not just a cry out to God for help. It is a poem but it’s more than that. It’s David exploring his troubling issue with his life coach, God. He’s not scared of the depths to which they both explore the point at hand because he feels safe as they go to the new depths of the problems, as they figure out perhaps ways of solving them. His thoughts are drawn out as we notice personal pronouns in verses one to seven, “Make me know your ways. Teach me your paths. You are the God of my salvation, for You, I wait all day long.” There’s a real true dynamic relationship here that loves to be truly present as they do life together.
Why is it that this part of Psalm 25 is in the lectionary reading in this first Sunday of Lent? Is it because Jesus had to rely deeply upon more than mere knowledge of the Old Testament as He was tempted, so He also became aware of the depth of the relationship He had with His Father, in order to do His work with power and authority? Is it to help us appreciate that so much more of the Old Testament is linked to the New Testament story and that it is all wrapped up in the Easter part of that story? In that everything is a journey to the cross.
At the start of Lent, we can choose to simplify things and choose to give up stuff if that helps us focus on the path Jesus chose. David writes, “No one whose hope is in You will ever be put to shame,” but Jesus is put to shame on the cross on Good Friday. You will see that His enemies will triumph over Him. On the cross, the thief will ask Jesus to remember him. David’s poem prayer psalm here asks God to remember him not his own sins. All of this is in the knowledge that the divine nature of steadfastness, love, and faithfulness, are available at all times.
Finally, this morning, a very brief passing look at verses 8 to 10 shows a shift in gear. No longer do we have the personal words of I and you, but it seems David widens his relationship and experience of God to include all who will listen. From the worries of a trusting apprentice or disciple, now there’s a broader proclamation, the good and upright God teaches the humble in what is right.
There’s a sense that the personal struggle is put to one side and now everyone needs to know that God is for them. God is for you. The Psalm is very much about paths and pathways and it’s very much about following hard paths and learning as these pathways are trodden. Jesus walked such paths in the wilderness. David walked them too. The important thing perhaps for us to learn and remember is that these paths were not walked alone but always in the divine company who willed them and wills us to continue on this journey.
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