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Watch Your Feet
February 22, 2015
To you, O Lord, I lift up my soul.
O my God, in you I trust;
do not let me be put to shame;
do not let my enemies exult over me.
Do not let those who wait for you be put to shame;
let them be ashamed who are wantonly treacherous.
Make me to know your ways, O Lord;
teach me your paths.
Lead me in your truth, and teach me,
for you are the God of my salvation;
for you I wait all day long.
Be mindful of your mercy, O Lord, and of your steadfast love,
for they have been from of old.
Do not remember the sins of my youth or my transgressions;
according to your steadfast love remember me,
for your goodness’ sake, O Lord!
Good and upright is the Lord;
therefore he instructs sinners in the way.
He leads the humble in what is right,
and teaches the humble his way.
All the paths of the Lord are steadfast love and faithfulness,
for those who keep his covenant and his decrees.
“Whether you believe that religious violence is fueled by faith or is a symptom of larger factors like political instability, poverty, cultural chaos, one thing seems clear: last week was hell for religion.” In an article posted a few days ago, CNN Religion Editor Daniel Burke mourns the fact that last week, on every single day, Monday through Sunday, some act of violence was committed against people of faith or by people of faith. Burke writes, “Across several continents, including North America, Europe, Asia, and Africa, scores of religious believers suffered and died in brutal attacks over the past seven days. Christians, Muslims, and Jews alike all fell prey to assaults.”
From Boko Haram in Cameroon, to the killing of three young Muslims in Chapel Hill, to the beheading of over a dozen Egyptian Coptic Christians in Libya, to ISIS bombardments in Iraq, to Al Qaeda in Yemen, and to a shooting in Denmark, it has been a rough week for the faithful of the world. And we see these headlines, we read these stories, and our hearts are deeply troubled. It can seem at times like enemies are all around us.
Yet when we read the headlines closer, when we pay attention to what happens in our country, our state, our city, and even in our churches, we realize that our enemies might be even closer than we think. Stories of unabashed racism, of proposed open carry legislation for Texas public universities, the killing of black trans women, the list goes on and on.
But before we start playing the blame game and figuring out who is at fault for what, we have to ask ourselves the question that gets at the very root of all of these issues and conflicts. What if the enemy isn’t some external power bent on watching the world burn? What if the enemy is inside us? What if our desires for power, wealth, comfort or control had as much to do with the violence as did the bombs, guns, and knives? What if our fears, our privileges, our suspicions, our anxieties had as much to do with the state of our world as do the organized hate groups and terror cells? What are we to do with our enemies, those inside and outside of us? These are questions that scare us. These are the kinds of questions we don’t want to face in the mirror. But these are the very questions that the writer of Psalm 25 is asking of God.
The Psalms are an intimate and invading exercise in spiritual eavesdropping. They are like reading the spiritual diary or personal journal written on the heart of someone we’ve never met. The Psalms contain some of the most vulnerable expressions of faith in all of Scripture. The Psalms speak of frustration, of fear, of sadness, and of pure misery. The Psalms speak of exuberant joy, of praise and thanksgiving, of forgiveness and restoration.
The full range of human emotion can be glimpsed within these sacred stanzas, these ancient songs. The Psalms give us permission to dance, to sing, to rage and rail, to complain and shout, to praise and make music, all in the presence of God. The words of the Psalms might not be our own, but we all know them well. And Psalm 25 is no exception. In the opening lines of the Psalm, the poet makes clear that he or she has some enemies to deal with. But we find that these enemies are both external and internal.
The Psalmist writes of external enemies, those who are wantonly treacherous. But perhaps more profound are the Psalmist’s words about the enemies within. “Do not remember the sins of my youth or my transgressions.” “For I wait for you all day long.”
These are words of guilt, shame even, impatience, perhaps even a difficulty to maintain trust in the promises of God. It appears as though the writer of Psalm 25 feels that they are under attack, besieged by enemies seen and unseen.
Perhaps this is why Psalm 25 was chosen for the first Sunday in the season of Lent. Lent is the time of year when we draw a bit closer to the heart of God. We prepare ourselves to receive the good news of Easter in the midst of a world in dire need of such good news.
The idea that we are living in the already and not yet perhaps is no more profound than it is during the season of Lent. We live in the already, Christ has already risen from the dead, Christ has already upended the powers of sin and death, Christ has already called us to follow and claimed us in baptism as a part of the family of God. Christ has already drawn near to us. But we also live in the not yet, not yet has every tear been wiped away, not yet have the hungry been fed, not yet have all wars ceased, not yet do we have true and lasting peace on earth. Not yet have we drawn near to God. Lent is the season where we live in the already and the not yet at the same time. And that is a hard place to be. But we are not without help.
The opening line of Psalm 25 is a bold proclamation of what it means to live in the already and the not yet. “To you, O Lord, I lift up my soul.” On one hand, the writer is saying, “to you, O God, I lift up my very soul, all that I am, and I trust that in you is the life you promised.” On the other hand, the writer is saying, “Okay God, I have lifted up my very soul to you, all that I am, don’t let it be for nothing!” It is a plea for balance, a petition for the world to make sense, for God to step in. The Psalmist continues, “O my God, in you I trust; do not let me be put to shame; do not let my enemies exult over me. Do not let those who wait for you be put to shame; let them be ashamed who are wantonly treacherous.”
It is interesting that the Psalmist never expresses hatred toward his enemies. The writer never prays for their destruction or doom, only that they be ashamed, or in other words, proven wrong. The words of the Psalm have a faint echo to the words that Jesus later says about removing the log from your own eye before addressing the speck in your neighbors. The Psalmist does not seek the destruction of his enemies because he or she knows that his or her own hands are also dirty, that his or her sins are also known to God.
It is in that sensitivity that the Psalmist then continues by seeking the wisdom of God. “Make me to know your ways, O Lord; teach me your paths. Lead me in your truth, and teach me, for you are the God of my salvation; for you I wait all day long.” The Psalmist continues, “Good and upright is the Lord; therefore God instructs sinners in the way.” Therefore God instructs sinners in the way. In this season of Lent, in this time of already and not yet, we come asking God that despite all the ways we fall short, that we may still be called to walk the paths of peace and love.
During Lent we often think about giving something up as a way to walk this path of God. One year when I was growing up, my Sunday school teacher asked the class what each of us was giving up for Lent. I told her that I was giving up licorice. I thought I was so smart because little did she know – I hated licorice. Ah the sound legal mind of an 8 year old. But the season of Lent isn’t about deprivation. In fact, it’s really quite the opposite. The season of Lent is a call to live a fuller, richer, more meaningful life by drawing near to the heart of God.
Christians do this in a number of ways. Yes, some will choose to fast, knowing that when those hunger pains start to surface that God will provide for them and that being hungry for a few hours will not kill them.
Others will chose to draw near to God in prayer or reading and meditating on the Scriptures. This year we have a special Lenten devotional for you called “Draw Near” which focuses on the Psalms. We should be getting more copies in next week for you to take home. There are also a number of books and prayer resources on the bookshelf just outside the sanctuary for you to checkout and read.
Some will chose to draw near to God through acts of love and mercy, through the giving of alms and gifts. You might try a new ministry or mission of the church during Lent, or support a local outreach or charity. However you chose to practice Lent this year, know that in the living out of your faith, you are drawing near to God. You are lifting up your soul up to the Lord.
It can be tempting to look around at the troubling headlines of the world news and the disheartening headlines of our own community and think, where is God in the midst of this? How can we work ourselves out of this mess we’ve made? Psalm 25 addresses these questions as well. You see, the Psalmist seeks to learn of God’s ways and wisdom not in a time of comfort, but in the midst of difficulties. We see that living in this already and not yet time creates the perfect crucible in which we can learn to trust and hope in God.
St. Jerome, the 4th century priest who translated the Bible into Latin, once write “When the stomach is full, it is easy to talk of fasting.” When we tune out, hole up, and sink deep into the comfort and security of our carefully curated lives, it is easy to talk about trusting God. But to lift your soul up to God in the midst of being aware of or actually living into the pain and suffering of this world is truly a counter intuitive move and bold expression of trust. Lifting our soul to God, drawing near to God through prayer, fasting, and works of love, not only define this season of Lent, but hopefully, will define us as a people of faith.
Frederick Buechner writes, “If you want to know who you are, watch your feet. Because where your feet take you, that is who you are.” Lent is a time in which we acknowledge that God has drawn near to us, but that we are also called to draw near to God. Our identity as followers of Christ will not be defined by what we claim to believe, but by the road we take. And at times we would rather bypass the disciplines, bypass the hunger, bypass the waiting, the longing, and even the pain of the cross in our desire to get to the empty tomb of Easter morning. But the wisdom that Lent proclaims is that the empty tomb will not make much sense unless we are able to stay the course to and through Golgotha, the place of the cross.
The ending of Psalm 25 brings us full circle as an invitation to observe this season of Lent. “God leads the humble in what is right, and teaches the humble God’s way. All the paths of the Lord are steadfast love and faithfulness, for those who keep God’s covenant and God’s decrees.” The road may not be an easy one, and our enemies will still be with us, but the paths of God are good and steadfast. In the midst of nations and communities struggling with violence, where religion either takes a beating or gives a beating, Lent offers us the chance to rewrite those headlines, to change those stories, to show the world and ourselves that the goodness and righteousness of God can indeed be found in our religious practices.
Watch your feet along the path of God. Watch your feet as they trod on the uncharted soils of prayer and scripture. Watch your feet as they walk alongside those without shoes. Watch your feet as they walk alongside those who cannot walk. Watch your feet as they walk alongside those who stumble from hunger or thirst. Watch your feet as they walk in solidarity and love alongside the feet of those who are different from yours. And watch your feet as you stop to help these your fellow travelers on the way. Here at the beginning of this strange season, this time of already and not yet, we answer God’s call not with words, but with our steps. So let us watch our feet and keep the fast. Amen.