First Sunday of Lent, February 22, 2015 - Psalm 25: 4-9

Psalm 25: 1-9 - The MMI Factor

I think I say this every year, and I trust that by now you will agree with me: Lent is an opportunity, not an obligation. It is an opportunity to come away on a 40-day retreat as we retrace the steps that Jesus took when he lived here on earth as the son of humanity. We already know the end of the story, and therefore, we should not be afraid. We began the journey knowing that we are already forgiven for our sins past, present and future. We affirmed that belief by making the sign of the cross in our hand or on our forehead. 

The journey that began on Ash Wednesday will end at the foot of the Cross on Good Friday. When we arrive there, that wooden Cross will have no body hanging on it, because Jesus is alive and is the Guide for the journey. The purpose of the Cross is to remind us that at the same time Jesus died, a divine act took place in the Temple. The curtain that separated the people from the priest was destroyed from top to bottom. This symbolized that Jesus’ act on the Cross replaced the yearly ritual of the High Priest presenting the blood of a lamb for the forgiveness of sins. This ritual was no longer necessary. Now the way was made wide open for each of us to enter into God’s presence without fear of death. 

This year we have narrowed our Lenten Guide to the Sunday Psalm Readings from the Lectionary. The Psalms are the writings in the Bible that give expression to the ordering of our inner life as we listen in on personal and private conversations between the writer and God. We observe as the writer verbalizes times of deep despair and at other times heights of great joy. The example I shared from Matthew was Jesus standing before Pilate being interrogated, yet he kept silent as he focused —inside of himself — on the words of Psalm 22. 

So we can say, the Psalms give us the language to have a conversation with God on an individual basis. In this conversation our souls come face to face with God. On the other hand, when we read the books of the Law, such as Exodus, Leviticus and so on, or the books written by the prophets, such as Jeremiah and Isaiah, it is God who is speaking collectively to the people in public.

The opening Psalm on Ash Wednesday for the beginning of Lent was Psalm 51:1-17. Here we were introduced to King David in conversation with God about his own sin. He openly admits his sin without passing the blame around. He pleads for God’s mercy and God’s loving kindness. He asked to be cleansed from his sin because it was destroying his personal relationship with God. He longed to be back in fellowship with God and desired the restoration of his salvation with joy. We can draw great encouragement from David as we see him nurture his inner life expressing himself to God directly.

Psalm 25
I have titled the Psalm for this first week of Lent as the MMI Factor. As I said earlier, the Psalms give us a voice to have a personal conversation with God, and in this Psalm I find the conversation is about Me, Myself and I, the MMI Factor.

Psalm 25 is one of the acrostic Psalms. That means that the first letters of consecutive verses make up a word, or the Hebrew alphabet, which consists of 22 letters. (Some other well-known acrostic Psalms are Psalm 37 and Psalm 119). People were able to use the acrostic method to help them memorize the verses.

Me and my memories
Vs 1-3 Opens with the psalmist coming into the presence of Yahweh and addressing Yahweh with no reservations. Notice the posture with which Yahweh is approached.  Both the hands and the soul are lifted up and this posture speaks of total surrender not out of fear or obligation, but as an opportunity for a weary soul to find a place of refuge. A request is made immediately to not be put to shame or let the enemies triumph. This individual has memories of waiting on Yahweh at other times in the past and remembered that running ahead of Yahweh only lead to being put to shame.

Myself and my mind
Vs 4-5 Here is a plea from the heart. The psalmist is in need of direction and will repeatedly ask Yahweh to take the lead, direct and guide the way because Yahweh’s paths all lead to truth. It is important to not run ahead. Waiting all day might seem like a long time, but there are things that can be done while you are waiting. It looks like the psalmist had enemies on the outside who were trying to inflict shame and harm and there is nothing to do but wait for God. But I suspect that the greater enemies lie within his own heart and in his own mind.

I - Interior living
Vs 6-7 Now the psalmist will turn the attention from what is happening on the outside to having a heart to heart and intimate conversation with Yahweh. He calls Yahweh to remembrance of his tender mercies and remembrance of Yahweh’s lovingkindness, for they are from old times.  Here the psalmist invites us to discover how to move from the exterior to the interior home and to appeal to Yahweh’s character whenever we are in trouble. 

Let’s find out the meaning of these words that describe the character of Yahweh.  C.H. Surgeon describes the words, “tender mercies” as the most exquisite form of music, especially to a broken heart. To one who is despondent and despairing, these words are life-giving. Mercy lies in the heart of God and with his mercy he forgives and redeems us willingly. Jesus is the visible expression of God’s mercy when he lived and died amongst us as a son of humanity.
The word “mercy” or “compassion” in Hebrew means “womb.” This is an intimate image of a woman pregnant with a baby and the baby’s total reliance on the mother for its very existence. Here the Psalmist is at home in the womb of God’s love, safe and hidden from the enemies. 

It really does not matter how close we are to the heart of Yahweh. Our thoughts can quickly distract us by reminding us of past failures and past sins. The psalmist here tells us to turn again to our interior voice and to ask Yahweh to remember us according to Yahweh’s loving-kindness. Biblical scholars have had difficulty translating the word “loving-kindness” because there really is no English equivalent. It means a covenant love relationship between two parties, God and His people. The undergirding structure is not just haphazard kindness but a relationship built on intentional love and loyalty.

The Factor is Yahweh
Vs 8-9 The psalmist declares that Yahweh is both good and upright and he is convinced that Yahweh Himself desires a close and intimate relationship with him. The mercy and loving-kindness is shared in a relationship of unequals. Yahweh is the deciding factor in that no matter how wayward we may be, Yahweh’s unfailing love and his mercy is greater than all our sin. Yahweh is ready and waiting to forgive us and to restore the relationship.

May your be encouraged during this First Week of Lent that Yahweh’s mercy and lovingkindness is available to you.

Lenten Prayer of St. Ephrem
O Lord and Master of my life
Remove from me the spirit of sadness
despair, thirst for power and vain talk.
Instead, grant me, Your servant,
the spirit of prudence, humility, patience and love.
Indeed, O Lord and King,
grant that I see my own sins and not judge my sister or brother,
for You are blessed unto ages of ages. Amen

Here are the four negative obstacles that can be removed with this Prayer:
Remove from me the spirit of sadness or laziness:
We are convinced that change is not possible.
Remove from me the spirit of despair or faintheartedness:
We see nothing that is good or positive.
Remove from me the spirit of thirst or lust for power:
We want to become lord of our own lives.
Remove from me the spirit of vain or idle talk:
Our words become the agent of sin.

Here are the four positive gifts this Prayer offers you:
Grant me the spirit of prudence or whole-mindedness:
Restore the true scale of values that lead us back to God.
Grant me the spirit of humility:
See God’s majesty and goodness and love in everything.
Grant me the spirit of patience:
Reflect infinite respect for all things.
Grant me the spirit of love:
The sum total of all our quests.

A Song for the journey this week:  Near The Heart of God
There is a place of quiet rest,
Near to the heart of God.
A place where sin cannot molest,
Near to the heart of God.

There is a place of comfort sweet
Near to the heart of God.
A place where we our Saviour meet,
Near to the heart of God.

There is a place of full release,
Near to the heart of God.
A place where all is joy and peace,
Near to the heart of God.

Refrain
O Jesus, blest Redeemer,
Sent from the heart of God,
Hold us who wait before Thee
Near to the heart.
(Words and music written by Cleland B. McAfee, 1903. He wrote these words after two of his nieces died from diphtheria. The Park College Choir sang the new hymn outside the quarantined house).