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LENT 1, 03/01/2009

Sermon on Psalm 25:1-10, by Jennifer Gold


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.  NRSV



Psalms Reflect the Human Experience

There is something that I just so dearly love about the Psalms (and that's what drew me to today's reading) is that they are so real - so honest - in reflecting our relationship with God.

I mean, if you were to just sit and read through the psalms, they would definitely take you on an emotional roller coaster.

The Psalms are really the only place in the Bible that covers the whole gamut of our human experience.

From joy and exuberance and delight to questioning, curiosity and impatience but also agony, loneliness, confession, and deep despair.

This emotional roller coaster through ups and downs and twists and turns reflects not only the broad range of our human condition, but it's an honest look at what all Christians of all times have gone through in our relationship with God as we seek to follow God's ways in this world.

Following God's Paths from A to Z

Today's Psalm, that's what it's about, it's really about following God's ways, or I'd like to title it: Following God's paths from A to Z.

What do I mean by that?

Well, as you may or may not know, the psalms not only reflect a broad range of our human emotions, but the Psalms also represent a different form of literature, mostly poetry and hymns.

And today's psalm, I thought, was really quite unique!

What's unique about it is that it is a prayer that the psalmist writes in the form of an acrostic poem.

It's something you don't notice (in fact, we lose it) in our English translation of Psalm 25, but each verse of the Psalm begins with one of the 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet.

Isn't that interesting?!

And the image that is pictured throughout this psalm - this acrostic prayer -  is the image of the path.

The path or the way is a frequent metaphor in the stories of God's people throughout the Bible which gives us a sense that life with God, as the Bible describes it, is not one of standing still - it is living along paths that follow God's way.

God teaches us in this psalm and throughout other stories of God's people in the Bible - God teaches us how to live, following God's paths that lead us from old ways of doing things to new ways of being.

Paths Paved with Steadfast Love

And the foundation of all the paths that God lays out for us in life is found in verse 10 of the psalm.

It says, "All the paths of the Lord are steadfast love and faithfulness, for those who keep his covenant and his decrees."

This verse describes God's paths as being paved with "steadfast love."

The Hebrew word for that is hesed and it's a word that describes a kinship relationship - it describes a love relationship that we have with someone who is family or kin to us.

So God's ways are the ways of one who is like family to us - we are part of God's family, loved by God.

And because God loves us so much, God wants what is best for us, so God instructs us in the ways that we should go - what paths we should follow in life.

Lost On/From the Path

My guess is that most of us probably know what it feels like when we don't follow the paths that God lays out for us.

Have you ever gotten lost?

Remember what that feels like?

There have been only two times in my life where I've gotten lost and they have both been in the mountains.

The first was in the mountains of New Mexico when I was in Jr. High and somehow I managed to get left behind by the group and I was all alone and it was very scary.

But I stayed on the path that I thought would lead toward our camp, and the entire way to calm my fear I just kept repeating - really as my mantra - the only scripture verse I had memorized at the time - and the one that still serves as my mantra in life today:

From Joshua 1:9 "Remember that I have commanded you to be determined and confident.  Do not be afraid or discouraged for I, the Lord your God, am with you wherever you go."

I just repeated that over and over again until the path that I was on did indeed lead to the camp grounds that my family and I were staying.

Once again in college, I and some others got lost in the mountains of Colorado when the rest of our group who were experienced hikers decided to leave us, get off the path, and head toward the bus.

Being the inexperienced hikers that we were we chose to stay on the path that led down the mountain.

But recognizing that we were running late to the bus and night was quickly falling around us, we too decided to get off the path to take a more direct route down the mountain.

And in case you've never experienced it, being on a mountain and landing in a valley surrounded by trees can be VERY disorienting especially when your own mental personal navigation system doesn't work so well (which is my case).

And we were LOST - really lost - and when we decided finally to just find a path - any path - we ended up on the black diamond path which we were told beforehand not to go on because of the danger and the snow.

It was the path that could lead to destruction if we followed it.

So we ended up with no path to lead us and wandering aimlessly in the valley blinded to the road that would lead to the bus because of all the trees.

And then out of nowhere this woman appeared who asked us if we needed help and then she pointed us to the path through the trees that would lead to the road where our bus was waiting for us.

To this day, I still think that woman was an angel because when I asked her where she lived because we were absolutely in the middle of nowhere, she said she lived "just beyond the horizon."

I don't know . . .!

But I do know that from these two experiences of being lost and afraid - very afraid - that whether I'm on the path that leads to my destination, or whether I'm on the path that leads to destruction, or whether I have no clue what path I'm supposed to take because I've wandered away completely - God is still there teaching me, leading, guiding, instructing in the way I should go.

When have you experienced God teaching you?  Instructing you in the way you should go? Leading you in the right direction or a different one?  Revealing a new path for you?

Psalmist's Path Prayer Echoes Our Own

The psalmist prayer echoes our prayer: "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 . . ."

Verse 6, "Be mindful of your mercy, O Lord, and of your steadfast love . . ."

Verse 7, "Do not remember the sins of my youth or my transgressions . . ."

Just as an FYI, transgression means "a violation of a law, a command, or duty."

These words from vss. 6-7 take on new meaning for us when we recall that this psalm was written by David.

Remember him?

He's the shepherd boy who kills Goliath, was anointed by Saul, becomes king, has an affair with one of his captain's wives then has the captain killed to cover up his sin.

He struggled in his relationship with his wives, his children and with God.

Oh and don't forget, David is the great, great, great, grandfather of Jesus who came to save the world . . .

And David, credited to be the author of Psalm 25, was a very real human being, living a less than perfect life of faith and obedience to God.

And what about us? 

Are we not also at times struggling to live a life of faith in God? 

Do we not also at times stray from the paths that God would like to see us travel? 

Know this: God was able to bring the Savior, Jesus, into our world, into our lives through a less than perfect sinful person like David. 

Can not God also bring Christ into our world, into our places of work and school, into our clubs and friendship circles through less than perfect sinful followers like us?

Look at where verse 7 leaves off: ". . . 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." 

Creating Your Own Acrostic Prayer from A to Z

Following God's paths from A to Z - inspired by David's acrostic prayer,

I thought what a way to begin our Lenten discipline by writing our own acrostic prayer to God using the letters of the English alphabet.

I have prepared my own to share with you today.

I encourage you to take some time this week to do the same using your own experience of following the paths that God has paved for you.

As you write it, be real, be honest with God.

And once you've written your own acrostic poem, I encourage you to reflect on it and note the emotion that you felt during the ups and downs, the twists and the turns as you seek to follow the paths God has laid out for you always remembering that each path, whether you choose to take it or not, is paved with the promise of God's steadfast love and faithfulness toward you.

So here we go with my own version of Psalm 25 (see if you can follow along):

Following God's Paths from A to Z

Amazing God, I thank you for your amazing grace and love.

Blessings from You are poured out in abundance too plentiful for me to fathom.

Considering the hurt that I have endured, You have always been there.

Defend me from all evil, temptations, and harm.

Everywhere I look, I am reminded of your presence even in the face of uncertainty and doubt.

Forgive me my sins - known and unknown.

Give me courage to be the person you have called me to be.

Have mercy on me when I am not.

Instruct me in the ways of Your salvation so that I may share that with others.

Justified by grace, help me to live in the security and freedom of Jesus' cross.

King of kings and Lord of Lords, I exalt you for who you are!

Lead me, O Lord, lead me in Your truth and teach me, for You are the God of my salvation and the salvation of the world.

Make me to know Your ways, O God, because sometimes Your ways to me are unclear or uncertain.

Never will I walk away from You.

O Lord, I thank you that you never walk away from me.

Prepare me always to be an open vessel for you - fill me up with your love and what you want me to learn so that what you pour into me overflows into the lives of the people that I encounter.

Quotable are Your words, O God; use my mouth to proclaim Your word to all people.

Renew our world; redeem it and us; remind us of your promises.

Salvation belongs to you for the sake of the world; use me as one small part of Your saving work.

Transform me each and everyday to live according to Your ways.

Use me to fulfill your purposes and to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Very truly I say to You, O Lord, I love you and without You in my life I am lost, I am broken, I am nothing; life is meaningless.

What more is there to say, O Lord?

Examine my heart and know the things that I cannot express.

You, O God, are my Rock, the One in whom I put my trust.

Zeal for all people of the world to know Your message of radical grace through the cross of Jesus Christ is what keeps me going; help me always to follow the paths you pave for me.


Rev. Jennifer Gold
Pastor, Zion Lutheran Church of Helotes
San Antonio, Texas

E-Mail: jgold@zionhelotes.org