Psalm 25

Monday, January 16, 2012 — Week of 2 Epiphany, Year Two

Richard Meux Benson, Religious, 1915

Charles Gore, Bishop of Worcester, of Birmingham, and of Oxford, 1932

Today’s Readings for the Daily Office (Book of Common Prayer, p 943)

Psalms 16, 17 (morning) 22 (evening)

Genesis 6:1-8

Hebrews 3:12-19

John 2:1-12

Psalm 25 is such a fine psalm. It is one of my favorites.

It is written by one who is beset by enemies and troubles. Unlike the psalmist we do not dread invasion, occupation and exile from the army of a mightier empire. We are the empire. We live in a relatively secure nation and time.

But there are those who regard our nation as enemies. Though they are small and so weak that their only weapon is fear, they can make us reactive, and some of us, including our leaders at times, have succumbed to their campaign of fear. “Fear not,” the scriptures remind us.

When I read in the Psalms of the threat from enemies, that threat is usually much closer to home than the threat of invading foreigners. It is the threat we bring upon ourselves when we live as enemies of our highest aspirations. When we let fear, greed, and power motivate us, we become our own enemy. Sometimes the enemy comes from among our friends and neighbors. There are political movements who define themselves by fear, greed, and power. Sometimes the enemy is our own internalized fears, our greed and exaggerated needs. We have to triumph over enemies that are not only other people, but also the part of ourselves that works against our highest values.

“Show me your ways, O God, and teach me your paths. Lead me in your truth and teach me, for you are the God of my salvation; in you have I trusted all the day long.” We pray with the Psalmist, asking God to renew our commitment to God’s way. And what is God’s way? The next verse names it beautifully. “Remember, O God, your compassion and love, for they are from everlasting.”

Compassion and love. These are our highest aspirations and values. Compassion and love — the antidote to fear, greed and power. “All your paths are love and faithfulness,” the Psalmist remembers. “You guide the humble in doing right and teach your way to the lowly.” Love and compassion, exercised humbly, with special attention toward the lowly — the path God invites us to walk.

The Psalmist asks for forgiveness for the times he has not followed in this way, the times when we succumb to our fears, our greed, our pride. “Remember not the sins of my youth and my transgressions; remember me according to your love and for the sake of your goodness, O God. …For your Name’s sake, O God, forgive my sin, for it is great.” With reverence for God restored, we reassert our trust that God will teach and lead us.

The Psalmist looks at his troubles. He has sorrows and miseries. He has enemies. He asks for help. “The sorrows of my heart have increased; bring me out of my troubles. Look upon my adversity and misery, and forgive me all my sin. Look upon my enemies, for they are many, and they bear a violent hatred against me. Protect my life and deliver me; let me not be put to shame, for I have trusted in you.” He closes with a recommitment to integrity and uprightness, and he grounds his hope in God.

Then he prays for the nation. May God deliver us from our troubles.

When I think of our nation, indeed we are beset by enemies — by fear, greed and power. We are not a nation that is living by the divine vision of compassion and love, exercised humbly, with special attention toward the lowly. Deliver our people, O God, out of all our troubles also.

Psalm 25 is a good psalm for us and for our day.

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