August 23rd 2020
Rev. Curt Luthye, guest preacher
Psalm 17:1-7, 15
When I was a kid and my mother would start our bedtime routine, she would tell me to “brush my teeth and get ready for bed.” I would regularly look at her in all sincerity and full of youthful honesty and say, “I already did.” And I don’t know if it was because she knew me or had tried the same thing when she was a kid, she would ask the obvious follow up question, “did you brush them tonight?” And I would say, “no.”
As I’m telling you this, I can imagine that you, especially all the mothers listening, are thinking in unison, “why would you say that then?” or maybe even, “gross. Go brush your teeth.” The reason why is simple.I can distinctly remember thinking, “of course I have brushed my teeth…this morning.”
Or sometimes, I can remember thinking, sure, “I’ve brushed my teeth … before.” Meaning, at some point in my life. Yikes. In my developing brain, I was being completely honest. AND (and I think this is super important to understand) I was being honest in a way that didn’t take me away from doing what I was doing in that moment. Playing a game or reading or whatever I was doing. I was practicing Advantageous Honesty vs. Vulnerable Honesty.
I can also remember so many times as I was learning to preach, learning to think about scriptures and learning to write sermons this one consistent thought: How can I possibly communicate all this in a 15 minute homily? The grandeur, the majesty, the infinitude of God’s orchestration. How can I possibly say it in a way that is more succinct than the divinely inspired authors of scripture have so thoroughly done already? How could I possibly improve on Jesus’ own teachings and parables?
Sidenote: This is another reason for us to be reading and thinking about scripture regularly, even daily, in addition to what we do on Sundays!
It was not really ever a “who am I to attempt it.” Although, that would have been (and still is) an appropriate question and I hope one that continues to govern me and keep me humble with an vulnerable honesty as I am honored to share my perspective on God from time to time. It was however, almost always, this thought: I’m too small.
My language is too limited. There are not enough words or poetry or art or enough time for us to dwell in the richness of it all. We’re going to need to come back weekly for some more. We’re going to need to think about these ideas throughout the week.
We’re going to need to try to explain them to our kids in those precious moments when we talk as they are laying in bed tired, but not yet wanting to sleep. We’re going to need new songs written and new art created. We’re going to need it all. We’re going to need all 7.5 billion of us finding ways to praise him and honor him and love him. And even in this, I’m afraid, we would still be lacking.
It’s with all this background (almost 25 years now) that I approached the scriptures laid out for us in the lectionary the week I wrote this sermon. Isaiah and Romans, as well as Matthew’s version of the feeding of the 5000 and the story of Jacob at Jabbok in Genesis, plus Psalm 17 which will be our focus today. How does one choose which amazing passage to focus on?!
I love all of them. Such powerful images and concepts in these scriptures.
- God allowing us to enter his royal presence to plead our case.
- God pouring out gifts and gracious blessings on us, food with no costs, drink with no price. A standing invitation to come and eat and drink. It is here. You are welcome. Let us feast. (Isaiah 55)
- Longing that all might know God in this deep and life-changing way. Anguishing like Paul that if only we could sacrifice ourselves so that our family might know the Father in this redeeming way. (Romans 9)
- Jacob wrestling with God, Jacob the trickster, the conniver, the one always looking for the angle to better himself, his position, his bank account. Jacob the master at advantageous honesty. (Genesis 32).
- Curing sick, having compassion, and always giving sustenance. (Matthew 14)
- God humoring us, as if we are pure enough of thought and deed and intent to stand so boldly before him. (Psalm 17)
- God calling us to the family table, as daughters and sons. The bounty of the Father is ours. (Isaiah 55)
- We, at that table, learning the family business. Mercy, gracious gifts, bountiful blessings, openness, welcoming, essentially how to be hospitable. (Matthew)
- Not to mention mirroring God as He is slow to anger, abounding in steadfast (read: predictable), sacrificial love, kind in our dealings, near to those who call. (Isaiah 55)
- God blessing us, even as we struggle against his very nearness. That same nearness which is our salvation and our breath and our life. (Jabbok)
- God is kind to us, satisfying the desire of every living thing.
- And finally, Jesus echoing the Isaiah passage in the feeding of the 5000. They came to feed on his wisdom and teaching and did not go away hungry in that or physically. And they didn’t have to pay.
Christ, again and again, blesses us with food with no costs, drink with no price. We are invited again and again, Come and eat and drink. It is here. You are welcome. Let us feast. There is enough in here to really sink our teeth for a year.
But I couldn’t escape the nudge to speak on honesty. And that directed my heart to Psalm 17. Let’s read it again.
Psalm 17:1-7, 15
17:1 Hear a just cause, O LORD; attend to my cry; give ear to my prayer from lips free of deceit.
17:2 From you let my vindication come; let your eyes see the right.
17:3 If you try my heart, if you visit me by night, if you test me, you will find no wickedness in me; my mouth does not transgress.
17:4 As for what others do, by the word of your lips I have avoided the ways of the violent.
17:5 My steps have held fast to your paths; my feet have not slipped.
17:6 I call upon you, for you will answer me, O God; incline your ear to me, hear my words.
17:7 Wondrously show your steadfast love, O savior of those who seek refuge from their adversaries at your right hand.
17:15 As for me, I shall behold your face in righteousness; when I awake I shall be satisfied, beholding your likeness.
On the face of it, this is another Psalm that should and does bring great comfort to many who are doing the right thing and find that others or even entire systems are not accepting of ‘righteous’ behavior or decisions. These persons and systems can often perceive doing the right thing, the godly thing, as weakness or folly or at a minimum impractical to get ahead. Certainly not advantageous! And in this, we Christians have this Psalm as an anchor holding us to the promise that regardless of what the present circumstances appear to be, regardless of the persecution or oppression that might actually be happening to us, or wrongs that seem to be winning, God knows the truth. And will make it right in the end.
He knows our hearts. He knows our intentions. He hears us and works to bring abundance from oppression. And as exampled in Christ himself, literal life from death, if we will obey Him through it all. But as we Christians who have been following for a while, who have been learning for a while, and have had a nice long time for God to rummage around the house of our heart to rearrange things and open dusty cabinet doors, cleaning things up, reordering and rearranging things, we may need to ask ourselves a follow up question when we read this passage.
Are we really that pure? Are we really innocent enough right now as we pray this Psalm? Are we authentically saying God would find no wickedness, no violence, no words we shouldn’t have said? Today? Right now? Are we really so in touch with our heart and mind, are we so consistent in our motivations as to even genuinely say this with any certainty?
When I was younger, I think I would have prayed this psalm as is. Today, I know that there is a hodge podge nest of motivations and influences, subtle and overt, known and unknown, uplifting and nefarious that I really need to parse out for me to be able to pray this prayer.
Marriage is certainly not necessary for everyone to discover or self-reflect to get to this understanding, but I will tell you that the spiritual discipline that has continued to illuminate just how hard I need to work (and maybe from how far away I am from being able to pray this prayer with clean conscience) is the discipline of being married. While being married to Beth who is amazing and patient, kind, long-suffering (Basically manifesting the fruits of the spirit in our relationship) I have nevertheless been consistently and repeatedly confronted with the question “how honest am I being right now?” Meaning how nuanced, how thoughtful, how vulnerable am I being in my thoughts and comments and responses?” “am I allowing the whole truth to be known?”
And as I continue to practice and get better at the honesty of being vulnerable, I can say that I am still working through my younger tendencies to say “yeah, I’ve already brushed my teeth, God.” Yesterday or sometime in my past. Yes, God, at some point I’m sure that I asked for something that I needed with a completely pure heart that adequately considered your divine perspective and therefore you should answer my request as it would definitely advance your Kingdom agenda of drawing all people back to you. Come on.
This isn’t good enough. God is talking about the present. What we do, decide, say, and pray in the now is what counts. We who continue to mature, I think, get to the place where we start to pray more like Paul, Romans 9:3
If there were any way I could be cursed by the Messiah so they could be blessed by him, I’d do it in a minute. They’re my family. I grew up with them. (The Message) For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my own people, (NRSV). God, I would do anything for my sister, my brother! Even sacrifice my own salvation so that they might know new life in you!
Or better, like Jesus, who looked over Jerusalem and longed to gather up all the lost, hurting people like a mother hen. The good news for us today is that GOD DOES KNOW our hearts in their current state, fully aware of the nest of motivations and influences and even still promises all of this:
Psalm 145:8-9, 14-21
145:8 The LORD is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.
145:9 The LORD is good to all, and his compassion is over all that he has made.
145:14 The LORD upholds all who are falling, and raises up all who are bowed down.
145:15 The eyes of all look to you, and you give them their food in due season.
145:16 You open your hand, satisfying the desire of every living thing.
145:17 The LORD is just in all his ways, and kind in all his doings.
145:18 The LORD is near to all who call on him, to all who call on him in truth
145:19 He fulfills the desire of all who fear him; he also hears their cry, and saves them.
145:20 The LORD watches over all who love him, but all the wicked he will destroy.
145:21 My mouth will speak the praise of the LORD, and all flesh will bless his holy name forever and ever.