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The Rev. Johann Vanderbijl: “Proper Perspectives” (Psalm 25)

September 28, 2010

Here is a new sermon, titled “Proper Perspectives” by the Rev. Johann Vanderbijl of the Anglican Church of St. George the Martyr in South Carolina; it is based primarily on Psalm 25.

Psalm 25    Jeremiah 13:15-21    Ephesians 4:1-6    St. Luke 14:1-11

Proper Perspectives

In our Epistle reading for today, the Apostle Paul beseeches us “to walk worthy of the calling with which (we) were called, with all lowliness and gentleness, with longsuffering, bearing with one another in love, endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”  The underlying theme here is surely that of humility…of being very much in touch with the reality of your own frailty and finiteness.  And in our Gospel lesson for today, Jesus also seems to indicate that the proper attitude for those who would follow Him would be one of lowliness and genuine and natural self-abasement.  We encounter this theme throughout the Scriptures, being reminded that the last will be first, that we ought to take the lowest place, that we should be prepared rather to suffer wrong than always strive to be right, and so on and so forth.  But have you ever tried to live like this?  Or, more pointedly, have you ever really succeeded in living like this?  Aren’t we all more inclined to strive for self-actualization, self-satisfaction, self-sufficiency, and self-gratification?  And yet the Bible teaches us that if we lead such a life we are not pleasing to a God Who gave us the supreme example of servanthood through the life of His Son, our Lord Jesus Christ.  So, how do we get ourselves to go against the grain, as it were, without forcing it, faking it or failing in it?

I think the only way is to gain a proper perspective…and the only way you can gain such a proper perspective is by perpetually and prayerfully meditating on life in the light of what God’s Word teaches us.  This, I believe, is what our Psalmist was attempting to do.

The Psalm itself is an interesting work of literature because of its alphabetic acrostic structure…in other words, each verse begins with a successive letter of the Hebrew Alphabet.  But there seems to be another inner structure used here..a chiastic structure which is quite common in Hebrew poetry as we have seen before when looking at other Psalms.  This may account for the constant duplication of certain words and phrases in the Psalm and for the change from the use of the first person in the opening verses to the third person in the middle section and the subsequent return to the first person in the final section.  If this is the case with this Psalm, then verse 11 is the central verse…the verse the Psalmist wishes to draw to our attention.  “For Your name’s sake, O Lord, pardon my iniquity, for it is great.”  As such, this verse sets the theological focus of the Psalm which is the Covenantal Character of our God summarized in the idea of “His Name”.  It is for His own name’s sake – in other words, because He is Who He is – and because He has made promises to us that our Lord pardons us and helps us to become what we ought to be if we are to follow Him.

The Psalm itself is a prayer for deliverance from enemies, for relief from distress, for forgiveness and for direction.  But if verse 11 is indeed the central thought governing the interpretation of the Psalm then each one of these requests must be viewed in the light of God’s gracious forgiveness of that which separates us from Him.  In other words, we cannot have any one of these requests if our iniquity has not already been pardoned.  This in itself is a leveling idea because if  we all share the same common need for forgiveness then we are all spiritually on an equal footing…not one of us can ever look down on another as we are all beggars eating from the same gracious Lord’s Table because, as St. Paul reminds us, we are all part of one Body – His Body and His Spirit…we were all called in one hope of our calling…we all have only one Lord and one faith and have all entered into this one faith through one and the same baptism…we all have one and the same God and Father, Who alone is above all, through all and in us all.  As such, Psalm 25 offers us a model of a living prayer in which the common cultural pursuit after self-importance is challenged.

In many ways, the whole Psalm is an offering of the prayers’ life to God.  It is a concerted spiritual effort to redirect our focus from self to God.  As Dr. McCann says in his commentary on this Psalm, “Instead of depending on self and personal resources, the psalmist depends on God in trust, finding security or refuge in God.  Instead of seeking instant gratification, the psalmist is content to wait for God in the confidence that being related to God is the essence of fullness of life.  For the psalmist, prayer is not the way to pursue what one wants.  Rather, it is a means to seek God’s ways:  “Thy will be done.”

You see, ultimately, ‘what I want’ cannot guarantee deliverance in any form…whether it be deliverance from enemies, ignorance, sin, desolation, affliction, distress or even the prevailing philosophy of our day.  This is because ‘what I want’ is based upon my own limited understanding of things as they appear to be to me…I am not able to see one second into my own future, let alone the future of others.  This idea of praying for what God wants rather than what I want is especially pertinent today as we face many controversial issues that call for wise discernment rather than a pooling of ignorant assumptions based on little more than emotional thought processes.  But it is applicable for every situation we may face as Christians because in the end it is not about us…it is not about you or me…it is all about God and the honor due His name.  Therefore we live, not to exalt ourselves by insisting that our own opinions carry the day, but rather to exalt Him through our humility by firmly holding to the conviction that God has clearly shown us in His Word the way He knows to be best.

For this reason, the Psalm begins where we all ought to begin.  Lifting up ourselves to God and reasserting our confidence in His dealings with us…trusting that whatever He does will be for our benefit because He is good and upright, merciful, loving, kind and forgiving.  The cry for deliverance from enemies is not only a plea for protection from violence or oppression.  You have to remember that the enemies of a Christian are more often than not also the enemies of God and His righteous reign over creation as they hold to false and consequently eternally destructive ideologies.  Therefore their triumph over the Christian will not only discredit the believer, but also his faith that God helps those who submit themselves to His rule…and ultimately it is the Name of God that is sullied.

And because the believer’s right to cry out to God for help is based upon his or her submission to God, the prayer immediately moves into a plea for guidance in the right way and for forgiveness for any previous strayings.  But I want you to notice, as this was intention of the Psalmist in structuring the Psalm the way he did, that this plea is firmly founded upon the nature of God…it is because God is good and upright that He teaches sinners in the way.

However, at this point we come full circle as in order for us to be led anywhere, we have to be humbly willing to be led and to be taught and to learn even when all that goes against what we want.  Without that governing attitude, you are simply fooling yourself and wasting your time.  Simply saying ‘I prayed about it’ doesn’t make it right, and if you are seeking to get a rubber stamp from God so that you can go ahead and do what you want to do, dream on.  That’s not the way it works.  We first offer ourselves to Him and commit ourselves to trusting Him regardless of the outcome, and then we enter into prayer, all the while reminding ourselves that His will is the best for us and for all others involved.

And then we wait…we wait for Him to do what is best at the best time…looking to Him alone for whatever it is we are seeking…trusting that He is good and that He is kind…learning more about Him throughout the time of waiting and constantly asking for guidance as we inch our way forward along the right way for our lives.

So, dearest beloved brethren, as you prepare to come to partake of that which symbolizes God’s gracious favor and forgiveness toward you, prayerfully adopt the humble posture of our Psalmist and lift up your soul to Him in faith and trust that He alone is good and upright.  And as you partake, reflect on your life in the light of what you and everyone else at this rail receive freely from His hand…are you totally and completely submitted to Him and His will?  And then, as you leave, leave determined to daily wait on Him so that He might show you His ways, teach you His paths and lead you in His truth.

©  Johann W. Vanderbijl III      2010

This is a much needed reminder for us to seek to view things as God would have us view them, and to seek His will in dealing with them.  Thanks so much to Fr. Johann for sharing this with us.

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