Sunday, February 24, 2013

Sermon, Lent 2C, Psalm 27

Last Sunday I preached on temptation.  We live in a world full of temptation.  We are faced with temptation in everything from advertisers trying to sell us things we don’t need and can’t afford to the temptation of our position and status telling us to ignore cries for equality.  Temptation is all around us.

On Ash Wednesday I preached on Lenten disciplines.  The problem, I said, was that our Lenten disciplines tend to get pushed aside by the hustle and bustle of the world.  It’s hard to change our habits when our habits are so often dictated by outside forces.  I suggested that a solution would be to create your own personal wilderness – a space free of outside pressures where you can spend time alone with God.

We are called to the observance of a holy Lent through prayer, fasting and self-denial; by self-examination and repentance; and by reading and meditating on God’s holy Word.  And while we are attempting to do that, those pressures, conflicts and temptations from the outside world do their best to keep us from experiencing that holy Lent which we are called to observe.

Lent reminds us more than any other time of both our mortality and God’s immortality.  God created us from the dust of the earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust.  We make confession more of an issue, expanding the general confession on Ash Wednesday to include specific sins done, done on our behalf, and left undone.  On the First Sunday in Lent, I read the Exhortation, for the next several Sundays we will read through the Decalogue, and on the Fifth Sunday in Lent we will read through the Great Litany.  Lent reminds us of just how far we are from God.

Lent brings us face to face with our mortality, with our sinful nature, and with our distance from God.  Our Lenten disciplines are designed to help us draw closer to God.  Fasting reminds us that we do not live by bread alone.  Self-reflection allows us to focus on our sins and where we can improve.  Meditating on God’s Word gives us the opportunity to listen.  In short, whatever our Lenten discipline, the ultimate goal is to draw closer to God.

An unfortunate aspect of Lent, though, is that we can focus too much on ourselves. WE are sinful.  WE need to make right with God.  WE need to repent.  WE need to restore our relationship with God.  And while all of that is technically true, if we spend too much time focusing on ourselves, we might miss God’s place in our Lenten journey.

In our Lenten scripture readings, we hear over and over again how God not only calls us to repent and draw near, but how God also reaches out to us to close the gap.  Today in Genesis we hear about God’s covenant with Abram.  This is a binding agreement originated by God on himself.  In Philippians, Paul tells us that Christ will transform us.  And in the gospel, Jesus says he has the love of a mother, wanting to draw all her children within her protective embrace.  In Lent, we are made aware that God reaches out to us just as much as we reach out to God.  I think Lent, as a SEASON, works to show us that our relationship with God is really a two-way street.

In the best of our Lenten disciplines, we can see God coming near to us as we strive to come closer to God.  In our self-examination and scripture meditations, we can look for ways to live into the dual purpose of us and God growing closer.  In other words, where can we best experience the gap between us and God closing?  Where can we look for obvious and visible signs of God calling us, and for our response?  And where can we find this in a way that helps us in our Lenten meditations?

One answer to those questions is in Psalm 27.  Psalm 27 has been one of my favorite psalms for years.  In fact, I used to have a prayer book in which I highlighted this particular psalm and would come back to it again and again.

“The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom then shall I fear?”

This first verse reminds us of what Paul said:  I am convinced that neither death nor life, nor things present nor things yet to come, nor height nor depth, nor anything in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God.  In short, God is with us.

“One thing I have asked of the Lord; that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life.”

During our Lenten wilderness experience, our ultimate goal is to come closer to God.  We are continually seeking out God, but sometimes we forget that.  Sometimes we get caught up in the business of the world and forget we should be about the business of searching for God.  Psalm 27 reminds us of our priorities.

But Psalm 27 also reminds us that we aren’t the only ones seeking.  “You speak in my heart and say, ‘Seek my face’.”

These are the words of a God who wants to be found.  These are the words of a God who wants to be in a relationship of choice, not force.  These are the words of a God who will walk with us through trials and tribulations.  Even though mother and father forsake us, God will be with us.

“Tarry and wait.”

The world can be a hectic place.  In that hectic-ness we can lose sight of God; we can be washed away by what the world tells us is important.

But here we are in Lent, a time to spend in the wilderness with self-examination and meditation.  Slow down.  Carve out time for God.  Tarry and wait.  And because Lenten disciplines are often difficult (let’s face it – it’s not much of a discipline to sit on the couch and eat ice cream), we must remember that God is with us.  In the wilderness we face many temptations, but be strong and God will comfort our hearts.

As you move forward with your Lenten discipline, or as you begin a Lenten discipline, may I suggest you begin your time in your particular wilderness by reciting Psalm 27.  You will face temptation every day, that’s a fact of life.  And when faced with temptation, do not succumb; instead sing Psalm 27 and know that God is with you, God wants you, and God loves you.

May Psalm 27 give you the strength to face down temptation and the courage to maintain your journey.


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