It was not long ago that we were wishing each other a Merry Christmas and celebrating the birth of the Christ Child and now we have begun the season of Lent. We start this season with the reminder that we are mortals and that all of this is going to end. On Ash Wednesday we hear the words “remember thou are dust and to dust thou shall return.” This is not to put us under some cloud but to make us understand that the time we have here on this earth is finite.
Lent calls us to a time of deep spirituality, or a more profound sense of spirituality, as we prepare for that awesome day of the Resurrection. In some ways, Lent forces to focus on the events of Good Friday but I like to push through those events to the Resurrection keeping in mind that to get to Sunday we have to go through Friday. We need to acknowledge those events, but we do not have to dwell there.
Over the next few weeks, I will be preaching from the Psalms. The Psalms are an exciting part of the Scripture. Unlike most of the book of the Bible, the Psalms are not written to any one person and are intensely personal. Most of them are prayers, and the early church used them as such in the daily prayers. The Roman Catholic and Anglican traditions still use them for the clergy and others in daily prayer. Some of the Psalms are laments while others are joyful but, they are a stream of consciousness by the writer who is wrestling with something and often takes his anger to God.
Psalm 25 underlines that the season of Lent is a sustained process in relationship with God. It also speaks to the reality of the struggle against enemies and is bound up with hearing and appropriating the teaching of the Lord over time.
But what are these enemies that the Psalmist writes about?
There are two types of enemies being confronted here, the obvious are the external enemies those who are out to get us or have declared war against us, but the other is more subtle, the enemies from within.
This past week we have, once again, come face to face with evil in the murder of 17 innocent children and teachers just going about their day. Evil picked up a weapon that has no other purpose but to kill and did just that. Evil was trained by other who hate those who are different and instructed him well. It did not take long for excuses to begin and fingers to be pointed and cry that it is “too soon” to discuss gun violence or who we might prevent it but the problem is there is no time in between these acts of evil to have that discussion as they have become all too familiar.
The enemy that is within is the enemy that says my rights are more important than others, or the voice that refuses to compromise, on any side of an issue, and therefore paralyzes us to working something out. When we entrench ourselves in our corners, we are unable to hear what the other person is saying. When we are so rigid in our beliefs, we think we are the only ones that are right, and that is a lie of the greatest magnitude.
In the days of the early church, there was a controversy between Peter and Paul about how Jewish this new way would have to be, and the issue was around circumcision, did the gentiles have to be circumcised like the Jews? A council was called in Jerusalem, and both sides of the issue were heard, and a decision was made. The entirety of the body of theology that we have today was decided by compromise and the best information available at that moment. The ability to listen to others and change the way we believe about an issue or issues is rooted in the tradition of the church.
With all of that said the biggest internal enemy is anger and there is a lot of that.
It has been said that emotions are irrational, all emotions and that we should not make decisions when we are emotional. Emotions blind us to reality and even the truth. Anger can be useful as it moves us to exact change, but only after the emotion has worn off. I do not doubt that the evil that was unleashed in the hallways of that school in Florida was caused by anger. What caused that anger is a matter of debate, was it a mental illness, probably as a sane person does not do such a thing, or was the anger caused by an external force, the white supremacist group he belongs too, perhaps it is both.
The Palmist is pleading with God to protect him from his enemies, and that should be our prayer as well. He does not wish them to harm only that they are exposed for what they are. But he ends this particular passage with the prayer:
Make me 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. (v 4-5)
This should always be our prayer not only during this season of Lent but always.