Monday, 23 February 2015

Learning the Ways of God- Psalm 25

When God set in motion a plan to heal the division between Himself and humanity he began with one man. He made a covenant with Abraham, and God promised that his family would be a blessing to all the families of the world (Gen 12). Abraham’s family grew into a nation called Israel. And God says, through the Prophet Isaiah, that Israel will be a light to the nations (Is 49). God was going to use this family to reform humanity.

Unfortunately, Israel was unwilling to live up to their calling. They grumbled against God and desired slavery in Egypt. They entered into a cycle of calling out to God when they were in trouble and He would save them, but then they would reject God when things seemed okay. The cried out for a king, which was a rejection of God as their king. They worshiped strange gods. They became inward focused and forgot about their call to be a light to the nations, and a blessing to all the families of the world.  Israel failed, and humanity’s hope was lost with Israel, just as it was lost when the couple sunk their teeth into the forbidden fruit. 

Jesus was born to be a representative of all Israel and therefore the hope and light of all humanity.  When Jesus walked through the waters of baptism he was walking through the sea with the Hebrew people as they left Egypt hoping for the Promised Land where they would be made into the light to the nations. Jesus would succeed where Israel failed. Where Israel spent 40 years, Jesus would spend 40 days. Where Israel gave in to temptation to grumble against God, Jesus would succeed in fighting against temptation and the Enemy of humanity.     

In the wilderness Jesus learns to be who God has made him to be. As a human being his knowledge grew through time. It is in the wilderness that he learns to place himself under the Spirit’s guidance. It is a guidance he can only hear if he is humble. It is in the wilderness That Jesus develops the humble character that is necessary to be trusted with God’s power.     

As we imitate his 40 days in the wilderness through the season of Lent let’s look at Psalm 25 is a model for placing ourselves under God’s instruction. The psalmist calls to God 
“To you, O Lord, I lift up my soul.” 
That is the beginning. In the liturgy we respond to “lift up your heart" with "We lift them to the lord.” When we lift up our heart, or our soul, to God we are bringing the very central part of who we are to this task. We are recognizing that to come before the Creator of the universe should not be undertaken lightly. God is not a hobby to be added onto our lives. If God is not central in our life then we are fooling ourselves and should reconsider how we spend our Sunday mornings. We should not approach the creator of the universe half-heartedly.

The Psalmist is also very honest though. To the God of the universe he says, “I am lifting up the very central part of myself to you, God. I’m trusting you, so don’t let me down. Don’t let me be ashamed that we have put our trust in you and don’t let our enemies stand over us and point us out a fools for putting my trust in you”. There is a risk in placing ourselves into God’s care. We are suddenly trusting ourselves to someone who we have no control over. What if we are wrong? As we stand before God we might feel like there are those on the sidelines who are atheists or who maybe think we are foolish for being a part of this Jesus stuff. We stand before God, and we sense they are on the sidelines sneering, waiting for us to fail so they can say, “told you so”. The Psalmist is basically saying I am bringing the central part of who I am to you, God, don’t let me be sorry I’ve put so must trust in you. So we come to God not half-heartedly, but with our whole heart, our whole soul.  But the Psalmist also comes with honesty. The psalms are not about praying as the people we want to be, but as the people we are. So we come to God with our doubts, saying here I am, don’t make me sorry I’ve done this.  

The psalmist comes to God with his central plea 
“Make me to know your ways, O Lord;   teach me your paths. Lead me in your truth, and teach me, (v4-5)”. “Good and upright is the Lord; therefore he instructs sinners in the way. He leads the humble in what is right, and teaches the humble his way” (v9). “Who are they that fear the Lord?  He will teach them the way that they should choose” (v12).
We don’t learn from God mere facts.  James 2:19 says, “You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder”.  So learning from God isn’t just about holding beliefs in our head. It is that, but it is much more than that. We are called to be disciples. Disciple means "student", but maybe more accurately, "apprentice". This is not being a student in the sense that we learn some information to write on a test, which we can then forget. This discipleship is about learning the ways of God. It is about practically, and everyday, following God by allowing him to guide our decisions. We apply what he says to our life. To be a disciple of Jesus is to be his apprentice in how life is best lived.  

The psalmist says that the instruction of God will come to those that are humble and have fear of the Lord.  Fear of God doesn’t mean to be afraid of God in the way you might be afraid of a bully. To fear the Lord in the Bible is to be in awe of God. It is to recognize that you are before the creator of the entire universe. It is the awe an ant might have of us as we walk by. Not fear that we might squish it, but just an awe of the power and size. Likewise, we need to come to God with at least a sliver of understanding of the vastness of God as the creator of the universe, and the creator of us. 

We are also to come to God with humility. Have you ever tried to teach someone that thought they knew more than you in the matter? It is impossible to teach someone without them first humbling themselves. We too need to be humble before God is able to teach us.  To be humble is just to know who we are honestly. It is to know ourselves especially as God sees us. That means that we remember the words spoken on Ash Wednesday “you are dust, and to dust you shall return”. We are creatures formed from the ground. Adam is not just the name of the first human in the Bible, ‘Adam’ is also the general name for human beings. We are made of the ‘adamah’ the soil, the earth. We are dust. When we pass through the fires of cremation, we are quite literally, dust.

If you are full of pride and maybe think more highly of yourself than you ought, you should remind yourself that you are mud. 
If you despise yourself and think you are worthless then you should remind yourself that you carry within your soul the imprint, the image, of God. Both of these are humility. Humility is seeing yourself accurately in God’s eyes. Jesus in the wilderness could both recognize himself as the Son of God and be humble. Humble doesn’t mean thinking bad thoughts about yourself. It means thinking accurately about yourself.   
If we are going to come to God for instruction though, a requirement is humility. St. Augustine of Hippo has said,
God “will teach his ways not to those who want to run on ahead, as if they should rule themselves better than he can, but to those who do not strut about with their heads in the air or dig in their heels, when his easy yoke and light burden are set on them”.
So before we can be instructed we have to stand in awe of the One who created us, and also see ourselves honestly for who we are before the creator of the universe. Once we come to that place the Spirit can begin instructing us. The Egyptian orthodox monk ‘Matthew the Poor’ talks about this humility as we read the Bible. He says, 
“There are two ways of reading:   “The first is when a man reads and puts himself and his mind in control of the text, trying to subject its meaning to his own understanding and then comparing it with the understanding of others.       
“The second is when a man puts the text on a level above himself and tries to bring his mind into submission to its meaning, and even sets the text up as a judge over him, counting it as the highest criterion.     
“The first is suitable for any book in the world, whether it be a work of science or of literature. The second is indispensable in reading the Bible. The first way gives man mastery over the world, which is his natural role. The second gives God mastery as the all-wise and all powerful Creator.
“But if man confuses the roles of these two methods, he stands to lose from them both, for if he reads science and literature as he should read the Gospel, he grows small in stature, his academic ability diminishes, and his dignity among the rest of creation dwindles.
And if he reads the Bible as he should read science, he understands and feels God to be small; the divine being appears limited and his awesomeness fades. We acquire a false sense of our own superiority over divine things- the very same forbidden thing Adam committed in the beginning.”  (p 16) Matthew the Poor “the Communion of Love”.

As we follow Jesus in his 40 days in the wilderness to learn the ways of God. Let’s come before God with our whole soul- not half-hearted, but whole hearted. And there as we stand in awe of God, humbled by how small we are in the universe. Lets allow God to teach us. Not in a way that we master facts, but in a way that God’s way masters us. AMEN  

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