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Bethany Evangelical
Lutheran Church

Ishpeming, Michigan † Est. 1870

 
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Lent 3/7

          So far during Lent I’ve been talking about the honesty of the season, how part of what we are invited to do during this season is to let down our guard, as it were, and be honest about who we are.  Some of it might be “open to the public” honesty, things we’re willing to let others know about, some of it might be private, just between each of us and God.  Either way though, no pretending, even about stuff we may not be very proud of, not so we can feel lousy, but because, without this kind of honesty, without acknowledging who we are and what’s wrong, change isn’t likely to happen and change is also a part of the repentance of Lent.

          In the Psalms, we’re invited into what might be private conversations between the psalmist and God, but once spoken their words can be our words too, private or public.   What we get in today’s psalm though, is a bit of dis-honesty.  Actually it’s not the psalm that’s dishonest, in fact it’s brutally honest as you’ll see, it’s the lectionary that’s dishonest omitting as it does the last three verses of Psalm 63.  In the Sunday lectionary, anytime they omit verses of a psalm it usually means one of two things…it either means the psalm is really long and they just wanted to shorten it…or it means the verses that are omitted aren’t very nice.  Psalm 63 isn’t really long; there’s no need to shorten it, so the omitted verses must not be very nice.

          It starts though as the prayer of someone who knows that there is nothing more important in life than to love God and to be in relationship with God, “O God you are my God; eagerly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you as in a dry and weary land where there is no water.  Your steadfast love is better than life itself.”  That’s good; this individual has it figured out.  He has it figured out so that he has set his priorities just as they should be with God in first place even if he sets those priorities in a way that convicts most of us.  Do we love God with this kind of enthusiasm?  It’s not that we don’t love God, but do we hunger and thirst for God as much as we hunger and thirst for the other loves of our life, whoever and whatever they may be? 

          And note that this seeking for God on the part of the psalmist is seeking only for the sake of being in God’s presence, to offer worship and praise.  There’s no petition, no asking for anything, no saying to God, if you do this, then I will offer praise; just love of God for the sake of loving God which you could say is the goal of all true faith.  On the surface of it, this psalm doesn’t seem to be particularly Lenten; it’s not about acknowledging guilt or about repentance or about trying to change.  It seems to be more about the way things are supposed to be, a psalmist who is properly oriented toward God, but the ideal of faith that it sets up can’t help but show us how we come up short.  Our efforts to seek God and be in relationship with God are probably pretty anemic compared to this psalmist’s thirst and desire for God.  So for us, in these verses that are assigned for today, there is much that is worthy of Lenten reflection because in the psalmist’s faith we can see our inadequacy.  I suppose we could just leave it at that; that would be enough for today, but what about the verses that are omitted?

          Here they are:  “May those who seek my life to destroy it go down to the depths of the earth; let them be thrown upon the edge of the sword, and let them be food for jackals.  But the king will rejoice in God; all those who swear by God’s name will be glad; for the mouth of those who speak lies shall be stopped.”  From the overwhelming expression of faith found in the first eight verses the psalmist moves to a ruthless call for vengeance on his enemies in the final three. 

Those who created the lectionary didn’t think you could handle that.  We’re Christians; Christians don’t wish evil on their enemies.  Jesus says we should love our enemies so we join in the kind of prayer Isaiah offered in today’s first lesson, “Let the wicked forsake their way and the unrighteous their thoughts; let them return to the Lord, that he may have mercy on them.”  Yeah, right. 

          I remember when Timothy McVeigh admitted that he blew up the building in Oklahoma City and showed no remorse concerning the death that he caused, I suggested that they should have him sit on a pile of dynamite with a real long, slow burning fuse so he’d have plenty of time to think about it before he was blown to smithereens.  I’ve heard conversations among good Christian men who drink coffee here every other Wednesday, conversations that start with, “I’ll tell you what they should do with those prisoners at Guantanamo,” and the suggested scenarios don’t reflect a whole lot of love your enemies, Christian compassion.

          The point is, we do have those thoughts, some of us anyway.  The targets of such thoughts may vary and maybe they’re not quite so harsh in every case, but I think most of us are capable of such thoughts.  Still, you can understand why the lectionary omits them.  They’re not necessarily what we want to think about on Sunday morning but if we take Lenten honesty seriously, maybe these are exactly the kinds of verses that we need to think about.

          What’s especially hard is to think about verses that contain such vengeful thoughts as prayer which is what they are in the psalms.  It’s one thing to think such thoughts, but to actually pray to God to bring down wrath on those we find objectionable seems like a misuse of prayer even if we’re pretty sure they’ve got it coming.  For many of us, moving such thoughts to prayer might be where we’d draw the line; good Christians might harbor such feelings but we don’t turn them into prayer.  On the other hand, such prayer could be a way to take those feelings off of your desk, leaving them on God’s desk; a healthy release in other words.  “I can’t handle this God, it’s too much for me so rather than letting it fester inside me, I’m giving it to you.”  This kind of prayer can be useful because it can help us to recognize that God is the judge, not us.

          Maybe it also helps to remind us that we’re all subject to judgment, that we’ve all got it coming.  Judgment is another theme that is worthy of Lenten consideration, one that runs through today’s lessons.  There will be a reckoning of some kind, the Bible is pretty clear about that, not always so clear about exactly what it will look like, but clear about a judgment.  It  almost seems though, that we are incapable of thinking about judgment without making ourselves the judge, without thinking that we know who’s got it coming and who doesn’t, when again, we’ve all got it coming.  It’s the temptation the psalmist of Psalm 63 gives in to; there’s this exuberant confession of faith and it’s faith as it should be, but then in the omitted verses, he can’t resist the temptation to act as judge, ultimately though, leaving that temptation and those feelings with God. 

I’m increasingly intrigued by the fact that so many people seem attracted to a wrathful, judgmental image of God, so certain that they’re on the right side of this God.  Maybe this need to draw lines between who’s in and who’s out is just part of our human makeup which can make it hard for us to see that Jesus was continually erasing the lines.  We can be certain that we’re on the right side of God, but only through God’s grace, not because we’ve set ourselves up as the judge. 

          Jesus’ parable of the fig tree from today’s gospel provides kind of a final comment on this placed as it is in response to a discussion among those wanting to define the criteria for judgment.  The owner of the fig tree wanted to cut it down because it hadn’t produced any fruit, it was just wasting the soil he said.  The gardener said, “Let’s give it another year.”  He wasn’t so quick to give up, not so quick to judge and he took some responsibility promising to take special care of this tree.  That’s grace; but it’s grace held in tension with judgment because there’s a limit.  If there’s no change in a year, the tree will be cut down.

         

There will be a judgment, but we’re not the judge.  We may have our ideas about it, but like the psalmist we leave them on God’s desk.  Like the psalmist, we seek God not in order to replace him, but so that we can be more like the gardener in the parable, acting not as judge, but as agents of God’s grace.

Rev. Warren Geier
 
 

Bethany Lutheran Church
715 Mather Avenue
Ishpeming, MI 49849

Phone: 906-486-4351
Fax: 906-486-9640
contact@bethanyishpeming.org

Rev. Warren Geier, Pastor
pastor@bethanyishpeming.org

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