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04.06.14 Guidance for the Journey in Lent and Beyond, Psalm 143 Sermon Summary

by on April 7, 2014

Psalm 143 helps us balance our number one concerns as humans with God’s number one concern for us.

Summary Points

  •          How our drive to independence can stifle Christian faith
  •          Two liberating, if difficult, truths from Psalm 143
  •          Three ways we participate in our salvation
  •          Questions for discussion and reflection

Of all the mammals, human childhood dependence is longest. One of our primary responsibilities as parents is to wean children to independence. For society to function it depends on this. How many societal breakdowns occur because people still act like dependent children?

Well into adulthood, however, we continue to cultivate habits of independence which result in an aversion to any kind of dependence. This is why “interdependence”—the highest level of maturity according to Stephen R. Covey, is such an effort. It’s also why faith in God is such a challenge. It’s why Jesus says we must become like little children again if we want to experience the kingdom of heaven. And it’s why, if we live long enough, God in his grace does exactly this—returns us to a state of childhood dependence.

Lent is a time of reconnecting to our dependence, and Psalm 143 provides some guidance, both in these last few days of Lent but also into our post-Easter faith.

The first thing Psalm 143 does is reposition us as dependent beings. It asserts that our deliverance, hope, and salvation depend on God’s righteousness. Verse one says, “Hear my prayer, O LORD, give ear to my supplications in your faithfulness, answer me in your righteousness.” Compare that with Psalm 7:8 which says, “Judge me, O Lord, according to my righteousness and according to the integrity that is in me.” I think Psalm 7 reflects a more human perspective than divine. The ultimate truth, though harder for us to accept, is represented by Psalm 143.

Verse two continues, “Do not enter into judgment with your servant, for no one living is righteous before you.” This fundamental truth was so central to Paul’s Christianity that he quotes it in both Romans 3:20 and Galatians 2:16, “No one is righteous in God’s sight.” Our ultimate dependence on God is essential to our spiritual well-being. Because of the human drive to independence, it’s also easy for us to forget. I think this is the basis for the story of the Garden of Eden, of Jesus’ ministry, of the Reformations, and of our lives. All reorient us towards increasing our dependence upon God.

A second difficult but liberating truth from Psalm 143 is the acknowledgement that our lives are a constant struggle. It says, “The enemy has pursued me, crushing my life to the ground, making me sit in darkness like those long dead.” I’ve never literally been pursued by such a mortal enemy—most of us have not. This makes it harder to understand verses like this which appear throughout the psalms. I think that’s why the psalms are mostly ambiguous about the identity of the “enemies.” They invite us to join our voices to themselves by supplying our own metaphorical enemies, whatever powers are presently seeking to destroy our relationship with God.

The liberating truth in all this is that if our deliverance based on God’s righteousness is true, then necessarily true is our need for deliverance. Because God has revealed himself as a savior, we no longer have to deny that we need a savior. Psalm 143 helps us name not only our dependence, but also the constant struggle that characterizes our lives.

But just because we need a savior and God fits the bill, it doesn’t mean God has left nothing for us to do. Psalm 143:8-10 give us three ways we participate in our salvation. Verse eight says, “Let me hear of your steadfast love in the morning, for in you I put my trust. Teach me the way I should go, for to you I lift up my soul.” The first way we participate in our salvation is by trust or submission. “In the morning” indicates that this is primary.

And what is more, this verse suggests that teaching follows trust, human commitment evokes divine guidance. It isn’t a conditional formula, as if God is withholding his guidance until we trust. But it does point to the progressive nature of faith that the more we have, the more we’re shown. I am reminded of Indian Jones’s “leap of faith.”

Second, Psalm 143:9 says, “Save me, O LORD, from my enemies; I have fled to you for refuge.” Another way we participate in our salvation is by seeking God deliberately. Because God is a savior and our lives are a constant struggle, we ought to constantly be vigilant for God’s presence and saving activity. It’s an attitude we cultivate until it is a habit—to look to God to work even and especially through our hardships. It’s like when it begins hailing on the highway; you begin to look for an overpass to park under. We can exercise this same vigilance for God in our lives.

Finally, Psalm 143:10 says, “Teach me to do your will, for you are my God.” This simple prayer is the essence of spiritual discernment through contemplation. It recognizes God and submits to God’s presence and guidance. It summarizes both God’s nature as divine and our nature as dependent. Contemplating God’s presence is as easy as sitting still and quieting the mind, or meditating on God’s mighty acts in the past, as verse five says.

You can reflect upon your own life to see God’s mighty acts. You can read the legends of the saints. You can read the scriptural testimonies. Two of the best places to meditate on God’s past deliverance are at the baptismal font and the Lord’s Table. There is rehearsed for us our struggle in life, our liberation in death, and our deliverance in resurrection.

Questions for Discussion and Reflection:

  •          In what ways are you dependence-averse? How easily do you ask for help? How quickly do you judge the failures of others?
  •          What is your reaction to the assertion that our salvation is dependent upon God’s righteousness and not our own? Would it bother you if someone less righteous than you experiences salvation?
  •          What are some of the “enemies” in your life right now? Have you accepted this struggle in prayer, trusting God to “deliver you from evil” as the Lord’s Prayer says?
  •          Read and reflect upon Psalm 143:8-10 and the three ways we can participate in our salvation. Have you ever discovered something about God only after trusting him? Is God the first place you go for refuge, or the last resort? How often do you simply rest in God’s presence, meditate on his redemptive work in the world, and give thanks?

 

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