March 1, 2009 Scripture: Psalm 25:1-10
Sermon Title: “God’s Loving Paths” Rev. George N. Miller
Our message begins with a lesson in vocabulary: “resplendent.” Please say it after me: resplendent.
It means “to shine back, to shine brilliantly, to be full of splendor.” A fitting word for us today.
For the last 2 months the children have been singing “Siyahamba” or, as we know it, “We are Marching in the Light of God”. Not only is it a joyful song, but it perfectly fits today’s message of movement and light.
If you haven’t noticed by now, a good deal of the Bible is all about people on the move. Moses in the wilderness, Jacob leaving and returning home, Jesus and the disciples going from town to town.
The Bible is filled with images of movement and journey because that’s what a faithful life is about: always moving, always growing, always changing. God doesn’t call us to be stagnant, nor does God expect us to always be comfortable.
God calls us to journey. For some, it’ll be geographical, for others its emotional or spiritual.
I’m fascinated by the concept of journey, and I’m not the only one. Look at “Wizard of Oz” or TV’s “Lost” as it journeys through space and time, or the book “Eat, Pray, Love” which is all about one woman’s travel through Italy, India and Indonesia.
Journey, as we learn, is not without cost. One can not march from one place to another without having to give up something. People and things have to be left behind, and there are only two guarantees.
The first is that during the journey there will be moments of great darkness, so great you can barely see your way. The second guarantee is that God will be there to help light your way through.
An example of a journeyer would be Jennifer Hudson. Just a few years ago she was living in Chicago and tried out for “American Idol.” She experienced light when she made it onto the show. But darkness came when she was voted off.
She could have crept back to obscurity, but she persevered, eventually winning the role of Effie in “Dreamgirls”, again a moment of light. But when the director felt she wasn’t embodying the role, she was asked to come in for extra rehearsals. Criticism can be harsh but she took what they were teaching her and nailed the part, wowing everyone and winning an Oscar.
Her light continued to shine as she was cast in the blockbuster “Sex in the City.” Then she released a new album and hit song. It seemed like her light would keep getting brighter.
But the journey took an unexpected dark twist, as her nephew and mother were violently murdered, and she stepped away from the public spotlight.
Time passed. Then the news came out: she was invited to sing the National Anthem at this year’s Superbowl. Before the eyes of millions of people she stepped out and after taking a deep breathe, she sung the Anthem in a way few people have.
With light in her voice and eyes she sung of how through it all, the flag was still there, and when finished, the crowd roared with approval.
7 days later on the Grammy’s she won an award and gave a stirring rendition of her song “You Pulled Me Through.” Backed with a full choir, she sung the way only someone who had overcome great darkness could sing.
One magazine, recapping the week’s highlights, ran a photo of her and wrote a caption which read “Resplendent (n): see Jennifer Hudson.”
Resplendent. The woman had journeyed from extreme moments of darkness and through it all she found a way to reflect a light that she would no doubt attribute to God and her faith in Christ.
Movement, darkness and light: fitting themes as we enter into Lent, a spiritual journey we make with Christ as our guide.
There will be a journey to the mountaintop in which Jesus will shine brilliantly. There’ll be healings, teachings and shared meals. There’ll be betrayal in the darkness of night and a brutal death.
During this time of Lent Jesus will journey towards Jerusalem, a place known for killing its prophets.
Jesus moves forward, knowing full well what’s going to happen to him. But even the dark shadow of the looming cross can not stop Jesus from being...resplendent.
With that being said, let’s take a look at Psalm 25. Originally attributed to Kind David, it is an interesting song because it’s structure creates a sense of travel complete with moments of frightening darkness and comforting light.
As a faithful jew and a rabbi, there’s a good chance Jesus knew and memorized Psalm 25. I wonder how much it influenced him.
It begins simply enough: “To you, O Lord, I lift up my soul. O my God, in you I trust.”
That’s a great way to begin one’s travel. As you take your first step, as you board the plane or turn the key in the ignition, to say “To you, O Lord, I lift up my soul. O my God, in you I trust.”
The psalmist declares that not only are faith and trust inseparable but they are necessary parts of the journey.
But this is not foolish trust or naive faith. For right away the pathway of travel is fraught with darkness and danger.
“Don’t let me be put to shame; do not let my enemies exult over me,” the psalmist states as darkness invades the journey.
Through verses 2-3 and 16-20 no light shines through. Loneliness, afflictions, troubled hearts darken the pathway. Words such as treachery and violent hatred mask the sunlight.
It’s a verbal journey through a pit of darkness where danger and shame hover on each side, waiting to consume who ever dares to travel through them. The images are enough to keep one complacent or admit defeat.
But our God is not a complacent God, nor does God call for complacent people. For as we see in verses 4-15, even between the darkness of danger and deceit, God finds a way to shine through.
“Make me to know your ways, O Lord;” the author sings out, “teach me your paths.”
And with those words, with that invitation, God’s light begins to shine, providing a path for the psalmist to travel. And the light takes on many forms through the multitude of positive words the author uses.
Truth and teaching becomes beacons of light that illuminate the way, followed by the glow of salvation, mindfulness and mercy.
Steadfast love and the forgetting of our sins cuts through the darkness of shame and treachery. Goodness, faithfulness and covenant light the way.
With each word we discover just how much God’s light is shining and making a way for us through what would at first seem bleak and despairing. Light that calls upon God as our rescuer, our deliverer, and our refuge.
In the midst of ruin and distress are these resplendent, glimmering images of God, leading the way, providing the journey, making the travel possible. And through it all, Psalm 25 concludes with wonderful words of redemption.
This is a psalm that could not only could speak for King David, or for Jesus, but also a song that can be sung for us.
It is a reminder that as we journey, we do not travel alone, nor do we travel in complete darkness, but that with each step we take, God is illuminating the path with wisdom and teaching, with forgiveness and mercy, with steadfast love and covenant.
In closing, our Lenten journey will bring us many places, through times of great darkness and much light, from celebration to the horrifying pain of the cross, a place in which it seems impossible for God to be present.
But just as Psalm 25 ends with words of new life, the cross will not be the end of our journey. For although we must make that most uncomfortable stop, it is just a stop.
For as we will rediscover, the sun will rise again and our true destination will be to a garden, to an upper room, on a road to Emmaus, on a sandy beach shore and on a mountaintop.
And in all those places we will discover not only just how much the light of Christ still shines, but how much of that light now shines in each of us, brilliant and full of splendor.
God will sustain us on our journey, and though there will be moments of darkness and danger, our ultimate destination will be resplendent, filled with God’s promise of redemption and joy.
All thanks be to Christ who invites us on the journey, to the Spirit that carries us along and for God who lights the way.