1In you, Lord my God,
I put my trust.
2 I trust in you;
do not let me be put to shame,
nor let my enemies triumph over me.
3 No one who hopes in you
will ever be put to shame,
but shame will come on those
who are treacherous without cause.
4 Show me your ways, Lord,
teach me your paths.
5 Guide me in your truth and teach me,
for you are God my Savior,
and my hope is in you all day long.
6 Remember, Lord, your great mercy and love,
for they are from of old.
7 Do not remember the sins of my youth
and my rebellious ways;
according to your love remember me,
for you, Lord, are good.
8 Good and upright is the Lord;
therefore he instructs sinners in his ways.
9 He guides the humble in what is right
and teaches them his way.
10 All the ways of the Lord are loving and faithful
toward those who keep the demands of his covenant.
Today is the first day of Advent. Advent is that liminal time between Thanksgiving and Christmas where we tend to be very busy. We have Christmas programs at school, Christmas parties at work, Christmas cookies to eat, and Christmas presents to buy. And if you aren’t busy this time of year, just ask me for some suggestions and I can help you find a few worthy causes that could use your assistance.
Yet Advent reminds us that in the middle of all of the busyness, we must slow down a bit. We must slow down because Advent is a period of waiting. Each Sunday we light another candle as we anticipate the coming of Christmas day when we celebrate the birth of Jesus. In our busyness, we must remember to wait as we anticipate not only the birth of the Christ child, but the day when all things in this world will be made right.
Our theme for Advent this year is “Freedom Bound.” Our worship materials describe this theme by saying, “We live in a paradox that we are both bound and free, on a march to freedom but encumbered by the burdens and sin we carry.” Throughout Advent, we will be using a lot of imagery. We are projecting images of roadways as a reminder of the journey that we are on as we move toward a deeper understanding of the freedom that we have in God. And as we get closer and closer, we will throw off the chains that bind us. We will look at stories of John the Baptist, Mary and Joseph, and Jesus himself as these characters prophesy and enact God’s liberating powers, freeing us from burdens, freeing us from injustices, and freeing us from the power of sin. So in this time of Advent, we are learning to wait well. And waiting does not mean doing nothing. As we will see, waiting is the posture of hope for a better tomorrow.
Waiting is so difficult for me, just as I am sure it is for all of you. Recently we upgraded internet service at our home, actually saving a few dollars each month. One of the greatest advantages of having faster internet at home is that we can load Netflix movies on our television significantly faster. I can watch a movie while checking my email and my favorite team’s score all at the same time. Fast, fast, fast! Speed is good! Now I have all sorts of time to do other things, like watch another movie, check Facebook, or look at predictions for next week’s football game.
But I soon get used to that speed, and when I go somewhere else to work, I don’t handle the slower speed too well. Sometimes I can hear the old AOL login sounds from the dialup days! Our society depends on getting things done faster. Our food is instant: instant coffee to frozen meals. We can have pizza delivered in 20 minutes or less. One of the world’s largest retailers, Amazon, has even come up with a way to capitalize on our inability to wait. They call it Amazon Prime. For a small yearly fee, you can have most of your items shipped to your front door in just two days (I’m a member!).
I think our instantaneous society, as great as it is, can also hurt us. We expect everything so quickly that we don’t know how to wait. There are some things worth waiting for, and some things that we have no choice but to wait for.
This is one reason why I believe that the tradition of the Thanksgiving turkey is so wonderful. In our world of instant gratification, there are still items that require some patience. To have a Thanksgiving turkey, we first needed to plan ahead. You have to go out and buy those birds a couple of weeks in advance. If you don’t there may not be any left at the store when you try to buy one. It there are any left, they will either be gigantic or tiny. So you buy your bird in advance, but you don’t wait until the last minute to prepare it. These things come frozen, and we are told that it is safest to thaw them for about 5-7 days in the refrigerator. So last Thursday, that turkey came out of the freezer and went into the refrigerator, where it sat for several days. Twenty-four hours before we wanted to start cooking the turkey, Sonya pulled it out of the fridge, rubbed it all over—both inside and out—with oils and spices. Then most of it went back into the fridge, except the neck, gizzard, and other wonderful parts of the turkey that most of us would never dream of eating. But we know that if you boil it down for a while, it can make some good gravy.
Finally we come to Thanksgiving morning. Four-and-one-half hours before meal time, that turkey goes into the oven. But even before that, we had to place the thawed turkey, breast-side down, on ice cubes because it helps the breast cook slower and not dry out. Then into the oven, turn it over after the first two hours, put it back in, and pull it out when the internal temperature reaches 160 degrees F. But we still aren’t ready to eat it! The turkey, we are told, should be “tented” with tin foil for thirty minutes. Then you carve it and serve it.
You can’t speed that up. Sure, there are a few corners that can be cut, but at what cost? No, you don’t have to put the herbs and spices on the turkey. And you don’t have to place the turkey breast on a bed of ice before baking it. Every step can be made shorter or perhaps eliminated altogether. But will the turkey be less juicy, less tasty?
Our scripture for this morning is a Psalm which is attributed to David. You can’t tell in English, but this is a poem written in a specific style in the Hebrew language called an acrostic. Each line begins with the next letter in the Hebrew alphabet. I’m not much of a poet, so I can speak to this with a lot of experience. But for me, writing a poem is hard enough. Add to the preexisting challenges of writing a poems that each line needs to start with the next letter of the alphabet and I’m lost.
So because of the restrictions in writing an acrostic poem, this Psalm really seems to jump around, making it difficult to nail down the point that David is trying to make. But I think that this also presents a new chance for us to better understand the mind of David.
Whether you know the name or not, I’m sure that many of us are familiar with the Rorschach Test. The Rorschach Test is where a psychologist shows you a series of inkblots and you are supposed to say the first thing that you see in the picture, which really isn’t a picture at all. And what we see is supposed to say a lot about us, because the things that our subconscious mind is focusing on comes out of our mouths.
So when David is writing this acrostic poem, we see what is on his mind. What’s the first word you think of when that starts with the letter “A?” “B?” And so on. When I read this Rorschach Test I find three themes emerging: trepidation, teachability, and trust. Let’s address them in this order.
When I think of David, I tend to think of him as a powerful king who helped expand the kingdom of Israel’s borders and kill his tens of thousands. I don’t think of him as being scared. But look at the second part of verse 2, “…do not let me be put to shame, nor let my enemies triumph over me.”
Throughout the Old Testament we find promises from God that God will bless the Israelites, that God will make the descendants of Abraham as numerous as the stars of the sky and the sands of the seashore. We even find a direct promise from God that one of David’s descendants will always sit upon the throne of Israel. So why is David worried? Why does he need to pray that God won’t let him be put to shame or let his enemies win? Because David knows that things in this world do not always go the way God would have them go.
Like so much of what is wrong with this world, it comes down to freewill. God has a good and perfect will for all of his creation, but we are given the freewill to either follow God’s will or to go a different way.
We don’t need some 3,000 year old Psalm to tell us that things don’t always go according to God’s will. Our news is filled with stories of mass shootings, terrorist attacks, and starving children. But it doesn’t have to be as extreme as these examples. There are people who didn’t have anyone to spend Thanksgiving with this year. There are animals that are abused. There is food that is wasted. It isn’t hard to look at our world and know that this isn’t what God had in mind. David was scared because David knew that this world isn’t perfect.
Rorschach Test number 2: teachability. The world isn’t perfect, and much of the blame is to be put on us human beings. So what can we do about it? Like David, we can pray to God for protection. And like David, we can pray that God teaches us to do better. Look at verses 4-5, “Show me your ways, Lord, teach me your paths. Guide me in your truth and teach me, for you are God my Savior, and my hope is in you all day long.”
Show me your ways, teach me your paths, guide me in your truth and teach me. We can look at those extreme cases in our world and we know that terrorism, mass shootings, and starving children are bad. Hopefully we would never knowingly participate in any of those things. But there are a lot of things that we do participate in that aren’t as clearly right or wrong.
I hope that we can all agree that we are called to be moral agents in this world. And as Christians we look to Jesus as our example of what it means to follow the path that God would have us walk. And I know that it may seem trivial at times, but consider the impact that we as Christians could have on the world if we would all simply commit to following the teachings of Jesus. A 2010 survey found that there are an estimated 2.2 billion Christians in the world. That is almost 1/3 of the world’s population. So in my simple little mind, I’d like to think that if we Christians really wanted to change this fallen world and to make it more like what God had intended, the most powerful thing for all 2.2 billion Christians in the world to do is to actually follow Jesus. That means loving your enemies, even the fundamentalist terrorists. That means not repaying an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, like a Christian man tried to do in Colorado Springs this week. It means sharing our abundance with those who have nothing.
Teach me your ways, oh God. Show me your truth. Or as the popular Christmas song reminds us, “Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me.”
The final Rorschach Test for this morning is trust. “In you, Lord my God, I put my trust. I trust in you,” verses 1-2a. “Good and upright is the Lord; therefore he instructs sinners in his ways,” verse 8. “He guides the humble in what is right and teaches them his way,” verse 9. “All the ways of the Lord are loving and faithful toward those who keep the demands of his covenant,” verse 10.
Let’s put those three Rorschach Tests together: trepidation, teachability, and trust. Trepidation: the world is not as God would have it, and many of us are afraid. And even worse, many of, no all of us contribute to the ways that this world is not as God would have it be. That’s what it means to live in a fallen world. Our sin makes this world worse. Teachability: the world does have to be this way. If the world’s Christians would commit to following the Prince of Peace, this world would be a lot better. And trust: we trust that in spite of the fallen nature of this world, God is still good, God is still loving, and God will make things right once again.
So what do we do? We hope and we wait. Verse 3, in the NRSV says, “Do not let those who wait for you be put to shame; let them be ashamed who are wantonly treacherous.”
The Hebrew word that is translated there as “wait” is qawah. But in the NIV, qawah is translated as “hope.” That’s because in Hebrew to wait and to hope are the same thing. Remember Isaiah 40:31, “Those who wait upon the Lord, shall renew their strength.” Those who wait are those who hope.
Because David combines these three concepts we cannot separate them. Waiting/hoping does not mean sit and do nothing. It means that trusting, learning, and waiting are all intricately combined, joined at the hip. This world might be fallen, but we wait/hope, we trust that God will make it better, and we seek to be moral agents by learning God’s will for our lives.
So we come back to that Thanksgiving turkey. There is a lot of waiting involved in making a turkey. And there is a lot of trepidation, because we know a lot of things can go wrong. But rather than sit around worrying about the potential problems, we seek to make things better. We make the rolls, the cranberry sauce, and the pumpkin pie. We learn how to make the turkey even better through sharing knowledge and experiences. And ultimately, we trust that in the end, everything will turn out alright.