Friday, August 31, 2018

Honest Hearts (Psalm 32) by Rev. Dr. Steve Locke

“We are lived by forces we pretend to understand,” says W.H. Auden. Auden was a poet of the last century whose most important poems were in a work entitled, “The Age of Anxiety.” He understood that we act, feel and make decisions by forces we don’t often understand but think we can fix through intelligence or will. We think we can fix our grief by just keeping busy without going through the pain. We think we can fix our depression by just listening to “positive thinking” tapes and upbeat music. We think we can fix our spiritual deadness by reading scripture all day but without going through the pain and suffering of the humiliation of confession. To move past these emotional walls to fix our life is the gift of faith given to us by our relationship with God. Through faith the forces of anxiety and fear can be diminished to engage a more honest approach about our life, and not only more honest but more courageous. This is what is necessary to negotiate these forces we don’t always understand.

David was a person who found help in exposing his sins to God and then to his nation. It was through this process he found a way out of the trap of trying to fix everything. He was a political leader that was trained to fix what was wrong on the surface by discounting it with political rhetoric. He could make his bad press go away. But he could never do that with God. Therefore he gave his heart to God and then divulged to Israel his lessons in humility. He did not try and engage the forces he didn’t understand, instead he gave to God the simple truth of his sin; a force which he not only didn’t understand but knew how it destroyed his life. In order to destroy sin from his life he needed to give it God. He said in his song to the temple musicians, “Count yourself lucky, how happy you must be---you get a fresh start. . . Count yourself lucky---God holds nothing against you.” This understanding does not arrive by contemplating God’s nature, it comes from his deep remorse and love for God that drove him to humiliate himself to God and nation. From there he gets a fresh start. It only comes to a person when the cycle is broken.

Sin is a power that is not completely understood except when it leads our life to unimaginable grief. But only then do we understand its consequence on how it convinces us to change our behavior according to its designs. We understand our devastation through sin but don’t necessarily know what sin actually is.

The only quest that we have when sin comes into our life is to break through its falsehoods with honesty. To be honest helps break the cycle of lies by transparency. An honest heart breaks the cycle of deception, manipulation and the unending task of rationalization. David says, “When I kept it all inside my bones turned to powder . . . the pressure never let up.” His point is that when I tried to hide my sin, when I tried to fix it by myself I entered an eternal circle of pain.  “But when I let it go, it gave me the power to address God and make a clean breast of things.”  I was free to live for God, not bound up with lies which only made me think of trying to get out of things. It only brought misery that could not be fixed.

David’s poem of confession and heart break is a courageous act of coming clean. But it is also a poem for the nation that might provide them a second chance at making an “honest heart” in all of them. What David did in this Psalm is to help them not be afraid at opening their lives before God. They needn’t worry about retribution by coming clean with God and each other. They can look forward to a life of freedom. By his courageous act of confession he tried to help his people throw off their painful bondage of guilt and find a life of salvation and grace with God.

Eventually, David moves past his days of hiding his sin to actually deciding to let his life become an open book to God, to the public and even himself. He had to admit his pain and sin so he could move past his continual pain of guilt that he couldn’t fix. His last phrase is an address to the nation just for this purpose. He says, “Celebrate God. Sing together----every one! All you honest-hearts, raise the roof!” He wants to raise the roof in celebration because there is nothing like the freedom of being known by God and being forgiven. Once we celebrate we will not be bound to “live by forces we pretend to understand”, we can live without fear.

Friday, August 24, 2018

Faith in a World of Hostility (Psalm 3) by Rev. Dr. Steve Locke

“Enemies past counting...” This is a phrase expressing the fears in the mind of those who feel the world pressing in on their comfort and convenience. What kind of enemies? Are they the enemies of politics or the enemies of war? They could even be the enemies of society that try to lay claim upon reputation and position. Since we know that this is a Psalm of David, after the death and treason of Absalom, his son, we should surmise that the enemies are those that try to lay claim to his position, as King. David laid out before God his pain with bitter emotion. This event is enmeshed with suffering and pain attached. His experience of the pressure upon his life is real, but in the Psalm there is no realization of his part in his son’s disloyalty. Indeed there may not be any part, but the pain of his loss as a father is specifically expressed. We, of course, do not know that he was an ineffective father, but given the circumstances and his remorse it might have led him to that conclusion.

Because his remorse is somewhat subdued I assume that he is talking to the nation, and not to God through intimate conversation. He wants to bolster the nation to believe in God and to secure their faith in order to engage the future. He is not willing to engage his sin or inability as a father; he wants to give the nation a new direction of hope. They know that his son betrayed him and the nation but he addresses only the interest of his people and not his despair. Their interest is, according to the king, that their enemies have been crushed. David expresses his pain as a king who feels the pressure of the responsibility, and of his enemies. They have suffered, they have reached out to God, and they have looked for the resolution that would bring this all to an end. God has fulfilled their desire.

Enemies are all around them but who is the enemy? David knows and the nation knows. Everyone is hard pressed to find a resolution of their pain other than in God, who is already working in David and the nation to find a new future for everyone. David narrates his pain of being attacked but it has already happened. Therefore he is providing the nation a way of coming to grips with treason and with betrayal. “There are enemies,” they are on every side and in every corner of our lives. “But you God shield us,” from the terrible forces that try and defeat us. This of course is the reality we hope for every day. We believe that God’s vision will survive and that he wants us to succeed.  This is our hope, this is our daily endeavor.

Reading the Psalm, like reading our life, depends upon knowing what is going on around us. When we do then we are able to speak with clarity and purpose. We are able to assess the situation and respond accordingly. Spirituality is not acting according to a template, but according to what God desires for us in that moment. It is this moment that the Psalms press us toward. They force us to listen to God instead of making rules for ourselves.

Enemies are those that act against us, often because of provocation from us and others. We create enemies by position, personality and actions. Enemies are not always those that are wrong and they are not always right. We must look past our position and our ideology to assess who comes against us. Humility is not a spiritual trait devoid of political will. It is a necessary trait to determine how to respond in the face of anger and hatred that seeks to destroy us.

The one thing that spirituality cannot succumb to is to dishonor God by a lie. David did not lie. He told the truth as a king. He gave the people a statement of truth to indulge their national hope. This is a Psalm of security and of personal acknowledgment of the power of God to do what is right. We struggle to see the truth, but it is hazy until we understand the vision of God. “Real help comes from God. Your blessing clothes your people!”  It is this belief that allows David, the nation and us to get up each morning with renewed hope that we can enter the world of enemies. But we miss the point of the Psalm if we think God wants us to demonize our enemies. We are not always right and our enemies are not always wrong. The Psalm points us to God and God pushes out the door to live and learn among our friends and enemies.