February 21, 2021

First Sunday in Lent

Scripture Reading: Psalms 25: 1-12

Prayer for Guidance and for Deliverance

Of David.

To you, O Lord, I lift up my soul.
O my God, in you I trust;
    do not let me be put to shame;
    do not let my enemies exult over me.
Do not let those who wait for you be put to shame;
    let them be ashamed who are wantonly treacherous.

Make me to know your ways, O Lord;
    teach me your paths.
Lead me in your truth, and teach me,
    for you are the God of my salvation;
    for you I wait all day long.

Be mindful of your mercy, O Lord, and of your steadfast love,
    for they have been from of old.
Do not remember the sins of my youth or my transgressions;
    according to your steadfast love remember me,
    for your goodness’ sake, O Lord!

Good and upright is the Lord;
    therefore he instructs sinners in the way.
He leads the humble in what is right,
    and teaches the humble his way.
10 All the paths of the Lord are steadfast love and faithfulness,
    for those who keep his covenant and his decrees.

11 For your name’s sake, O Lord,
    pardon my guilt, for it is great.
12 Who are they that fear the Lord?
    He will teach them the way that they should choose.


“Finding Our Way”

Let’s start with a classic Jerry Lewis comedy bit from the 1963 film, Who’s Minding the Store. (Clip)

Jerry is performing “Concerto for Orchestra and Typewriter,” composer Leroy Anderson’s 1950 hit. While Anderson’s music still sees a lot of use, we can’t say the same for the typewriter that inspired it.

That’s one of many life skills that just aren’t as important as they used to be. Here are a few more.

  • At one time, adjusting rabbit ear antennas was the key to a sharp TV picture.
  • People used to look up phone numbers in a phone book and then dial them—that’s right, dial them—on a rotary phone.
  • Learning how to drive a stick shift was once a rite of passage. Now less than 3 percent of American cars even have a manual transmission.
  • And as for changing a flat? That skill, too, is fading fast. A third of new cars don’t even have spare tires.
  • Most of us wake up to a song—or a nerve-jangling alarm—from our cell phone. The days of setting an alarm clock are gone for many, as important as that once was.
  • Speaking of our phones, how many people remember phone numbers anymore? They’re in our cell phone’s memory now, not ours.

Another life skill going by the wayside is being able to read a paper map. According to a survey from a couple of years ago in Great Britain—that I don’t think would’ve turned out any differently here—millions of people in the 28-to-38-year-old age group have never read a map at all.

 Fifty three percent of millennials said they’d struggle to find their way without a cellphone. One in ten even said that when it comes to giving directions, they use their phone to show someone a map.

Scientists worry that our growing dependence on gadgets will take away from our ability find our way through day-to-day life on our own.

All of which brings us to Psalm 25. The psalmist prays, “Make me to know your ways, O Lord; teach me your paths.” He asked God for a sense of spiritual direction. He wanted a spiritual GPS.

We all could use one. In the end, following God’s path means we’re going somewhere. We want that somewhere to take us closer to God, not further away.

Psalm 25 gives us some landmarks to look for as we go. First, it warns that God’s path might not be one we’d ordinarily take.

When the psalmist prays, “Make me to know your ways…teach me your paths,” he’s admitting that the path of the LORD isn’t always easy to find or to follow.

Sometimes we find God’s path only after going too far in a different direction, one that leads to a dead end or worse.

It happens before we know it, in much the same way that mindlessly following our GPS can take us somewhere we had no intention of going. Fails along those lines have become the stuff of legends.

  • Japanese tourists in Australia drove their car into the ocean trying to reach an offshore island.

  • A man drove his BMW down a narrow path in an English village and then nearly off a cliff.

  • A woman in Bellevue, Washington drove her car into a lake that her GPS said was a road.

  • A Swedish couple planning to go to the Mediterranean island of Capri weren’t careful as they typed, and ended up in the Italian industrial town of Carpi.

  • A woman in Belgium tried to use her GPS to get her home, about 90 miles away. Instead, she drove hundreds of miles to Zagreb, and didn’t realize anything was wrong until she noticed the street signs were in Croatian.

How often have we found ourselves in a moral mess, miles from where we know we ought to be? Many times, we can’t trace it back to one huge wrong turn, but instead to a bunch of much smaller ones we didn’t notice at the time. “Teach me your paths” isn’t a bad prayer for Lent or for any of us.

From the way it sounds, the psalmist had been in more than one of those moral messes himself. By God’s mercy, though, he found his way out.

“Good and upright is the LORD,” the psalmist said, “Therefore he instructs sinners in the way. He leads the humble in what’s right, and teaches the humble his way.”

The psalmist is sure that God teaches and leads us. He also knows, though, how many times he decided not to follow God’s direction. Faced with his own sinfulness and need for forgiveness, he turned to God’s mercy.

“Be mindful of your mercy, O LORD,“ the psalmist prayed, “and of your steadfast love, for they’ve been from of old.”

The word translated “mercy” comes from the Hebrew word for “womb,” and means something closer to “motherly compassion.” God has shown that compassion from “of old,” the psalmist said. It’s part of who God is, God’s very nature.

That brings us to the heart of Psalm 25, its two middle verses.

All the paths of the LORD are steadfast love and faithfulness for those who keep his covenant and his decrees. For your name’s sake, O LORD, pardon my guilt, for it’s great. (Psalm 25:10—11)

The way of the LORD is a sure, safe, path to follow, the psalmist said, one of steadfast love and faithfulness. We seek it out in prayer and reading of scripture, in acts of service and in times of worship.

Psalm 25 tells us to be mindful of our own sins and shortcomings while humbly seeking God’s direction. We have to admit that we don’t have all the answers while still being open to the new paths along which God would lead us.

How will we know the way? Funny thing, Thomas asked the same question. Jesus told him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you know me, you’ll know my Father, too. From now on, you do know him and have seen him.”

Jesus is our last, best, spiritual GPS, the only signpost we need to follow God’s paths of steadfast faithfulness and love. Those same paths, Jesus said, will also lead to new opportunities for service and self-giving sacrifice as we follow him to cross and tomb and resurrection victory.