Trinity 19 2016

Trinity 19
Psalm 141
October 2, 2016 A+D

In the Name of the Father and of the +Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

The first two verses of Psalm 141 serve as our Gradual today. That is the name of the verses between the Old Testament and Epistle which change every week. Here David is again asking for help, asking to be heard. That is why the second part of this, the incense bit, makes itself known to us as the versicle before the Magnificat in Vespers.

    Lord, I cry unto thee: Make haste unto me;

Give ear unto my voice, when I cry unto thee.

    Let my prayer be set forth before thee as incense;

And the lifting up of my hands as the evening sacrifice.

I am afraid that is as far as most of us go. But the next verse is also safe. David has a specific problem in mind that he wants help with:

    Set a watch, O Lord, before my mouth;

Keep the door of my lips.

That verse is reflected by St. Paul in today’s Epistle: Ephesians 4:25 “Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another (ESV).”

We all need help in this regard. We all say things that we shouldn’t. We gossip. We lie. We boast. We exaggerate and spin the truth, we leave out crucial facts. We hurt with our words, with sarcasm, with insults, sometimes with calculated cruel intent and other times, less common, by accident. All the time “set a watch over my mouth” is perfectly fit for our needs.

But David is not done. He continues:

    Incline not my heart to any evil thing,

To practise wicked works with men that work iniquity:

And let me not eat of their dainties.

Now we have a problem. David isn’t just asking that his words be guarded and he be kept from saying evil things or doing harm. He is also asking that he be heard so that his heart be guarded. Again, if that were it we might stomach it, but he goes on. He asks that God keep him from socializing with wicked men and from eating their dainties – not just from participating directly in the crimes but even from being associated with them.

That sounds to us like snobbery, like the  Pharisees who judged themselves better than other men, or like the scribes who didn’t like Jesus forgiving sins. The watchword of our current culture is tolerance. It hates those that it deems intolerant.

So it is that we are often asked to stop worrying about gay marriage and abortion and divorce and told that we should instead act like Jesus, who was gladly with the Samaritan woman at the well, who accepted the woman caught in adultery, and who dined with the tax collectors and prostitutes. Even within the church we hear the idea that we would catch more flies with honey than vinegar and there are calls aplenty to not run in the way of the Law, or get caught up merely in the inferior moral dimensions of things, but to emphasize the Gospel and the spiritual.

David has a different perspective. He asks to be guarded against socializing with sinners in faith not because he is too good for them, but because he is not good enough. He is not good enough to cope with the temptations that come in such company. For how would he behave if a group sat around the fire drinking wine and telling off-color jokes or complaining about their wives? Would he condemn each mis-speech or would he laugh to fit in? David is afraid that he would laugh, that he would condone their behavior by his silence and give his tacit approval. Unlike Jesus he would do no good, but would harm himself and them by seeming to give Christian approval to sin. So he asks to be kept from them.

This is a hard lesson for our age. There has never been a society or culture before ours that was so afraid of being labelled a snob or prude or priggish as we are, as I am. We live in evil days. Children, in High School, call one another “virgin” as an insult. I am not sure they should even know what a virgin is, and it certainly shouldn’t be a rarity in the unmarried, but in any case it should be honored not mocked. Some African-American teen-agers who get good grades and work hard are accused of “acting white,” as though it were betrayal of family to be industrious and good. Some church workers and seminary students who avoid getting drunk or won’t listen to rock music are called “pietists” or “legalists.”

The world is upside down. We need this prayer more than ever. And if we can’t speak against sin without being accused of being snobs or bigoted or racists, if we can’t avoid the company of scoffers without appearing intolerant and close-minded and prudish, sobeit. We would rather suffer that than fall into sin and come to sin’s reward.

3          Set a watch, O LORD, before my mouth;

Keep the door of my lips.

4          Incline not my heart to any evil thing,

To practise wicked works with men that work iniquity:

And let me not eat of their dainties.

5          Let the righteous smite me; it shall be a kindness:

And let him reprove me; it shall be an excellent oil,

Which shall not break my head:

For yet my prayer also shall be in their calamities.

6          When their judges are overthrown in stony places,

They shall hear my words; for they are sweet.

7          Our bones are scattered at the grave’s mouth,

As when one cutteth and cleaveth wood upon the earth.

It is not self-righteousness that avoids the cinema and rock music and the seat of scoffers but prudence. We call all use more prudence and thus does the Lord teach us to pray: “Lead me not into temptation.”

So also does He forgive the sins of the paralytic before he heals his broken limbs. We would probably protest that being a paralytic is no sin and needs no forgiveness. The Psalms, at least, don’t make such divisions between spiritual and material. In any case,  the Lord sees into the man’s heart and what really ails him. He forgives his sins. Then he heals him. He does not endorse paralysis or say that God made the man that way. He heals him, removes the thorn, and then He sends him away from the crowd of blasphemy that doubted His ability to forgive.

Whatever we know and how ever often we fail and cave, we must never forget or doubt that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins and to heal and to speak to those who come to Him in humility, repentance, and faith.

So does David conclude:

But mine eyes are unto thee, O God the Lord:

In thee is my trust; leave not my soul destitute.

    Keep me from the snares which they have laid for me,

And the gins of the workers of iniquity.

10    Let the wicked fall into their own nets,

Whilst that I withal escape.

Here is the expectation of the Christian: whilst that I withal escape. I deserve punishment but I ask for mercy. Mine eyes are toward the Lord, who is my trust. I implore Him to keep His promises, to hear my prayers, to guard my mouth and my heart, to cleanse my soul, and to forgive my sins so that I would avoid sin and the devil’s dainties and by grace escape right punishment and enjoy the unearned reward of grace.

 

In +Jesus’ Name. Amen.

 

 

*Much of this sermon is owed to C.S. Lewis’s chapter 8 “Connivance” in his Reflections on the Psalms (Mariner Books: Boston, 1986).

 

What does is it really matter what they call us or think of us

 

In fact, the problem is not that we are too good to hang out with sinners, to watch vile television, to laugh at ourselves, the problem is that we are not good enough, not strong enough.

 

We live in evil days.

 

 

 

 

 

This is hard for us to pray, hard because we do want to eat their dainties and we are terribly afraid of appearing to be snobs or priggish or self-righteous.

 

 

 

 

    Let the righteous smite me; it shall be a kindness:

And let him reprove me; it shall be an excellent oil,

Which shall not break my head:

For yet my prayer also shall be in their calamities.

    When their judges are overthrown in stony places,

They shall hear my words; for they are sweet.

    Our bones are scattered at the grave’s mouth,

As when one cutteth and cleaveth wood upon the earth.

    But mine eyes are unto thee, O God the Lord:

In thee is my trust; leave not my soul destitute.

    Keep me from the snares which they have laid for me,

And the gins of the workers of iniquity.

10    Let the wicked fall into their own nets,

Whilst that I withal escape.

 

 

the rest of the Psalm gives weight to that plea to be heard.

 

 

Psalm 141 (KJV 1900)

Psalm 141

A Psalm of David.

    Lord, I cry unto thee: Make haste unto me;

Give ear unto my voice, when I cry unto thee.

    Let my prayer be set forth before thee as incense;

And the lifting up of my hands as the evening sacrifice.

    Set a watch, O Lord, before my mouth;

Keep the door of my lips.

    Incline not my heart to any evil thing,

To practise wicked works with men that work iniquity:

And let me not eat of their dainties.

    Let the righteous smite me; it shall be a kindness:

And let him reprove me; it shall be an excellent oil,

Which shall not break my head:

For yet my prayer also shall be in their calamities.

    When their judges are overthrown in stony places,

They shall hear my words; for they are sweet.

    Our bones are scattered at the grave’s mouth,

As when one cutteth and cleaveth wood upon the earth.

 

Bookmark the permalink.