Psalm 25 - Unto thee, O Lord, do I left up my soul

1) To you, O Lord, I lift up my soul.
2) O my God, in you I trust; do not let me be put to shame; do not let my enemies exult over me.
3) Do not let those who wait for you be put to shame; let them be ashamed who are wantonly treacherous.
4) Make me to know your ways, O Lord; teach me your paths.
5) Lead me in your truth, and teach me, for you are the God of my salvation; for you I wait all day long.
6) Be mindful of your mercy, O Lord, and of your steadfast love, for they have been from of old.
7) Do not remember the sins of my youth or my transgressions; according to your steadfast love remember me, for your goodness’ sake, O Lord!
8) Good and upright is the Lord; therefore he instructs sinners in the way.
9) 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.
13) They will abide in prosperity, and their children shall possess the land.
14) The friendship of the Lord is for those who fear him, and he makes his covenant known to them.
15) My eyes are ever toward the Lord, for he will pluck my feet out of the net.
16) Turn to me and be gracious to me, for I am lonely and afflicted.
17) Relieve the troubles of my heart, and bring me out of my distress.
18) Consider my affliction and my trouble, and forgive all my sins.
19) Consider how many are my foes, and with what violent hatred they hate me.
20) O guard my life, and deliver me; do not let me be put to shame, for I take refuge in you.
21) May integrity and uprightness preserve me, for I wait for you.
22) Redeem Israel, O God, out of all its troubles.
Psalm 25 (NRSV)
1st Sunday in Advent, Year C, verses 1-10
1st Sunday of Lent, Year B, verses 1-10
Proper 10, Year C, Sunday between July 10 and July 16, verses 1-10
Proper 21, Year A, Sunday between September 25 and October 1, verses 1-9

My mom was our church's Minister of Music, and directed the choir. Somewhere around the late 60s or early 70s, in the days of pop art posters and churches seeking "relevance," she brought in an arrangement of Psalm 25. The music was oddly pop and upbeat, as we sang asking the Lord to "Turn thee unto me, and have mercy upon me, for I am desolate, and affli-i-icted!" Yeah, man!

Dischordant or not, I remember those words because I liked the zippy music, and the music helped the psalm remain with me, until such time as could truly turn my attention to them and let them take root in my soul.

The monastic community from the early days of the church have put the psalms at the center of their corporate and prayer life. One reason for this is to make the words of the psalms available, through daily use and constant repetition. The psalms are often chanted, helping still more for these words to take up habitation in the believer's heart.

This psalm may be one of the best for that purpose, a medicine that can be used in many circumstances.

It begins by turning whole-heartedly to God: "To you, O Lord, I lift up my soul." It then gets straight to the heart of the matter: "O my God, in you I trust; do not let me be put to shame..."

The psalm then goes on to intercede, but also to stay focused on God and remind themselves to keep attentive to the Lord's saving ways: "Be mindful of your mercy, O Lord, and of your steadfast love..."

It moves to confessional, declarative statements about God and God's work: "All the paths of the Lord are steadfast love and faithfulness" - at least for those who keep the Lord's covenant.

And then it returns to a straightforward prayer for help: Turn to me and be gracious to me, consider my affliction, relieve the troubles of my heart, guard my life and deliver me.

One of the interesting things about this psalm is the way it blends pleas for help with praise and reminders (to God and especially to the one speaking) of God's place in this believer's life. It states why I am praying these words, why I am addressing this God, what my need is and how God is able to answer this prayer. It is prayer, it is teaching, it is encouragement and hope, it is confidence-building.

It may seem a bit odd that the psalm, after 21 verses which are personal, ends with a plea, seemingly out of nowhere, to "Redeem Israel, O God, out of all its troubles."

It could be that this verse was added to make the psalm more "official," or appropriate for corporate use in the Temple, like adding red white and blue bunting or pledging allegiance to the national flag. But that begs the question about what are we to do with it.

I think it is better to treat this as another example of how this psalm serves as a model for prayer. Despite 21 verses which are wholly personal, the prayer cannot forget that this person is embedded in a community. Even more, the enemies of the psalm are not likely attacking armies, but neighbors, fellow citizens of the nation of Israel. This prayer, voiced aloud in this very community, will be overheard by or reported to the ones who are troubling the psalmist. In that light, does the prayer concludes with - at least in modest form - a prayer for our nearby enemies? It certainly recognizes that our own troubles are a part of what troubles the community, and that a healthy, restored community, will include our healing and peace.

To you, O Lord, I lift up my soul. I trust you to do more than rescue me. Lead us out of sin. Put an end to violence! Redeem the nation! Make the hearing real for me and for my whole community.

Credits:
Matthew Young, Sea turtle floats trapped in a derelict fishing net, off the west side of Oahu, Hawaii, June, 4, 2016. Petty Officer 1st Class Matthew Young and Seaman Cameron Ables, members of Coast Guard Air Station Barbers Point rescued three sea turtles trapped in the derelict fishing net. U.S. Coast Guard photo. Public domain.

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