Did you know that the average driver in an urban area spends 20% of their driving time sat at traffic lights? So if you spent an hour driving every day, by the end of the week you would have spent more than an hour sat at traffic lights waiting for them to change!
Just occasionally you seem to hit the light pattern at the right time and can sail along on your journey without any interruptions. But at other times every light seems to be red, and it takes forever to go anywhere.
And what about the times when you are travelling at night when there is nobody around and yet the lights change to red as you approach, and then you sit there on red, and nobody comes, and you sit there, and nobody comes, and although the lights are meant to change every 2 minutes, it must have been at least 5 since you came to a stop, it feels like it is taking an eternity. But sometimes, just sometimes, the wait is rewarded in a completely unexpected way, an owl might swoop low across the road, or the time to pause and watch a beautiful sunset.
Our psalm this morning (Psalm 25) can teach us something about waiting. I don’t often preach on the psalms, as their regular reading is a little like breathing, we do it, but we don’t often think about it. Within St Margaret’s we still recite a psalm each week, but how often do we actually pause to take note of what we are saying.
The psalms are the church’s ancient prayer and hymn book, and despite being ancient, many of the words, and certainly the emotions expressed within them, are as relevant today as when they were written thousands of years ago. Regular praying of the psalms should be transformative, as they poetically describe elements of who we are, where, when and what we are. They should transform the way we look at ourselves, the way we look at each other and the way we look at God. Your world view should not be just what you are looking at, but what you are looking through.
We know that looking at the world through the lens of the psalms was an important one in early New Testament times as both Jesus and Paul quote them and refer to them as people who are well acquainted with praying their words, using them to create their world view.
The psalms invite their singers to continually live at the crossroads of time, space and matter. The crossroads of our time with God’s time, our place with God’s space and the crossover between how we perceive the created world and how it intersects with the world overflowing with God’s glory. And this continues to resonate with us because Jesus himself as both fully human whilst being fully divine himself stood at these intersections of God and humanity. But sometimes for us to fully appreciate these things we need to pause, or as it says in our psalm, to wait on God.
Rabbinic tradition teaches that this psalm was written by King David, at the time when his own son Absalom, was trying to kill him and take his throne. If you don’t remember the story and you want to find out both how it began and also how it ends you can find it in 2 Samuel chapters 13 to 19. It is a very dark story and King David must have been in a very dark place.
King David lived a life that appears to be full of many very high points after which he tended to drift from God’s ways and get himself into trouble, realise he was at fault, repent and then start again, trying to keep on the straight and narrow. As one of the biblical greats he also experienced a great amount of brokenness and human frailty. In fact this particular psalm was written as an acrostic, each verse starting with the next letter of the Hebrew alphabet, except David misses out a few of the letters, which tradition suggests is that he was acknowledging his brokenness and that he could never be complete.
Anyway, here is David in the middle of yet another drama. The son whom he has raised, who he has provided for and cared for, carried in his arms as a baby, helped to learn to walk and later taught to fight, has now turned against him. And yet from within this place, David takes the time to pause. To wait on God. To search for his ways.
During the season of Lent, which is traditionally associated with fasting, prayer and almsgiving, although more recently we tend to only give up one of our many indulgences or even take up something instead, really we should be looking for red lights across our path. Time taken to stop and wait on God. To reflect and to discover God’s ways. To repent and recreate good habits. We need to remember again that God needs to be in control of our lives as the body of Christ. It takes time and space to determine God’s ways rather than just relying on our own faulty wisdom. But whilst we are waiting, waiting for Easter and the renewal of God’s glory in the world we mustn’t just zone out. We need to be actively waiting, listening and anticipating, ready to see the owl swooping by, the sunset, the extraordinary.
As David wrote his psalm he was becoming aware that he had missed all the warning signs that his son Absalom was planning to kill him to prove that he was greater than his father. David knows too that as he has drifted from God’s ways he has also drifted from the path of fatherhood, leading to his son’s rebellion. And he knows that he must wait and listen to the Lord to get back on track.
Sometimes it is very easy to get ahead of ourselves and zoom off on a new project or venture, or to try and fix an existing one, without stopping and waiting on God. But Jesus himself was an expert at waiting for the right time. He waited 30 years before he began his ministry, 30 years before he was affirmed by God at his baptism of being his son, but during those 30 years he was also active. He learnt to walk and run, he learnt to study the Torah, to pray the psalms, he was learning to listen to God and follow his paths as they were revealed to him, even if that ultimately meant following them to his death. He learnt to wait in the garden of Gethsemane for his accusers to arrive as he spent time with his father, he learnt to endure pain and suffering as he hung on the cross waiting for his death. The paths that God may show us, may not always be easy, they may be paths that like King David we may struggle to keep to and have to return to, time after time.
And as well as waiting on God, Jesus was also waiting on humanity. He waited for his disciples to slowly grasp his teaching, he waited for a little boy to bring him his lunch, he waited for the accusers of the woman caught in adultery to leave. And so too he waits for us to learn from him.
The Hebrew that David uses in verses 4 and 5 of his psalm for the word ‘teach’ is the word Lamad. “Make me to know your ways O Lord, teach me your paths. Lead me in your truth and teach me.”
Lamad doesn’t just mean teach, it also means learn. For God’s teaching to be complete we also need to have learnt. Not just in terms of memorising ‘things’ but in our lives being transformed. This teaching and transforming process is everlasting and will occur whenever God and his people share sacred time and space. This leads us into lifelong discipleship. Sometime that we need to not only remind ourselves of, but to instil into our children and our grandchildren.
This Lent we need to do more than a physical detox by giving up the odd biscuit but to learn again the value of waiting on God as his disciples. Time to read, study, pray, discern, to be silent and learn the plans God has for each of us, to be willing to give up control.
To pause at the intersection of our own time with God’s time, of our place with God’s space, to view the world overflowing in God’s glory so that growing in God’s grace, mercy and love we would be transformed physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually, so that we can both discern, and learn to walk along, God’s paths for us.
Tom Wright – Finding God in the Psalms
Alex Motyer: Psalms by the day