Trading Ash For Honey

Trading Ash For Honey September 30, 2018

7The law of the Lord is perfect and revives the soul; *
the testimony of the Lord is sure and gives wisdom to the innocent.
8 The statutes of the Lord are just and rejoice the heart; *
the commandment of the Lord is clear and gives light to the eyes.
9 The fear of the Lord is clean and endures for ever; *
the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.
10 More to be desired are they than gold, more than much fine gold, *
sweeter far than honey, than honey in the comb.
11 By them also is your servant enlightened, *
and in keeping them there is great reward.
12 Who can tell how often he offends? *
cleanse me from my secret faults.
13 Above all, keep your servant from presumptuous sins;
let them not get dominion over me; *
then shall I be whole and sound, and innocent of a great offense.
14 Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, *
O Lord, my strength and my redeemer.

The psalm for today, Psalm 19, is one of my true favorites—not that I don’t love them all, of course—but this one is glorious. I used to make the children sing a portion of it at the end of Sunday school, while I passed out gummy bears. I would have rather had some candy made of real honey, but finding something like that wandering the highways and byways of Walmart—the purveyor of whatever I’m looking for in the devastation of a Saturday night—would have been too complicated for words. Now a lot of the children go up to sing in the choir and so there’s no time for that plain old tune.

Anyway, these impossible lines are providence itself after a week blundering around the question of human justice and law keeping. Who can serve as judge on the highest court? Who is telling the truth? Who ought to be believed? These are the questions we circle around and around for the simple reason that our law, unlike the law of God, is imperfect. Our law neither revives the soul, nor gives wisdom to the innocent. Our statutes certainly don’t rejoice anybody, and the thing we lack more than anything is light to the eyes, as we cannot peer thirty-seven years into the past, nor have any idea what will happen in the future. And if there is one thing that most of us taste in our mouths after the last two weeks, it is ash, not honey.

But most of the time I don’t really believe, from my stress addled mind down to the soles of my thick-sock-clad feet, that the law of the Lord is really so perfect that it would be the one thing that would really make me happy. On the contrary, I am pretty sure that happiness lies just around the corner of myself, that enlightenment can be found by means of one more twitter scroll, and that the great reward is getting to measure out everybody else against myself.

And I’m not alone, thankfully, because the psalmist himself asks for help. I don’t even know how I am offending, so far am I away from the perfection of God’s law, and so stop me, prevent me, if you will, from acting out of my own wisdom, which is nothing, and my own understanding, which I got from reading the internet instead of the Bible. Help me, for mercy’s sake, so that I can be innocent of great offense.

Which, frankly, isn’t a prayer I prayed all week. I prayed that other people would leave me alone and not offend me. I prayed for other people to be good and not bad. I prayed for other people to believe. I prayed for some stuff I really want. I prayed for time to do all the very important tasks I have. I prayed against bad lighting. And I prayed for some people who are in grief, sorrow, and woe. But I didn’t really pray for myself that I would not offend God or other people, nor that I would do good and not evil, nor that I would both think and say what is acceptable to God. Because how could anyone possibly be offended by me? I’m the good one, not the bad one. It is other people who ought to adjust themselves and think about whether or not God might be happy with them.

But the law of the Lord is perfect and revives the soul, mainly by casting it down to the ground and shedding light on it, light that lets you see how small and pathetic the intentions and inclinations of your own heart really are. It is clean and pure and bright, not murky and shadowy and incomprehensible—which is what we lie and say that it is. ‘Oh, I don’t know what God wants me to do,’ I might say, ‘his thoughts aren’t mine which means they are a complete mystery and I can’t possibly understand them.’ Whereas they are completely understandable. And if I stopped measuring everything by myself and actually read the psalm, I would see very plainly and clearly what I ought to do. And be, which is even harder.

So yes, the law is perfect, but it is also sweet. Not sickly sweet. Not sweet so that you get too thirsty for anything and want to give up and die. But sweet so that when you see how good God is and how bad you are, you are not destroyed. You are rather enlivened—just one taste of God’s goodness is enough to brighten your eyes and help you stand up again when you have collapsed back in fatigue.

God himself, and all his goodness and the sweetness of his law, is to be desired more than gold, more even than much gold. Which I do not have, so that’s perfect. For though I lack gold, and though I lack light, and though I lack goodness, the Lord does not leave me in my lack. His rich and abundant mercy is for even the one who lacks everything. Which, if you’ve been reading the news too, means you, and the whole world.

So come to church, and hear this psalm sung by both children and adults, and go away again revived, enlivened, delighted, and for a very few moments, happy.

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