Lament from the Road

Video of Vespers is here. The sermon begins around the 22:10 mark.

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

Today we have more ways to travel than anyone at any other time. For most of the history of the world, people didn’t have planes, trains, or automobiles. They walked everywhere, or maybe, if they were wealthy or lucky, they rode a donkey or a horse. But they didn’t have smooth, well-lit, paved streets. They didn’t have nicely groomed paths, or planked boardwalks, or graded gravel roads. I suspect that the roads were more dangerous then, as well.

Psalm 25 is a lament from the road, and David takes into account two dangers: his own tendency to wander from the Way of Yahweh; and the enemies who wait just off that path. And there is always, of course, the question of whether David’s road is going to lead to the place he wants to go, and where God is leading him; or whether it is a dead-end, where David is going to be ashamed at how lost he’s become.

But David lays out each step of his journey in order; this psalm is an acrostic, each line (except for two) begins with the successive letters of the Hebrew alphabet. It starts with aleph and bet and ends with shin and taw. In some ways, it’s almost a travelogue. He knows where he started; he recounts the places where the road was darkest; how he got back on the way; and where he knows the road ends, no matter how dark and dangerous it may be.

When he’s at his most road-weary, he puts himself in God’s hands; he will hope and wait for God, no matter what might be around the next bend. Because whatever it is, there is no way that the God, whose Name is everlasting mercy and steadfast love, the God of his salvation, would leave him to the robbers and the wolves.

The way already belongs to God. It is His way, bounded by His instruction on either side. The signs along the road are filled with God’s word. We have no idea what we’re going to encounter in this life, along this path, but there is no doubt that the Word of God—in all its richness, in all its goodness, in all its gifts—is sufficient. It bears witness to the fact that God has never forsaken His people, even when they cannot see Him or feel His presence. None of us can see what is going to happen tomorrow, but the consistent witness of all God’s prophets and messengers is that He is sufficient for today. Bread for each day; strength for each day; life for each day; mercy for each day. Yesterday is gone and tomorrow has enough trouble of its own. Here is today, and here is God’s life-giving word for today.

Make me to know Your ways, O Yahweh! Teach me Your paths. Lead me along the way of Your truth. He instructs the sinners in the way; He leads the humble along the right way and teaches the humble His way. All the paths of Yahweh are made of steadfast love and faithfulness. And what is sin? What is the “much guilt” for which David asks pardon and forgiveness? It is missing the path, getting off the way, ignoring the word that is a lamp to his feet and a light to his path (119:105). It is as if you had the street lights illuminating the road all the way home and you decided to take a detour down a blind alley, or through a dark and empty lot.

Hence the lament. David calls to God from the darkness, whether it is in this ditch or that. Remember, and do not remember, he says. Remember mercy and steadfast love, Yahweh, Your eternal love. Do not remember me according to my wanderings and my transgressions, my crossing the boundaries of Your Word and my dead-endings. Remember me, instead, according to Your steadfast love and goodness.

And why should Yahweh do such a thing? Why should He remember and seek me out when I stumble through the dark, over and over and over? Why should He remember me when I forget Him? Who, on the whole rough road of this dark world, is the Man who fears Yahweh? Who is willingly instructed and taught and stays on the road every step of the way? Whose life will remain forever in well-being, in the goodness of His God? And whose offspring will inherit the land? There is only One, who walked unwaveringly the road set before Him, who set His face to go to Jerusalem, and nothing—not the devil, not His enemies, not Peter, not even some independent will of His own—could turn Him aside from the path and the way.

David’s prayer is prayed through his coming Son, or rather, his coming Son prays through David by His Holy Spirit. Jesus faithfully treads down the road to the cross, because His eyes are ever toward Yahweh, who will pluck His feet out of the net, who will not allow His Son to be put to shame. He delivers Him by raising Him from the dead. And because He is raised from the dead, we can pray this prayer with full confidence.

At the end of the road, David finds himself, in a sense, back where he began. He repeats at the end of the psalm what he said at the beginning: the life and soul he places in God’s hands in verse 1 is the same life and soul he asks God to guard in verse 20. The violent enemies against whom he prays in verse 2 are the same as those in verse 19. The God for whom he waits in verse 3 is the same God as in verse 21. The uprightness of Yahweh in verse 8 is the same uprightness that will preserve him in verse 21.

The very structure of the psalm testifies to David’s trust, though as yet he has not seen the end of the road. First and last is the waiting and hoping for the God who will not put him or us to shame, because He did not put His Son to shame. In between, on the wilderness road, winding and twisting, belongs our lament, until we reach its end in the One who is the beginning and the end, the aleph and the taw and everything in between, the author and the finisher of our faith. Our lament is surrounded on all sides by the God who has redeemed Israel out of all his troubles. In Him, all our paths are steadfast love and faithfulness, because He Himself is the Way.

“In God, my faithful God, I trust when dark my road; great woes may overtake me, yet He will not forsake me. My troubles He can alter; His hand lets nothing falter” (LSB 745:1). “O Christ, You walked the road our wandering feet must go. You faced [for] us temptation’s power and fought our ancient foe. … No blinding sign we ask, no wonder from above. Lord, help us place our trust alone in Your unswerving love” (LSB 424:1, 3). “The Lord my life arranges; who can His work destroy? In His good time He changes all sorrow into joy” (LSB 713:3).“’So be it,’ then, I say, with all my heart each day. Dear Lord, we all adore You, we sing for joy before You. Guide us while here we wander until we praise You yonder” (745:5). “What God ordains is always good: His will is just and holy. As He directs my life for me, I follow meek and lowly. … What God ordains is always good: He never will deceive me; He leads me in His righteous way, and never will He leave me. I take content what He has sent; His hand that sends me sadness will turn my tears to gladness” (LSB 760:1, 2).

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7, ESV). Amen.

– Pr. Timothy Winterstein, 2/24/21

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