Rev. Eric Jonas Swensson

September 25, 2014


photo of Pr. Eric To you, O LORD, I lift up my soul.
O my God, in you I trust;
Let me not be put to shame;
Let not my enemies exult over me.
Indeed, none who wait for you shall be put to shame;
they shall be ashamed who are wantonly treacherous.

Make me to know your ways, O LORD;
teach me your paths.
Lead me in your truth and teach me,
for you are the God of my salvation;
for you I wait all the day long.

Remember your mercy, O LORD, and your steadfast love,
for they have been from of old.
Remember not the sins of my youth or my transgressions;
according to your steadfast love remember me,
for the sake of your goodness, O LORD!

Good and upright is the LORD;
therefore he instructs sinners in the way.
He leads the humble in what is right,
and teaches the humble his way.
All the paths of the LORD are steadfast love and faithfulness,
for those who keep his covenant and his testimonies.
Psalm 25:1-10 (ESV)

Ruminating on this psalm is instructional. It instructs the soul. Perhaps one of the first things one would desire some clarity on if you were to preach or participate in Bible study is “What do we mean when we say verse four, ‘Make me to know your ways, O LORD; teach me your paths.’?

These verses make me think of the matter of Law and Gospel. Speaking for myself, I can tell you my soul never learned anything about God until I was crushed. I might learn all kinds of things about the nature of God, the history of God’s redemption, about the nature of the kingdom, but they can be facts that I am learning like any other number of things.

But how does God make us to know His ways? As for me, until I see clearly that I am a sinner in need of redemption, I learn nothing. In fact, I seem to need fresh moments of that clarity or I can go from day to day in al almost agnostic state. I truly need to die daily, but in my case, I actually need to start over again a few times a day.

I am not alone in this understanding. I rediscovered a poem recently where the poet speaks to this need to die in order to be reborn, to be crushed in order to be made whole, to grieve over sins in order to know joy once again.

Come quickly, winter, for the heart belies
The truth of these warm days. These August skies
Are all too fair to suit the times - so kind
That almost they persuade the treacherous mind
It still is summer and the world the same.
These gaudy colors on the hills in flame
Are out of keeping with the nun's attire
We wear within - of ashes, not of fire.

Season of ripening fruit and seeds, depart;
There is no harvest ripening in the heart.

Bring the frost that strikes the dahlias down
In one cruel night. The blackened buds, the brown
And wilted heads, the crippled stems, we crave -
All beauty withered, crumbling to the grave.
Wind, strip off the leaves, and harden, Ground,
Till in your frozen crust no break is found.

Then only, when man's inner world is one
With barren earth and branches bared to bone,
Then only can the heart begin to know
The seeds of hope asleep beneath the snow;
Then only can the chastened spirit tap
The hidden faith still pulsing in the sap.

Only with winter-patience can we bring
The deep-desired, long-awaited spring.
(No Harvest Ripening, a poem by Anne Morrow Lindbergh)

What can strip us down quicker than the Word of God? Only that lesson can instruct the soul and the heart can begin to know. Know what? The poet says “seeds of hope”. The sower went out to sow seeds of hope. Only when such seeds fall in fertile soil do they have a hope to grow, and our hearts are only fertile when humble, and hearts are humble only when they have been humbled. We do not humble ourselves. Something other, something powerful must humble us.

We need God’s Law. We need a daily diet of it, or at least I do. Without it I get to feeling pretty smart. I think I know it all.

Our theology tells us that when people are no longer thankful to the Lord and no longer serve Him they are dead. God identifies their condition and calls them to repentance and then they can become alive.

There is a danger today in preaching or even talking about the Law. Such a person can come across as being merely judgmental. Today’s listener thinks “Oh, you are one of them.” And they think we are obsessed with hell and damnation. But going to hell is not my subject today, rather how we desperately need new life. That is the subject. Unless I have the renewal of the Holy Spirit in my heart, I do not have a heart that clearly hears. With new life I can be taught how to live life, and God will do this through His Word.

Make me to know your ways, O LORD; teach me your paths. Instruct us sinners in the way. The psalm says the Lord leads the humble in what is right, and teaches the humble His way.

To close, my premise is that if we want the tender mercies of God, we need tender hearts. A humble heart is a tender heart. God’s law, even those who know we are justified by grace through faith, the Confessions teach that we need continual inner repentance. The Confessions teach that there is no inner repentance unless it produces outwardly mortifications of the flesh. That means simply that if we find ourselves living in a way that we know is wrong, we need to talk to God about. If we do so humbly we will repent, we will ask God to forgive us and in short find ourselves talking like the psalmist does here.