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Lenten Devotions from Fourth Presbyterian Church

Saturday, July 18, 2020  

Today’s Scripture Reading  |  Psalm 119:18
Happy are those whose way is blameless,
   who walk in the law of the Lord.
Happy are those who keep his decrees,
   who seek him with their whole heart,
who also do no wrong,
   but walk in his ways.
You have commanded your precepts
   to be kept diligently.
O that my ways may be steadfast
   in keeping your statutes!
Then I shall not be put to shame,
   having my eyes fixed on all your commandments.
I will praise you with an upright heart,
   when I learn your righteous ordinances.
I will observe your statutes;
   do not utterly forsake me. (NRSV)

Is your way blameless? (Mine isn’t, either.)

But don’t despair! This is a teaching psalm, not a psalm of self-flagellation. Each one of its verses (or strophes) is “dedicated” to a different letter of the Hebrew alphabet: twenty-two letters, twenty-two strophes. Each of the eight verses in every strophe begins (in Hebrew) with that same letter. Why did the psalm’s author go through these alphabetic acrobatics? Because they make it easier to memorize. It’s a teaching psalm, remember?

And all 176 verses (it’s the longest psalm in the Bible) have to do with God’s law. Doesn’t fill you with confidence and consolation, joy and gladness? Seriously, don’t despair.

For me the key to this psalm is in that last part of verse 8: “Do not utterly forsake me.” God’s law is one of the ways that God is present with us. The law reminds us what a good life looks like, that just and compassionate people (most of God’s laws are about how to be those kind) are usually the healthiest and happiest. God knows that I will not always be blameless, that sometimes I will do wrong, and that other times I will be downright shaky in the keeping of divine statues. If God didn’t know that, there wouldn’t be the need for any laws.

But God still sticks around when I fail, and yes, even when I fail miserably. Even when I can’t imagine anyone—especially God—would stick around. The law is another way God has of communicating that. It’s always there: for us to try again, study again, follow again.

Loving God, thank you for how your law teaches and brings us, little by little, into communion with you. Thank you, too, for staying with us as we learn. Amen.

Written by Susan Quaintance, Director, Center for Life and Learning

Reflection and prayer © Fourth Presbyterian Church

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