June 17, 2012 Psalm 26: To Walk with Integrity
1 Samuel 15:34-16:13 Psalm 26 2 Cor. 5:6-10, 14-17 Mark 4:26-34
Have you ever been falsely accused? Have you ever been a victim of a mistaken identity or a stolen identity? Or charged the wrong amount of money, or charged for something you never ordered, or overcharged because of human error or computer error?
Chances are all of us have experienced one of these at some time, especially as we deal with the quagmire which is our health care system, charges, over charges, billing mistakes and insurance errors. Through no fault of your own, you are forced to repeatedly seek to clear your goon name by clearing up the mistake.
I’ve recently had to deal with a billing error from over a month ago. It was not my mistake, yet I’ve had to make repeated phone calls to get it straightened out. For all of our trusts in computers, they have also created problems as well. Once information is entered, even incorrect information, it can be hard to change it depending on the software.
Ten years ago when my daughter got her first cell phone, she was a minor so it had to be put in my name. The inexperienced salesclerk at Radio Shack entered my name as Patricia Patterson. I caught the mistake but not before it had been entered into the computer system. Several years later when doing a routine credit check I saw, aka Patricia Patterson on the form. I had an alias.
When I ordered a magazine subscription over the phone in February, the person taking my order entered my name as Robinson. The order went through on my credit card despite the wrong name.
When my car was towed to Extreme Dodge back in March, they entered my name as Patricia Robinson. I corrected them several times however they could not change it once it was in the system.
So now I have another alias.
Mistaken identity, billing errors are quite common in this computer age of ours. For one who has been wrongly charged with anything, Psalm 26 is for you. It’s a simple lament of someone wrongly charged seeking justice. Not a lament over ill health or other dire straits, not a request for healing but for justice. It is general so it could be used by any number of individuals who may not have the poetic ability to make up their own prayer. It could also be used by a group in prayer.
The psalm begins with a plea for help, for vindication for he has been falsely accused. He states how he has walked in integrity without wavering, following God’s commandments and trusting God. He asks God to test him, confident in God’s steadfast love and that he has been faithful in following God’s ways. (vs. 1-3)
In verses 4-5 he provides evidence of the sincerity of his faith, how he avoids the company of evil doers. Verses 6-7 seem out of place as the writer is still in the midst of presenting his case before God. Chances are verses 6-7 belongs more appropriately at the end of the psalm, expressing the writer’s confidence that his prayers will be heard and giving thanks in advance to God. However it is possible that the writer is referring to a ritual hand washing as a way of enforcing his innocence. In verses 8-10 the request is renewed. He pleads for his life so that he may continue to enjoy his chief delight which is spending time with the Lord in his house.
The psalm concludes by restating his opening petition, how he continues to walk with integrity, not only that, he believes that his present perilous path will become smooth – his foot stands on level ground. He is firm in his conviction that he has done no wrong and so God will redeem him.
There are no words of humility within the psalm; he doesn’t humbly acknowledge his sin because there is no sin in this situation. It almost sounds like the words of the Pharisee in prayer at the front of the Temple proclaiming his righteousness while the publican remains on his knees in the back humbly asking for mercy, which raises the question, is the writer righteous or self-righteous? How do we tell the difference? There can be a thin line between true righteousness which knows we are in the right, and self-righteousness that is unable to recognize any wrong-doing.
The self-righteous are unable to acknowledge their sinfulness. They think they are better than others and so deserving of better treatment. There can be a danger in praying this psalm that we might fall into self-righteousness. But there is a time and place for the righteous who are wrongly accused to stand up for themselves, confront the false charges and request redress for the wrongs. Ours is not a wimpy religion where we never stand up for ourselves. If we are wrong, we are to admit our failings, but when in the right we need to confront injustice. Wise are those who know the difference.
Who is the righteous one? We have already seen in previous psalms and in the prophet Micah, the righteous one is the one who walks humbly with our God. Is the writer one of these? The psalm begins and ends with this statement of his faith; that he walks with integrity so that now he knows he is on firm ground where God is concerned. A person of integrity is one who lives as he believes; there is no conflict between his words and his life. In the case of the writer, his integrity is rooted in his faith.
This week we saw a return to tv of the popular nighttime soap, Dallas, with JR Ewing, the man you loved to hate. I used to watch each week just to hear JR’s great one-liners. My favorite was: “once you lose your integrity, everything else is a piece of cake.” It says so much about integrity and the importance of it. With it, you lead a righteous, moral life, without it, your morals are gone, you are set down a path of wrong doing and ill-gotten gain, with no thought about the repercussions of your actions, whether they are right or wrong.
In our reading from 1 Samuel, the story continues. Last week the people had asked for a king so Samuel gave them what they had asked for, anointing Saul as the first king of the Hebrew nation. But Saul proved to not be up to the requirements of leadership. God was displeased with him so in our reading today God instructs Samuel to anoint another king, hence enters David, the young shepherd boy. God’s spirit departs from Saul, leaving him melancholy and enters David. We know the story, how David kills Goliath gaining favor and reputation and is invited into Saul’s courts where he soothed Saul’s spirit with his music and befriended Saul’s son, Jonathan. And how Saul became jealous of David and sought to kill him.
David’s journey was not an easy journey in any sense of the word. He knew what it was to be falsely accused of wrong doing and persecuted as Saul hunted him down. He also knew of his own sinfulness and when confronted with his sin, repented and asked for forgiveness. He may have strayed at times; he was not immune to the temptation to abuse his power, yet overall, in the beginning and the end, he walked with his God. As long as he stayed on God’s paths his feet were on firm ground and he was righteous before the Lord.
So who is the righteous one? How shall we know him? By his fruits we shall know him. Jesus in Mark today tells two parables about a seed. In the one the seed is planted and grows, through no power of our own but through the power of God. In the other the small mustard seed grows into a tree, not a mighty oak or a Cedar of Lebanon, but a mighty tree none-the-less. The righteous person, the one with integrity who walks with God faithfully, will bear fruit just by being who he is. He will bear great fruit just by being true to God’s word.
Paul tells us today, we walk by faith, not by sight. We may not know where we are going in this life, many times the path is dark, but this doesn’t mean we crawl out of fear; that we have to be afraid and hesitant. Rather, in that we walk with the Lord, we walk in confidence even when the way is dark.
This Sunday we celebrate Father’s Day, a good time to remember the righteous men in our lives, men of integrity who were true to themselves, true to their word, who taught us through example how to stand up for what is right in this world, to be strong, yet gentle, to walk humbly with our God. It is a good time to thank them for their witness to us, for teaching us how to walk with integrity ourselves through their example.
While in this world, we walk by faith, not by sight, but in that we are walking with our God, we are on firm ground wherever we may go, wherever this life may take us.
Copyright June 2012, Robertson