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That we may know our true desire…

May 30, 2010

Text:  Psalm 73

A Very Rich Old Woman by David Starkey (Writer’s Almanac-May 30, 2010)

We spend our energy managing our desires, waiting on them, investing in them, keeping them hidden.  Our desires reach deep and wide…from food to money to sex….

Amidst our competing desires we hear an ancient word from a wisdom psalm—a psalm of Asaph.  It is a word about competing value systems and conflicting desires.  It is a word about doubt and envy.  It is a word about the practice of gathering for worship…about the practice of repentance.

The psalm begins with a faith affirmation:

Truly God is good to Israel, to those whose hearts are pure.

This is the voice of the tradition Asaph has been formed in.  It is the faith of our parents which asserts itself amidst our coming of age questions.  We hear and know the right answers about faith and God.  Yet along with Asaph we are unsettled at times.  We are unsettled by our desire for the good life and wonder why the wicked prosper and good people suffer.  This is a theological question for Asaph, who has been formed in a tradition that understood the God of creation to be the God of covenant.  The evidence all around Asaph seemed to contradict the promises of the covenant—promises to bless the righteous and curse the wicked.

2 But as for me, I came so close to the edge of the cliff!  My feet were slipping, and I was almost gone.  3 For I envied the proud when I saw them prosper despite their wickedness.

Here we have honest words of confession.  In addition to his theological conundrum, Asaph is struggling at a deeply personal level.  He is envious of others he sees prosper (shalom).

What does Asaph see that makes him envious?  He sees the bold and the beautiful living a painless life.  Their bodies are healthy and strong.  They live in nice houses and drive nice cars.  They have money.  Even in a bad economy they aren’t troubled like other people or plagued with problems like everyone else.

Asaph sees the dominant cultural story of the good life all around him.  It is a story that is not dependent upon God—or at least upon regular church attendance.  Certainly not membership or active participation in a missional community.  It is a very powerful story—deeply embedded in the culture all around him.  It comes up in conversations at work.  He sees it when he goes to the little league game, he sees it in status updates on FB.   He sees the same desires in his own heart.  He is envious of the lifestyle of ease.

Not only are they enjoying the good life, but they are arrogant.  These fat cats have everything their hearts could ever wish for!   They scoff and speak only evil; in their pride they seek to crush others.  They boast against the very heavens, and their words strut throughout the earth. (7-9)

“Does God realize what is going on?, they ask.  “Is the Most High even aware of what is happening?”

These words haunt Asaph as he looks at his life—full of troubles, pain and grief.  Asaph gives voice to the consumer expectation that faith and sacrifice will be rewarded.  He begins to re-evaluate many things in his life.  It is an excruciating time of questioning everything.  He wonders why he even goes to church.  Why he even tries to keep his heart pure…to do the right thing.  He is weary and confused.

In verse 17 the story changes for Asaph.  “Then one day I went into your sanctuary, O God….”  As a worship leader, Asaph is in the habit of going to the sanctuary.  He gathers with the faith community to worship.  It is in the context of worship that his eyes are opened.  He sees the shallowness of the dominant story—their life is only a dream.  He sees that he is not as blameless and righteous as he thought—I realized how bitter I had become, how pained I had been by all I had seen.  I was so foolish and ignorant.

Asaph begins to turn from the desires that had obsessed him.  In worship, he has a renewed vision of God and the Story that gives his life meaning.  Whom have I in heaven but you?  I desire you more than anything on earth.  God remains the strength of my heart.

This happens in church—in gathered worship.  Corporate worship is the place where Asaph’s nous is cleansed—where the illusions of the dominant story that had produced envy in Asaph are exposed.

He is willing to name his struggles.  He is willing to change.  What is church if it isn’t a place to come to change, and to learn how to change with others who are changing?  What is sin but the refusal to change—perhaps by holding the community hostage to individual self-will?  What we all needed was repentance.

Psalm 73 is a psalm of hope because Asaph is willing to be nakedly honest about the desires that churn within him.  How about us?

Addiction (Jonathan Wilson-Hargrove)

5-10 minutes response time…

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