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“A Sermon on Psalm Nineteen”
The Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost
“Let the words of our mouths and the meditation of our hearts be acceptable to you, O Lord, our strength and our redeemer.”
I cannot speak for you, but, as for me, I pray some version of that prayer, from psalm nineteen, more than once a day, almost every day.
Almost every morning, before the day begins, I pray to live, throughout the day, a life of careful speech. Then, from time to time, throughout the day, especially before meetings and conversations, I pray to have good thoughts and good words; a smaller, simpler version of the last verse of today’s psalm, “Let the words of our mouths and the meditation of our hearts be acceptable to you, O Lord, our strength and our redeemer.”
But, while I cannot speak for you, as for me, all that praying notwithstanding, I don’t think I’ve ever yet made it all the way through a full day, thinking thoughts , and saying words, all of which meet the standard, and pass the test, of the final verse of psalm nineteen, “May the words of my mouth and the thoughts in my heart be acceptable to you, O Lord, my strength and my redeemer.”
Words that would be acceptable to God would be words that are true and clear, while also being gentle and kind; words that don’t run from confrontation, but, rather, strive to be as straight as possible, while also being as thoughtful as possible; words that will not exaggerate anything in order to close a deal, gain an advantage, make a point or win an argument.
Those are the kinds of thoughts and words which meet the standard of the psalmist’ prayer for the words of our mouths and the thoughts of our hearts to be acceptable in the sight of God; the kinds of thoughts and words which are sensitive to, and respectful of, those who are in any minority which is likely to be ostracized, stigmatized, marginalized, bullied or teased because they are different from the comfortable majority; the kind of thoughtful, mindful speech which is the particular responsibility and special obligation of those of us who, like myself, were born on the comfortable side of every human difference you can name.
(The kind of speech which, for about the past thirty years, has come to be called, by some in popular culture, “politically correct speech,” but, which is, in fact, biblically correct speech, gospel correct speech, living up to your baptism correct speech.)
That is the kind of mindful, thoughtful, prayerful, careful speech to which we are called as children of the most high God and followers of Jesus. But, it isn’t easy for us to unlearn and set aside all the less thoughtful strategies and tactics by which we have learned to make it through life; all the shading and spinning, the exaggeration and sarcasm, the passive-aggressive talking about people in their absence in ways we would never talk about them in their presence. It isn’t easy or simple to unclutter our thinking and speaking, to unlearn and set aside all of that.
In her best-selling memoir, Eat, Pray, Love, Elizabeth Gilbert tells about going on a spiritual retreat to an isolated island called Gili Meno. Weary of years of trying and failing to become a more deeply spiritual person, Gilbert began her twenty-day retreat by saying, “I am going to close my mouth, and I am not going to open it until something inside me has changed.”
Which is exactly the sort of thing many of us need to do, and few of us can do. Who of us can leave everything behind for twenty days, close our mouth, and not open it until something inside us has changed? Rather, we have to try to change while going to work and school each day, surrounded by people who expect us to continue to be exactly as we always have been. We don’t get to escape to a spiritual retreat to change. Rather, we have to try to change while going to the same breakroom or boardroom, classroom or locker room, Facebook and Twitter where everyone expects us to continue to be who we always have been, while we are trying to change; praying, with the psalmist, “May the words of my mouth and the thoughts in my heart be acceptable to you, O Lord, my strength and my redeemer.”
But, what else can we do? What else can we do but pray each day, all through the day, to become a person of good thoughts and good words; reaching, each day, for an unfailingly clear and careful, gentle and true, way of speaking which we will never stop wanting until it is, at last, ours. Amen.