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Sunday 30 August 2020

In pursuit of Holiness

Psalm 26/25:1-8; Matthew 16:21-27

 

By Sharon Prentis

Intercultural Mission Enabler for the Church of England, Diocese of Birmingham

Context: a predominantly urban congregation

Aim: to encourage us to think of communion with God as foundational to our sense of holiness

An endearing quality of the Psalms is the candid way in which they express a range of human experiences, emotions and expressions of faith. In Psalm 26, known as a declaration of integrity and prayer for protection, we find David, in the face of tough opposition declaring his innocence and asking God to examine his heart (verses 1-2). The psalm probably written while he was being pursued by King Saul, reflects David’s anguish. He discloses the injustice of his situation and his determination to remain faithfully following God. He implores God to justify him with an audacious challenge to be examined and vindicated. He then goes onto recount his attempts to do what is right as a response to God’s kindness and truth (v 3), and by not associating with wrongdoers (v 4-5). The psalm ends with David’s profession of delight at being in God’s house where he will be found adding his voice to the praises of others. Since God is unfailing and steadfast love, the sovereign Lord alone is David’s judge. Those who are unscrupulous will have nothing in common with those made right by God’s grace. A plea is made by the writer not to be judged along with the ‘lying folk’ who act deceitfully. There is a corresponding commitment to commune with God (v 8-9).

 

OUR PROTECTION IS IN GOD

Challenging times can seem to obscure the reality of God’s presence. Yet, even with his difficulties David shows that through obedience and trust in God security comes from being in his presence. What he expresses is the belief that being in God’s presence ultimately brings joy! In another psalm David speaks of the joy that only the righteous can know (Psalm 16:11); a joy experienced when in the Lord’s presence. This certainty is reminiscent of the passage from the letter to James that through trials God’s increased presence is evident and so too is deep joy and peace (James 1:2).

In tumultuous times, like David, we have a deeper longing for union with God. The comfort that is truth and wholeheartedness is brought about through being reconciled to the divine. It is this intimacy with the living God that leads to a discovery of who we are and who God is. It is in pursuit of that close fellowship with God that St Augustine encourages us to go back to our hearts. ‘In your inner self Christ has made his home. In your inner self you will be renewed in God’s image. And in his image, you will recognise your creator.’

 

INHABITING HOLINESS

As temples of the living God we are called to be holy (1 Corinthians 6:19 -20). To have clean hands and clean hearts before God so that we can join with others in that great circle of praise around the altar, the opposite to those actions and attitudes that separate us from God and one another. David’s determination is evident. His phrase changes from I ‘have walked’ in v 1 to a firmer commitment that ‘I will walk’ in v 11 - alluding to an ongoing reliance not on himself but God. Irrespective of the challenges in our circumstances, our integrity or wholeheartedness is then made complete in Christ.

Psalm 26 encourages us to take the focus off ourselves and put it back onto the foundation of our very being: the covenant relationship with God. It is in communion with God and with others, that sacred wholeness with God, or holiness is achieved. Through this psalm we are challenged to invite God to test the strength of our intentions towards him as the arbitrator of our motives. In a world that has become disillusioned due to the lack of integrity shown by the motives of some in authority, where there is an erosion of trust due to unrighteousness, the psalmist reminds us to be bold and willing to be open to scrutiny. God’s scrutiny reveals the depths of our sincerity bringing about the awareness of what is needed for the heart’s transformation.

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