“As the cruiser lights flashed blue and red, I pulled over. Deep inside, I sensed my smug self-righteousness ebbing away, exposing a hollow anxiety.
The worst part was wondering where I could have gone wrong, accompanied by a fear of undetected errors, hidden only from myself.
I had tried so hard to do everything right, or, at least, so I thought…what could I have possibly missed?”
~ Psalm 19 ~
To the leader. A Psalm of David.
1 The heavens are telling the glory of God;
and the firmament proclaims his handiwork.
2 Day to day pours forth speech,
and night to night declares knowledge.
3 There is no speech, nor are there words;
their voice is not heard;
4 yet their voice goes out through all the earth,
and their words to the end of the world.
In the heavens he has set a tent for the sun,
5 which comes out like a bridegroom from his wedding canopy,
and like a strong man runs its course with joy.
6 Its rising is from the end of the heavens,
and its circuit to the end of them;
and nothing is hid from its heat.
7 The law of the Lord is perfect,
reviving the soul;
the decrees of the Lord are sure,
making wise the simple;
8 the precepts of the Lord are right,
rejoicing the heart;
the commandment of the Lord is clear,
enlightening the eyes;
9 the fear of the Lord is pure,
the ordinances of the Lord are true
and righteous altogether.
10 More to be desired are they than gold,
even much fine gold;
sweeter also than honey,
and drippings of the honeycomb.
11 Moreover by them is your servant warned;
in keeping them there is great reward.
12 But who can detect their errors?
Clear me from hidden faults.
13 Keep back your servant also from the insolent;
do not let them have dominion over me.
Then I shall be blameless,
and innocent of great transgression.
14 Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart
be acceptable to you,
O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.
As I prepared to take my family away for the long weekend on a warm and sunny Friday afternoon, I dutifully cleaned the windscreen, checked the tires, topped up the oil, and directed my family to ‘buckle up’ before we headed out into the cottage traffic. Safety first, right?
Especially when you know the police will be out on the roads in full display on the Friday of a long weekend. They weren’t going to catch me unprepared…
On sunny days by the lake or starlit nights by the campfire, it’s easy to feel close to our God, but first we had to get there, and the trip to the lakeside and the campfire begins with traffic.
AND, this was a long weekend–the roads were crowded with impatient drivers who all agreed that they wanted me to get out of their way. Smugly, I resisted. Instead, I locked the cruise control on one hundred and three, and putted along in the slow lane, feeling pretty smug as all the other drivers angrily passed me by.
I passed a speed trap on the highway. The officer didn’t even flinch. I passed another. Same reaction. I settled back, relaxed, and smiled.
A cruiser pulled onto the highway right behind me, so close that I looked down to check the cruise control. One-oh-three. I continued on, smugly, and watched as the cruiser pulled out, passed me, then sped ahead.
Suddenly, the cruiser’s brake lights shone, the police car decelerated, dropped back, and pulled into the lane directly behind my car. As the cruiser lights flashed blue and red in my rear-view mirror, I pulled over. My smugness ebbed away, replaced by hollow anxiety. I had tried so hard to do everything right, I thought…what could I have possibly missed?
The Psalmist in our text faces a similar dilemma. On first reading, it is clear throughout the psalm that the writer savours the comfort of the revealed word of God in both the book of nature and the book of scripture. Passages such as “The heavens are telling the glory of God, and the firmament proclaims his handiwork,” show that God has revealed a glorious presence in the book of nature. To see the signature of the Hand of the Creator, all you need to do is look up at the night’s sky in wonder, because God the creator, has written a promise in the heavens. In nature, we can glean our first inkling that God loves us and has prepared a unique place for each of us in the world. You are meant to be here.
As the Psalmist points out, the heavens declare the glory of God, but the scriptures tell of the righteousness of God. Verses such as “the law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul” and “the ordinances of the Lord are true and righteous altogether” compliment the revelation of God in the book of nature by celebrating the revelation of God’s righteousness in the book of scripture. The scriptures tell of God’s law and show that God loves us and forgives us our daily sins and delivers us from evil in the world. Do you want to know the creativity of God? Look at the book of nature. Do you want to know the righteousness of God? Look into the book of scriptures and you will see God’s wisdom, righteousness and love.
So, at first, it seems like the Psalmist’s walk with God is pretty good. He’s just rolling down the highway of life on cruise control enjoying God’s sunshine. Nothing seems to trouble the Psalmist, so, what’s the catch? In one short phrase, the Psalmist betrays a hollow, grasping anxiety that eats away at the foundations of faith in God’s love. Suddenly, the Psalmist interrupts the celebration of God’s majesty and asks: “But who can detect their errors”? Who can detect their errors? How can I know when the words of my mouth are pleasing to God? How can I be sure that the thoughts of my heart are acceptable to God? Where is there space for me and my imperfections in between the majesty and the righteousness of God almighty?
As I sat, waiting for the police officer, I anxiously wondered what errors the officer had detected. After a beautiful celebration of the majesty of God in nature and the righteousness of God in scripture, the smugness of the Psalmist has also ebbed away. The law of the Lord is perfect, but the Psalmist is not, and the writer has already realized that nothing is hidden from the scorching heat of the burning sun, that the Law of the Lord is perfect, even if we’re not. Somehow, the Psalmist begs to be cleared of hidden faults. We can almost hear the Psalmist thinking: “I had tried so hard to do everything right…what could I have possibly missed?
“Is this car licensed with the Ministry of Transportation?” The officer asked.
“Yes sir,” I confirmed. “I bought the sticker myself, last fall”. It was now August.
“The sticker is not valid, sir. It expired,” the officer intoned flatly. And for emphasis, he added: “last October sir. The sticker expired LAST October”.
I was caught. Sure, I dutifully bought the tag, but I realized that I had neglected to put the sticker on the car, and the current sticker was safely tucked away in a kitchen drawer at home. That sinking, hollow feeling in the pit of your stomach–you know the one. There was no getting around it. A simple, unwitting, unintentional error, but an error nonetheless. Nothing is hid from the heat of the scorching sun.
The officer handed me a ticket for an invalid license plate, and read me the options for response, which included paying now, paying more later, or paying the most if I had to be summoned before the Justice of the Peace.
There’s no getting around it, I had broken the law, and I had to pay. I’m not perfect, and I was in trouble. “Who can detect their errors?” The Psalmist asks. Certainly, not me.
The same can be said of the world around us–it’s in trouble, too.
Celebrities cloak themselves in robes of perfection. They use botox, auto-tuned voices, snap chat filters and spray-on tans in an attempt to cover their imperfections. But each week, a new tell-all book or news item reveals some celebrity’s hidden secret, some indiscretion, some secret selfish privilege, reaching as high as the Governor General’s Official Residence, or Buckingham Palace, or The White House. A phone call from the highest office in the land, for grift, extortion and political leverage.
“The Law of the Lord is Perfect”, the Psalmist writes.
“A perfect phone call”, “A beautiful, warm conversation”. “The phone call was absolutely a ten”. “It was perfect”. (1) The President declares.
“But,” asks the Psalmist: “who can detect their own errors?”
Obscene pics on Instagram, racist tweets on Twitter, and blatant lies in the press. The President incites a mob, the mob attacks the Capitol, and reporters declare it a tourist visit. A tourist visit!
All this, and the nation just shrugs. “Nobody’s perfect,” we say, so we just assume the worst, and carry on. “I’m not perfect,” said Toronto Mayor Rob Ford after admitting that he must have “smoked crack cocaine in one of his drunken stupors” (2). Everyone has hidden errors in word and in deed, by what we have done, and by what we have left undone, and as the Psalmist says, “Nothing is hid from the heat of the scorching sun”.
But God doesn’t leave us without hope, for the Psalmist cries out to God for mercy, by saying “Clear me from hidden faults” just as Jesus prayed, “Forgive us our sins”. Also, the Psalmist asks, “Keep back your servant also from the insolent; do not let them have dominion over me,” just like Jesus who prayed, “and deliver us from evil.”
This same God who first reveals divine creativity in the book of nature; God, the God who reveals righteousness in the book of scripture, God Almighty has chosen a third way to reveal divine love, kindness, and forgiveness through the book of humanity, through the person of Jesus Christ, the living, breathing, human embodiment of the creative and majestic God of heaven. Through Jesus, God has already promised to be the One who forgives our sins and who delivers us from evil in the world.
God almighty has identified with humanity through the book of nature in creation, through the book of revelation in scripture, and through the book of humanity, through Jesus, the living word of God. Through Jesus, God’s righteousness was made to be unrighteousness for our sakes. Through forgiveness in Christ, and through love, God is the one who forgives our daily sins and who delivers us from evil in the world, and in Christ, God the Holy Spirit works through your heart and mine, your mind, and mine, just as God comforted the Psalmist who prays: “Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable to you O Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer”. It is through the grace of Jesus Christ that one can detect their errors, and to be relieved of their burden. Still, a price has to be paid, but God had chosen to pay it on our behalf.
A week later, I drove to the courthouse with my ticket, and spoke to a kindly older gentleman at the desk and asked if he would tell me how I could find the Justice of the Peace. He smiled softly and invited me to follow him down a hallway to an empty office, where he donned a black robe, sat behind the desk, and asked, “Now then, I was about to go for lunch. What can I do for you?” I explained the situation and asked to have the charge removed or the fine lowered. The Justice kindly informed me that he could neither change the charge nor remove the fine.
The penalty must be paid.
“But”, he began, “You must have incurred some expenses travelling to address the ticket. We can help you with your costs.” Next, the Justice of the Peace reached into the top drawer of the desk and pulled out an old beat-up calculator. “How much did the gas cost you to get here?” He asked, “and what other expenses did you have to come here to the court?” When all was tallied, the Justice of the Peace showed me that, through the Justice’s accounting, my debt had been paid. With a stroke of his pen, the Justice of the Peace covered my debt, and I was free to go. As I walked out of the courthouse, to the warmth of a sunny summer day, I was keenly aware that God was still at work in the world. Certainly, no one can discern their hidden faults. There is no one who is perfect, no, not one, and the penalty must be paid. But thanks be to God, who has chosen Jesus to be the one who forgives our daily sins and who delivers us from evil in the world, you, me, and all who seek the face of God from evil in the world. Let the words of our mouths and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in the sight of God, Amen.
May the words of our mouths, and the meditation of our hearts be acceptable to you, O Lord, our rock and our redeemer. Have mercy on us and forgive us, that we may delight in your will, and walk in your ways to the glory of your name, Amen.
Scriptural quotations courtesy of The New Revised Standard Version Bible (NRSV) copyright 1989 by the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission, all rights reserved worldwide.
(1) CNN News. “Trump/Ukraine Perfect Call.” 2019: https://www.cnn.com/videos/politics/2019/09/30/trump-ukraine-perfect-call-moos-pkg-ebof-vpx.cnn. Accessed: August 25, 2021.
(2) Toronto City News. “Rob Ford’s most Unforgettable quotes.” 2016: https://toronto.citynews.ca/2016/03/22/rob-fords-most-unforgettable-quotes/ accessed August 25, 2021.