St. Giles’ Cathedral, Edinburgh
Midweek Devotion 29th July 2021
Led by Rev Craig Meek
Welcome everyone to another weekly devotional with St. Giles’ Cathedral. My name is Craig Meek, I’m one of the Assistant Ministers at St. Giles’ and I’m delighted that you’ve joined me today for a few quiet moments, as we listen together for a good word from our Lord.
Today, we begin our time together with a short collective prayer, intended to help us compose our hearts and minds as we prepare to listen for God’s voice through the reading of Holy Scripture.
As we turn to our lessons, moreover, you’ll see that they both move within the common themes of confession and repentance – and perhaps too, the theme of holiness, something for which David appears to desire in the first reading and that God’s people appear to lack in the second. Whatever else we may make of these passages, they surely bring a good word to any one of us who has ever stumbled on the path of faith and righteousness, for they remind us again of a mercy so divine that it bids our repentance rather than despair. For with God, every moment is an opportunity to walk upright and faithfully, even if only by divine grace.
Let us pray.
Holy and Almighty God, the one who is so close to our being, and yet so much more than our knowledge may ever know – or our words may ever capture – speak to us again today, we pray; remind us anew of how your kindness bids our repentance, and of how your grace bids our holiness, providing all that we could ever need for all that you desire for us to be. In the name of Christ Jesus, the one in whom our lives are indeed sealed, whose righteousness you count as our own, and who lives in reigns with you in the power of the Spirit – one God, both now and forever. Amen.
First Lesson: Psalm 51
1 Have mercy on me, O God,
according to your steadfast love;
according to your abundant mercy
blot out my transgressions.
2 Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity,
and cleanse me from my sin.
3 For I know my transgressions,
and my sin is ever before me.
4 Against you, you alone, have I sinned,
and done what is evil in your sight,
so that you are justified in your sentence
and blameless when you pass judgement.
5 Indeed, I was born guilty,
a sinner when my mother conceived me.
6 You desire truth in the inward being;
therefore teach me wisdom in my secret heart.
7 Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean;
wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.
8 Let me hear joy and gladness;
let the bones that you have crushed rejoice.
9 Hide your face from my sins,
and blot out all my iniquities.
10 Create in me a clean heart, O God,
and put a new and rightspirit within me.
11 Do not cast me away from your presence,
and do not take your holy spirit from me.
12 Restore to me the joy of your salvation,
and sustain in me a willing spirit.
Second Lesson: Exodus 32:19-26
19 As soon as he came near the camp and saw the calf and the dancing, Moses’ anger burned hot, and he threw the tablets from his hands and broke them at the foot of the mountain. 20 He took the calf that they had made, burned it with fire, ground it to powder, scattered it on the water, and made the Israelites drink it.
21 Moses said to Aaron, ‘What did this people do to you that you have brought so great a sin upon them?’ 22 And Aaron said, ‘Do not let the anger of my lord burn hot; you know the people, that they are bent on evil. 23 They said to me, “Make us gods, who shall go before us; as for this Moses, the man who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.” 24 So I said to them, “Whoever has gold, take it off”; so they gave it to me, and I threw it into the fire, and out came this calf!’
25 When Moses saw that the people were running wild (for Aaron had let them run wild, to the derision of their enemies), 26 then Moses stood in the gate of the camp, and said, ‘Who is on the Lord’s side? Come to me!’ And all the sons of Levi gathered around him.
It seems to me that these two readings today from our lectionary fit together rather nicely. To take the Exodus story first, here we have an extraordinary laps in judgment on behalf of Aaron and God’s new chosen people. Remember, it wasn’t long ago in the Book of Exodus that God had brought the people out of bondage in Egypt and led through the desert wilderness to Mt. Sinai, where they established a covenant: God would be their God; their defender, protector, and giver every good gift and blessing. On the other hand, the people were to live as those who belong to the Holy and Almighty One, and the law was given them as a gift – the means by which they were to learn the rhythms of holiness and faithfulness.
Headed down from the mountain, the space where God had met with Moses and established just this sort of covenantal agreement, Moses finds the people already forsaking their pledge to be God’s people, worshiping a golden calf fashioned out of their most precious metals. Moses is furious; God too, though not in our passage today, is burning with rage. The people had serious messed up; they had broken the first commandment given them. And yet, interestingly enough, it would be neither their end nor the end to their unfaithfulness. For with God Almighty, every moment is a possibility for repentance and forgiveness; every moment is a moment in which God invites us to cling to the life of Christ and pattern our lives after his own, not matter how many times we’ve failed to do so in the past. And while the consequences of our failures are very real and must be endured – so too is the forgiving love of God.
But what exactly might our clinging to the life of Christ look like, we might ask? It seems to me that it begins with something like Psalm 51. That is, it begins in earnest confession and repentance; it chases after and desires holiness, a life patterned after Christ’s own. Truth be told, it’s difficult not to read the words of the Psalmist here and not be moved by their emotion and anguish. And yet, I like to think that it is because the Psalmist knows God to be rich in mercy and abounding in steadfast love that they may approach God with such honesty. For the Psalmist’s plea is not one trying to coax God into forgiveness, but rather is one predicated already upon such a thing. Put otherwise, we confession because in Jesus Christ forgiveness is already ours, making possible our holiness – making possible our conforming our lives to Christ’s own, always and ever by grace.
Thanks be to God. Amen.
Gracious and merciful God, give us the courage to know your faithfulness; to trust in the mercies and grace already ours in Christ Jesus, our Lord. Give us the courage, Lord, to accept the consequences of our actions with dignity and integrity, that we might learn from our mistakes and walk upright on straighter paths in days ahead. For you are not an angry God, vengeful against your people and creation, but rather a jealous and compassionate caretaker who wants the best for a people who struggle to want the best for ourselves. As we often pray in our confession together during worship, help us to amend what we are, Lord, and direct what we will be.
As part of our learning the rhythms and patterns of our Lord, let us remember today those in our world who need our prayers. Though helpless we often are to those in need, we hold before you those in need of your mercy and blessings anew, pleading their cause before you. Hear our prayers, Lord, for the orphan, the widow, and all who are lonely, forgotten, or overlooked. Hear our prayers for those who grieve the loss of a loved one and who know well its wounds that never seem to fully heal. Hear our prayers, Lord, for those in our world with the decks stacked again them, and for those whose existence is marked by conflict, oppression, and violence. May we never tire of praying for these, Lord; may we never tire of remembering the plights of others, that we might be ready to love a little more recklessly in those moments when you would call us to do so.
For these things, we pray in the name of Christ Jesus, who taught his friends to say together:
Our Father, which art in heaven, hallowed be thy name; thy kingdom come, thy will be done, in earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom, the power, and the glory, for ever and ever.
Friends, this concludes our time together today, and I hope that it has been of some encouragement to you. Do join us again at another time, and may the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit carry you in the days and hours ahead. Peace be with you, and with those whom you love today, friends. In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.
Johannes Brahms Schmücke dich, o liebe Seele