By tradition, this is a Psalm in which we hear David setting out his intentions for his kingship, his aspirations for his term of office. They are, without doubt, very high. And of course when you know the whole story of David, it’s easy to scoff at someone who could stoop so low, apparently reaching so high.
‘Things can only better’ was the psalm song of May 1997. Other leaders have quoted from Saint Francis or Martin Luther King and we have all watched as words have faded into crumbled memories. There is a repeated pattern of soaring hope and then crushing disappointment. ‘I will walk with integrity of heart’. ‘I will know nothing of evil.’ ‘None who practises deceit shall remain in my house’. We all know, we have all learned, that such absolute commitments are hard to maintain in the murky shark pool of realpolitik. So, should we school our monarchs, ministers and magistrates in these words – as Martin Luther suggested?
Most of us make promises a bit like these somewhere in our lives. Even a Brownie promise made in early childhood says, ‘I promise that I will do my best’. A church member promises to ‘accept the gift and cost of following Christ’, a minister promises ‘to live a holy life, and to maintain the truth of the gospel, whatever trouble or persecution may arise.’ Whoever you are, you will have made promises somewhere, to someone. And as we each look honestly at our own lives, comparing their daily reality with the grand and hopeful promises we have made, perhaps we might each be at least a little chastened and a little more merciful towards those whose broken promises are all too visible.
But, might we also be inspired by the promises we had made and the hopes we cherish for our lives? Can we pick ourselves up from our inevitable lapses and mistakes and sign up to them again? There are those who think hypocrisy is the greatest sin, but perhaps worse is the cynicism that despairs of aspiration and commitment, that prevents us from hoping to do better. Faith is somehow rooted in promising and committing and taking a stand, even about your own life. So, let even fallen sinners aim high.
God of mercy and grace, teach me how to live, that I may be, if not blameless, then better.
Remind me today, of the promises I have made, and give me courage to renew them in hope.
Defeat in me, from your great love, the cynicism and despair that sometimes overwhelm me, and grow in me the hope you always have of my redemption.
The Rev’d Dr Susan Durber is a URC minister and Moderator of the Faith and Order Commission of the World Council of Churches