“Steady my footsteps in your word; let no iniquity have dominion over me.”
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Steady my footsteps in your word. This directive is one of the gems of psalm 119, in my opinion. There are other familiar poetic phrases from this often neglected psalm which include “your word is a lamp unto my feet”, “let your loving kindness be my comfort, O Lord”, “you are my refuge and shield”, and so on. And yet I will admit a certain internal groaning when I see that this psalm is the appointed one for the day. Or I should say, a portion of this psalm is appointed.
Psalm 119 is the longest of the psalms and while it has a unifying theme of the law, God’s word, it is sometimes difficult to see where it is going. We hear “God’s word”, or a synonym for God’s teachings repeated over and over. It has 22 stanzas, each stanza with eight verses. In Hebrew it is an acrostic poem. Each stanza represents a letter of the alphabet and then each verse begins with that same letter. Today’s passage is for the letter Pe (pay) so originally these 8 verses began with Pe words. This structure is lost in the translation to English and so it often seems that the verses have little to no connection. To us as readers now, they can be unrelated phrases strung together.
I have chosen to take this as my text this morning for a few reasons which also have what might be considered a “thin connection” but in my mind they are related. I invite you into my reflections.
I always find the psalms to be of comfort especially in stressful times and use them in most pastoral situations, as do many clergy. They are a rich source of assurance about God and his love of humankind, as well as acknowledgement of the depth of human emotion, both grief and joy. I encourage you to watch the short teaching videos that our curate Marisa is currently doing on the psalms.
Specifically this morning’s verses of psalm 119 talk about the word of God as a source of rejoicing and delight. God’s teachings are a divine and cherished gift, not something to restrict us, but rather to give us structure. The word of God brings light in our darkness. However, we are not left merely to contemplate what God has told us. Rather we are directed to put into action what we are taught. Loving God and loving our neighbor has to be carried out by what we do, not just what we think. This Pe stanza uses the words, footsteps, eyes, heart, mouth, all parts of our bodies, implying action in response to God’s direction. We also learn that following God’s word, seeking to love God, requires God’s help. We cannot “do love” on our own. We are reminded that it is God’s grace which directs us, leads us and supports us.
The particular line that stood out to me this morning is “Steady my footsteps in your word” or in another translation, “Order my steps in your word.”
There is a song based on this phrase which I first heard while worshiping in a traditional African American church. “Order my steps in your word” is sung over and over, in an easy tune. Then the tune rises and the words are: Lead me guide me every day, Send your anointing Father I pray. And the verse finishes with “Order my steps in your word”. The next verse is “Order my tongue in Your Word” following the same pattern. Other verses include the phrases “guide my feet in your word” and “wash my heart in your word”. The constant plea is to God for His direction and guidance. We don’t just know God’s teachings with our minds; we seek for God to infuse all of our body and all of our action in his precepts.
Reading this one line of Psalm 119, remembering this song (and where I first heard it) came at the same time that I heard of one of my personal hero’s death. John Lewis was a Civil Rights Leader, US Representative from Georgia, and a man deeply grounded in God’s word.
In thinking of his life along with this song, I realized just how much God had directed his footsteps in multiple marches, memorably in Selma Alabama, crossing the Edmund Pettus Bridge. How God had continually directed his tongue, Baptist preacher that he was, stirring crowds to non-violent action over multiple decades. Steeped in scripture and theology he sought righteousness in the middle of oppression. His feet were guided as he walked with God. John Lewis was a man who loved God and his neighbor, with all his heart and who sought to follow Jesus, God’s embodied word. I believe it was because of his deep faith that he was able to be tenacious and continue to seek justice. John Lewis was a light, reflecting God’s light in a dark world. May he rest in peace and may we strive to follow his example.
I invite you to your own musings on the psalms this week and may God “Order our steps in His Word”.