Psalm 51:1-10, October 21st, 2018
Sermon by Pastor Tim Woodard
“Our reading from this morning comes from Psalm 51. We shall only read the first ten verses, one thru ten.”
Psalm 51: 1-10
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 judgment.
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 right spirit within me.
“Having heard these ancient words, let us open our hearts and minds as we seek out their meaning in our lives today.”
Confession, it is good for the soul. Bearing this in mind, I must confess I was horrified when I realized I had picked this Psalm describing the confession of King David for his sinful choices during his reign. Seems, dear old King David was only human! David had committed adultery with a woman named Bathsheba. This happened way, way back in ancient history – before the birth of Christ! Many of us humans, throughout history and all the way into our current and present time, we have known sinfulness. Few can proclaim they have never committed a sin in the eyes of God. The One whom sees all, knows I was forced to learn the practice of confession… early in my own life. First, there was the candy bar, which I palmed into my pocket as a youngster, when I accompanied my Mom through the checkout counter, at the local grocery store. (They always have the best chocolate bars right there in plain sight!) I have also learned we all have our moments of temptation. From what the scriptures describe for us, Bathsheba, was the temptation which led King David down a path which led us to this Psalm of confession.
Ironically, sin is a subject Christians shy away from, yet the foundation of Christianity is based on Jesus’ ministry of forgiveness. Personally, when I chose to go to Seminary and become an ordained Christian minister, I responded to questions as to why I was taking this pathway, in the following manner. I told my friends and acquaintances: “I need to stay close to the source of forgiveness.” If only my humanness stopped with an illicit candy bar!
The journey of life is a complex voyage and we each must trek this passageway one step, one day at a time. Each of us, we shall have choices and decisions to make along the way. There will be temptations to take short cuts as we move ever forward in life. Our humanness will cause us to look for the easier softer way. In of itself, this is not a bad thing. Innovation and new discoveries are often found this way. Yet, all too often, we humans set aside the basic teachings surrounding the fundamental rights of others, as we trudge along the pathway; straightforward lessons which speak of ‘loving our neighbors as we love ourselves’. Even in the ancient times of the Old Testament, monarchs and heads of state, such as King David, went against the laws of the Ten Commandments and against the common rules of fair play in civilized societies. King David was held accountable for his wrong doings, as his sin was the cause of this writing which we have read aloud today. Surely, these basics still apply in the Twenty-First Century, here in these United States, and most certainly here where we reside!
What is your story? We each have a story to tell about our journeys. It is important to tell our stories and equally important to listen to others as well. Everyone needs to be heard at some point and at some level. A great many of you have heard my story. I have made mistakes along the way. Consequently, I have been held accountable and endeavored to make amends and to learn my lessons. My mother taught me early in life not to steal candy bars in the grocery store. What are the early lessons you have learned? What kind of twists and turns has your pathway led you upon? What things do you remember doing or saying which you would rather have done differently? I have heard many personal stories of other folk’s journeys, many more than I can count. What I have learned is that the situations and circumstances of others is usually different than my own and each differs from another’s. So, what is your story? What does your narrative look like? What have you learned? Where along the way did you need to stop and reflect about how you could have done something better? Have you needed to ask for forgiveness? Humbling isn’t it? Yet, humility only comes after we experience ego deflation at one level or another.
There are many ways to be led astray or succumb to temptations. These may cause us to indulge in a desire which ultimately, takes us into that territory of wrong doing. What is your transgression or indulgence? Where is it that you have failed to observe and protect the needs and rights of another? Our tradition as a church, does not set up a process for formal confessions on a regular basis. Nor am I looking for us to set up such a structure. Yet, confession is indeed good for the soul. If your burdened down with something from the past, find someone whom you trust and respect and ask that person if you might talk about what lays so heavy in your heart. If needed, you can come and talk with me and I am bound to keep your confidence, keeping our conversation confidential. When you keep a transgression secret its weight can be a burden upon you. Consequently, it can and often does zap energy from a different element of ones being. Giving it over to God and sharing that secret burden with at least one other, will ultimately give you ‘new freedom’ and it can ‘lift up’ your spirit.
Psalm 51 is a plea for mercy and absolution from sin. As we have talked about this scripture lesson, let us bear in mind, that your preacher today and the words of the Psalmist, are not referring to you specifically, but most certainly this lesson refers to humankind in general! Human kind has been going against the basic guidelines set forth by God, brought to us by way of the hands of Moses in the form of the Ten Commandments, for Centuries!
‘The Psalms are often seen as a mirror of life.’ /author unknown/ If you have seen yourself in this Psalm, then take this opportunity to reflect on it and adjust your life to take in its meaning. If not, then know that this process is available to you should you ever need it. Do not allow yourself however, to be caught up in any delusion of your ‘inability’ to get entrapped or hooked up in a misstep or a wrongdoing! Each one of us, at some time or another, may find ourselves powerless over the lure to cross over into temptation. This is when we need to cry out to our God for help! You and me and all our neighbors are only human. As such we are prone to our human condition. All of us need the saving grace of God in our lives.
A theologian I frequently quote tells us: “The reality is that we are not the righteous people we think we are. It’s always easier for us to pay attention to the sins of others – rather than our own sins. And yet, God’s new covenant of forgiveness makes it clear that we are all sinful… That’s right, it is God’s love that exposes our sin. It is God’s ‘abundant mercy,’ that calls forth the recognition ‘I know my transgressions.'” /Alan Brehm/ In the modern world, in which we live, we have come to a point where ‘we have seen ourselves in the mirror’. We have not only seen our own selves, we have seen others for who and for what they are, as well. It is our responsibility to acknowledge what we see and what we hear. Let us not forget that it was the prophet Nathan whom called King David out for his wrongs! Read the second book of Samuel chapter twelve if you want to hear the full discourse. Within it you will learn that it was only after David’s confession that Nathan suggests God shall forgive him. Then David said to Nathan, “I have sinned against the Lord.” Nathan replied, “The Lord has taken away your sin.” /2 Samuel 12:3/
Let us now consider what we shall take from today’s lesson. As we do so let me challenge you to take stock of where you are upon life’s journey. Where are you, where are you going from here? Are you involved in the lives of others whom are all around you? Or are you focusing primarily upon yourself alone? The life of a person of God cannot be lived in isolation any more than that of a caretaker whom tries to exist without tending to the needs of those she is called to care for. When we accept God into our lives we accept the responsibility to join the team of those whom are the caretakers of the kingdom of God here on earth. We sit in the Almighties creation and therefore, we must take responsibility for our place within it. To not lend a hand to those in need is a sin of omission. To not help in correcting the things within our own community, which clearly need repair, is also an oversight we are compelled to correct. Here in our own church we have things being left undone because someone has not made the effort to lend a hand. Yes, there are a multitude of things which are being done and done well and with love and care. Yet, there is so much more we could do. Are you willing to lend a hand and become a vital part of this your church; giving back some of which you have received?
As we reach the end of our lesson, let us examine the last phrase believed to have come from the mouth of King David as he asked for forgiveness.
“Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me.” /Psalm 51:10/ ‘Create in me a clean heart,’ what an exalted and admirable request! When we were but infants our spirits were free, and our hearts were pure. Along the journey our spirits have become burdened with the weight of life and the baggage of our own misguided choices along the way. As we continue ever forward asking God for a cleansing, now and then, can only help! ‘Put a new and right spirit within me!’ How uplifting to be open to asking God for such freedom of spirit! Yes, indeed yes! Let us at least take the heart of our lesson and use it to uplift our very spirits as we trudge along this roadway! King David’s reign as monarch did not end with his confession. No, he went on to lead his people for many years! Neither shall our admissions destroy us; rather they shall free us and our very spirits to even greater things for the sake of God’s kingdom here on earth!