1 Happy are those whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. 2 Happy are those to whom the Lord imputes no iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no deceit. 3 While I kept silence, my body wasted away through my groaning all day long. 4 For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer. Selah 5 Then I acknowledged my sin to you, and I did not hide my iniquity; I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the Lord,” and you forgave the guilt of my sin. Selah 6 Therefore let all who are faithful offer prayer to you; at a time of distress, the rush of mighty waters shall not reach them. 7 You are a hiding place for me; you preserve me from trouble; you surround me with glad cries of deliverance. Selah 8 I will instruct you and teach you the way you should go; I will counsel you with my eye upon you. 9 Do not be like a horse or a mule, without understanding, whose temper must be curbed with bit and bridle, else it will not stay near you. 10 Many are the torments of the wicked, but steadfast love surrounds those who trust in the Lord. 11 Be glad in the Lord and rejoice, O righteous, and shout for joy, all you upright in heart.
Romans 7: 15-23
15 I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. 16 Now if I do what I do not want, I agree that the law is good. 17 But in fact it is no longer I that do it, but sin that dwells within me. 18 For I know that nothing good dwells within me, that is, in my flesh. I can will what is right, but I cannot do it. 19 For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do. 20 Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I that do it, but sin that dwells within me. 21 So I find it to be a law that when I want to do what is good, evil lies close at hand. 22For I delight in the law of God in my inmost self, 23 but I see in my members another law at war with the law of my mind, making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members.
FORGIVEN TO FORGIVE
I am sitting in the exam room at the doctor’s office, my feet dangling from the table. The doctor is several feet away behind the screen of her laptop. She begins to run down the standard checklist: Any history of heart disease? NO Cancer NO Parkinson’s Disease? NO Bleeding Disorders? NO Kidney Disease? NO Intestinal disorders? NO Hypertension? NO Diabetes? NO Did you have the mumps? NO Chicken Pox NO Been vaccinated for Shingles? YES Had surgery in the last 5 years? NO On and on she goes! Part of me chafes at this process we go through at every annual visit. But a little part of me likes because I usually ace the checklist. I’ve been blessed with many years of good health! I exercise, take care of myself, eat right. Last visit, she called me the “Poster Child for People of a Certain Age.” So today, I have an almost-perfect score until we get to screen 3 of the checklist. There, I have to confess that I do have a few aches and pains at night, yes I get up to go to the bathroom, yes I have made a few trips to the dermatologist, and –okay– picked up a pound or two! But overall, I haven’t been “too bad” in the past year, not too many “sins” to atone for. I know it’s wrong, but I can even feel a little smug about my good health!
But truthfully, I can be prideful about other things, too. Maybe I slip into thinking that I’ve been a pretty good girl all the way around! I don’t cuss or start fights. I give money to the church and to charities. I take care of my family; I’m nice to strangers. I’m basically a good person? Do I really need to publically confess every time we meet for worship?
My mom asked a similar question recently? After saying grace, she said, “Kellan, I haven’t done anything sinful today, so why do I need to ask forgiveness?” (And in my mom’s case, I almost agree with her. She is a very good lady.)
But have you ever had that thought? Why are we such a confessing church? Is guilt just part of our Presbyterian heritage?
We always begin our worship service with a Prayer of Confession. I wrote today’s prayer while sitting at my desk; I wrote it with today’s sermon in mind. READ A PART. Did that prayer include anything you truly needed to confess, or did it merely put words in your mouth?
What about the silent part of our confession? In those few seconds, is there time to think of something? Do you have time to even formulate a prayer? I’m curious: What did you silently confess? Anyone? Okay, I’m not going to tell you what I confessed either!
Let’s look instead at King David’s sin. We all know what that was: King David had everything he could ask for: He was a military hero, a beloved ruler, and was favored by God. David had great wealth, land, orchards, vineyards, beautiful wives — all the trappings of happiness and success. Yet, he wanted another man’s wife and had her soldier husband sent to the front where he would be killed, so that he could have her. King David abused his authority and felt entitled to take what he wanted. His sin — not unlike that of many modern-day politicians– was grievous and public. When the prophet Nathan confronted him, King David confessed his sin to God. This Psalm — 51 — is David’s prayer of confession.
Listen for the agony of his suffering: “While I kept silence, my body wasted away . . . groaning all day long . . . my strength was dried up.” But hear the relief: “ Happy are those whose sins are forgiven . . . You are a hiding place for me; you preserve me from trouble; you surround me with glad cries of deliverance.” What turned David’s suffering into joy? He confessed. He said he was sorry. He said he would never commit such a sin again. The Bible word is repentance. And the word that goes with it is humility. David set his crown aside and fell prostrate before his King. And God forgave him — still punished him– but forgave him.
But, that’s a no brainer, you may be thinking. David’s sin was egregious. What he did was horrible! David needed to confess, but I’m not a murderer. I’m not holding inside some vile secret like David’s? I really don’t know if I have anything to confess! I think I am acing my spiritual checklist!
Well . . . let’s see? Let’s imagine that we are sitting in in the examination room of the Great Physician and we are going over our spiritual checklist. God opens the laptop and starts down the long list of indicators. Let’s see, Bill — or Bonny — or Kellan — whatever your name is, in the past year have you murdered anybody? NO. Have you stolen another person’s spouse? NO. Have you stolen anything? NO Have you worshipped other Gods? NO, LORD. Have you honored your mother? YES. I hope that means you’ve learned to be a little more patient with her forgetfulness? YES, NO; I THINK SO.
(So far so good.)
But God goes on: In the past six months, have you taken the Lord’s name in vain? WELL, MAYBE. A FEW TIMES. How often? Once a week? NO. Once a month? NO, WELL MAYBE, MAYBE A COUPLE OF TIMES. Hmmmmm.
In the last six months, have you borne false witness against another? WHAT DOES THAT MEAN? Have you said something that isn’t exactly true about another human being? Maybe something that wasn’t very nice, or that made you look better? NO, I DON’T THINK. Have you gossiped, let’s say? NO. What about Facebook? WELL, A LITTLE. YOU GET DRAWN INTO IT. Hmmmm.
And you were sitting in my waiting room, did you notice that there were many kinds of people. YEAH. I hope you weren’t judging the ones who were overweight or poorly dressed or too loud or talkative. OF COURSE NOT. NEVER.
Since your last visit, have you complied with my prescription for daily prayer — I think we settled on at least 3 times a day with or without food? YES, MOSTLY. What does “mostly mean”? AT LEAST ONCE A DAY. Everyday? ALMOST. SOMETIMES I’M EATING IN A RESTAURANT! And who are you praying for? UM, VARIOUS PEOPLE. I see . . . .
Your weight tells me you are consuming more than your share of the world’s food, and too much of the world’s fuel. I want you to do more walking, and pay attention to my creation while you’re at it. And I want to see a few callouses on your hands. Are you doing the hard work of helping others? I’LL TRY HARDER.
And what about your mental health? How is your attitude? THERE IS NOTHING WRONG WITH MY ATTITUDE. I’ve noticed that you have been critical lately, saying things like, “Well, if I want it done right, I may as well do it myself.” WELL, THERE IS A CERTAIN TRUTH . . . . Do you always feel superior to others? And do you never make any mistakes? WAIT, NO . . . YES!! OF COURSE I MAKE MISTAKES AND I’M GRATEFUL THAT YOU FORGIVE ME . . . .
And then God snaps the laptop shut. “Child, I’m afraid you are not as spiritually healthy as you think you are. You need to take a good hard look at yourself and make some changes.”
BUT, GOD, I FEEL GREAT! I have no symptoms.
No, but you will. If you don’t get some of this off your chest, you’ll begin to lose sleep and feel anxious. Food doesn’t taste very good when you take it for granted. Your relationships will suffer. Your ego and reputation will be cold company when all your friends have deserted you. You aren’t grateful. You’ve forgotten how to pray and how to ask forgiveness. These little problems, you see, can become a terminal disease. ////
Proverbs tells us that there are six things that the Lord hates, seven that are an abomination to him: haughty eyes, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked plans, feet that make haste to run to evil, a false witness who breathes out lies, and one who sows discord among brothers. All of those abominations begin innocently — the rolling of the eyes, the little white lies, the behind-the-scenes plot, the gossip and the rumor. Easy to start but very tough to stop.
The Apostle Paul sums it up perfectly: “For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is [exactly] what I do.” In other words, I can’t control my evil impulses. And even harder than changing our behavior is owning up to it in the first place and confessing it — whether to God or others or both. And yet, the Psalmist insists that acknowledging our sin is something that remains an important part of an ongoing relationship of faith in God. In fact, he warns that when we refuse to acknowledge our sin, it tends to fester inside us and comes out in all kinds of symptoms that aren’t so pleasant.
From the Psalmist’s perspective, refusing to clear the slate made him feel like God’s hand was “heavy” upon him (Ps. 32:4). I think we can all relate to the sense of foreboding when we know we’ve messed up, and there are going to be consequences to pay. We call that guilt. In truth, it is our safety valve. Feeling guilty acknowledges that there is a right and wrong way for us to operate, and we have chosen the wrong way. King David was a murderer and an adulterer. He felt so guilty that it made him physically sick: he says his body literally wasted away. And then he “acknowledged [his] sin to [God], and [he]did not hide [his] iniquity. He apologized, repented. And God forgave the guilt of his sin. He couldn’t apologize to Uriah because Uriah was dead. But I hope he apologized to Bathsheba. Her side of the story is never told.
As painful as it is, confessing our sins to God is is the very way that we learn to trust God. As long as we hold back, as long as we refuse to acknowledge who we really are and what we’ve really done, there remains some doubt in our minds about whether God really forgives us. If we never reveal our health issues to the doctor, how can we ever know if he can cure us??
But when we stop fooling ourselves about being perfect, God embraces us, forgives us, and heals us. When we say, “I am a sinner, no better than anyone else” and receive acceptance rather than condemnation, we walk away knowing that God has embraced us. And we experience what David called the “glad cries of deliverance.” We become the happy man or woman whose sins are forgiven!
But there is something else, too: Only those who have been cured can extend the true power of hope to those who are still sick. After years of drug and alcohol addiction and all the hellish behaviors that went with it, my friend fell down before God and begged for help and forgiveness. Now God had been dogging him for some time, but he refused to acknowledge his need for salvation. But when he confessed, God forgave and healed, and today this friend has a powerful, powerful ministry to those still addicted. Because he was forgiven, he trusted the one who forgave him, and God gave him the spiritual power to minister to other addicts.
Let us remember that God showed his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. With that same love, God hears prayers of repentance and forgives 70 X 70 X 70 X 70 . . .
And being forgiven ourselves, we obtain the amazing grace and power to forgive others. Thanks be to God, the Great Physician. AMEN