Sunday, July 27, 2014

Kiss and Makeup

Kiss and Makeup
Another Anglican Sermon

I would like to ask you a favor. Turn in your Prayer Book to this morning’s Psalter Reading which is found on pages 380-81. I’m going to give you an outline of the Psalm. The setting of the Psalm is congregational worship at a time when God’s people sensed God was displeased with them. What may have brought this to their attention was a disappointing agricultural year.

Verses 1-3: the congregation remembers God’s graciousness in the past

Verses 4-6: they ask God to be gracious in the present;

Verses 8-9: a priest or prophet proclaims God’s gracious Word to them

Verses 10-13: the congregation expresses confidence in God’s gracious promise for the future.

Psalm 85. Benedixisti, Domine.

LORD, thou art become gracious unto thy land; thou hast turned away the captivity of Jacob.
2 Thou hast forgiven the offence of thy people, and covered all their sins.
3 Thou hast taken away all thy displeasure, and turned thyself from thy wrathful indignation.

4 Turn us then, O God our Saviour, and let thine anger cease from us.
5 Wilt thou be displeased at us for ever? and wilt thou stretch out thy wrath from one generation to another?
6 Wilt thou not turn again, and quicken us, that thy people may rejoice in thee?
7 Show us thy mercy, O LORD, and grant us thy salvation. 

8 I will hearken what the LORD God will say; for he shall speak peace unto his people, and to his saints, that they turn not again unto foolishness.
9 For his salvation is nigh them that fear him; that glory may dwell in our land.

10 Mercy and truth are met together: righteousness and peace have kissed each other.
11 Truth shall flourish out of the earth, and righteousness hath looked down from heaven.
12 Yea, the LORD shall show loving-kindness; and our land shall give her increase.
13 Righteousness shall go before him, and shall direct his going in the way.

“You two kiss and makeup.” When you are offended you move away from the person who wronged you - relationally, emotionally, physically. When the offense is removed you move toward that same person. One way reconciliation can be sealed is with a kiss, because to exchange a kiss you have to move very close to a person.

What do we do when we know we have sinned and need to be reconciled to God? We can learn from Israel’s experience as we find it in Psalm 85.

1. The Past

God’s people found hope by looking to the past - to a time when God had forgiven their sins and restored his favor to their land.

In the past God had also been displeased with his people, and they had experienced his wrathful indignation. It is not popular today to say that God could be displeased with or wrathful toward anyone. God is supposed to be a pleasant and non-threatening Person. But that is not the God we know from the Bible and in the person of Jesus Christ. We must not mistake the patience of God for his indifference to sin. Even God’s people can experience God’s disciplining displeasure and indignation.

But God had not remained wrathful toward his people. He had forgiven their offenses against him and covered their sin. He no longer let their offenses stand between him and them. As we might throw a blanket over something ugly, so God had covered their sin so that he saw it no longer. When he forgave them, God became gracious once more toward their land and ended its captivity.

There were many such times in Israel’s history.

We might think of the times of the Judges when, though God had freed his people from 400 years of slavery in Egypt, they repeatedly rebelled against him. God would chastise them by sending enemies against them. Then they would repent and cry out to God for help, and God would send a Judge to deliver them.

Or we might think of time when, after God had both blessed them and put up with their sins, and despite his sending prophets to call them to repentance, the people continued to rebel against him. Finally he expelled them from their land and sent them into captivity in Babylon. But after 70 years he freed them from captivity and restored them to their land.

Whatever historical event they were thinking of, God’s people, who were presently experiencing his discipline, could get hope by looking to the past when God had been gracious, forgiving their tsin, and restoring his blessings.

Sometimes when we have messed up badly and find ourselves in dire straits, we can feel there is no hope for us. It seems that God has turned away from us, that we have exhausted his grace, and that we are permanently under his displeasure. In those times we need to look to the past. God forgave Israel despite their persistent rebellion. God covered David’s sin despite his adultery and arranging the death of the husband. Christ restored Peter though Peter denied him three times. Christ saved Paul though Paul blasphemed his name and violently persecuted his people.

The past teaches us that we as a congregation, and you and I as individuals, are not beyond the forgiving and restoring grace of God.

2. The Present

Turning from the past God’s people now focus on their present. Finding hope in God’s past mercy, they ask God for present deliverance.

They ask God to turn them again, or “restore” (ESV) them (v. 4) and to turn again and quicken or “revive” (ESV) them. The harvest has not been good and this has called their attention to the loss of God’s favor and blessing.

Sometimes God uses changes in our circumstances to get our attention - things like church struggles, marriage issues, problems with our children, financial woes, job difficuliteis, health crises. When our earthly circumstances take a turn for the worse, we should not assume that God is displeased with us or chastening us. But such circumstances are occasions for us to take a look at ourselves and to pray, “Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there is any grievous way in me…” (Ps. 139: 23-24a, ESV).

But whether it is circumstances or the just the workings of the Spirit on our consciences, there are times when we know we are not where we should be, when we have wandered from the Lord and his ways, when we sense that there there something between us and him.

In such times we turn to the Lord, and we ask him to restore and renew us. We ask him to put us back into a relationship of fellowship and peace with him. We ask him to work in us to give us hearts to repent of our sins, to help to seek him and to draw near to him in faith, and to free our hearts to love him. We ask him to breathe fresh life into us individually and corporately.

They ask God to turn away his anger or “put away your indignation from us” (ESV). They question if God will continue to be displeased with them forever, if he will stretch out his wrath from generation to generation to generation.

While as believers we cannot be under the wrath of the Lord as are unbelievers, yet as believers we can experience his displeasure and discipline when we sin. And at times it can seem as though there is no end to it.

At such times we may turn to the Lord and plead with him not continue to be displeased with us and to turn away his chastising anger. We can open our wounded hearts to him and ask if he will always be displeased with us and if we will always be under his discipline.

We can do that with confidence for Psalm 103 tells us that the Lord “will not always chide, nor will he keep his anger forever” (v. 9 ESV).

They ask God to show them mercy.

God’s mercy is his “steadfast love.” The closest thing to steadfast love we see among humans is the love that parents have for their children. Children can be very bad when they are young, and as adults they can break our hearts, but it is very difficult for us to stop loving them or to give up on them. But God’s mercy or steadfast love toward his people is runs deeper and last longer than even parental love.

Once God sets his steadfast love on us, it will never end. He may be displeased, and he may discipline us, but he will not stop loving us. As Psalm 103 also teaches us, “For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward them those who fear him” (v. 11 ESV).

They ask God to grant them salvation and let them rejoice again.

Our greatest need, if we are unbelievers, is for God to save us from our sins. Our greatest need, if we are believers, is for God to save us from our sins. We need salvation from the guilt of our sins and the condemnation we deserve. We can be sure that, if we ask him to save us from our sins and what they deserve, he will do it. Psalm 103 again helps us know that. “He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us” (vs. 10, 12 ESV).

We may feel that, if God will just spare us, that is all we can expect. But God will do more. He will restore to us the joy of being his people under his favor and blessing. Because David knew how gracious and merciful God is, even when he was convicted of his sin with Bathsheba, and under God’s chastisement that led to the loss of the child they conceived, he was bold to ask, “Restore to me the joy of your salvation” (Ps. 51:12 ESV). If David could ask for joy, you and I can too.

When in the present we know we have sinned and that we are experiencing God’s displeasure and chastisement, we can confidently ask him to restore us, to turn away his anger, to show us his steadfast love, and to grant us his salvation and the joy of it.

3. The Proclamation

Up till now the whole congregation has been speaking. Now an individual, probably a priest or a prophet, speaks to the people.

This person does not speak on his own. He listens for what the Lord will say to him and through him to the people. When we are convicted of our sin, and know that we are are under God’s displeasure and need his forgiveness and favor, no merely human word will meet our need. We don’t need someone to tell us that our sin is no great thing, or that we are not sinful but just broken, or that we are just like everybody else, or that God would never dare to be angry with us. We do not need someone to proclaim, “Peace, peace” when there is no peace. If we are to be comforted, we need a word from God.

The word is a reassuring and encouraging word. God. The Lord will speak peace to his people. The Lord will renew his blessings to his people and restore their fellowship with him. God’s glory, his special presence by which God in his glory lives among his people, will be restored. This salvation is for his saints, not a special class of believers, but ordinary believers who who fear the Lord - those who trust in him and seek to be faithful in following him.

But there is a word of warning. They must not “turn again unto foolishness.” Sin is foolishness. It is turning away from God and his ways to go our own way and do what we want. It is seeking happiness and blessing in ways that can never give true happiness or lasting blessing. The reason we need this warning is because, as soon as God’s displeasure and chastisement end and God’s favor and blessings are restored, we are prone to return to our foolish ways. We tend to abuse God’s patience and to take his mercy and love for granted. So, it is important that we get a warning not to seek relief from chastisement only to return to our foolish ways.

God’s word to us when we repent and seek his grace is full of hope and comfort, but we must must be guard against returning to our sinful ways.

4. The Promise

The people rely God’s promises of forgiveness and look to the future with hope. The promise God’s people claim is also a prophecy of what God will do in Christ.

“Mercy and truth are met together: righteousness and peace have kissed each other.” There is a reconciliation, but it takes place not primarily between God and his people but within God himself.

There is a problem that, I daresay, does not even show up on most people’s radar screens. The reason they have no awareness of this problem is because they have decided for themselves that God, if he is relevant to their lives at all, is the ultimate nice guy who does nothing but smile at us. He is there to make up happy and to help us, as best he can, to have good lives. People who think this way do not know the true God and what kind of Person he is.

God is a God whose attributes include both mercy and truth, righteousness and peace. This creates a problem that we need to take seriously.

How can the God of truth show mercy to those who rebel and sin against him? How can a God of righteousness be at peace with sinners? How can God show mercy to sinners and be faithful to himself and what he is? How can God be a peace with sinners and still uphold his own goodness and righteousness?

Let’s put this in terms the Apostle Paul would use. How can God be just and yet justify the unjust? How can God be righteous and at the same time declare to be righteous those who are unrighteous? It is dilemma, and it appears to have no answer.

But Paul tells us how God resolved it. “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Jesus Christ whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood to be received by faith” (Romans 3: 23-25a).

The problem is solved in Jesus Christ and what he did for us on the cross. He redeemed us, obtaining our freedom from sin, guilt, and condemnation. He made propitiation for our sins. He turned God’s wrath away from us as sinners by taking God’s wrath on himself as our substitute.

In Jesus Christ, and especially at the cross of Christ, God’s mercy and God’s truth had a meeting, righteousness and peace kissed each other. We need not fear any conflict in God that would keep him from forgiving us, from from reconciling with us, from having a peaceful relationship with us, from accepting us into fellowship with him.

As Martin Luther put is so memorably, a Christian is at the same it righteous and a sinner. We are sinners by nature and action, but we are righteous by faith in Christ and what he accomplished for us by the cross.

Because of the redemption Christ accomplished for us, we can know that nothing will keep God from showing us his loving-kindness, his goodness, now. And nothing can prevent his bringing us to the new heavens and new earth where there will be perfect faithfulness and righteousness.

That former slave trader who became an Anglican priest, John Newton, wrote these words:

Thy promise is my only plea;
with this I venture nigh:
thou callest burdened souls to thee,
and such, O Lord, am I.

Bowed down beneath a load of sin,
by Satan sorely pressed,
by war without and fears within,
I come to thee for rest.

O wondrous love! to bleed and die,
to bear the cross and shame,
that guilty sinners such as I,
might plead thy gracious name.

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