Sunday, September 20, 2015

I Am the Man!

I Am the Man!

Psalter 51: Miserere mei, Deus. Book of Common Prayer, p. 341
1Have mercy upon me, O God, after thy great goodness; according to the multitude of thy mercies do away mine offences.
2 Wash me throughly from my wickedness, cleanse me from my sin.
3 For I acknowledge my faults, and my sin is ever before me.
4 Against thee only have I sinned, and done this evil in thy sight; that thou mightest be justified in thy saying, and clear when thou shalt judge.
5 Behold, I was shapen in wickedness, and in sin hath my mother conceived me.
6 But lo, thou requirest truth in the inward parts, and shalt make me to understand wisdom secretly.
7 Thou shalt purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; thou shalt wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.
8 Thou shalt make me hear of joy and gladness, that the bones which thou hast broken may rejoice.
9 Turn thy face from my sins, and put out all my misdeeds.
10 Make me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.
11 Cast me not away from thy presence, and take not thy holy Spirit from me.
12 O give me the comfort of thy help again, and stablish me with thy free Spirit.
13 Then shall I teach thy ways unto the wicked, and sinners shall be converted unto thee.
14 Deliver me from blood-guiltiness, O God, thou that art the God of my health; and my tongue shall sing of thy righteousness.
15 Thou shalt open my lips, O Lord, and my mouth shall show thy praise.
16 For thou desirest no sacrifice, else would I give it thee; but thou delightest not in burnt-offerings.
17 The sacrifice of God is a troubled spirit: a broken and contrite heart, O God, shalt thou not despise.
18 O be  and gracious unto Sion; build thou the walls of Jerusalem.
19 Then shalt thou be pleased with the sacrifice of righteousness, with the burnt-offerings and oblations; then shall they offer young bullocks upon thine altar.

People who know no other stories about King David know two - David and Goliath, and David and Bathsheba. In one story David is a hero; in the other a villain.

Familiarity with the Bathsheba story may diminish our sense of the enormity of David’s sin. He committed adultery with Bathsheba the wife of Uriah, one of his soldiers. When she became pregnant, he arranged for her husband to be killed in battle. Then David covered his tracks by marrying her.

It seemed he got away with it. Then the Lord sent the prophet Nathan. The king was in denial till Nathan said, “Thou art the man!” Psalm 51 is the convicted David’s response: “Yes, I am the man!”

It is a mistake if we think that because we have not committed David’s sins - if we have not - Psalm 51 is not for us. No, I have sinned; you have sinned.  I am the man; you are the man.

What does David teach us to do about sin?

1. Confess your sins.  David was an Old Testament believer; we might say a sincere Christian. Yet he sinned gravely, and then suppressed his sense of guilt. But when God broke through David’s defenses, David said, “I acknowledge my faults; my sins are ever before me.”

Confessing includes three things:

1.1. Confess sin as sin. We have many ways to avoid acknowledging our own sin.

We blame others. Adam responded to the Lord’s  question, “Have you eaten from the tree I told you not to eat?” with, “This woman whom you gave me gave me the fruit and I ate.” There are many to blame - parents, dysfunctional homes, spouses, bosses, friends. 

We can minimize our sins. We can do that with this Psalm: “David committed the really big sins, adultery and murder. My sins are pretty ordinary, pretty small, the things everybody does.” 

We can explain our sins by calling them something else. We call sin: “Acting out.” “Addictive behavior.” “Co-dependence.” These terms can be helpful, but not if we use them to avoid saying our sins are sin.

David uses the words we must use: sins, offenses, wickedness, faults, misdeeds, blood-guiltiness. These describe anything in our heads, hearts, character and conduct contrary to God’s will.

1.2 Confess the essence of sin. “Against thee only have I sinned, and done this evil in thy sight…”.

How can David say that when it is so obvious that he sinned against others? Uriah whose death he caused. Bathsheba whose marital purity he corrupted. The nation whose trust he betrayed. 

But what is sin.  All sin is treason and rebellion against God our Creator and King. It is the rule of Self, with Self’s wants, desires, and needs.  And for believers, sin is denial of Christ who redeemed us, ingratitude for his grace and mercy, and failure to grasp the cost of our salvation, Christ’s death.

Because David gets this he declares that God his Judge is “justified.” He does not contest God’s verdict of “guilty.”  David will not accuse God of being too harsh. David’s crimes deserved the capital punishment prescribed under the Old Testament Law. David was in the wrong; God was in the right. Whatever our sins, that is always true.

1.3 Confess the origin of sin. David confesses, “Behold, I was shapen in wickedness, and in sin hath my mother conceived me.” 

Are we sinners because we sin? Or, do we sin because we are sinners? Yes and yes. We are sinners by doing, and we are sinners by nature. We did not start out good, innocent, or even neutral. Sin is at the root of our being; sin in intertwined with every part of our lives- not just our doing, but also our thinking, feeling, desiring, willing. 

This truth is taught in Holy Scripture. It is observable. Does anyone need to learn to be selfish? To lie? Sin is universal, because the sinful nature is universal. It is natural to sin, because sin infects our nature.

What do we do about sin? Confess it.

2. Ask for mercy.

What do you do when you are convinced of your sin?

2.1 The human tendency is to ask, “What can I do?” 

We think, “The good in my life will outweigh the bad on God’s scales.” 

Or, “I will try harder to love God and love my neighbor and to obey the 10 Commandments, make up for my sins, and earn my way back into God’s favor.

Or, “I will go to church, say my prayers, and receive sacraments. God will accept my sacrifices of worship.” David knew better: “For thou desirest no sacrifice, else would I give it thee; but thou delightest not in burnt-offerings.The sacrifice of God is a troubled  spirit:  a broken and contrite heart, O God, shalt thou not despise.”

Nothing that we do or offer is adequate. God wants a troubled spirit, a broken and contrite heart. Without sincere sorrow nothing is acceptable. But we must not think that while God will not accept good works, resolve to do better, or acts of worship, he will accept our sorrow as making up for our sin. We can’t do enough good, or try hard enough, or offer enough worship, or cry enough to deal with our sins.

The Anglican minister and poet, Augustus Toplady, got it right:

Not the labour of my hands
Can fulfill Thy law's demands;
Could my zeal no respite know,
Could my tears forever flow,
All for sin could not atone;
Thou must save, and Thou alone.

2.2. Because only God can save, we plead for mercy.
“Have mercy upon me, O God.” David has no claims on God. No bargaining position. Nothing to offer to God. No plea of mitigating circumstances. He can only beg for mercy. 

The only reasons he can give for God to show mercy are God’s great goodness and multitude of mercies. “Goodness” is God’s steadfast, irrevocable love. The “multitude of mercies” is God’s deep compassion toward his people, even when they sin. The prodigal forfeited any right to be a son, yet the father never stopped loving his son, and, when he saw his son in rags, his heart was moved with compassion.  Despite your sins you can plead for mercy because of God’s great love and multitude of mercies.

2.3. We ask God to cleanse our guilt.

David asks for mercy, but he knows there is still the reality of what he has done. The charges of adultery, murder, and betrayal are recorded with indelible ink. So long as they are there, he cannot be reconciled to God and restored to his favor. So David asks, “Do away mine offenses. Blot them out. Put out my sins. Thou shalt purge me with hyssop and I shall be clean; thou shalt wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow. Turn thy face from my sins; and put out all my misdeeds.”

Don’t just draw a line through my sins, but blot them out with ink so dark they cannot be seen. My sins are like dirty and stinking clothes I wore when I crawled through the mud and dung of a feed lot. I  now see and smell myself. I am unfit for God’s company. I need God to wash me thoroughly and make me dirty self whiter than snow.
What is thick enough to blot out our sins? What is strong enough to wash them away? Only the blood of Jesus. When we know this we sing,

Nothing in my hand I bring,
simply to thy cross I cling,
naked, come to thee for dress,
helpless look to thee for grace;
foul, I to the Fountain fly;
wash me Savior or I die.

3.4  We ask God to renew and restore us.

We objective guilt which we ask God to forgive. But we also know we have a pollution inside our selves. We feel estranged from God and fearful he will abandon us. We know we need strength to be able to do God’s will. So we pray with David:

Make me a clean heart, O God, and renew a
right spirit within me.
Cast me not away from thy presence, and take not thy holy Spirit from me.
O give me the comfort of thy help again, and stablish me with thy free Spirit.

This is not a prayer we pray once, but over and over again as we walk through this world, aware of how sinful our hearts are, sometimes fearful God will withdraw his fellowship from us, and knowing how weak are our wills and how prone we are to fall. At Holy Communion, we ask the and the Lord assures he will create and continue creating clean hearts in us; we ask and the Lord assures he will not forsake us but restore us to his favor in Christ. We ask and the Lord assures he will give us strength to do his willingly.

With David we confess our sins, and we hear the Absolution:

Almighty God, our heavenly Father, who of his great mercy hath promised forgiveness of sins to all those who with hearty faith and true repentance turn unto him; Have mercy upon you; pardon and deliver you from all your sins; confirm and strengthen you in all goodness; and bring you to everlasting life; through Jesus Christ our Lord.

No comments: