Sunday, 01 May 2016
My Story in God's Story ~ Psalm 51
Pastor Julie shows us what confession and forgiveness look like in real life.

Pastor Julie Anderson

“Living Forgiveness”

May 1, 2016

 

When I was a senior in high school, my friend Ted asked me to the prom. Ted was my friend and I knew I would have a good time with him, so I said yes. I said yes however knowing that my friend Amy had been spending weeks plotting the perfect way to ask Ted to prom herself. I felt guilty but I did nothing about it because I was more concerned with having a date to prom than Amy’s friendship to me. When the day of the prom finally came along, I couldn’t shake the guilt I felt for knowingly hurting Amy. At one moment of the evening, I was feeling so guilty that I pulled my best friend Jamie into the women’s room to talk about it. I have to admit here that I didn’t do the right thing, which is hard to say because my Mom is here today and I don’t want to get in trouble. But what happened instead, was a five minute long bashing session of Amy. I made fun of her dress, her make- up, her date, everything, even down to her shoes. I felt better, until, Amy came out of one of the stalls, with tears in her eyes, having heard every single word of what I had said about her. In absolute shame, I walked out of the restroom and avoided Amy for the rest of the evening.

 

When is the last time you screwed up? I am not talking about a trip while walking or mixing up your words, but a really big mistake. We all know and remember a time when we had just completely messed up. Those times or moments when you feel your stomach drop and you felt embarrassment, sadness or guilt for what you had done.  Psalm 51, our sermon for today, is the prayer of someone who has messed up, and is pleading for forgiveness.

 

Pray with me. Lord let the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts and minds be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, our rock and redeemer. Amen.

 

Today’s scripture reading is an example of someone who has really messed up, David. When David was king of Israel he had an affair with a married woman named Bathsheba. She became pregnant and to try and hide his sin David brought her husband Uriah home from battle, to make it seem like he was the father of the coming baby.  Uriah didn’t want to stay home however so David sent Uriah to the front lines of battle where he was killed. His advisor, Nathan, helped David to see his sins, which led David to write Psalm 51, our scripture for today.

 

David knew he had really messed up. His original response was to try and hide what he had done by plotting and scheming his way out of it. This can be any of our reactions to when we have sinned. We start to go over who can we can blame for our mistakes, what circumstances we can say led to this problem. Instead of facing the problem itself we try and find a way out. The model of repentance that David gives in Psalm 51 is a beautiful example of what our response should be when we have sinned.

 

First, David acknowledges that what he had done and the way he had been living, was wrong. The same is true for us. One of my mentors used to say to remember that, “God is God and you are not.” When we acknowledge our sin in the presence of a holy God, we are acknowledging that God is God and we are not. He is the one we are in need of to make us right again. This takes humility but it is the attitude that we need to come to God. We come before a perfect God and remember our imperfections.

 

After David acknowledges his need for God, he confesses his sin. For a long time, this used to baffle me. Why do we need to name our sins? God knows everything we do, right? It seemed to me, that since God is all knowing, I could just say, “I acknowledge that I have sinned, those were wrong, please forgive them.” And this is partially true. God does know what we have done. However, God also wants to be in a relationship with us. When we name our sins, individually, we are led to a more personal relationship with God. God hates sin; it’s the divider between him and us. So when we go to God and just lightly mention in passing, “oh, sorry about this bad thing I have done” we are telling God that we don’t find sin as seriously as he does. In fact David doesn’t name Bathsheba or Uriah in this Psalm, but instead he says, “Against you, you alone, have I sinned, and done what is evil in your sight.” This doesn’t mean that what he had done to them wasn’t wrong, but instead is David’s way of owning up to this sin in his life, the sin that took him away from God.

 

To go back to my story about Amy, a week after the prom I showed up to Amy’s house, and had to first admit that I was completely in the wrong for what I had done, both in agreeing to go to prom with Ted without asking her about it first. And second, that I had said all those horrible things in the restroom. It was absolutely humiliating. I tried to think of what I could say to make myself look better. I could come up with a story about Ted or that it was Jamie who was saying all those things in the restroom. I could say that I was stressed or upset about something else. I could have said that I was sick from the dinner they were serving that night. But I couldn’t find anything other than the truth. I had hurt Amy, deliberately, and it was one hundred percent my fault.

 

The same is true for us with God. When we come to these moments of acknowledging our sins before God and then finally confessing them to him, we need to strip away all of the excuses and blaming. I sinned. Not my friends, my family, not the president, or congress, or terrorists, or immigrants or whoever you want to place your blame on. Blaming other people or circumstances surrounding the sin, is our way of minimizing our sins before God.

 

When David had acknowledged his sin and confessed that this was living apart from what God had called him to, he prayed for forgiveness. Asking for forgiveness is a humbling experience. When we ask God for forgiveness we are asking for a way back to him. If sin is the division between God and us, then God’s forgiveness is his way of bringing us back to himself.

 

Finally, David asks for cleansing. Have you ever showed up to an event completely underdressed? Or run into someone on their way to work while you had just come back from the gym? You didn’t feel underdresses or gross from the work out until you were standing next to someone who looked put together and nice.  When we are confessing our sins before God we are acknowledging that there is a layer of filth over us. It is when we are in the presence of perfection that we see our own imperfections clearly.

 

To be honest, my story about Amy doesn’t end happily. She never forgave me and it makes me ache to know that I caused her pain all those years ago. I don’t deserve Amy’s forgiveness however. If Amy chose to forgive me that day I went to her house and asked for forgiveness, it would have been Amy’s choice. And so it is with God. There is nothing we can do to persuade God to forgive us. We are the ones that mess up, never him.

 

I have good news for you today though. Unlike my experience with Amy, God will always forgive you. He will never close the door on you and say, “No. This is the last time you are going to hurt me.” Instead, every single time, he will let us in and forgive us.

 

Imagine if Amy had forgiven me that day, and I had continued to say horrible things about her or if I had overheard someone speaking badly about me, and I refused to forgive them? I would be a complete hypocrite! When God forgives us, he expects us to show that forgiveness to others.  In Colossians 3:12-13 Paul writes, “As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive” (NRSV)

 

When God forgives us, over and over again, he expects us to live like people who are forgiven. This means that we just as easily and graciously forgive others as he has forgiven us. I have always loved the wording Paul uses in this text when he says “Bear with one another.” Paul knew that living in community with other people is hard. It is hard to forgive other people when they have hurt you. Notice the order of Paul’s wording in Colossians however. He says that “just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you must also forgive.” The only way we know how to forgive one another is to look to God and see how he does it with us. When we follow his example, we see how often we are expected to forgive those who have wronged us.

 

Psalm 51, this cry of repentance from David, has been used for centuries in worship, songs and prayers. It speaks to any of us who have sinned and come to God in need of forgiveness. It is a timeless prayer that beautifully illustrates our need for a God who forgives us time and time again. We need to take the sin in our lives seriously, it is what separates us from God. We can go into these times of full confidence however, because God is a God who will cleanse us and forgive us time and time again. There will never come a day when he will shut the door on you. With this incredible gift then, we need to share this forgiveness with others in our own lives that have hurt us.

 

It takes courage to admit when we have done wrong, and it takes humility to forgive someone who has hurt you. I pray that each of us will have to courage to look into our own lives and see what we need to ask forgiveness and who we need to forgive and then live as people who have been reconciled to God and to each other. Let’s live like people who have been forgiven. Amen.

 

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