January 17, 2010
Text: Psalm 51:1-3,10-12
Dear Friends in Christ,
The Psalms are used in services. Many of us are very familiar with certain psalms. But how often do we really ponder them. The Psalms are the hymnal of the Old Testament. They range from couple verses in length to hundreds of verses. It is said that there is a psalm for every occasion, every mood, every need. So this year in Lent we are going to take a closer look at several of the Psalms. We will begin with selected verses of Psalm 51. Two of the sermons in our series will be drawn from this Psalm.
Psalm 51 was written by King David. It is a penitential psalm written after the Prophet Nathan had confronted David with his sins of adultery with Bathsheba and the murder of Uriah. This psalm is quoted extensively in the liturgy, particularly in Matins and Vespers. But it is also the basis for the post sermon canticle in the old Lutheran Common Service, which we still use in some of our congregations.
We start with these words: “Have mercy on me, O God, according to Your steadfast love.” This is obviously a plea for mercy from God. Why? Because I’m a great guy and I deserve a break? No. The only break we deserve is the kind the mafia gives.
David here makes no claim that we deserve anything. God’s mercy is not connected to anything in us. What is it connected to? To God’s steadfast love. In other words, God’s mercy is connected to God. That is a key to the Christian faith. God’s mercy is about God. God shows us mercy not because of us, but in spite of us. God shows us mercy because of God. David here pleads for God’s mercy, knowing that he has it, because that is who God is.
David understood both God’s mercy and God’s wrath. David and Bathsheba had a son from their adulterous relationship who became ill. David put on sackcloth and ashes and laid prostrate on the ground in prayer. He begged that God would relent and not take the life of the child. The child died. This was a punishment that God exacted against David for his sin. Yet, in spite of this chastisement, David understood that God, in Christ, does have mercy and compassion upon His people. David understood that this was an earthly punishment that would have no bearing in heaven. God does not wink at sin. It is a very serious business. David’s fornication, adultery, and murder would have dire, ongoing, consequences for him. But, they were earthly consequences. God punished David, but also forgave him. David understood this.
David goes on to ask God to blot out his transgressions, to wash him and cleanse him. Why does David do this? Because David cannot wash himself - at least not in terms of sin. We are like an invalid person who must be cleaned in the same manner as an infant. We sin much and we sin daily. But we cannot get rid of it. And our sin stinks to high heaven - just like proverbial dead skunk sitting in the middle of the road. David understood just how serious sin is. But again in asking God to wash us, David is not begging an indifferent lord. He is asking this of the Lord God who has promised to cleanse us whiter than snow. So we are beggars before God. We bring nothing good, nothing of value to the table. We come soiled with our sins. And what does God do. He washes and cleanses us. He makes us whiter than snow. He makes a sweet smelling fragrance before Him. David understand this. He is begging God to do what God has promised to do, what is a reflection of His very nature.
David knows his sins. This is the thing that every Christian struggles with. In fact if we saw all our sins, we would go nuts. The fact we don’t see all our sins, is a gift of God’s grace. But we must see enough of them. Nor is it enough to say that we are sinners. We ought to look at the commandments and see the specific sins we have committed. We will never see them all, but it is important that see some of them, so that we understand our need for a savior. In fact maturity of faith is found in the recognition of our sins. As we become more mature in our faith, we will more fully see our sins.
David begs God to create in him a new heart and not withhold the Holy Spirit from him. David understands that faith is a creation of the Holy Spirit. He also understands that God’s grace is like a passing shower. At some point, if people continue to abide in their sins, God will give people over to their sins and they will be lost. This is a terrible fate. It reminds us of our need to fear God. And so David begs that the Holy Spirit would remain with us and that He would continue to create faith in our hearts, so that we can trust the promises of God.
In these verses of Psalm 51David says some very profound things. But he speaks as a believer that understands that God needs to recreate in the forgiveness of our sins. That indeed is our prayer for each one of us today - that God would indeed create is a new heart and a willing spirit. We pray that God would give us His heart and mind so that we might indeed see as He does. We know that such a heart can only come from the forgiveness of our sins.