The Fifth Wednesday in Lent
March 17, 2010
Text: Psalm 51:1-6
Dear Friends in Christ,
Just a brief note, before we plunge into our text. This day is recognized as the feast day of St. Patrick. The real St. Patrick lived from about 390 to 460 A.D. The exact dates of his life are not known. He was a Briton, probably of mixed Roman and Celtic heritage. For the last thirty years of his life, Patrick served as a bishop and missionary to Ireland. It is largely through his tireless work, that pagan Ireland became a Christian land. Many legends arose about the man, crediting him with miracles and so forth. None of those stories can be regarded as reliable, though they cannot likewise be disproven either.
To our text. We had earlier used another portion of King David’s great penitential Psalm. We noted that this Psalm was written when David came to repentance for his sins of adultery and murder, involving Bathsheba and her husband Uriah. I want to focus today on verse four. “Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight...” Now our first reaction to this statement is to say, wait a minute. What about the offense against Bathsheba and Uriah. Uriah was dead and Bathsheba was forced into a marriage with David. Indeed, the initial act of fornication was little more than rape. We don’t grasp the power of a king. When a king asks, a girl like Bathsheba dare not refuse. Her willingness is never a question in the equation. Such is the inherent tyranny of a monarchy. Indeed, I believe that the Prophet Samuel had implicitly warned of this. When the people asked for king, Samuel told the people that the king would take their daughters to be servants in his palace. I think that Samuel intended and the people understood that they would be serving something more than dinner. Yet, in spite of the fact that it is obvious that David had sinned against Bathsheba and Uriah, David says that he has sinned against God alone.
What David is driving at is that every sin is a sin against God. Every sin is a violation of the First Commandment. This is not a uniquely Lutheran concept. I was recently reading something by a Russian Orthodox writer who was making the same point. Every sin is a lack of trust in God. Every sin starts with a lack of faith in God. Every sin is making something more important than God. For David, it was likely that he was making his own pleasure more important than God. In the end it doesn’t matter why he did it. He was a fornicator, a liar, and a murderer. And yet, all these things are idolatry.
We too must understand that all our sins are sins against the First Commandment. Our dishonoring of our parents, our failure to protect the life of our neighbor, our misuse of human sexuality, our theft, our false witness and our covetousness are violations of the First Commandment. They are all idiolatry. This is why we say that when we have violated God’s Law in one point, we have violated the whole of it. In fact we have shattered it. All sins are done, first and foremost, against God.
In James 5 we are told to “confess your sins to one another and pray for one another.” Certainly, it is proper to confess the sins that we have done against that person to them. And we are obligated as Christians to forgive those who seek our forgiveness. But the individual Christian, in normal circumstances, cannot speak for God. They cannot offer God’s forgiveness. This is why Christ gave to the Church, the Office of the Keys. The Church, through it’s ministers offers not only the forgiveness of men, but also the forgiveness of God. Why is this important? Because our sins are against God. We must have God’s forgiveness. We must receive His absolution. Only God can release us from our sins. In the Sacrament of Holy Absolution, we hear Christ speaking to us - your sins are forgiven.
David reminds us that all our sins are against God. All our sins are violations of the First Commandment. Thus we need God’s forgiveness for all our sins. Man’s forgiveness is a right and proper thing, and certainly commended to us in Holy Scripture. But we need God to heal and restore us. This is David’s plea in Psalm 51. Yet, David when writing this Psalm already had the word from the Prophet Nathan that God had put away his sin. David writes this knowing that He has God’s forgiveness. So for as well, we confess our sins knowing that Christ has already put them away. We know that God’s word of forgiveness is waiting for us.