Praying the Psalms in a Broken World 8-5-12

Psalm 51:1-12  Generous in love—God, give grace! Huge in mercy—wipe out my bad record. Scrub away my guilt, soak out my sins in your laundry. I know how bad I’ve been; my sins are staring me down. 4-6 You’re the One I’ve violated, and you’ve seen it all, seen the full extent of my evil. You have all the facts before you; whatever you decide about me is fair. I’ve been out of step with you for a long time, in the wrong since before I was born. What you’re after is truth from the inside out. Enter me, then; conceive a new, true life. 7-15 Soak me in your laundry and I’ll come out clean, scrub me and I’ll have a snow-white life. Tune me in to foot-tapping songs, set these once-broken bones to dancing. Don’t look too close for blemishes, give me a clean bill of health. God, make a fresh start in me, shape a Genesis week from the chaos of my life.

 

This summer we have been reading, studying and praying with The Psalms – some of the most popular Psalms like Psalm 23, and some a little more obscure. Today is in between. Psalm 51 is a Psalm we read every year on Ash Wednesday, so some of you may not hear it that often. It is a Psalm of Penitence, of which there are 7 – psalms which call us to repentance, confession, and forgiveness. (Notice that we’ve had a psalm of praise and thanksgiving; a psalm of comfort and companionship, a psalm praying for intercession and help; and now a psalm of repentance and confession.  These Psalms, the early hymns of Judaism found and form the communal life – for Israel and for us. Each Psalm functions like our best new-fangled hymns like Amazing grace or  How great thou art.

Ephesians 4:1-16

August 5, 2012

Praying the Psalms in a Broken World

The experience that makes me most thankful for God’s grace and forgiveness is the experience of being a father. It’s not that I’m a particularly bad father. It’s just that because I care about it so much, being a dad makes me realize my sinfulness more than just about any other experience in my life.

I’ll give you an example.  For a number of years, being a pastor gave me the flexibility to spend a lot of time with my son – but now that he’s getting ready to go to college, all of a sudden I realize that for years, I’ve spent half my weekends working, and that was the main time that I could have had with him. And that’s the way it goes – I continually second-guess decisions we have made in our parenting – decisions about just having one child, decisions about how strict or not strict we’ve been with him. Whether I should be whacking him over the head or hugging him – and if I would have done that, would he be getting ready for the next Olympics now, or ready thinking about some fancy college or still sitting in front of the TV watching the Olympics, 8 hours a day.

You get my point?  We don’t like to talk about sin so much these days – even in the church it seems, but every now and then we have to dust off this very handy concept and understand why we really do need God’s grace and forgiveness – because we live in a broken world and we are broken people.  For many people sin has a more blaming sound to it than “broken” but it really is the same idea.

Our Psalm today has been important in forming the Christian understanding of sin and forgiveness. “For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me,” it says. “Against you, you alone, have I sinned, and done what is evil in your sight.” Now what do you make of that? “Against you, you alone, have I sinned.”  That’s nonsense, isn’t it? Our sin is only against God? Clearly most of our wrongdoing is not against God alone.

When we judge people, argue with a spouse, gossip about a neighbor, make a sexist or racist assumption, tell a lie, give in to an addiction, waste food or resources, curse someone who cuts in front of us, fail to forgive someone once let alone 70 times 7 times, cheat on somebody – or on ourselves, – our sin almost always hurts a real person – not just God!

I think the psalmist is acknowledging – in saying against you only have I sinned – that deliverance from sinfulness comes from God alone. – that in a deep way all of the ways we fall short on who God expects us to be – go back to our relationship with God. Life renewal, the reorienting of our soul comes from God alone. Getting back into good relationship with the ground of our being, the source of our lives, the power and goodness of creation is the only way to really heal.  When we try shortcuts, we inevitably find ourselves back in the same dilemmas we were in before.

One of the 12 steps in the process of combating and healing addiction is a step which calls a person to list all the ways in which they have harmed people through their addiction and to go through the painful process of admitting it to the person and asking for their forgiveness. Well, wouldn’t rather just ask for God’s forgiveness, and let it go at that? No, asking God’s forgiveness is a not so hard – if you understand that forgiveness is assured. Apologizing and asking for forgiveness from another person is a lot harder and takes a lot of guts.

Our first instinct is to defend ourselves, even when we know we did something wrong. Cathy can call me on something – usually not doing the dishes, or housework or something I said I would do – and my first response is rarely “I’m sorry.” It’s usually some excuse. It can take 20 minutes to 2 days to forever for me to realize I actually did something unhelpful or hurtful, and that I have something to confess – to her, not just to God. I doesn’t have to be a big production, but acknowledging where we have fallen short and that we intend to do better, can really help a relationship – haven’t you found that to be so?

 

What the Psalm holds out for us is a deeper and more complete solution to our difficulties, our brokenness, our falling short.  The Psalm holds out for us the possibility of a heart transplant. Throughout the Bible in fact, God promises this gift. In Jeremiah the promise a heart of flesh transplant for our heart of stone. Here in Psalm 51 the psalmist asks for a clean heart. “Create in me a clean heart, Lord!” “”Teach me wisdom in my secret heart.”

The promise is a chance to start over, to get a clean slate. It doesn’t mean that we can forgo the 12 steps – the asking forgiveness of the actual humans we have wronged. It just means we do that with a clean heart. We ask forgiveness knowing that God has given us that forgiveness and that ability to forgive, so that we don’t have to be worried about the response from our friend or relative.  We make the offer and they can accept it or not. Our heart is already made whole by God. We have a fresh heart of flesh, living and alive, because God’s grace, God’s heart in ours, God’s sweet, original, creative, awesome love is available to us even today.

Wow!  I am so glad for that heart of flesh, that heart that makes me whole. I’m thankful as a father. I’m thankful as a husband. I’m thankful as a pastor. What a gift!

This is gift is available to us all – without cost, without price. Scripture invites us every time we take communion to think about who we might have wronged and to go and ask forgiveness. I invite you to that prayer today before you come to the altar to accept God’s love and grace anew into your life.

Come and eat and feed your stony heart so you too might find Christ’s heart of flesh new inside you.

This is God’s good news.  Amen.