“The Joy of Forgiveness”
Sunday, March 13, 2011
First Sunday in Lent
Reading Psalm 32 we might conclude that it is a song of thanksgiving because of the happiness it expresses and the “cause and effect” analysis it portrays…
Such a conclusion is not entirely wrong.
We might also hear it as a wisdom psalm because of the wise – almost proverb-like – teaching contained in its final four verses…
This too is not entirely wrong.
Most scholars, however, look at the combination of these two types of literature and focus on the entire nature of the song and place it in a grouping called “penitential psalms.”
Even though there is no specific confession of sin here, there is a vivid image of the personal experience of confessing sin and the joy that comes at receiving God’s forgiveness.
Take my lips, O Lord, and speak through them.
Take our minds and think through them.
Take our hearts and set them on fire.
In Jesus’ name…Amen
The question that comes to mind today is: “How can we experience the joy of forgiveness unless we first acknowledge our sin and confess?”
On Wednesday evening we began this series based on Psalms by looking at Psalm 51.
This is thought to be King David’s confession of his sin with Bathsheba.
We talked about the fact that David wasn’t able to come to this confession until the prophet Nathan pointed out the sin and forced David to recognize the terrible thing he had done.
This good and righteous king did not see his own sin and, therefore, could not realize his need for forgiveness.
Maybe that’s part of what we need to see in Psalm 32 today…
Even the righteous King David didn’t recognize his own sin…
What does it mean to be righteous?
I think that sometimes we misunderstand this word: “righteous” and it causes us to be too hard on ourselves.
We have this image that righteous people are perfect, moral, upright individuals who always do the right thing and stay on the path.
This is an ethical understanding of maintaining a state of moral purity.
But, we need to hear how the Hebrew text really refers us to righteousness as God’s saving actions…
Only God is completely righteous and it is God’s righteousness that offers hope for redemption from sin.
For us, being righteous doesn’t mean being perfect, being blameless, or being right…
For us, to be righteous is to be forgiven…To be a witness to God’s grace.
The psalmist this morning is clear: Silence about our sin causes suffering.
V3: “While I kept silence, my body wasted away through my groaning all day long.”
Our silence, our failure to acknowledge our own sin, has a devastating effect on us – physically, emotionally, and spiritually.
V1: “Happy are those whose transgression is forgiven.”
V5 (paraphrased): ‘When I acknowledged my sin and did not hide from it,
God forgave my guilt.’
John Wesley said that:
“We are guilty of sinning against God, which deeply affects the character and quality of our life. And because our sin is primarily an action against God, whose will and purpose is the source and end of all that is, we need God to deal with the reality of our guilt. We need God to forgive and pardon us, to reconcile us to the communion of love with God.”
All this talk of sin, confession, and divine forgiveness doesn’t seem to resonate with many contemporary folk.
We don’t like to think of ourselves as sinners…
We certainly don’t seem to think in terms of sin as an explanation for what’s wrong with our culture, our families, our politics, or our world.
Our failure to acknowledge sin may explain the general lack of accountability that has become more and more apparent around the globe.
Maybe if we could revive this notion of sin and the need we have for forgiveness, we could help turn the tide of aggression and the moral struggles much of the world is engaged in.
Maybe a little dose of accountability would be good for everyone.
Our misunderstanding of sin and forgiveness has led to our uncanny ability to justify
to rationalize our behavior and give ourselves permission to do almost anything…
that makes us feel good,
that doesn’t directly hurt someone else,
or that satisfies our pleasure or greed, or satisfies our ego.
And yet, Scripture is clear…
Even the great King David suffered the pangs of guilt and needed God’s forgiveness;
Our psalmist this morning reminds us that happiness is found in forgiveness;
If we silently refuse to acknowledge our sin we will suffer physically and spiritually;
When we humble ourselves before God we are preserved from trouble and filled with joy
There is an old Scottish proverb that says: “Confession is good for the soul.”
This is truer than we want to admit…
Paul told the Romans: “If you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.”
Confession isn’t just good for you, it is essential to salvation.
Every Scripture passage dealing with salvation through Jesus Christ is conditional on our confession that Jesus is Lord of our lives…
This cannot be true if we are still clinging to the idea that our human ingenuity or initiative can somehow make up for our sins and call it “good.”
If we are to accept the grace of God that Jesus offers we must be willing to confess our sins before God and bow in humble dependence on God’s steadfast mercy, forgiveness, and love.
There is no other way.
Finally, it’s important we notice the change that takes place in the last four verses of the psalm…
The speaker shifts from talking to God to talking to us…
He tells us not to be stubborn like a mule… (V 9)
If we refuse to listen to what this psalm is trying to teach us, we will pay the price.
But, if we pay attention, God’s steadfast love will surround us and we will be glad in the Lord because we will find true joy in God’s forgiveness…
The thing is, we cannot be forgiven of that which we do not confess to God.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit…Amen