Luke 15:1-10, Psalm 51:1-1
Our scripture texts for this weekend draw our attention to the topics of sin, repentance, and forgiveness.
In our Gospel we find two of Jesus’ more well-known parables. The Parable of the Lost Sheep and The Parable of the Lost Coin. Both reflecting on the rejoicing in heaven that takes place when one who has sinned, repents… when one who is lost is found…
In our Epistle from 1 Timothy, we find words describing the grace and mercy given through Christ to even the worst of sinners. That grace, which is poured out abundantly, along with faith and love.
In our Old Testament reading from the Book of Exodus, we hear yet another well-know story from scripture, of the Israelite’s building and worshiping of the golden calf… of God’s anger towards them for their corrupt worship of idols… of Moses appeal to God to not to bring disaster upon the Israelite’s for their sinful ways and turn from anger, reminding God of God’s covenant with Israel… and of God’s merciful pardon.
All of these, images of human sinfulness held up and against images of God’s forgiveness, yet, I would argue, none as rich as what we find in our Psalm.
Believed to be one of scriptures fullest expressions of true repentance, Psalm 51 was deemed by Luther as “the doctrine of true repentance”, and is often given the simple yet powerful title, “I Have Sinned”. I have sinned…
In hymn-like fashion, the psalmist lays before us the overwhelming emotions of guilt that we feel when brought face to face with our wrongdoings. Its verses are marked with admissions to personal sin, iniquity, and acts of evil against humanity and against God… With nowhere else to turn, unable to let go of wrongs committed, the psalmist pleads to the loving and forgiving character of God, begging to be cleansed, forgiven, and made new. “Have mercy”. Have mercy…
For the Christian community, Psalm 51 is most well-known for its use on Ash Wednesday. The day of the church year that sets in motion the season of Lent, when people in churches all over the world mark their foreheads with ashes in the shape of the cross as a sign of repentance for sins committed and of the reality of our mortality, echoing the words; “remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”
The truth is, we all have our own ideas about what is sin and what is not. And too, the truth is as well, that it’s much easier for us to point to the sins of another than it is to point to our own. At least outside of the privacy of our own minds.
As we look to our texts for today, we are given an opportunity to reshape how we view and understand our sin. Not as an end to relationships with God and with those that we have wronged… not as death… but as an opportunity for new beginnings and new life. “For there is rejoicing in heaven over every sinner that repents.”
At the top of the list for his most well-known quotes, are Luther’s words, “sin boldly”. Like many of our most well-known quotes from across the ages, the context of these words from Luther are most often neglected, at the very least, ignored. When asked via letter by friend and fellow reformer Phillip Melanchthon about his thoughts on some of the sinful practices of the Catholic church, Luther responds;
“If you are a preacher of mercy, do not preach an imaginary but the true mercy. If the mercy is true, you must therefore bear the true, not an imaginary sin. God does not save those who are only imaginary sinners. Be a sinner, and sin boldly, but let your trust in Christ be stronger, and rejoice in Christ who is the victor over sin, death, and the world.”
We are all, each and everyone of us, myself included, sinners. We have worshiped idols and false gods above the One True. We have wronged one another. Lied and spoken falsely. Acted from places of pride – lifting ourselves up as better than others. We have failed to care for those in need, spoken about others behind their backs, been unfaithful to the ones we love, cared about our own wants and desires above and even against those of our neighbor, placed ourselves in the position of judge – deeming another’s sin as worse than our own, and have done all that we can in order to ignore and cover up those unpolished places of our lives…
What are your sins? What are those things, said or unsaid, done or undone, that you are unable to let go of? Those things that are keeping you in bondage… that are keeping you from mending those broken relationships in your lives… that are keeping you awake at night, and prohibiting you from living into the fullness of life that God created you to have? Those things that Christ, through his death of the cross and resurrection from the grave, set you free from? What are your sins?
Most holy and merciful God, I confess to you and to one another, and before the whole company of heaven, that I have sinned by my fault, by my own fault, by my own most grievous fault, in thought, word, and deed, by what I have done and by what I have left undone.
In the end, outside of Christ, all we are is dust. But in the mercy of God in Christ, given to die for us, through his blood and his rising to new life, we are given the promise of life renewed… we are forgiven for our sins, cleansed from all unrighteousness, and given the power to proclaim the mighty acts of the one who called us out of darkness and into his marvelous light.
May you place yourself in the position of our psalmist, confess your sins… and turning to the God of grace and mercy… trust… that even though you will return to dust, you do so with the promise of forgiveness and eternal life…
Have mercy on me, O God,
according to your unfailing love;
according to your great compassion
blot out my transgressions.
Wash away all my iniquity
and cleanse me from my sin.
For I know my transgressions,
and my sin is always before me.
Against you, you only, have I sinned
and done what is evil in your sight;
so you are right in your verdict
and justified when you judge.
Surely I was sinful at birth,
sinful from the time my mother conceived me.
Yet you desired faithfulness even in the womb;
you taught me wisdom in that secret place.
Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean;
wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.
Let me hear joy and gladness;
let the bones you have crushed rejoice.
Hide your face from my sins
and blot out all my iniquity.
Create in me a pure heart, O God,
and renew a steadfast spirit within me
~Pastor Andrew Geib