The title of today's sermon is forgiveness. I'm going to share something now and I assure you it calls for forgiveness. From Julie. I asked Julie where she wanted to go for our anniversary. "Somewhere I haven't been in a long time!" she said. So I suggested the kitchen. Really though, I am so happy that I married Miss Right. I just didn't know her first name was 'Always'. As I wrote in last months newsletter, I'm trying to take her more places. We fly, or I drive her to distant places... trouble is, she keeps finding her way back. One thing we do, kind of romantic I think. Whenever we go out I take and hold her hand. Of course, if I let go, she shops.
Now obviously these are not true... although the last one kind of is. I borrowed these from Red Skelton talking about his wife. If I told these as true stories, boy would I need forgiveness.
Both our readings today deal with God's forgiveness toward us. Have you ever uttered this phrase about our failures in living out our life of faith... 'boy do I need forgiveness?' We hear every Sunday an assurance of forgiveness, it is part and parcel of our faith, it is our hope of salvation. So does it become just a bit ordinary? What I want us to do today is come to the clear understanding that in our relationship with God, boy did we need forgiveness!
and my sin is ever before me. Against you, you alone, have I sinned, and done what is evil in your sight.” Now we know David's sin was against more than just God; Bathsheba and her husband certainly suffered. But what is acknowledged here is that all our evil, all our sins, are ultimately sins against our creator and Lord.
While David writes in a very personal way, his words reflect the universality of sin. Sin pervades every life and its effects and consequences touch each of us. In fact, the psalm tells some ways it affects us: verse 8 talks of physical agony. Verse 11, the pain of rejection due to sin, verse 12, sin takes away our joy.
So we need to do something about this sin that is so much a part of our lives. And the psalm makes clear that only God can deal with the source and consequences of our sin. Sin is a part of every human life; nobody escapes its touch. So what is needed? We need a new, clean heart placed within us. And only God can do that. David understood this and so his prayer in verse 10, “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me.”
Getting right with God is about the heart, as David wrote. And Jeremiah, 400 years later, told the people that God's new covenant is all about this heart change. “I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.” God's law written on our hearts; a clean heart created within us... that's the answer to our sin. A divine act of forgiveness is at the center of the new covenant Jeremiah wrote about. And you may have recognized this passage from a few weeks ago. Our New Testament lesson from Hebrews on Sunday, February 21 was a quote from this passage in Jeremiah. And I preached about the new covenant promised here being fulfilled in Jesus Christ. Jeremiah wrote to the Jewish people in the Babylonian exile. And his words gave them hope and assurance that God had not abandoned them. And sometimes we can feel abandoned; we get lost in the hopelessness of sin. Like the apostle Paul we know how we want to live; we fail to do the good we desire to do and we do the wrong we want to avoid. But the new covenant is a covenant of hope because we are forgiven through the grace of Jesus Christ. Like the exiles, we are invited into community, a community of faith, a community of sinners who live in the forgiveness of God. It is not a community of people who never sin, who are perfect; we are community of sinners redeemed and forgiven by God.
So we see that this new covenant is a covenant of fellowship and of a congregational call to worship God. But this radical forgiveness is also a very individual experience. We confess our common sin in community; we confess our individual sins in our prayer closet alone with God. Both bible passages today are about the forgiveness God offers us. The psalmist pleads to be cleansed through the grace God offers, “Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.” In Eugene Peterson's paraphrase, this idea of being cleansed is stated even more strongly in terms of laundry, “Scrub away my guilt, soak out my sins in your laundry.” from verse 2 and verse 7, “Soak me in your laundry and I’ll come out clean, scrub me and I’ll have a snow-white life.” Sin stains our souls, Jesus cleans our soul. A picture of grace, of forgiveness.
Psalm 51 is a message for us individually, for those of us who may suffer with doubt about God's willingness to forgive, for those of us who wonder if God can forgive every sin, even those who have left us sorrowful and broken.. Elizabeth Webb wrote of this in the Christian Century: “There are many among our congregants who share such brokenness. There are those who will hear the words that we preach who are convinced that God is justified in abandoning them, that sin has rendered them utterly unworthy of communion with God. The word that Psalm 51 offers to the desperate is the reiteration of the nature of the God to whom we pray: steadfast love and abundant mercy; Steadfast love and abundant mercy not only heal us of the stain of sin, but also of the lie of our worthlessness.” Words of hope in a world where we face the doubts sin brings.
Our hope lies in this fact: our sin doesn't have the final word. Our hope lies in grace: God's grace is greater than our sin. Our hope lies in this: God does not hold our sins against us. The Jeremiah passage concludes with these words, “they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the LORD; for I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more.” That's an interesting phrase, God will remember our sin no more. God is all-knowing, God knows and remembers all... unless God chooses to forget.
Two little boys had quarreled. Johnny came home and told his mother about the fight. She comforted him and he calmed down some. But first thing the next morning, Johnny took his cap and headed for Bobby’s house again. Surprised, Mom asked, “What! Going to play with him again? I thought you quarreled only last evening and were never going to have anything more to do with each other. Funny memory you have.”
Johnny looked a little sheepish, dug his toe into the carpet for a moment, then flashed a satisfied smile as he hurried away. “Oh, Bobby and me’s good forgetters.”
God's a good forgetter... when God chooses to forget. And God has offered that option to us; confess, repent and accept that God forgives and forgets your sin. That creates in us a heart cleaned whiter than snow, a life of “joy and gladness;” and we will live fully in the new covenant of grace.
Our Jeremiah passage began, “The days are surely coming, says the LORD, when I will make a new covenant.” This is God's assurance that we are not abandoned to our sin. Our Jeremiah passage ended, “I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more.” And as I said, God's a good forgetter. Claim this good news for yourself. And we claim this good news as a community of faith, imperfect in how we live; but redeemed and made whiter than snow through the marvelous grace of Jesus Christ, grace that will pardon and cleanse, grace that is greater than all our sin. Amen.
Hymn: Grace, Grace, God's Grace