Repentance and Worship: August 9, 2020

Good morning,

I have to confess something to you all, I am a forgetful person. I do not have the best memory and have been working for years to improve this part of my life. I know that I am not skilled in this way and have to do different things, like writing notes, in order to not forget. I have not always been good about doing that either, and there have been moments when I forget something and carried a great sense of guilt for that. Have you ever made a mistake and felt that overwhelming sense of guilt or worthlessness that the author of our Psalm describes for us today?

The speaker in this Psalm is utterly engulfed by a sense of worthlessness, the stain of sin felt so deep as to be irremovable. The psalmist feels that they have committed such a huge sin that they are unworthy of any forgiveness from God. They believe that their action was so egregious that God should not show them mercy, even though God is a being filled with such immense mercy that this should not be a trouble for them. Yet, the psalmist is in such a desperate position that they do cry out to God begging for the very mercy of which they believe they are unworthy.

The Hebrew word hesed, translated in verse 1 as “steadfast love,” refers to the covenantal relationship between God and the people of Israel. God has and continued to promise that they would be in this mutual covenantal relationship. The promise of the covenant was that they would “be for” one another. God was not going to abandon them, especially in their times of need, but that God would instead show abundant mercy. The word translated “abundant mercy,” raham, is rooted in rehem, or “womb.” The speaker is calling on God’s “womb love,” the overflowing, eternally-connected love that a mother has for her child.

When we fail and make mistakes, God is there to nurture us back. It doesn’t mean that the nurturing will always be easy, but God will be there to give us strength to carry on. The speaker fears that their actions have shattered the relationship between them and God. They fear that there is simply no way that God could ever look beyond the mistakes they have made and find forgiveness for them. “Against you, you alone, have I sinned,” the psalmist writes, addressing God. The writer sees that sin is a betrayal of the bond that God has established with the people of earth. The psalmist is convinced that the betrayal is so egregious that God would be justified in ignoring them and forgetting about them.

The psalmist pleas to God for help, “blot out my transgressions” and “hide your face from my sins” are both rooted in the fear that God will never offer them forgiveness. The psalmist wants God to see them, but not the sin that they committed. They have forgotten that God is merciful and forgiving, even when we commit blunders of the level of this writer. Though God will make us learn from these mistakes, God never leaves us or forsakes us.

The psalmist’s desire to be “washed” and “purged” of sin reflects an understanding of sin not only as treachery, but as a stain or corruption. The psalmist pleads multiple times for God to “wash me”, to “cleanse me from my sin”, to be made “clean”. Sin, in the psalmist’s understanding, is a deep-set stain on the soul, which only God can make clean.

The pain felt by the psalmist runs so deep; “Indeed, I was born guilty, a sinner when my mother conceived me”. This verse is the psalmist attempt at defining the depth of the guilt that sin has evoked in their heart. They are broken and lost, needing God’s grace to bring them home. Have you ever felt so distant from God that it literally breaks your heart? This is exactly what the psalmist is experiencing in this passage. We see the plea in verse 7 to “Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean”. Hyssop was a shrub that was used for sprinkling during ancient Jewish rites of purification. The writer is looking to be cleansed of their sin and made completely new in God’s sight. The cleansing ceremony, would use hyssop that was dipped into the blood of a sacrificed bird and sprinkled on the person who has been healed, enabling that person to be reintegrated into the community. To understand the heart of the psalmist in this moment think of the leper who was expelled from the community. The psalmist believes that this is exactly what is going to happen to them because of the actions that they took. It must have been serious for them to feel so strongly and clearly has broken their spirit.

The remainder of the passage follows this same thread. The psalmist is confronting their sin and desperately attempting to find any way to make this up to God. They are asking to be punished in this moment, believing that this would bring them back into a right relationship with God. Though we believe that Jesus has paid this price for us and that we no longer need to go to such extremes, I believe that a passage like this offers a very important perspective for us to have.

When we take on the label of Christian, this inherently comes with an understanding that we will live differently. This means that we will be the kind of love and grace filled people that Christ has called us to be. We are to offer extravagant love, well beyond what others might find reasonable, in order to heal the world of this kind of brokenness. We are able to do this because it was Jesus who has done this for us. We know that there is forgiveness of our sins. That there is never anyone who is too far gone that Jesus would not forgive them, but that they need to see their wrong doing too.

So what can we take away from today? Forgiveness is key to worship. Worship and praise can only come after there is forgiveness. God did not leave the psalmist in this place of destitution. The psalmist asks to be set free, and God creates in them a pure heart. This pure heart allows them to show their community what following God is to look like. Forgiveness frees all of our hearts to be ones that can praise and worship. Forgiveness restores people and brings them out of the darkness. Forgiveness is an act of love that will bind our hearts together forever. The psalmist gives instruction after they have been healed, to be people who forgive each other and praise God together.

Is there someone you need to forgive today? Is there someone you need to ask forgiveness from? When we offer forgiveness, it mends our hearts and frees us to live a life of grace and love. God has blessed us in so many ways. No one here today, or the community that we call home, are perfect. We all make mistakes and find out our own brokenness. We also do not want to feel the burden of the psalmist. That helplessness and fear will only drag us deeper into the mud and the muck. God wants to set us free! God hates sin, but God hates to see us struggling with sin even more. Forgiveness is there and we have the power to offer this to one another. When we are hurt by others, let us find ways to love each other. In doing so we honor God and we are empowered by God’s grace. Amen.