Sermon for Sunday, Feb 10: Turning Guilt Into Gladness

Here’s my sermon for tomorrow, Sunday, February 10, 2008 from Psalm 32. This is the first Sunday of Lent, and so Psalm 32 is an appropriate place for us to begin our reflection during this Lenten season. Have a wonderful day on Sunday!

Turning Guilt Into Gladness
Psalm 32

1 Blessed is he
whose transgressions are forgiven,
whose sins are covered.

2 Blessed is the man
whose sin the LORD does not count against him
and in whose spirit is no deceit.

3 When I kept silent,
my bones wasted away
through my groaning all day long.

4 For day and night
your hand was heavy upon me;
my strength was sapped
as in the heat of summer.

5 Then I acknowledged my sin to you
and did not cover up my iniquity.
I said, “I will confess
my transgressions to the LORD “—
and you forgave
the guilt of my sin.

6 Therefore let everyone who is godly pray to you
while you may be found;
surely when the mighty waters rise,
they will not reach him.

7 You are my hiding place;
you will protect me from trouble
and surround me with songs of deliverance.

8 I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go;
I will counsel you and watch over you.

9 Do not be like the horse or the mule,
which have no understanding
but must be controlled by bit and bridle
or they will not come to you.

10 Many are the woes of the wicked,
but the LORD’s unfailing love
surrounds the man who trusts in him.

11 Rejoice in the LORD and be glad, you righteous;
sing, all you who are upright in heart!

A Psalm of Penitence

Today is the first Sunday of Lent. In the Christian Year, we have entered a 40-day period between Ash Wednesday and Easter Sunday, not counting Sundays. This time symbolizes the 40-days Christ spent in the desert prior to his earthly ministry. For us, however, Lent involves reflection, self-denial, and a penitent spirit. Which brings us to Psalm 32, one of the 7 penitential psalms in the Lenten tradition.

Identified as a psalm of David, this psalm contains both instruction and David’s personal reference to his own guilt and later forgiveness. The setting for this psalm may be a public worship service, perhaps before the great Day of Atonement itself, but certainly before the nation of Israel makes its confession before God. Imagine thousands of Jews standing while their beloved king, King David cries out –

Blessed is he
whose transgressions are forgiven,
whose sins are covered.

Blessed is the man
whose sin the LORD does not count against him
and in whose spirit is no deceit.

So, the stage is set for the nation to receive the forgiveness of God. “Blessed” is that person whose sins are forgiven, blessed is that person whose sin the Lord does not count against him, David pronounces. Jesus would pick up this refrain in the Sermon on the Mount when he says, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, the meek, those who hunger and thirst after righteousness.” A blessed life is a life visited by the favor of God.

A Personal Confession

Lurking in the background is David’s personal story, known to the nation at this point. David says,

When I kept silent,
my bones wasted away
through my groaning all day long. For day and night
your hand was heavy upon me;
my strength was sapped
as in the heat of summer.

I can imagine that everyone that day is standing very still, wondering but not asking, “Will King David tell the story of his own sin and forgiveness?” David does not really have to tell it, because they all know the story. The story of a great king who in a weak moment believed that he was above the law of God. The story of power in its most inhuman expression, of covetousness, of adultery, of murder, of false witness, of denial. The story of the breaking of at least half of the Commandments of God, by the anointed of God himself. David does not have to tell the story, for the nation lived his tragedy with him.

King David was home in the palace while his army was at battle without him one day. Doubtless bored, restless, and feeling the strength of his own political and popular power, David strolls on his rooftop. Looking down on the streets and houses below, David notices Bathsheba, wife of Uriah the Hittite, bathing. Because he has the power to do so, he wants what he should not have, calls for Bathsheba and commits adultery with her while her husband is at war.

From that moment of misplaced passion and power, Bathsheba conceives a child. In the attempt to cover his sin, David has Uriah called home from the battle field, so he can return home to his wife. Hoping that Uriah’s homecoming will conceal his sin, David is shocked to learn that Uriah will not sleep in the same bed with his wife because his men are in battle without him.

Since that plan has failed, David more desperate than ever, sends Uriah into the thick of the battle where he is certain to be killed. He is, and David takes Bathsheba into the palace. This charade conceals nothing, I am sure, but David thinks it does. So, David is busy about the business of being king, until one day Nathan the prophet appears.

Nathan tells the King an incredible story. It seems that a rich and powerful herdsman has more sheep than he can even keep up with. His neighbor, on the other hand, is poor and has only a single lamb in his fold. The rich herdsman, not content with his wealth and power, takes the lamb away from the poor man, Nathan tells David.

Outraged, David proclaims the king’s wrath against this greedy herdsman, demanding to know who it is that has done such a thing. Nathan exclaims — “You are the man!” And with the prophet’s disclosure, David is found out. The story becomes even sadder. The child is born, then lingers between life and death while David fasts and prays. The child dies. David ends his mourning, confesses his sin, and asks for God’s forgiveness.

That’s the story behind David’s saying, “When I kept silence…” The story is out, the people know, God has spoken. David must now confess and repent.

Confession Isn’t Just Admitting Guilt

David says,

Then I acknowledged my sin to you
and did not cover up my iniquity.
I said, “I will confess
my transgressions to the LORD “—
and you forgave
the guilt of my sin.

Confession is good for the soul, as the old saying goes. But, confession isn’t just admitting we’ve done something wrong. Confession literally means to “say the same” about our sin as God does. It’s one thing to say, “Yeah, I did it.” It’s another to say, “Yes, I did it and I now know that my sin breaks the heart of God.” For that is what sin does. To “say the same” is to understand sin from God’s perspective, to name it, and to admit responsibility for it.

Let me give you a personal example to show you the difference between admission and confession. Remember, confession means to “say the same” thing about sin that God does. When I pastored Pine Lake Baptist Church in Stone Mountain, Georgia, we lived in the parsonage. It was our first church out of seminary, and Debbie was having a wonderful time decorating our new home. Seminary days had been frugal days, so when we were called to Pine Lake, we bought some new furniture, Debbie had drapes made, and the house looked great.

No only did Debbie want the house to look great, she wanted it to smell great, too. That was about the time the Claire Burke company came out with scented oil that smelled really good. So, Debbie bought this scented oil that you put in little metal rings which sat on top of the light bulb in a lamp. The heat from the bulb would evaporate the scented oil — cinnamon was a favorite of hers — and the house smelled like fresh baked cinnamon buns. The only problem was, I hated those lamp rings. Every time I tried to turn the lamp on, I knocked the ring off, it hit the floor, and the few drops of oil would splatter out.

Now, I am not proud of the rest of this story, but I’m making a point here. One day I was at home alone and Debbie was off doing something at church or somewhere. The lamp was on, and I reached to turn it off. You guessed it — I knocked the lamp ring off the bulb again. Only this time the metal ring was hot, and the oil was hot. The ring hit my hand as it fell, spilling the hot oil on me and burning my hand. Okay, burning may be too strong, but it was hot. This is the part I’m not proud of — without thinking I picked up the brass ring, opened the back door, and sailed the ring as far into the back yard as I could. I remember a certain sense of satisfaction at that moment, like I had conquered a long-standing enemy.

Like King David, I went about my business. Not long after that Debbie asked, “What happened to the ring I had on this lamp?” Without fear, I said, “I threw it out the door.” That was admission. It was not confession, because Debbie had an entirely different view of my action than I did. Entirely different. A view which I came around to quickly, I might add. And so after meek explanations of “that thing burned me,” which Debbie was not buying, I had to not only confess, but I also had to repent, which in this case meant buying another lamp ring.

Just to make sure that my telling this story did not surprise Debbie and bring back unpleasant memories, I told her that I was going to tell it today, explaining that I was illustrating the difference in admission and confession. “Yeah,” she said, “I don’t think you seemed very sorry when you told me you threw it out.” Not right away, anyway.

So, confession is saying the same thing about our sin that God says about it.

Confession Isn’t Just Personal

But there is more than that to confession, too. In our very individualistic American culture, we tend to read these passages about sin and confession as being very personal. And, David’s sin certainly was personal, but it affected a nation. Now, with the nation gathered before him and before God, David reminds them that as a nation they are called to confession of sin. The Old Testament is filled with stories of the people of God sinning against God. On Wednesday nights we’re going through the entire Bible. We just finished Joshua, the sixth book of the Old Testament, and already we’ve talked a lot about the collective sins of the people of God.

In 1995, the 150th anniversary year of the founding of the Southern Baptist Convention, the SBC gathered in Atlanta, Georgia, passed this resolution:

WHEREAS, Since its founding in 1845, the Southern Baptist Convention has been an effective instrument of God in missions, evangelism, and social ministry; and

WHEREAS, The Scriptures teach that Eve is the mother of all living (Genesis 3:20), and that God shows no partiality, but in every nation whoever fears him and works righteousness is accepted by him (Acts 10:34-35), and that God has made from one blood every nation of men to dwell on the face of the earth (Acts 17:26); and

WHEREAS, Our relationship to African-Americans has been hindered from the beginning by the role that slavery played in the formation of the Southern Baptist Convention; and

WHEREAS, Many of our Southern Baptist forbears defended the right to own slaves, and either participated in, supported, or acquiesced in the particularly inhumane nature of American slavery; and

WHEREAS, In later years Southern Baptists failed, in many cases, to support, and in some cases opposed, legitimate initiatives to secure the civil rights of African-Americans; and

WHEREAS, Racism has led to discrimination, oppression, injustice, and violence, both in the Civil War and throughout the history of our nation; and

WHEREAS, Racism has divided the body of Christ and Southern Baptists in particular, and separated us from our African-American brothers and sisters; and

WHEREAS, Many of our congregations have intentionally and/or unintentionally excluded African-Americans from worship, membership, and leadership; and

WHEREAS, Racism profoundly distorts our understanding of Christian morality, leading some Southern Baptists to believe that racial prejudice and discrimination are compatible with the Gospel; and

WHEREAS, Jesus performed the ministry of reconciliation to restore sinners to a right relationship with the Heavenly Father, and to establish right relations among all human beings, especially within the family of faith.

Therefore, be it RESOLVED, That we, the messengers to the Sesquicentennial meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention, assembled in Atlanta, Georgia, June 20-22, 1995, unwaveringly denounce racism, in all its forms, as deplorable sin; and

Be it further RESOLVED, That we affirm the Bibles teaching that every human life is sacred, and is of equal and immeasurable worth, made in Gods image, regardless of race or ethnicity (Genesis 1:27), and that, with respect to salvation through Christ, there is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female, for (we) are all one in Christ Jesus (Galatians 3:28); and

Be it further RESOLVED, That we lament and repudiate historic acts of evil such as slavery from which we continue to reap a bitter harvest, and we recognize that the racism which yet plagues our culture today is inextricably tied to the past; and

Be it further RESOLVED, That we apologize to all African-Americans for condoning and/or perpetuating individual and systemic racism in our lifetime; and we genuinely repent of racism of which we have been guilty, whether consciously (Psalm 19:13) or unconsciously (Leviticus 4:27); and

Be it further RESOLVED, That we ask forgiveness from our African-American brothers and sisters, acknowledging that our own healing is at stake; and

Be it further RESOLVED, That we hereby commit ourselves to eradicate racism in all its forms from Southern Baptist life and ministry; and

Be it further RESOLVED, That we commit ourselves to be doers of the Word (James 1:22) by pursuing racial reconciliation in all our relationships, especially with our brothers and sisters in Christ (1 John 2:6), to the end that our light would so shine before others, that they may see (our) good works and glorify (our) Father in heaven (Matthew 5:16); and

Be it finally RESOLVED, That we pledge our commitment to the Great Commission task of making disciples of all people (Matthew 28:19), confessing that in the church God is calling together one people from every tribe and nation (Revelation 5:9), and proclaiming that the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ is the only certain and sufficient ground upon which redeemed persons will stand together in restored family union as joint-heirs with Christ (Romans 8:17).

And so Southern Baptists as a body repudiated, renounced, confessed, apologized, and asked forgiveness for our complicity in slavery in the early days of this nation. There are times when we as the people of God must confess our collective sin and ask for the forgiveness of God and of those against whom we have sinned.

We Are Made With A Compulsion To Confess carried the following article by Martha Beck titled, Why Confess?

Theodor Reik uses a term called “the compulsion to confess.” This urge is part of every normal person (and some abnormal people as well—ever notice how many criminals get caught because they blab about their crimes?). The confession compulsion makes sense when you consider that our secrets are simply parts of our life stories, our selves, that have been forced into hiding. We all have a deep psychological need to be accepted as we really are, but that can never happen as long as there are parts of us that no one sees or knows. We conceal aspects of ourselves that we think invite rejection, but ironically, the very act of secrecy makes us inaccessible to love. We think we’re hiding our secrets, but really, our secrets are hiding us. Perhaps that’s why when we lie or hide the truth, our very physiology rebels: Stress indicators like blood pressure, perspiration, blinking rates and breathing all increase, while immune function declines. Our subconscious mind joins the battle against secrecy; we find ourselves telling the truth in dreams, Freudian slips and the occasional drunken blurt. The more secretive we are, the more separate we feel from our own bodies, our own lives.

When I did research on addiction, I found that most of the addicts I interviewed were trying to ease the pain of psychological isolation caused by dark secrets, and that telling their secrets was the single most powerful step that allowed them to connect with others, experience loving acceptance, and ultimately heal.

Confession Brings Forgiveness

David said, “I will confess
my transgressions to the LORD “—
and you forgave
the guilt of my sin.”

In I John 1:9 says, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” When we “say the same” thing about our sin that God does, confessing it to Him, He forgives us and restores us into His loving care.

Three years ago when “The Passion of the Christ” was showing in theaters across the nation, more than 70,000 reports came in of the film helping people. At least 4 criminals confessed to crimes they had committed including bombings, robberies, and one murder.

In Arizona, Turner Lee Bingham, 20, walked up to a Mesa store about eight minutes after the alarm sounded and apologized to police for taking $80 from the register before confessing to five or six burglaries at other places.

Bingham had seen “The Passion” with his mother, and he felt guilty, the store owner, Tobias Bright, said police told him.

“I’ve seen the movie myself,” Bright said. “I think it’s the kind of movie that makes you stop and think about things for a minute.”

The store owner, who identified himself as a Christian, said he wished Bingham would have felt guilty “20 minutes earlier, before he took a baseball bat to one of my windows.”

But he said, “If you’re going to be burglarized, I don’t think it could turn out any better.”

Almost 2,800 years after King David, we still have a need to confess and seek God’s forgiveness, especially when confronted with Christ’s great love for us.