Sunday, October 16, 2011

The Joy of God's Forgiveness

Psalm 51:1-19

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 that you are proved right when you speak and justified when you judge. Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me. Surely you desire truth in the inner parts; you teach me wisdom in the inmost 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. Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me. Then I will teach transgressors your ways, and sinners will turn back to you. Save me from bloodguilt, O God, the God who saves me, and my tongue will sing of your righteousness. O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth will declare your praise. You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it; you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise. In your good pleasure make Zion prosper; build up the walls of Jerusalem. Then there will be righteous sacrifices, whole burnt offerings to delight you; then bulls will be offered on your altar.


John 8:1-11

But Jesus went to the Mount of Olives. At dawn he appeared again in the temple courts, where all the people gathered around him, and he sat down to teach them. The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group and said to Jesus, "Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?" They were using this question as a trap, in order to have a basis for accusing him. But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger. When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, "If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her." Again he stooped down and wrote on the ground. At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there. Jesus straightened up and asked her, "Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?"

"No one, sir," she said.

"Then neither do I condemn you," Jesus declared. "Go now and leave your life of sin."


My son came home from school one day to catch me on the telephone.

When my son realized that I was talking with his teacher, he became very anxious.

I hung up the telephone and my son immediately said, “Who was that?”

“That was Mr. Brown,” I said very somberly. “Your teacher.”

“Why were you talking with my teacher?”

“He was telling me some things that were going on at school.”

“What things?”

“Well son, I don’t have time to talk about them now. I have to go visit someone in the hospital. But I promise you we’re going to have a loooong talk when I get home.” And then I headed for the door and just as I was about to walk out, I turned to my son, his face pale, and I said, “When I get home, if you confess to all you’ve been up to, then I promise things will go a lot easier.”

Then I closed the door and headed off to the hospital, and I was gone a long time.

When I got home my son was sitting in the living room waiting for me.

He could not confess fast enough.

He told me about everything!

And as I promised, the punishment was not too severe, but he made a commitment to me that he would never, ever do those things again.

And as far as I know, he didn’t.

I did not have the heart to tell him that what prompted my son’s teacher to call me was that he was inviting all of the parents to an open house.

But, on the other hand I always knew my son was up to mischief at school and needed to confess SOMETHING.

Most of us have something to confess.

And for many of us, what we need to confess is something serious.

Billy Graham once reported that he had spoken with a psychologist who had claimed that more than half of the people in mental hospitals could be released if they could find a way to experience forgiveness. Whatever problems they were having with mental health, this psychologist claimed that their problems were so heavily compounded by a bad conscience that they simply could not find a road to health and recovery. What they needed was a healing that could bring them relief from the guilt and pressures under which they lived.

Our Old Testament reading for this morning was written by a man who had an intimate knowledge of guilt and the need for forgiveness. The author of this reading -- Psalm 51-- was King David, and it was written after a prophet named Nathan had uncovered a double sin that David had tried to keep secret -- adultery and murder.

The way all of this had come about was that David had been on his roof one evening.

In ancient times, roofs were flat and they were often used like we would use a porch or patio. Perhaps David was up there to be alone -- to think about the war that his army was fighting in some distant city. Or perhaps he was thinking of some of the other problems of state. Or perhaps he was simply doing what many of us do when we sit on our porches or patios -- relaxing after a difficult day at work.

At any rate, David soon became aware that he could see--not too far off in the distance -- a woman bathing. She was beautiful. So much so that David could not forget about her. The next day, he asked about her and learned that her name was Bathsheba, and that her husband Uriah, was in David's own army, and away in battle.

David sent for Bathsheba and the two had an adulterous affair. As a result, Bathsheba became pregnant.

King David realized he had done something terrible. He was guilty of a terrible and dishonorable thing, so what did he do to handle his guilt?

Cover up!

Isn't that just like a politician? Isn't that just like all of us?

David sent word for Uriah to come home from battle, pretending that he wanted him to give an official report from the battle front. In reality, he hoped that Uriah would spend the night at home with his wife while in Jerusalem. When the child was born, Uriah would accept it as his own. But Uriah was a soldier and his commitment was such that during wartime, he would only sleep with the other soldiers.

The cover up didn’t work, so David took another step.

This is often the case. We make a mistake. We need relief from our guilt. But we find ourselves getting deeper and deeper, much more so than we ever intended to go.

To cover up his sin, David ordered Uriah back into battle. And then David ordered one of his military leaders to arrange for Uriah to be killed in the battle. And the order was carried out. And Uriah died.

Finally, the king was safe. He could relax. Eventually Bathsheba and David were married and the child was born. But that didn’t last long.

A prophet named Nathan learned about David's actions. He approached the king and in a very skillful way, confronted the king about his terrible deeds.

Suddenly David knew his secret sin was no longer hidden. He had been caught. I dare say that all of us here have lived through that moment, and shared with David the feeling he felt then.

A student cheating on a test, caught by the watchful eye of a teacher.

A wife, cheating in her marriage, caught by the husband.

A respected businessman caught by the IRS for lies he told on his tax forms.

A friend caught by another betraying a trust.

In small ways and large, we have ALL have felt the agony of being found out. Of being caught. David was caught. He felt the agony. He felt the pain of realizing his cover up had failed to hide the ugly truth. And then he felt the need to confess his sin to God.

Which is what he should have done in the beginning. It is the one thing that brings healing. We make mistakes. But we should not waste time trying to cover them up, or trying to un-do the mistake. The mistake is there. The sin is there. Confession is what we need to do. Admit the mistake. Own up to what we have done.

Psalm 51, the Scripture reading for this morning, is a poem written by David that expressed his prayer of Confession after being confronted by Nathan. Through this prayer David experienced the relief of forgiveness.

How can we experience and know that we are forgiven?

By examining this psalm and the historical background of King David we see that there are certain steps in receiving forgiveness.

Confession of our sin is the first step.

Confession is vital, but it is probably absolutely contrary to our nature.

When I was a teenager, I briefly took up the habit of smoking cigarettes. One day when my mother and father were supposed to be gone for the entire day, I sat down to light up a cigarette, and when I was about half way through it, my Dad walked in. “What are you doing? Are you smoking?”

Now I have always thought fast on my feet, so with smoke coming out of my mouth I looked at Dad and asked, “Who? Me?”

The last thing I wanted to do was to admit that I was smoking, even though I was sitting alone in a smoke filled room holding a cigarette.

Now you can laugh at that, but we see grown men and women doing the same thing on the television news every day. Caught red handed, they still deny, deny and deny.

No one, by nature, likes to confess.

But if healing is to come to your soul, that is where we begin.

That is where David finally started to find healing.

As long as David covered up his sin, he could not experience forgiveness -- He had to come to the point where he could confess his sin to God.

You want to experience the joy of forgiveness? Step one is confession. Step two is asking God for mercy.

David admitted his mistake to God. In the Psalm, he said, "Against You and you only have I sinned." Of course, others had been hurt. Bathsheba had lost her reputation and her husband. Uriah had been killed. David had abused the power of his public office and so the trust of the people had been violated. And the infant who had been born as a result of this affair eventually died as an infant.

Nevertheless, David said to God, "Against you and you only have I sinned." For David saw that a sin against another of God's children is a sin against God, and that ultimately any wrong doing is an insult to the love of God.

More than anything else, it is God's love that has been wounded the most. It is God's grace that has been injured.

Therefore if you want to experience the joy of forgiveness, you must first confess your sin TO God, and you must then ask GOD for mercy.

Many people do not experience the joy of forgiveness and freedom from guilt because they believe that God OWES his Children his forgiveness. They believe that they DESERVE God's mercy.

David knew better than this. What sin deserve is justice -- punishment.

Historian Shelby Foote likes to tell a story about an incident that occurred during the Civil War. A very young Soldier has been caught trying to dessert. He enters the tent of General Robert E. Lee himself. The soldier is obviously frightened and Lee tries to put him at ease. "Don't worry son," the General Says, You'll find Justice here."

To which the young solder replies, "That's what I'm afraid of sir."

Our sin deserves justice. Punishment. But what we NEED is mercy. And we need to understand that this mercy that we need is a gift of God, not an obligation of God. It is a gift of God offered to us because he loves us.

And so to experience relief from guilt and to know the joy of forgiveness, first we must confess our sins to God, and secondly, ask for mercy.

Step three is to change.

In the Psalm, David said, "Restore to me the joy of salvation, and then I will teach transgressors your ways and sinners will be converted."

He was thinking in terms of how he would be changed by forgiveness, how he would then go out and convert others toward God.

In our New Testament lesson, Jesus forgives a woman, who like David, has been caught in the act of adultery. She is about to stoned. Rescued by Jesus and forgiven by him, he tells her, "Go and sin no more."

For forgiveness to take root, it has to be accompanied by a change in ones lifestyle. One of the dangerous patterns that sometimes exist in a family structure is the tendency in some to forgive too freely without any real expectation of change.

Does it do any good for a wife to forgive a husband for an adulterous affair, but then NOT to expect the husband to change?

Is it right to forgive someone who has been abusive to another person without expecting an end to the abuse?

To forgive, without an expectation that there will be a change, does not do anything positive. On the contrary, it simply enables the person to continue the destructive pattern.

Forgiveness makes no demand upon the past. You can't change the past.

But it places a heavy demand on the future. There has to be a change.

We need relief.

We need God's forgiveness.

We find it by confessing our sin to God, asking God for mercy, and then, in the words of Jesus, going and sinning no more.

Copyright 2011, The Rev. Dr. Maynard Pittendreigh

All rights reserved.

Sermons are available online and can be found by visiting www.Pittendreigh.NET