Friday, June 14, 2013

Psalm 32 - Forgiveness

Psalm 32

Of David. A maskil.

Blessed is the one
    whose transgressions are forgiven,
    whose sins are covered.
Blessed is the one
    whose iniquity the Lord does not count against them
    and in whose spirit is no deceit.
When I kept silent,
    my bones wasted away
    through my groaning all day long.
For day and night
    your hand was heavy on me;
my strength was sapped
    as in the heat of summer.
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.
Therefore let all the faithful pray to you
    while you may be found;
surely the rising of the mighty waters
    will not reach them.
You are my hiding place;
    you will protect me from trouble
    and surround me with songs of deliverance.
I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go;
    I will counsel you with my loving eye on you.
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 one who trusts in him.
11 Rejoice in the Lord and be glad, you righteous;
    sing, all you who are upright in heart!

Do you remember the old Star Trek television shows – not the movie that just came out, or the more recent series on television, Star Trek Enterprise – or Star Trek the Next Generation, or Star Trek Voyager, and definitely not the cartoon series – I’m talking about the Original Series that was on television back in the 1960s. 

In that series, every time someone was injured or had some fatal disease, Dr. McCoy would struggle to find a cure.  Within 60 minutes, not counting commercials, Dr. McCoy ALWAYS found a cure.  Usually it was just in time.  And he would inject something into the sick person who was by this time either covered with scabs or looking very, very old – or something.  And then immediately the sick person would look young instead of old, or immediately the scars would disappear, the broken bone would be healed, or the burn would go away.

I’m looking for the day when that is reality. 

Imagine.  You have shingles?  Get a shot and the pain is immediately gone.  Got cancer?  Skip chemo. Get a Dr. McCoy shot and the disease vanishes and you go back to work that day.  Break your leg, no problem.

We know it doesn’t happen that way – at least not in our reality.  Healing takes time.

And so it is with forgiveness.

When you have sinned against God.  Or when you have hurt someone.  Or when someone has hurt you.

Forgiveness takes time.

Psalm 32 starts out this way:

Blessed is the one
    whose transgressions are forgiven,
    whose sins are covered.
Blessed is the one
    whose iniquity the Lord does not count against them
    and in whose spirit is no deceit.
          To be forgiven is a blessing.
          Forgiveness is elusive. 
          Forgiveness is hard to experience.
          I think the reason is that most of us do not know what forgiveness is.
          I looked up “forgiveness” in the dictionary, and you know what it says?  I kid you not, it says, “Forgiveness.  The act of forgiving.”  That doesn’t say much.
          So I looked up “forgiving.”  The definition?  “To be willing to forgive.” 
          I felt like I was in a loop that kept taking me in circles.
          Forgiveness is hard to define, and it is hard to experience – and I think it is hard to experience because it is so hard to define.

          Let me tell you what forgiveness is NOT.[1]

Forgiveness is not something that comes quick or easy.  It is something that takes time.

Forgiveness is not stopping to feel the pain.  It may be the beginning of a long, long road to healing, but it is not the momentary, instant stopping of the pain we have experienced.

          Forgiveness is not approving of someone’s actions or sins.  How many times do we dismiss the seriousness of an offense by saying, “Well, it’s okay.  Nobody’s perfect.  Everybody makes mistakes.”

Forgiveness is not forgetting.  It is one of the great Christian myths that ‘forgive and forget’ is in the Bible.  It is not.  Kenneth Haulk says that just the opposite is true.  He gives an example that if your youth pastor is arrested for drunk driving, you can certainly forgive, but you never ever forget about that arrest and give the youth pastor the keys to the church bus or let him drive the kids to the mountains. 

You can’t forgive and forget. You can’t. You were raped, molested, abandoned, beaten, abused, cheated on, betrayed, lied about.

"Forget it?"

You can’t forget it. It’s impossible.
Nor should you forget.  It is one of the things that makes forgiveness so hard and elusive.  You remember, in remembering, it is hard to let go and not to hold the past against yourself or someone else.

Forgiveness is not trusting.  If someone says to me, “My dad molested me. He said he’s sorry. Can he babysit my kids?”
Answer? No way. No way.
“My boyfriend or husband hit me, but he said he’s sorry. Should we just pick up where we left off and keep going?”
No way.
Trust is built slowly. It’s lost quickly. And restoring trust happens very, very slowly.
One of my parishioners many, many years ago molested a child.  The church member went to prison.  Upon his release, he returned to church, but there were some strict boundaries set as to what this person could and could not do.  Come to church, yes.  But only with an elder sitting next to him.  Attend children’s events?  Absolutely not. 
We told him it was for his protection as well as the protection of the children.  We were protecting him from rumors and false accusations.  We were also protecting him from committing a crime that something in his nature had allowed him to do previously.  And of course, we were protecting the child. We forgave, but never trusted him again.  The risk is simply too high. This is particularly true with children who are vulnerable. We need to be exceedingly careful with who we trust.

Forgiveness is not reconciliation. 

It’s not that you’re friends and you hang out and everything’s okay. You’re close and it’s back to normal. Not at all.

It takes one person to repent.

It takes one person to forgive.

It takes two people to reconcile. That’s why St. Paul says, "In as much as it is possible with you, seek to live at peace with all people." Here’s what he’s saying. Do your best, but you can’t be at peace with everyone.

          So what is forgiveness?

          If it is not forgetting, erasing, reconciliation, denial, or a quick fix – what  is it?

          It’s healing.

        Forgiveness is healing!

          And in spite of what we may have watched on those old original Star Trek episodes, healing is not instantaneous.  Healing takes time.

          When I was a child, my father told me not to play with knives or to use a pocket knife if he was not around.

          So naturally, I played with my pocket knife when he was not around.

          I cut myself and started bleeding.  There was so much blood flowing from my hand, I had to tell my Dad what happened.  I asked my Dad if I had to go to the hospital to get stitches. 

          Dad was a textile man and he said, “I know how to sew cloth together.  Sewing skin together can’t be much different.”

          So he patched me up with a needle and thread – sterilized, of course!

          But the scar was very prominent.  And every time I looked down at that scar I would remember – “don’t play with knives.”

          Sometimes I would bump my hand against something and it would hit that scar just right and I’d feel some extra pain. 

          Slowly over the years, the scar has faded.  You can barely see it today.

          Healing takes time, but the lessons endure long after the healing process is completed.

          To this day, I am extra careful with knives.
          Forgiveness is also a freedom.  It is a relief from the stress and guilt and shame.
In Hebrew, one of the words this Psalm uses to describe forgiveness conveys the sense to “lift up” or “carry away.” 

If you are at fault, if you have hurt someone, if you have committed some grave offense against another, if you have sinned against God or neighbor, that carries with it enormous stress. 

Forgiveness is also a covering of the mistake – not in the sense of hiding it or denying it.  Not at all. 

What it means to have your sin covered is to have it covered by Christ.  The youth pastor who is arrested for drunk driving might not ever be allowed to drive the church van again, and rightfully so – it is for the protection and the youth and the youth pastor that everyone remember what happened.  But in terms of acceptance, community, love, and ultimate salvation, the sin of that youth pastor has been covered by Christ.  Not hidden, but no longer to be vindictively held against him.

Forgiveness is also a pardon.  It is a release from punishment.

We may still have to live with the consequences of our sins.  A spouse who is unfaithful may have to accept that the marriage can never be healed.  Or a person who embezzled funds still has to fulfill a prison sentence, but there is a divine pardon and a restoration of a relationship with God.

So how does one find this elusive blessing of forgiveness.

Take a look at Psalm 32:

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, as they say, good for the soul.
          The first step is that we confess our guilt and sin to God.
          And as that confession takes root and as the forgiveness is received, healing begins.  And with healing, comes a return of the joy of life.
The last verse of Psalm 32 is this:  Rejoice in the Lord and be glad, you righteous; sing, all you who are upright in heart!”

[1] Pastor Mark Driscoll of Mars Hill Church preached a sermon on “What Forgiveness is Not,” and the main points of this part of my sermon is indebted to his work.