Eighth Sunday after Pentecost July 30-31, 2022
“New, Again” Psalm 51
Rev. John R. Larson Ascension Lutheran Church Littleton, Colorado
Silly question for you today – I seem to have my share of them lately – what is the confession of sins? What is repentance?
When I was a kid, Holy Communion was on the first and third Sundays of the month and I spoke with all the others these words, “I, a poor, miserable sinner, confess unto Thee all my sins and iniquities with which I have ever offended Thee and deserved Thy temporal and eternal punishment.” I guess that is confession of sins. I guess as a six-year-old kid I needed to say to someone that I was a poor, miserable sinner. My mom knew it, now God knew it too.
Over the last few weeks this is what we have said for our confession of sins, “I confess to God Almighty, before the whole company of heaven and to you, my brothers and sisters, that I have sinned in thought, word and deed by my fault, by my own fault, by my own most grievous fault…” No wiggle room there. Lutherans, I suppose are pretty straight on sin – or maybe we’re bigger sinners than most other people.
Psalm 51 is one of the 6 penitential psalms of the 150 that make up this book of Psalms. This is how confession is made in this chapter, “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.” (Psalm 51:3-5)
But, you know, I’ve had trouble with that verse for a long time. Maybe you have as well. The part that troubles me is this, “Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight.” Can’t be. My sins, though certainly against the will of God, aren’t just against Him, they infect so many others, they damage so many others. Look at yourself as I look at myself. You lie and by that lie you have injured, maybe destroyed, the trust that someone has had in you. You hurt them. You sinned against them. Or, you didn’t keep your marriage vows, either physically or emotionally, and who got hurt – your spouse, your kids, your relatives, your friends. We sinned against them. We hurt them. I say a word that is vulgar, dirty, cruel and who has to live with the scar? The person I unleashed the tirade at. Right? “Against you, you only, have I sinned?” No. When David, the author of this psalm spoke these words he had killed a man, took his wife, and lied to himself and the whole world about it. Sin is against God, but so many others bear the pain of what we do. But, if I understand this right, every sin that we commit against others, is a sin against God, who has made each person for us to love and honor. We first break our relationship with God and then we break our relationship with others.
The honest confession of sin is a terribly hard thing for most of us to do. We have reasons why we did what we did, thought what we thought, and said what we said. When confronted with a wrong-doing we start our defense with the damming word, “But”. “Yes, I did it, BUT…” “Sure, I shouldn’t have said that, BUT…” Here’s another escape from being honest with self, others and God – sometimes the guilty one will say: “If I have offended you, I’m sorry.” Or, “If I have hurt anyone by what I said or did, I’m sorry.”
Those words are not a confession, they are an accusation that the other person has thin skin. Confession of sins is this: “I’m sorry”, “It was my fault”, “I messed up”, “What I did was wrong”, “I own this wrong, please forgive me.” When David talks about confession of sins and repentance, he says, “For 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.” (Verses 16-17)
If you are looking for honesty, if you are looking for something authentic, nothing fake, no masks, no running from truth, you must begin with a broken and contrite heart. That is how we approach our God. It must be how we approach each other.
And listen to this: our God, in mercy, for the sake of the Lamb of God, Jesus Christ, makes us new, again. Listen to the words of grace: “Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin.” (Verses 1-2) “Purge me with hyssop, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.” (Verse 7) “Hide your face from my sins, and blot out all my iniquities.” (Verse 9)
The confession of sins is not just the admission of guilt, it is also the confession that God has the final answer for our failings. His final answer is allowing us a new start – again. The literal word for “cleanse me” is “un-sin-me”. Un-sin-me — take it away. In that opening verse when he uses the phrase, “blot out my transgressions”, he is giving us a picture of someone writing in a book, making a catalogue of sins that have been committed and he asks that the entry be erased. Blot them out!! Erase them!! Forget them!!
Forgiveness, due to the blood of Jesus Christ on the cross, is the most wonderful gift our mind and soul receives. Thank of that!! Un-sin-me. Blot them out. Erase them. This truth of God’s total forgiveness of sins is found throughout Scripture:
- Come now, let us reason together, says the Lord. Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool. (Isaiah 1:18)
- These in white robes – who are they, and where did they come from? I answered, Sir, you know. And he said, These are they who have come out of the great tribulation; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. (Revelation 7:13-14)
- Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! (II Corinthians 5:17)
Being declared pure and whole by God is being made new, again. New, again, is also how God begins to work in us again, transforming us to a life that is right and good and lives in a better way. In the words of Psalm 51, in a section we know as “The Offertory” – we give an offering to God – we offer ourselves for His service and for His honor. This is what we say, and sometimes sing: “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.” (Verses 10-12) “Lord, give me a right heart in how I now live.” “Lord, give me a strong and steady spirit, that I may do your will every day.” New, again.
New, again, is the gift of God’s grace in the forgiveness given to us fully by the sacrifice of Jesus Christ upon the cross. Jesus said that everyone had to be born again by water and the Spirit. He said that flesh gives birth to flesh but Spirit gives birth to spirit. (See John 3:5-6) New, again, in Jesus now, and new, again, when we enter heaven with our spirit and later when we are given our resurrected body.
But you don’t have to wait to be new again until the day you die. It happens now. You know the account of Peter and his weak denial of Jesus, right? Jesus knew not only what Simon Peter would do in his weakness, but He also planned for what Jesus would do through Peter after his fall. “Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift you as wheat. But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. But when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.” (Luke 22:31-32)
Peter failed. He fell. He was so sure that he wouldn’t ever slip, but he did. But Jesus made him new again. He was forgiven in the wounds of the Savior. And in the words of Jesus he was new, again, to serve his Lord, “And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.” A few weeks after this Jesus told this fallen, weak, shattered Peter, “Feed my sheep”, “Tend my lambs”. New…again.
Today we get to sing the offertory – our offering to Him. We are giving Him our new heart, our new soul, our new life. “Create in me a clean heart, O God and renew a right spirit within me.” New, again. Amen!!