Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Wednesday after Invocabit

Sermon on Psalm 32
For Lamb of God Lutheran Church, Pleasant Prairie, WI
February 24, 2010 (The Wednesday after Invocabit)

When I was young, there was a certain part of the liturgy, right at the very beginning, that didn’t really make sense. Right at the beginning of both p. 5 and p. 15 of The Lutheran Hymnal, which we now know (with some updated language) as Divine Service III in the Lutheran Service Book, the pastor says, “Our help is in the name of the Lord,” and the congregation responds, “Who made heaven and earth.” Then the pastor says, “I said, I will confess my transgressions unto the Lord,” and the congregation says, “No you didn’t, you said, ‘Our help is in the name of the Lord.’” Actually, no, the congregation responds, “And Thou forgavest the iniquity of my sin.” That second versicle and response never made sense to me until I was older and realized that it was a quotation of the second half of Psalm 32:5.

David is contrasting his desire to confess his sins and receive absolution with his earlier silence in verses 3 and 4. When he, because of shame or guilt or fear of punishment, decided to keep his sins to himself, they corroded him. He couldn’t even stand in his own presence, let alone that of his family and friends. Even his most intimate relations with his wives were affected by his guilt and shame (that’s what “my strength was dried up” means in the original language, by the way). He knew he deserved nothing but sin and death, and so the idea of going on with life as if everything were normal was simply intolerable to him. He had no peace and no rest.

And when he repents, what is the Lord’s response? Not punishment, not wrath, not humiliation or anything of the sort. Forgiveness. To God it was as if his sin was not even there in the first place. The Lord did not count his iniquity against him. He was free, clean, and his sin was no longer something that could trouble him, accuse him, or condemn him.

Now, I want to be clear that David’s repentance was not what caused God to forgive him. David was forgiven already, because the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world, David’s ultimate Descendant as well as his Lord, Jesus Christ, had taken his sin and nailed it to the cross. Even while David was trying to hide his sin and cover it up by keeping it to himself, God had already taken it away and given it to His Son and David’s to die for on the cross. It’s just that when we human beings try to claim our sin as our own problem, instead of allowing God to have it, we get in the way of God’s delivery of His forgiveness to us in the Word and Sacraments. It’s as if we’re saying, “Well, God, you can’t forgive this one because you can’t have it. It’s mine. It’s my precious.” But, like the One Ring in Tolkein’s books, all that your precious does is corrode you. Repentance, letting Jesus have it, is the only way to be free of it.

And free of it you are. Your iniquity is counted against the one man who was free of sin, the God-man, Jesus Christ. What is attributed to your account is His perfection and His righteousness. Your sin no longer exists because it died with Him on the cross. David wasn’t talking about two categories of people in verse 10 of the psalm, the righteous and the unrighteous; he was talking about his own experiences with trying to keep his sin for himself as well as with confessing it and receiving the absolution won for him by Christ. Your sin is forgiven. You don’t need to hold on to it. You are free. Amen.

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