March 18, 2018 – Lent 5 B
1Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love;
in your great compassion blot out my offenses.
2Wash me through and through from my wickedness,
and cleanse me from my sin.
3For I know my offenses,
and my sin is ever before me.
4Against you only have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight;
so you are justified when you speak and right in your judgment.
5Indeed, I was born steeped in wickedness,
a sinner from my mother’s womb.
6Indeed, you delight in truth deep within me,
and would have me know wisdom deep within.
7Remove my sins with hyssop, and I shall be clean;
wash me, and I shall be purer than snow.
8Let me hear joy and gladness;
that the body you have broken may rejoice.
9Hide your face from my sins,
and blot out all my wickedness.
10Create in me a clean heart, O God,
and renew a right spirit within me.
11Cast me not away from your presence,
and take not your Holy Spirit from me.
12Restore to me the joy of your salvation
and sustain me with your bountiful Spirit.
Have you noticed that confession is one of those words we hate in our culture? We hate fessing up to the things we’ve done wrong. Everyone from the highest paid celebrities to the poorest of the poor have this in common. We learn it from an early age and it certainly modeled for us. Having to say, “I’m sorry” is one of the hardest things I’ve had to learn as a parent and every time I say it I hope two things: a) it teaches them that this is how it ought to be and b) that eventually I have to start saying it less. Having to confess something, anything, is hard. Yet, it is also a marker of the Christian life.
One of the things I love most about the Psalms is not blatantly honest they are about life. They have almost all been inspired by true life events and at times reference, even though veiled, subjects and situations which we may find shocking and uncomfortable. This Psalm is just such a song and it has a gristly and violent past. This one, Psalm 51, comes to us from a particularly vulnerable point. In your Bible, there will be a note at the beginning of this Psalm. Mine says, “To the leader. A Psalm of David, when the prophet Nathan came to him, after he had gone in to Bathsheba.” If that doesn’t ring a bell for you, here’s a quick translation of that rather dry introduction. It was written by King David after he is confronted with his own sin and failure as a king. For those of you who do not know the story, David decided to not go into battle (as a king normally would) and, in his leisure time, sees Bathsheba bathing on a roof. Through a long chain of events, he eventually rapes her and orders the murder of her husband. This song is a confession to God and an appeal to God’s mercy.
In this time of Lent, it might be good for us to have a conversation about confession and forgiveness. We know the language, right? Every week, we gather together and begin each service with some form of confession and forgiveness. We gather together and confess that we have sinned, that through our direct actions or inactions, we have failed to keep God’s law and practice the love that was shown to us. We have contributed to the brokenness of humanity and have failed to see how that’s a problem. This is both personal and communal – I, you, and we all have confessions to make.
But what are we really doing? Is confession simply a bandage when really, we need stitches, or surgery, or a lifestyle change? Is confession just a way of easing our conscience so that we can feel better about ourselves before we go out and do it again? I sincerely hope not.
David, here, seems to be struggling with this exact sentiment. He is confessing, yes, and that’s commendable. But did you notice how he makes the claim that his sin is against God alone? In the portions that we read today, he seems to be saying that God is the only one offended by this. To that, I have to ask, “What about Bathsheba? What about her husband?” Do they get to write a Psalm bringing their pain to God? Do they get to seek justice for the wrongdoing that they’ve endured?
Like many women in the Bible, Bathsheba is an inactive character. She isn’t given a voice or a platform that she can stand upon and make her case. We probably wouldn’t even know about her rape if it had not been King David who had done it. But the injustice is there, and I have to wonder if she would see this Psalm as confession enough for her to heal and find a sense of justice.
I think what we are seeing is what happens when we confess without understanding how what we’ve done affects the people and the world around us. David feels shame and guilt, which he should, but I hope that the joy of God’s salvation doesn’t simply end there. The rest of the Psalm, which the lectionary left out, gets a little bit at what the next step is. David declares that what God desires is not sacrifice, but a repentant heart. Like we’ve talked about, repentance is an active word, a word which leads to change, not just guilt. Repentance is God’s way of making the world right again, of healing the brokenness that is left behind. And maybe we can never right the wrongs that we have done, but perhaps the world can find a bit of healing from what we do after.
If you find yourself in a place like this, confessing and feeling guilt and shame, know that you’re not alone. We are a confessing community of faith. And with confession does come forgiveness. In fact, the reason we do open with confession and forgiveness every week is to remind us that God does forgive. Even before repentance can take place, you are forgiven. Christ’s rising from the grave is Christ’s victory over your sin. There is nothing you can do which Christ will not forgive. That, sisters and brothers, should bring us joy. Your salvation is secure. Do not fret or worry about that. In confession, we find that forgiveness is waiting for us.
With Christ’s forgiveness, we find the strength to repent and change our minds. And that repentance, is part of the Kingdom of God. Unlike our kingdoms and empires, God’s Kingdom is one which clings to the hope that all will be made well. Together, we participate in God’s mission, we act as God’s hands and feet, just as we are served by God’s hands through others.
King David, like all of us, has sinned and that sin has left behind brokenness and despair. I don’t know if King David ever sought forgiveness from Bathsheba. I don’t know if she would have given him forgiveness if he had asked. His sin was not just against God, but against her as well. Rape and murder, the results of his sin, are not easily forgiven. Sin has both a divine and human quality to it. Sin violates God’s peace, God’s shalom, which is for all people and, in doing so, violates the people and world around us.
But there is hope. There is always hope. Christ’s death and resurrection marks the beginning of a new time. This is the acceptable time, as our confession and forgiveness say this Lent. Every moment is the acceptable time to confess what we’ve done wrong, to accept God’s forgiveness, and then find the strength to repent. May God grant us the strength as we go. Amen.