July 23, 2012

Confession: Psalm 32 and Psalm 51

A few weeks ago Val Patterson was preparing for the most difficult thing he had ever faced in his entire life...his death. He died on July 10, 2012, but the process of dying was a long one due to throat cancer from years of smoking cigarettes. With his death was just around the corner he decided to write his own obituary. He must have had a sense of humor because it was written with some levity, but was also written as though he had lived life on his own terms.

He writes,

“I loved school, Salt Lake City, the mountains, Utah. I was a true Scientist. Electronics, chemistry, physics, auto mechanic, woodworker, artist, inventor, businessman, ribald comedian, husband, brother, son, cat lover, cynic. I had a lot of fun. It was an honor for me to be friends with some truly great people. I thank you. I've had great joy living and playing with my dog, my cats and my parrot. But, the one special thing that made my spirit whole, is my long love and friendship with my remarkable wife, my beloved Mary Jane. I loved her more than I have words to express. Every moment spent with my Mary Jane was time spent wisely. Over time, I became one with her, inseparable, happy, fulfilled. I enjoyed one good life. Traveled to every place on earth that I ever wanted to go. Had every job that I wanted to have. Learned all that I wanted to learn. Fixed everything I wanted to fix. Eaten everything I wanted to eat.”

He had some great things going on in his life. It sounds like a full life. He dabbled in all sorts of things. Enjoyed what he did. Traveled and saw many things. He even found what some would call his soulmate...though he readily recognizes it took time and commitment for this relationship to be what it was.

Despite all of this...despite all the good things happening...somethings were nagging him.

He continues

“Now that I have gone to my reward, I have confessions and things I should now say. As it turns out, I AM the guy who stole the safe from the Motor View Drive Inn back in June, 1971. I could have left that unsaid, but I wanted to get it off my chest.

Also, I really am NOT a PhD. What happened was the day I went to pay off my college student loan at the U of U, the girl working there put my receipt into the wrong stack, and two weeks later, a PhD diploma came in the mail. I didn't even graduate, I only had about 3 years of college credit. In fact, I never did even learn what the letters "Ph D" even stood for. For all of the Electronic Engineers I have worked with, I'm sorry, but you have to admit my designs always worked very well, and were well engineered, and I always made you laugh at work.

Now to that really mean Park Ranger; after all, it was me that rolled those rocks into your geyser and ruined it. I did notice a few years later that you did get Old Faithful working again. To Disneyland - you can now throw away that "Banned for Life" file you have on me, I'm not a problem anymore - and SeaWorld San Diego, too, if you read this.”

Here is a man who lived a very full life. He worked on his marriage so it became the highlight of his life. He did everything he wanted to do...and yet, in the back of his mind, were these nagging confessions he needed to make before he died. Despite his humorous writing style, we can see they have been weighing on his conscience for a long time.

Holding on to unconfessed sin can be an almost unbearable weight. In Psalm 32:1-4 the King David tells of the internal weight of keeping a sin to himself, “Blessed is the one whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered. Blessed is the one whose sin 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 upon me; my strength was sapped as in the heat of summer.”

But in v. 5 he gives us the rest of the story, “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.”

You can almost hear the relief in verse 5. Then I acknowledged my sin...There is something powerful lurking in that simple word “Then.” Release from bondage...freedom

If only relief was that easy, we say! It is, but isn’t. Let’s be realistic...getting to the point where we can say to God I have “acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquity” can be a long road.

We don’t like to confess. Or, we like to confess too quickly; which isn’t really confessing only getting it out of the way.

Have you ever seen two siblings fighting and watched how their parents respond?

“Jimmy, it is wrong to hit your sister. Tell her you’re sorry!”

“I’m sorry”

“Louder”

“I’m sorry!”

“Now mean it!”

“I’m sorry!”

And do you know what? He doesn’t mean it. He isn’t sorry in the least, or at least I was never really sorry when I apologized to my sister. And so many of our apologies continue to not be real in the same way that this child’s apology is not real. In order for our apology to be real, we, first, have to recognize that we have done something wrong. Next, we have to sense that something needs to be done about it. Then, we have to overcome our fear of what will happen when we confess. Finally, we have to tell someone.

King David is known for a few things he did in his life. He killed Goliath. He was a shepherd. He wrote most the Psalms in the Bible. He is the Greatest King Israel ever knew...and yet he is most known for his adulterous affair.

2 Samuel 11 tells of King David’s adulterous affair with Uriah’s wife. Rather than join his army in the field, David remains at the royal palace. One evening while walking on the roof, he sees a beautiful woman bathing nearby. She is most likely in the courtyard or on roof of her own home. He sees how beautiful she is, and, wants to know who she is. When the servant returns he tells King David that her name is Bathsheba and she is the wife of Uriah one of his elite warriors called The Thirty.

Believing the King should have whatever he sees David summons her and commits adultery with her. He sends her back home, expecting that to be the end of it...except Bathsheba becomes pregnant.

King David now has a situation. Adultery can be covered up, but the baby cannot. So he sends for Uriah and repeatedly attempts to trick him into sleeping with Bathsheba. He gets him drunk. He orders him to go home. Uriah, though, will not. He sleeps at the entrance of the king’s palace.

When asked why he will not go in, Uriah answers, “The ark and Israel and Judah are staying in tents, and my commander Joab and my lord’s men are camped in the open country. How could I go to my house to eat and drink and make love to my wife? As surely as you live, I will not do such a thing!”

So David has to remove Uriah from the picture altogether. David sends Uriah back to the army carrying the sealed orders ordering Uriah’s death. Then David thought it was over. No one knew...but most likely everyone knew.

During our Step Up series we talked about the Prophet Nathan. He was the prophet God tasked with confronting the king about his sin. He came to David and told a story of a poor man who raised a lamb like it was part of his family. Unexpected guests arrived at the home of his wealthy neighbor...so the neighbor took the poor man’s sheep and slaughtered it to feed his guests rather than use one of his own. When Nathan had finished telling the story, David was angry and demanded justice be done for this poor man whose sheep was stolen from him.

Then in one of the boldest moves ever, Nathan proclaimed, “You are that man!” David had stolen the wife of Uriah and then had him killed..he was the wealthy neighbor who stole what belonged to his neighbor.

But here is where King David sets himself apart from others who were confronted with their sin. 2 Samuel 12:13 says, “Then David said to Nathan, ‘I have sinned against the Lord.’”

Most people don’t respond like that. When Adam was confronted with his sin...do you know what he said? It was the woman. When Eve was confronted with her sin...do you know what she said? It was the serpent. When confronted with his sin do you know what President Clinton said? It depends on how you define “is”. When confronted with our sin we often respond by blaming it on the situation...if you only understood my situation you would know this is a special case.

Here is the tension. We find it easy to see sin in other people, and almost impossible to see it in ourselves...or, at the very least, we find ways to diminish how bad our sin really is. So we either reduce our sins to nothing more than a mistake...we all make mistakes. Or, we deflect by pointing to sin in others. Well, at least I’m not as bad as that person over there. That’s why celebrity gossip mags are so popular...we just love to watch a trainwreck because it makes us feel better about our sins.

In a recent CNN.com editorial, Stephen Prothero noted that national polls tell us 7 out of every 10 Americans believe in the devil and hell. But only 1 in 200 say they will go to hell. Then he says, “Sin, it seems, is for other people.”

So often we refuse to accept the guilt of our actions and focus on our actions alone. But King David...he did what few others do when they are confronted with their sins...he confessed. He owned up immediately. He, unlike most, accepted the full responsibility for his actions when confronted. He didn’t try to hide. He didn’t shift blame. He took it all on himself because only he was responsible.

Showcasing Val Patterson’s obituary, one newspaper report bore the title, “Utah Man’s Confessional Obituary Owns Up to a Life of Pranks.” Another calls them “Indiscretions.” But what we see here is that these were more than pranks. They were more than indiscretions. Pranks and indiscretions may warrant a mention, but they certainly would not be pressing enough for a person to feel the need to confess.

I wonder how much more full and meaningful his life would have been had he confessed these things a lot sooner? When we carry around unconfessed sin...we carry a lot of extra weight we don’t need to bear. There are things we hold on to, things that keep cropping up, things that keep nagging at the back of our minds, regular, habitual sins we need to let go of, and yet we hold out on confession.

James 5:16 offers some great advice. It says, “Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.”

The Bible states what Alcoholics Anonymous has practiced for years...that only in community can we overcome our deepest sins. We need other people to help us get through. It isn’t enough to just know we have done wrong. It isn’t even enough to just confess it to God and no one else. God has set it up so there is something freeing in verbalizing our sins and weaknesses and temptations to someone else. That is a scary way to do it. I hate that he has set it up that way, but I also recognize its power.

I also know that confession is good for our witness to the world. We can see the damage done by prominent pastors and Christians who sin. But we can also see the damage caused when people fail to see us confessing our sins. When they don’t see us as a church naming our sins, repenting of them, and turning to Christ...then all they hear us talk about is God’s righteous laws and moral standards. They, and sometimes we, begin to believe that we have it all together. That we are a church already perfected instead of a Church of broken sinful people stretching upward to take hold of God.

And we yet we don’t confess and lean on others for some good and not-so good reasons.

We don’t confess because we don’t think we have done anything wrong. This comes from our tendency to downplay the severity of our sin and our actions. I don’t believe that cursing out the guy who cut me off is wrong. I don’t believe that massaging the numbers on my taxes is wrong. I don’t believe that helping someone understand the situation better is really gossip. We just don’t see it as wrong so we don’t confess it.

We don’t confess because we are fearful of what may happen. Sometimes there are consequences associated with our sins, and if we confess them we may suffer those consequences. If I tell someone that I have a problem with pornography...then what will my wife or children think? If Val had confessed the stolen safe incident before his death he could have ended up in jail. We don’t confess because we don’t want the consequences that our sins bring about.

We don’t confess because we are afraid of what others will do with that information. If I tell my deepest struggles with that person can they be trusted to not tell others? Can they be trusted to not tell others even just as a prayer request?

We don’t confess because we have a bad understanding of Grace. There is a terribly wrong idea going in the church about the definition of Grace. Many believe that grace means God will forgive me no matter what I do or have done. Our God is loving and everything is going to be ok.

While that definition isn’t completely incorrect, it is certainly incomplete if they stop there. Dietrich Bonhoeffer would call this Cheap Grace. He says, “Cheap grace is the grace we bestow on ourselves. Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession....Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate.”

God is a God of Love. He is a God of forgiveness. He stands with arms wide open waiting for us to return to him. He doesn’t care about our pasts, our sins, our wrongdoing...but he does expect us to turn from them and to Him.

David had blinded himself to the sinfulness of his actions. When the Prophet Nathan approaches him, He seems completely unaware of the problem...but once confronted with his sin, David immediately repents and turns to God.

i would like to close by reading Psalm 51. I know this is a long Psalm. It is the Psalm David wrote as an act of confession of his affair with Bathsheba. What is interesting to me is that the Bible would include such things in its pages. King David is Israel’s greatest king, and yet they are willing to show him flaws and all. Sometimes when the Bible shows you someone’s flaws it is to show you their sinfulness, their pride, their stupidity in the face of God. But in David’s case, I think it is to show us what it means for someone to truly confess their sins to God. I also think it is meant to give us words to use in our own confessions. When we come to God it gives us the framework for our confession.

Psalm 51

For the director of music. A psalm of David. When the prophet Nathan came to him after David had committed adultery with Bathsheba.

1 Have mercy on me, O God,
   according to your unfailing love;
according to your great compassion
   blot out my transgressions.
2 Wash away all my iniquity
   and cleanse me from my sin.
3 For I know my transgressions,
   and my sin is always before me.
4 Against you, you only, have I sinned
   and done what is evil in your sight;
so you are right in your verdict
   and justified when you judge.
5 Surely I was sinful at birth,
   sinful from the time my mother conceived me.
6 Yet you desired faithfulness even in the womb;
   you taught me wisdom in that secret place.
7 Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean;
   wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.
8 Let me hear joy and gladness;
   let the bones you have crushed rejoice.
9 Hide your face from my sins
   and blot out all my iniquity.
10 Create in me a pure heart, O God,
   and renew a steadfast spirit within me.
11 Do not cast me from your presence
   or take your Holy Spirit from me.
12 Restore to me the joy of your salvation
   and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.
13 Then I will teach transgressors your ways,
   so that sinners will turn back to you.
14 Deliver me from the guilt of bloodshed, O God,
   you who are God my Savior,
   and my tongue will sing of your righteousness.
15 Open my lips, Lord,
   and my mouth will declare your praise.
16 You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it;
   you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings.
17 My sacrifice, O God, is[b] a broken spirit;
   a broken and contrite heart
   you, God, will not despise.
18 May it please you to prosper Zion,
   to build up the walls of Jerusalem.
19 Then you will delight in the sacrifices of the righteous,
   in burnt offerings offered whole;
   then bulls will be offered on your altar.

This Psalm gives us a guideline for our acts of confession. It gives us words, God’s words, to use when we need to unburden ourselves from the weight we carry.

We see that David calls to God for forgiveness.

He recognizes and confesses his sin.

He prays for God to restore him by cleansing him and creating in him a pure heart.

Then we see that uses his experiences to teach others because our sin affects those around us.

This morning...

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