The Rev. Dr. Robert S. Langworthy, preaching
March 31, 2019
From what needless distress we can be delivered!
In what high joy we can luxuriate!
“Happy,” David sings out, “are those whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. Happy are those to whom the Lord imputes no iniquity.”
We can know this happiness, however, only by passing through the unpleasantness, even pain, of acknowledging our sin, feeling remorse and taking on the hard job of making good on our repentance.
In the last analysis, it is not our sin that keeps us unhappy, but our refusal to own up to it and to give up any hope except in a grace to which we have no right.
Today’s Psalm banks on such grace. David, whose terrible actions forfeited any claim he could make on God, still believes God wishes to liberate even the worst of us from the “groaning” and “wasting away” that comes from hiding our sinfulness and to bring us such happiness that we burst out in “glad cries of deliverance” from having faced our guilt, doing an about-face with respect to it, and being surprised by divine grace.
The sin we take responsibility for, God takes responsibility for to cover its debt; the sin we confess, God expunges from our record forever; the sin we bring out into the light, God puts out of sight.
God holds nothing back from those who hold nothing back from Him. We just have to tell Him what He already knows and let Him stupefy us with undeserved mercy and kindness. We just have to come out of hiding.
What was the first thing Adam and Eve did after they committed the first sin? They hid from God and hid their nakedness.
What did David do after he committed adultery with Bathsheba and arranged for her husband’s murder? He hid his crime, suppressing the memory of it and pretended nothing had happened.
Hiding our wrongdoing is in our human DNA!
USC philosophy professor Dallas Willard, now alive in glory, told a story about his granddaughter Larissa when she was two-and-a-half. While playing in the backyard, she discovered the delight of making mud, what she called warm chocolate. It wasn’t long before she was covered from head to toe with the messy stuff. Larissa’s grandmother, who had been sitting in the backyard with her chair turned toward the house, finally noticed. She brought Larissa inside, washed her off, put clean clothes on her, and told her, “No more of that, Larissa!”
They returned to the backyard, and grandmother turned her chair around; but soon had her nose stuck in her engrossing book. Taking advantage of her preoccupation, Larissa resumed working in her warm chocolate factory. Keeping a close eye on grandmother, Larissa said, “Don’t look at me, Nana. Okay?” Nana, with a default setting toward indulging a grandchild, agreed.
Three times, as Larissa continued to play in the mud, she said, “Don’t look at me, Nana. Okay?”
Even the most innocent of us desires to do wrong unobserved, to hide the bad stuff we decide to do.
A Christian business man checks into a motel. He reads the motel’s policy statement, which says, “The names of the movies you rent will not appear on your bill.” As he reaches for the TV remote control, he shoots off a little prayer: “Don’t look at me, God. Okay?”
A student takes an exam. She struggles to recall what she’s learned. Her friend in the seat next to her has a cheat sheet. She prays, “Don’t look at me, God. Okay? I’ll read my Bible each day and go to church every Sunday.”
A woman is chit-chatting with a friend over coffee. She makes a slightly derogatory comment about a mutual acquaintance, and notices how her friend leans forward in welcoming anticipation. She then gossips maliciously on the basis of flimsy, second-hand information, but sends up a prayer when she takes a breaths: “Don’t look at me, God. Okay? Don’t listen, okay? You know I’m good overall.”
Everyone sins. The only question is whether we will admit it, repent of it, and thereby allow God to lift off of us the burden of guilt and to liberate us from the power of our sin by His forgiving grace.
When we quit hiding, own up to our sinfulness, and turn to God for a mercy we can’t claim to have earned, we will be surprised at how good we can feel again, perhaps better than we ever have before.
Lee Strobel tells of a church member who called him with what he termed an embarrassing request. His little girl had been caught shoplifting from the church bookstore, and he asked if Lee would represent the church so she could come and make amends. The father hoped the incident would become a teaching moment.
The next day, the parents and their eight-year-old trooped into Lee’s office and sat down. “So,” he asked the girl in a gentle voice, “Tell me what happened.” voice.
“Well,” she said beginning to sniffle, “I saw this book I really wanted, but I didn’t have any money.” She paused as tears started streaming down her cheeks. Lee handed her a tissue. “So I hid the book under my coat and took it. I knew it was wrong, but I still did it. I am very sorry. I’ll never do it again. Honest!”
Lee replied, “I am glad you’ve come clean and mean never to do it again. You’re now doing the right thing. So what do you think would be an appropriate punishment?”
She shrugged uncomfortably and fell into a fidgeting silence. Finally, Lee said, “I understand the book costs $10. I think it would be fair if you paid the bookstore $10, plus $10 more, which would make the total $20. Does that sound right to you?”
She nodded sadly and murmured “Yes.” Lee studied her, and could see that she felt the amount was fair but was afraid she couldn’t do what justice required of her. Twenty dollars is a mountain of money for someone her age. She was scared she couldn’t come up with it.
Lee pulled his wallet out of his pocket, fished out a $20 bill, and offered it to the girl. Her mouth dropped open and her eyes widened. “I’m going to pay the penalty, so you don’t have to. Do you know why I’d do that?” Bewildered, she shook her head. “Because I love you, and want to be better to you than you’ve behaved. But please remember this: I’m just imitating God a little. God’s like this – only infinitely more.”
With that she reached out and took the bill, accepting a grace she realized she didn’t deserve but desperately needed. Lee says you should’ve seen the look of relief, joy and wonder that blossomed on her face. She was almost giddy with gratitude.
Glad are the cries of remorse when there’s both human truthfulness and divine grace!
Happy are those who do not hide their sin! Happy are those whose transgression is forgiven!
Let us pray.