The Pastor's Pen
With the publication of this newsletter we have reached the halfway point of the Lenten season, a season of repentance & reflection. To further that goal, I invite you to consider with me Psalm 51, the halfway point among the penitential psalms and very likely the most frequently used psalm in the liturgy of the church. If you grew up with page five and fifteen you sang a portion of it every Sunday in the offertory immediately after the sermon, “create in me a clean heart, O Lord”. It gives us the opening words for both Matins and Vespers as the pastor intones, “Oh Lord, open my lips,” and the congregation responds, “and my mouth will declare Your praise.” You know the setting from the superscription; Nathan’s confrontation of David after his adulterous affair with Bathsheba.
Take a few minutes and set this down, pick up your Bible and read Psalm 51 slowly, reflectively.
Taking up our focus on repentance, we notice immediately the lack of individual named sins. And while the word, “sin,” does appear often, we also speak of our, “rebellion,” (“transgressions,” in some translations), and of our, “iniquity,” (the guilt, the stain that disfigures the sinner making him or her unacceptable in God’s sight), and our “bloodguiltiness.” The psalmist focuses not on individual sins for which we need God’s forgiveness, (not mentioned in the psalm), but our sinful nature, the Old Adam and Old Eve inside of us, for which we need God’s grace and God’s mercy.
We wrestle with verse four when the psalmist declares, “Against you, you only, have I sinned,” until we make this connection to the root of sin and not just the fruit of sin. The blood of Uriah the Hittite certainly cries out from the ground for justice, and Bathsheba truly mourned the loss of her firstborn. Sin has consequences, people and institutions are injured, but the root of the issue lies inside each of us at our very core. In this regard we all stand shoulder to shoulder – guilty from conception, (verse five).
But Psalm 51 does not end with law, indeed, it is interesting to note that sin words occur twelve times in the first nine verses while God is only named once. Then in verses ten through nineteen the roles are reversed with sin being mentioned only twice, while God appears six times. Sin gives way to God; with confession sins gives way to God’s presence, God’s mercy, God’s compassion.
As we begin the second half of our Lenten journey, as we walk together; notice the emphasis on community in the psalm. The cleansed and restored penitent teaches others of the, “God of my salvation,” in verse thirteen. We recognize community in the appeal to, “build up the walls of Jerusalem,” even as we look forward to the joy of the congregation worshipping in the heavenly Jerusalem; a foretaste of which we experience every time we gather as the body of Christ. We are the redeemed, for our every spot and stain has been removed by His blood – only God can create a clean heart, (verse twelve).
May repentance and reflection guide us on these final steps to Holy Week when we will again witness the mystery of God’s love in action. When He truly is gracious to me and to you. Amen.
Rev. J. Wesley Beck