Follow Me: Biblical Practices for Faithful Living
Forgive: Receive Forgiveness
Rev. Dr. Todd Speed
Decatur Presbyterian Church
All Saints’ Sunday, November 6, 2022
Sometimes God is ready to forgive us before we are ready to forgive ourselves. The good news of the gospel is that God will forgive us, even though we are fully undeserving. In gratitude for God’s forgiveness, we learn not only to forgive ourselves, but also to forgive our neighbor.
Prayer for Illumination:
Holy God of all peoples and places, illuminate your Word this day, so that we may take to heart your good news. In Jesus Christ, you truly love us and you are ready to forgive us. May your Word remind us that in Christ you set us free from sin, so that we may be free to love you and to love our neighbors; by the power of your Holy Spirit. Amen.
Embracing the fullness of God’s forgiveness in Jesus Christ can be difficult. Have you ever faced the situation where God was ready to forgive you before you were ready to forgive yourself? It is not uncommon for a Christian to feel terrible about something they have done, or something they have left undone.
It is not uncommon to know in your bones that you do not deserve to be forgiven. Part of living in a fallen creation is that we human beings really mess up now and again. We break relationship by our words and deeds, and by our neglect of others. And God sees. God knows. God knows what we have done or not done.
And sometimes we may feel as though God will never forgive us, or that God could not possibly desire to forgive us.
In the Follow Me curriculum, there is a quote in the adult book which reads: “If we resist receiving God’s forgiveness, we are essentially saying that we know better than God who we are, what we have done, and how God ought to respond.” p. 17
The key here is that our guilt is not stronger than God’s forgiveness. Sin, not even mortal, heinous sin, does not have the last word. God’s grace in Jesus Christ is even more powerful than the shocking sins of humanity.
King David was called the “man after God’s own heart”; he was the king exemplar of Israel. He was the chosen one, the beloved of God and the people, and he was also the one guilty of heinous sin. David tore through the Ten Commandments as if they were only suggestions. II Samuel relates the story of how, in the spring of the year when kings go off to battle, David stayed home. He relaxed on his veranda. He noticed a beautiful woman bathing below.
Though she was married to one of David’s loyal soldiers, David brought her to his bed. When Bathsheba conceived, David conspired to bring Uriah home from the battlefield and send him home to be with his wife. But Uriah was a faithful and loyal soldier who refused special privileges while his men were in the field.
In frustration, after two tries, David sent Uriah back to the battlefield, to the front lines, where, sure enough, Uriah was killed in battle. David arranged the death of his loyal soldier, then brought the soldier’s wife into his home. At this point, the prophet Nathan shows up. Nathan means “gift”, by the way. Nathan tells David a story about a farmer with one little ewe lamb, and the man’s rich neighbor who had a whole flock of sheep. Nathan recounts to David how the rich neighbor steals the one little lamb from his neighbor, and then proceeds to kill the poor neighbor.
Furious, David replies that the rich man deserves death. Nathan says to David: You are that man! Covetous, adulterous, false witness, murderous David is guilty. He has broken relationship with God and neighbor. He deserves God’s full condemnation, as well as the condemnation of his people.
Psalm 51 is the prayerful poem attributed to those days after Nathan’s visit to David. The psalm is attributed to David himself. Hear the Word of God.
Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin.
For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me. Against you, you alone, have I sinned, and done what is evil in your sight, so that you are justified in your sentence and blameless when you pass judgment. Indeed, I was born guilty, a sinner when my mother conceived me.
You desire truth in the inward being; therefore teach me wisdom in my secret heart. Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow. Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones that you have crushed rejoice. Hide your face from my sins, and blot out all my iniquities.
Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me. Do not cast me away from your presence, and do not take your holy spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and sustain in me a willing spirit. Then I will teach transgressors your ways, and sinners will return to you.
Deliver me from bloodshed, O God, O God of my salvation, and my tongue will sing aloud of your deliverance. O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth will declare your praise. For you have no delight in sacrifice; if I were to give a burnt-offering, you would not be pleased. The sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.
The Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.
If this psalm, or at least the force of its thoughts, is truly attributable to David, then it seems as though guilty David trusted that God actually would and could forgive him. David had done the unthinkable, but still believed that he could be redeemed. David prayed that he would be made whole again, spiritually well again, even when he knows that he is deserving of death.
Perhaps this is why David is the king exemplar of Israel. If David can be forgiven of his heinous sins, then there is hope for all of us. If the blood on David’s hands could be washed clean, then you and I can receive forgiveness as well.
We should note that while sin can be forgiven, consequences remain. The first child conceived by Bathsheba died as an infant. The unified nation of Israel, which was growing in power and influence, was later torn apart by the infighting between David’s earlier sons and Bathsheba’s second son, Solomon.
Walter Brueggeman, Old Testament scholar, claimed that the Kingdom of Israel first began to unravel when David stayed home that spring day from battle and gazed upon the beautiful Bathsheba. Serious, long term consequences played out over the years to come. Nevertheless, nothing that David had done would separate him from the love of God.
Imagine yourself as a sophomore in high school. Remember the Latin meaning of sophomore? “Sophos”, “moros” – Wise Fool. Imagine that you have done something that you know your parent would not approve of. Imagine that you are on the way home from getting caught. Imagine that you are feeling really terrible about what you have done, and that you have realized that your parent is fully aware of what you’ve done. You know they are going to be really disappointed with you, maybe very angry with you. So you slowly approach the door of your home, preparing yourself for what’s coming.
When you open the door, your parent walks right up to you, their face serious. Then, surprisingly, before saying anything, they wrap their arms around you. They hug you tightly, like they will never let you go. I know what you have done, your parent says. I know that you have done wrong, And I know that you know that you have done wrong. I love you; I forgive you, and I want you to know that there is nothing, nothing you can ever do to make me love you less.
And this parent, this loving, forgiving parent holds you in their arms and loves you, even when you are fully undeserving of that love. his is the transformative love that God offers to us. This is a healing, restorative love. This is forgiveness offered even before forgiveness is asked for. This is an unconditional welcome home even when we feel that we do not deserve to step foot into God’s home.
Brene Brown, in a recent TED talk, speaks about the difference between guilt and shame. Shame is the gremlin that says you will never be good enough. Shame is a focus upon self, whereas guilt is a focus upon behavior. Shame says you are not good enough and you never will be good enough. Guilt says, I have done something wrong, but I am a child of God, and I believe I can be forgiven.
Shame is ‘I am bad’. Guilt is ‘I did something bad.’ Brene Brown claims that guilt “can be helpful and adaptive”. Guilt is “holding something we’ve done or failed to do up against our values and feeling psychological discomfort.”
Shame is “the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore we are unworthy of love and belonging. Something we’ve experienced, or done, or failed to do has made us unworthy of connection.”
Brene Brown has done years of research on this topic and she claims that these feelings of shame are highly and directly “correlated with addiction, depression, violence, aggression, bullying, suicide, eating disorders…
Guilt (on the other hand) is inversely correlated with those things.” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5C6UELitWkw). In Psalm 51, David confesses his guilt. He recognizes that his actions have been terrible, but he nevertheless hopes in God’s grace.
God’s forgiveness cannot be forced or manufactured; it is a gift that we receive from outside of ourselves. God granted undeserving David forgiveness, and his task was to accept it, to be ever grateful for it, and to seek to live his life differently in the future. At this table, we are reminded that there is nothing we can ever do to make God love us any less. At this table, we hear again the words: I declare to you, in the name of Jesus Christ, you are forgiven. You are a child of God. Yes, we are all fully undeserving of God’s grace. And yes, we are all also fully forgiven and fully beloved children of God, welcome in God’s house.
Friends, when we take to heart God’s undeserved kindness, we become prepared to be more kind to ourselves. And when we experience the gratitude that comes with being forgiven, we become more ready to forgive others, regardless of what they have done to us. Sin will not have the last word. God’s grace is even more powerful than the heinous sins of humanity.
Thanks be to God for God’s indescribable gift of grace. Amen.
Rev. Dr. Todd Speed
Decatur Presbyterian Church
November 6, 2022