Repent Before God
Topic: Biblical Verse: Psalm 15:17
The Second Sunday in Lent
March 16-17, 2019
“Go and Be Reconciled: Repent Before God”
So I am one of those people who grew up in church with The Lutheran Hymnal from 1941, still beloved by many people. One of the things I vividly remember are some of the sung responses between pastor and people from this hymnal. Here’s one: “P The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit. C A broken and contrite heart, O God, Thou wilt not despise.” This response comes from something called “The Order of the Confessional Service” (p. 46, The Lutheran Hymnal). That response is a direct quote from Psalm 51:17, the Scripture verse chosen as the theme for today’s sermon. This verse, together with the rest of Psalm 51, was part of our worship on Ash Wednesday only ten days ago. This verse is before us today as we focus on what it means to “Go and Be Reconciled,” our theme for preaching on the weekends during the Lenten season. The truth is, before we can be reconciled to others we must first be reconciled to God. The reconciliation process begins with remembering whose we are, as Pastor Campbell preached on last weekend. The next step is to repent before God, and that becomes the theme for preaching today. May the Lord’s rich and abundant blessing rest upon the preaching, the hearing, and the living of his Word for Jesus’ sake.
In your worship bulletin for today is a graphic of what this process of “Go and Be Reconciled” looks like. Take it out and let’s look at this. You will note, first and foremost, that the graphic is in the form of a cross. This is to remind us always that our reconciliation with God and with one another begins and ends with the reconciling work which Jesus accomplished for us on the cross. In giving his life as payment for our sins, we are now reconciled to God and we are set free to live as his agents of reconciliation through the cleansing blood of Jesus. There is both a vertical and a horizontal dimension to reconciliation. The vertical dimension is concerned with our relationship with God our Maker and Redeemer. Scripture makes clear that all sins are an offense against God, as an earlier verse in Psalm 51 tells us: “Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight…” (Psalm 51:4a). Because of this, confession, forgiveness, and reconciliation must begin with our horizontal relationship with God, as the graphic points out from top to bottom: Remember Whose You Are; Repent Before God; Receive God’s Forgiveness. We all have need of these things in our lives. But it doesn’t end here, that vertical dimension of being reconciled to God through Jesus must flow into the horizontal dimension of being reconciled to one another. The graphic points out these steps from left to right: Confess to the Other Person; Forgive as God Forgave You; and Restore with Gentleness. Week by week during this Lenten season, we will walk through each of these steps of what it means to “Go and Be Reconciled.”
How do my conflicts with others affect my relationship with God? If we look at the larger context of Psalm 51, we find out that this was written by David after he had had an extramarital affair with a woman named Bathsheba (2 Samuel 11:1-27). David was in a sweet spot in life: he was king of Israel and was successful in whatever he did. He was married, but he saw Bathsheba and wanted her. He had her brought to the palace and he slept with her. She became pregnant, and David brought Bathsheba’s husband, Uriah, home on furlough from the army. In fact, David did everything in his power to ensure that Uriah slept with his wife while home to make the pregnancy look like it was all legitimate. But Uriah was a man of honor and would not enjoy the comforts of home while his comrades in arms were roughing it. Finally, David sent Uriah back to the frontline of battle, carrying a message to the general instructing him that when they launched the attack to pull back and leave Uriah exposed, ensuring that he would be killed, which he was, thus allowing David to marry Bathsheba. There is a very telling verse that says this: “But the thing that David had done displeased the Lord” (2 Samuel 11:27b). We’ve got lust, adultery, abuse of power, deception, murder, cover-up. All this is right here in the Bible! Not much has changed with our human condition throughout the ages. Back to David: he needed to repent, but first he had to be made to see his need for repentance. God sent Nathan the prophet who told David a story about a rich man and a poor man. The rich man had more flocks and herds than he knew what to do with, but the poor man had only one ewe lamb that was really a pet; a member of the family really. When a guest came to the rich man’s home, he didn’t want to cut in on his profits by slaughtering one of his own animals, so he took the poor man’s lamb instead. David was enraged at this gross injustice and said: “As the Lord lives, the man who has done this deserves to die…” (2 Samuel 12:5b). To which Nathan replied, “You are the man!” (2 Samuel 12:7a). Nathan confronts David with his sin that is not only against Bathsheba and her late husband, but against God. The proud King of Israel, who thought he had acted so shrewdly to get what he wanted, is brought to his knees and humbly repents before God with these words: “I have sinned against the Lord” (2 Samuel 12:13a). The child born to David and Bathsheba dies, and David grieves over the brokenness of his life. From this, he is moved by the Spirit to write those timeless words of Psalm 51, including today’s text: “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise” (Psalm 51:17).
Sometimes it takes another person to make us see our own need to repent before God, as Nathan had to do with David. Sometimes it takes another person to do this because we don’t see, or we refuse to see, the sin in our lives. In today’s Old Testament lesson, the prophet Jeremiah is called to proclaim a message of repentance to Jerusalem – a message that the people openly reject. Jeremiah’s life is even threatened by these same people. They don’t want to hear what he has to say, and they certainly don’t plan on doing when he calls them to do; what God sent him to call them to do. But without this repentance, there can be no forgiveness. How can God forgive if we think there’s nothing in our lives that needs to be forgiven? In today’s Gospel lesson, Jesus laments over Jerusalem: “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city the kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!” (Luke 13:34). It is this stubborn, hard-hearted, unwilling spirit that most assuredly leads to conflict with others and most assuredly affects our relationship with God.
My friends, this Lenten season is a call for each one of us to examine our own hearts and repent before God. We’ve all heard about the horrific mass shooting that took place just days ago in New Zealand, a place that to date seemed to be far removed from such violence. My prayer is not only for the victims and their families, but also for the shooter himself, that the Lord would work in his heart and lead him to repentance. We may think that compared to such an act, we have done nothing wrong. We are pretty good people. But all we have to do is look at Luther’s explanation for each of the Ten Commandments to see how far off-course we have strayed from God’s ways. This repentance is not a one-time thing in life. For the child of God, this is an ongoing and daily thing in life. The Reformation movement of 500 years ago was touched off with the posting of Luther’s 95 Theses, and they begin with these words of Luther: “When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said, ‘Repent’ (Matt. 4:17), he willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance” (https://lutheranreformation.org). This is repentance that leads to life as we look to Jesus in whom we have forgiveness of sins, life and salvation. The cross stands as a silent witness before us, reminding us of the tremendous sacrifice which Jesus made for you and for me. On the cross, Jesus suffered and died so that we might have that full and abundant life which he came to bring. When all is said and done, isn’t that what we want? This is God’s gift to each one of us, received by faith that comes from a repentant heart.
Go and be reconciled begins with repent before God. May our Lenten Lord Jesus Christ, who loves us and laid down his life for us, work in our hearts and minds to live this each day. Amen.