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Save Me because of your Unfailing Love

February 22nd 2012

Vicar Chittick shares how this Lenten season is truly a journey in understanding God's gift of forgiveness. The words of the psalmist in Psalms 6 are ours as well - a plea for salvation.

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Ash Wednesday B - "Save Me Because of Your Unfailing Love" - Psalm 6 - February 22, 2012

Today marks the beginning of the Lenten season. During Lent, we take a journey together, following our Lord Jesus as He begins and ends His journey to Calvary. Each week we will hear a portion of the Passion story, and reflect upon the events leading up to His death. It is also a time for us to consider our own sins, and reflect upon the events in our own lives that put Jesus on the cross. But while we consider the consequences of sin, pain, sadness, and death, we will also consider what Jesus payment for sin means to us. Lent is a time to be reminded of our daily need to repent, and the ways that our loving creator has provided for us to receive His forgiveness.

This year, along with the Passion of our Lord, we will also be reading and reflecting upon the 7 penitential Psalms. The word penitential is related to the word repentance, and these Psalms give us additional insight on what it means to turn away from our sin, and turn toward Jesus Christ. In the Psalm for this week, Psalm 6, we find David, king of Israel and writer of many Psalms, speaking to God. David begins the Psalm in obvious anguish. He is begging the Lord “do not rebuke me in your anger, or discipline me in your wrath.” David begins this Psalm as we so often begin our worship together. He is admitting to the Lord that He has every right to be angry with His servant. He acknowledges that he has sinned, he is confessing that he has fallen completely short of the perfection God demands.

David takes his confession very seriously. In Psalm 5, also written by David, we see what God thinks of sin, and of those who sin. “You are not a God who takes pleasure in evil…you hate all who do wrong. You destroy those who tell lies” This comes off a bit harsh. And it is. There is no wiggle room in what God wants from His creation. He does not tolerate sin, and He does not tolerate people who sin. God doesn’t just hate sin, According to the Law, He hates sinners. David is recognizing that God has every right to destroy him for what he has done.

David has only one hope. He does not remind God of all of the things he has done in His name, right worship, faithful service, good deeds. He only reminds God that, according to His Gospel, there is only one thing greater that His wrath, and that is His unfailing love. David admits that he is in trouble, that it is his own fault, and that his only hope of forgiveness is the love of God. This is repentance. David turns from his own sinful past, and turns instead to God.

And God hears his cry for mercy. God accepts his prayer, and God forgives David. David confesses, and receives absolution. And all of David’s enemies are ashamed and dismayed. Which is great for David, but I think it is difficult for you and me to relate. I don’t think I have anyone that I would call my “enemy”. No one that, if they walked through those doors right now I would have to decide whether I would run for my life or try to end his. I have never had to hide in a cave or abandon my house like David had to. And really, what good would having such an enemy shamed do me? If God erased my enemies hard drive before a big presentation, he would probably be embarrassed, but that doesn’t seem like that does me a lot of good.

You see, for us, the enemy is a lot more insidious than it was for David. Just because we don’t have Philistines calling for our lives doesn’t mean that we are not under the constant threat of destruction. We can relate to our eyes failing to our enemies when we realize that our enemies include glaucoma, high-blood pressure, or birth defects. We can relate to sleepless, tear drenched nights when we are confronted with enemies like cancer, strokes, and car accidents. We have an enemy in death, and it is an enemy that wants our anguish and agony and sorrow.

And the worst part is that this is everything we deserve. It can be easy for us to say that the wages of sin are death, but it is a lot harder to say I deserve to die. My sins, not just my sinful nature, but the things I have actually done to other people and failed to do for other people, are the reason that I am going to die.

That is exactly what repentance is, though. We recognize that we are, left to our own devices, doomed to die. And once we are there, once we see that nothing we could ever do could make up for the terrible things we have done, only then can we see just how much we need to be saved.

And that is why we are on this journey. That is why we are following Jesus to the cross. He alone can make things right between us and God. He alone can pay for our sins, the sins that keep us awake at night, the sins that cost more than we could ever repay. When we repent - when we realize that we are not basically good people with a few bad tendencies, but the perpetrators of heinous crimes that need to be accounted for- Jesus steps in and accounts for those crimes. When we turn to Jesus and say, “please, take my sins away”, He responds “you are forgiven…once again”. He doesn’t just remind us that our sins have been forgiven, He tells us, over and over, “I forgive you”. That is what it means to receive absolution. That is why Pastor says the words “I forgive you” every week. We actually sin, and so we are actually forgiven.

The wages of my sin is death, and the price has been paid. Death wanted my anguish and agony and sorrow, and instead Jesus endured anguish, agony and sorrow. Christ took all that death and sin could bring to bear and after answering for each and every transgression ever committed, gave His life. It was then that He shamed our enemy. He rose from the dead, breaking death’s hold on the children of God forever. Jesus has disgraced death by defeating it that day, and has promised that one day soon, He will put death in its pitiful place. Because for all deaths terrible and destructive power, it is helpless before a little baby who has had water poured over her head and the Holy Spirit poured into her heart. That is what God means when He says He is going to embarrass our enemies.

That is why we teach our children God’s Word. That is why we have them memorize what Luther explains in his small catechism: “(Baptism) indicates that the Old Adam (our own sinful nature) in us should by daily contrition (the sorrow we feel for our sins) and repentance be drowned and die with all sins and evil desires, and that a new man should daily emerge and arise to live before God in righteousness and purity forever.”

Tonight, on Ash Wednesday, and through the entire season of Lent, we will continue to be reminded of the price Jesus paid for our sins. And tonight, and for the rest of time, we will continue to be reminded that because of Jesus we will live forever in paradise. We will daily recognize our need for salvation, daily turn from our sin, and daily receive forgiveness; through God’s Word, through His Holy Sacraments, because of His unfailing love. “The Lord has heard my weeping. The Lord has heard my cry for mercy, the Lord accepts my prayer.” Amen.

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