February 18, 2016 A+D
A Sermon on Psalm 32, 2nd in a series of the 7 Penitential Psalms
Psalm 32, A Psalm of David, Maschil.
1 Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered.
2 Blessed is the man unto whom the Lord imputeth not iniquity,
And in whose spirit there is no guile.
3 When I kept silence, my bones waxed old
Through my roaring all the day long.
4 For day and night thy hand was heavy upon me:
My moisture is turned into the drought of summer. Selah.
5 I acknowledged my sin unto thee,
And mine iniquity have I not hid.
I said, I will confess my transgressions unto the Lord;
And thou forgavest the iniquity of my sin. Selah.
6 For this shall every one that is godly pray unto thee in a time when thou mayest be found: Surely in the floods of great waters they shall not come nigh unto him.
7 Thou art my hiding place; thou shalt preserve me from trouble;
Thou shalt compass me about with songs of deliverance. Selah.
8 I will instruct thee and teach thee in the way which thou shalt go:
I will guide thee with mine eye.
9 Be ye not as the horse,
Or as the mule, which have no understanding:
Whose mouth must be held in with bit and bridle,
Lest they come near unto thee.
10 Many sorrows shall be to the wicked:
But he that trusteth in the Lord, mercy shall compass him about.
11 Be glad in the Lord, and rejoice, ye righteous:
And shout for joy, all ye that are upright in heart.
In the Name of the Father of the +Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
David begins his song with what is surely the most axiomatic thought of Christendom: “Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered.” He then expands the idea slightly. He wants us to know Who is behind this forgiveness: “Blessed is the man unto whom the Lord imputeth not iniquity, And in whose spirit there is no guile.” It is the Lord who does not impute iniquity, that is to say, is the Lord forgives transgressions and covers sins rather than punishing them. He also removes guile from the forgiven. In forgiving, the Lord removes deceit and treachery from the penitent. Those who receive forgiveness are changed. They are blessed, happy in the Lord.
That is the final state of the Christian. The Christian in heaven is happy and blessed because he is forgiven by God and sealed in bliss. He has no guilt or guile, no shame or regret, no haunting memory of sin nor any desire to do it again.
We are not quite there yet. We are still where David began: living in the in-between times. We are baptized and absolved. Jesus lives and the Holy Spirit has come. Jesus comes to us with forgiveness in Word and Sacrament. But He has not yet come back in glory and guile still hangs out in our bones, the good work begun in us is not yet complete, and our bodies are getting old. We say: “When I kept silence, my bones waxed old, Through my roaring all the day long. For day and night thy hand was heavy upon me: My moisture is turned into the drought of summer.” We, the baptized, cannot abide in sin and yet we sin. That sin wears us out. It tortures us: spiritually, psychologically, and physically. We are baptized but we still sin. We belong to God but we turn inward to ourselves. Our bones wax old. The hand of the Lord is heavy upon our consciences.
God has a plan for that. David says: I acknowledged my sin unto thee, And mine iniquity have I not hid. I said, I will confess my transgressions unto the Lord; And thou forgavest the iniquity of my sin. The baptized respond to a guilty conscience, to bones waxing old, by confessing. They acknowledge, admit, their sin to God. They do not hide their guilt or their sins. They certainly do not revel in them because God is quick to forgive. Nor do they compare themselves to others or excuse their sins or plan to repent later: they confess and God forgives.
If David gives us the axiom of Christianity in Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered, he gives us the program for Christianity, the way it is carried out here: For this shall every one that is godly pray unto thee in a time when thou mayest be found. The baptized live in and by confession and absolution, praying for forgiveness where God may be found: in the Divine Liturgy, in the Holy Communion. Thus do baptized sinners move ever from the Supper to the Supper. I don’t think it is unusual for most of us to be ever aware of when we last had communion. It defines us. “I had communion on Sunday, I won’t get it again until Thursday.” Or “I had to miss last Sunday due to illness or because I slept in and it has been almost two weeks.” And if it goes longer than that we start to get worried. We need to approach God when and where He may be found in His mercy.
This is because we cannot abide in our sins but we have sins. Thus we need an on-going application of the Absolution and of the Supper. We need to keep praying, to keep hearing the Word, to keep confessing. Without these gifts and promises we would either reject our Baptisms and go the way of the wicked, becoming instead of blessed, the most cursed of men. But we have the gifts. So we are driven by the heavy hand of God to confess and be absolved. We are being driven by the heavy hand of God’s wrath to the feeding hand of God in the place where He may be found.
The Lord is ever ready to receive the penitent, to feed sinners, in His institutions: in Baptism, in Absolution, in the Supper. This why David sings of Christ, His hope: Thou art my hiding place; Thou shalt preserve me from trouble; Thou shalt compass me about with songs of deliverance. He hides us, preserves us, and surrounds us in what He has given.
Then the voice shifts in the Psalm. It is no longer David or we speaking, but it is the Lord speaking to David and to us: I will instruct thee and teach thee in the way which thou shalt go: I will guide thee with mine eye. Be ye not as the horse, Or as the mule, which have no understanding: Whose mouth must be held in with bit and bridle, Lest they come near unto thee.
The way that He teaches us to go is the way of confession and absolution, of Word and Sacrament, of drowning and new birth, of hiding, preserving places that echo with songs of deliverance. He would not have our mouth held in with bit and bridle, with a purposeful life and principals to live by and slogans to put others in their place. Instead He would have us acknowledge our sin unto Him and confess our transgressions that He might forgive the iniquity of our sins. There is not bit or bridle, but there is a yoke. It is easy and His burden is light. He gives us work in this Kingdom. We are yoked to Him in grace and we pull together for the joy that is in us.
In contrast to the blessed man whose sins are forgiven, God says: Many sorrows shall be to the wicked: But he that trusteth in the Lord, mercy shall compass him about. He will be blessed.
This entire Psalm is a confession and expression of the Lord’s forgiveness of sin. That is what all the penitential psalms are. The Lord does not act according to justice. He does not punish us as we deserve. He forgives sins for Christ’s sake and He blesses less than faithful men. We can’t be forgiven, however, unless we are guilty. No problem there: we are guilty. So we confess and He declares us to be righteous. He imputes not our iniquity to us. Instead He imputes His own holiness and innocence to us and imputes our wickedness unto Himself while sheltering us from His wrath.
So it is that this verse Many sorrows shall be to the wicked should be heard as more than a warning to hardened sinners. It is also as a description of the Man of Sorrows to whom our iniquity has been imputed, who has Himself, though innocent and obedient in every way, been declared guilt and sin in our stead. He is counted as wicked in our place and our just sorrows, even the sorrows of Hell itself, are placed upon Him instead of upon us. Yet He died not bitter and angry. He is the perfect Man of faith. He never wavers in His trust of His Father even as He is forsaken. The mercy that surrounded Him was not mercy to Him or for Him, but it was mercy coming from Him.
The Messiah prays this Psalm for us. He has asked that the Father bless whose sins He has forgiven. He has taken our sorrows. He has given His Life for ours and has risen for our justification. So it is that we now trust in the Him and we find ourselves surrounded, compassed, by His mercy.
That is how it is that David turns and looks you in the eye for the last verse of the Psalm. “Be glad in the Lord,” he says, “and rejoice, ye righteous.” Your sins are forgiven. “Shout for joy, all ye that are upright in heart” you who have found mercy in God your Savior.
In +Jesus’ Name. Amen.