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Sermon for Lent 5 Midweek

Midweek of Lent 5 — Psalm 143

Throughout Lent, I have been using Rev. Tod Peperkorn’s God’s Gift of Forgiveness resource.  This Sunday I was inspired by the direction he went but I went very much down my own path here.


Click here for mp3 audio 26 Sermon for Lent 5 MW.mp3

In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

The text for tonight is Psalm 143, which we prayed earlier in the service.  Throughout the season of Lent I’ve been trying to show how the penitential psalms inform our doctrinal understanding of confession and absolution.  As I said this morning, the Scriptures give us a pattern of a pastor delivering the Word of God and that word working first contrition and then forgiveness.  That’s been the purpose of having these little readings from the Firth Chief Part all these weeks.  I’ve also noticed that this has been a little tougher going than some of my other Lenten Series from years past, tougher on me to get it right and probably tougher on you if I didn’t quite get it.  I noticed too from Sunday morning Bible class where we are examining the Psalms, I’ve had quite a bit of difficulty putting these sermons on these psalms together and preaching them.  The psalms are pure poetry and explaining a psalm is like trying to explain a dance or a joke.  We either “get it” or we don’t.  I know it’s not just my lack of education to blame.  I hated studying poems in school.  The surest way to suck the life out of anything is to study it to death.  But at the same time, studying these psalms helps to understand all the better the meaning in them and learn how to pray them because the psalms really should be the vocabulary for the rest of our prayers.

It begins with a familiar phrase for us, “Hear my prayer, O Lord.”  Why will God hear your prayer dear Christian?  Is it because you are so faithful to God?  God hears all our prayers and this one not because we are faithful but because He is faithful.  Doctor Luther was captivated by such a thought.  It led him to conclude:

“Every psalm, all Scripture, calls to grace, extols grace, searches for Christ, and praises only God’s work, while rejecting all the works of man.… The life of a saint is more a taking from God than a giving; more a desiring than a having; more a becoming pious than a being pious.… Not on account of the work I do, but on account of the faith Thou givest me” (AE 14:196)

God hears our prayers because He is faithful toward us and bestows on us faith and His righteousness and God hears David’s prayer not on account of David but because God is faithful to him.

Psalm 143 is really a complaint psalm or lament psalm.  We have an idea of when and why David wrote it/prayed it.  Traditionally this psalm was thought to have been written in the desolation he experienced after he was driven from his throne by his son Absalom.  We get a sense of David’s despondency already in verse 3, “The enemy has pursued my soul; he has crushed my life to the ground.” (Psalm 143:3) David had many enemies but David’s earthly enemies were not his biggest foes.  His greatest enemies are the same ones you and I face daily, sin, death and the devil.  That is how the Scriptures speak.  Sin, death and the devil are our enemies and often combine to form an unholy triumvirate that works against us every day.  Sin haunts us.  Death lurks just beyond the horizon or maybe nearer.  And devil hounds us every day of our lives.  All three work together to get us to deny God’s Word, to get us to deny the faithfulness of God, to get us to deny God’s Word of forgiveness spoken to us through His Son, Jesus.  The first trick may be to get us to rethink sin.  “Maybe that thing you thought was a sin, isn’t really; it’s just those conservative people who say it’s a sin.”  Sounds like, Satan is up to his old tricks again, “Did God really say?”

This is why we must learn the psalms in order to learn to pray.  They put the very words that came from the mouth of God back into our mouths to be prayed back to God in confession, praise, and thanksgiving.  The psalms teach us the same thing the rest of the Scriptures teach us but they teach it to us in prayer.  The psalms teach us that God is faithful and who are true enemies are.  Like a catechism of prayer, they teach us about sin and forgiveness.  They teach us how to cling to Christ and His Word of forgiveness to us.

Notice how the catechism teach us about the very same things, about sin and forgiveness.  And notice how very ordinary the sins listed there are.

Which [sins]are these?
Consider your place in life according to the Ten Commandments: Are you a father, mother, son, daughter, husband, wife, or worker? Have you been disobedient, unfaithful, or lazy? Have you been hot-tempered, rude, or quarrelsome? Have you hurt someone by your words or deeds? Have you stolen, been negligent, wasted anything, or done any harm?

What’s missing?  The biggies aren’t listed.  There is no murder, no grand theft auto, no adultery or sedition.  The sins listed are the little sins that are part of daily life.  Notice where they start. Who are you?  Father, mother, son, daughter, husband, wife, or worker.  Each of us has a calling, a vocation where God has placed us.  This is where God has given you to live and to work.  And it is in that calling, in that vocation, that we need Law and Gospel, condemnation and absolution because it is in those callings that we sin against one another.

Who among us has not been unfaithful or lazy, hot-tempered or rude or quarrelsome? Haven’t said something behind someone’s back after they made you angry or when you didn’t get your way?  Haven’t you hurt others by your words or deeds?  Haven’t you even been so oblivious in the moment that you didn’t even realize what you were doing?

These are real sins. To the eyes of the world, these aren’t big sins. They are trifles, nothing to be so concerned about. Yet it is these very trifles that God died on the cross to forgive. If God takes them so seriously, perhaps we should as well.  And that is why we have private Confession and Absolution.  Listen to the language here in the psalm, “Let me hear in the morning of your steadfast love, for in you I trust. Make me know the way I should go, for to you I lift up my soul.” (v. 8) “And in your steadfast love you will cut off my enemies, and you will destroy all the adversaries of my soul, for I am your servant.” (v. 12) God wants you to hear of his steadfast love every day.  He wants you to live in the freedom from these sins He gives each day.  He wants you live in the protection He lovingly provides for you each day.

This Lent we have taken a journey into God’s gift of absolution.  It is not easy to focus on the confession of sins, on the first part of confession.  It is hard to confess. The words don’t come out right.  It’s embarrassing.  Or, it almost seems like much ado about nothing.  I mean, who cares about how I treat my family or what I did at work or whatever my sin might be?

But that is the whole point.  God cares; He cares so much He sent His Son into the world to die so that you might live.  The psalms are not just David’s prayer book they are our Lord’s.  We know he prayed aloud some portions of the prayers from the cross.  What did he pray those three hours in the Garden of Gethsemane?  We don’t know.  But I take comfort knowing that as Jesus prayed for faithfulness for the path that lay ahead of Him, he might very well have prayed:  “Teach me to do Your will, for You are my God!  Let Your good Spirit lead me” (Psalm 143:10).  We know that when Jesus said “It is finished” from the cross, He was talking about the punishment for the sin of the world, for your sins, all of them.  How wonderful it is to be taught to pray with David and with Him, “Let your good Spirit lead me!”  Oh what joy in the sorrow of the cross.

Hopefully, this Lent we’ve learned to appreciate God’s gift of Individual Confession and Absolution.  I know this has been a new journey for many, and perhaps at times a bit strange like the language of the psalms themselves.  But still we flee to God’s Word of forgiveness.  When your old enemies, sin death and the devil surround you, and threaten to drag you down and tear you away from the assurance of God’s faithfulness, flee to God’s Word!  God will not hold your sins against you, He has forgiven you for the sake of Jesus Christ, His Son.  That is our assurance.  That is our trust.  To return to each day is our life as children of God.

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

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