A Clean Slate
One of the things that holds a community together is their traditions. Especially in sports there are some traditions that seem to define their fanbase. Maybe you have gathered to roll Toomer's Corner after an Auburn Football win, or been in Fenway park to sing Sweet Caroline at a Red Socks game, or seen someone throw a catfish on the ice at a Predators game, or been to Sun Trust Park on a Sunday and watched the kids run the bases after a Braves game.
It might not surprise you that in the church there are several traditions that we also use to hold our community together. And while not every community of faith hold the same traditions, for those who practice them they are a way to find community. A tradition that we do not practice, but one that has been practiced since the first century is the liturgies, or reading and communal response. Because it is not a part of our tradition, we miss the beauty that is found in the practice.
Brian Zahnd told the story at Pepperdine about his wife’s rose garden. When she decided to build a rose garden, they went out and found the perfect place in their yard. They prepared the flower bed, made sure it would have the right nutrients in the soil and that the ground would drain properly. Then they planted several rose bushes. For the first year and a half they were beautiful, but as the rose bushes grew, their blooms became to heavy for the vines to hold them up straight, so the roses fell to the ground and began to sprawl out in every direction. So Brian and his wife began to build trellises, to prop the rose bushes up so they could grow in the direction they were intended to grow. In my mind that is what a liturgy is supposed to do for us. Liturgies are not our prayer, they simply prop up our prayers and give them a direction for where we want to go.
This morning we have arrived at the 130th Psalm. This is a song of confession that has a long history in the church and in our culture. It not only was used by the Jewish pilgrims making their way to Jerusalem for worship, they are still using this text during their high holy days. The first century Church continued to use it as a call to worship and it has found it’s ways in a variety of literary works from poems, to novels, and songs.
One of the prevailing themes of the Songs of Ascent is this attitude of confession of our brokenness if we are going to approach the Lord of Hosts and give Him the worship that He deserves. This song continues that theme and reminds us that without God we have no hope. We gather to worship God because He has done for us the things that we need the most. Our Psalm address any tendency that we might have toward self-righteousness or feelings that we somehow deserve God’s forgiveness. Our text reminds us that forgiveness is truly a gift from our creator and in order to fully experience God’s gift we must be willing to confront our own sinfulness.
I am aware that some of us will struggle with this psalm because we live our whole lives with little to no awareness of our sin. We have been lulled into a false sense of security because we have given into playing the better than game. I mean if I don’t beat my wife, steal from my company, and seem to be better than you then I’m okay. If I am doing better than you, then why do I need to be forgiven?
The truth is unless I get a better sense of who God is I will never understand who I am. Unless I come to a better understanding of God I cannot realize how desperate my situation is. We all can recite Romans 3:23 “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” But very few of us understand how hopelessness of our situation. It is not until we acknowledge that God’s grace is mirrored by His wrath that we will actually seek after His forgiveness and gather to worship God the way we were created to. It’s only when we understand how great is His gift of forgiveness that we will be able to pray the way that our soul desires to pray.
So today instead of singing our way through this song, I though it would be appropriate for us to practice the art of liturgy. I have asked two of our Shepherds to come up and lead us through a liturgy and then lead us in prayer. For those of you have not done this before it is very simple. If you picked up a liturgy sheet you can follow along, or use the screens behind me. We will be doing a reading and response, with the congregation saying the words in bold print. Then we will pray together in the direction that the liturgy has lead our hearts and minds.
Liturgy Psalm 130
One of the rings that stands out to me about this song is that resembles a stair case that serves to take us from depression to hope.
The First Step is Out of the depths
Our psalm begins: Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord which seems like an incredible way to begin a prayer to God. It’s such a powerful image, that brings to mind the destruction and devastation sin brings in our lives. We might not like to admit or talk about our own depravity but that doesn’t take away our selfishness and brokenness. We can join the psalmist in this cry to God for mercy. We can all pray, Lord please hear my voice, answer me as I cry to you out of the depths of my sinfulness! I realize how much I have failed you! Please hear me and listen to my cry for mercy!
I have a difficult time approaching the throne of God if I refuse to be honest about the weight of my own sin. It’s impossible for me to recognize the holiness of God without first admitting how far I am from achieving my own personal holiness. I would suspect that everyone within the sound of my voice has the same difficulty. There was a time when we came to God and cried out of the depths of our sin, only to become a good person and forget how deeply we need God and His love. One of the greatest struggles Christians face today is that we have allowed our consciences to become immune to the sting and weight of our own sin.
It’s like we have spiritual leprosy. In the first century, being diagnosed with leprosy was a death sentence. You were physically alive, but every minute of every day the nerve damage in your arms and legs slowly progressed. People with leprosy would eventually lose the use of their hands or feet due to repeated injury resulting from lack of sensation. People with leprosy where constantly getting injured and never felt the pain of being hurt. In the same way, when we allow our consciences to become immune to the weight and sting of sin, we have contracted a form of leprosy in our souls. Every day sin draws us farther and farther from God and we get to the point that we don’t even feel it.
Psalm 130 reminds us of the importance of taking sin seriously. It reminds us that we’re better off feeling the effects of sin. I had someone chastise me once because I had the audacity to talk about my own sin. But refusing to admit your sin does not mean that it no longer exists. I need to be reminded from time to time that there is something wrong in my life that I can’t fix. I need to be reminded that in my selfishness I choose to do things my own way rather than God’s way.
The truth is that sin always destroys. It destroys our relationship with God and our relationships with one another. That’s why we cry out from the depths, because however seriously we take our sin we must take the Lord’s mercy even more seriously. Actually, we cannot understand our need for God’s mercy unless we know the weight of our own sin. Then we can get to step two.
Step Two: Forgiveness
Verses 3 and 4 contain the meat of the psalm. The psalmist’s cry for mercy finds a response in the nature of God. We cry out from the depths, because we recognize that only God can forgive. When we are willing to kneel and confess our sins before Him, He promises that He will pour out His mercy, forgiveness, and love. But it must start with our understanding of our own need for forgiveness.
The writer of our song is intimately aware of his sinfulness and his need for God’s action in his life. He is passionately asking God to listen and take seriously his cry for mercy. He wants God’s attention. He almost seems to beg for it. And when God offers forgiveness and mercy, our writer’s cry for mercy turns into shouts of joy as he exclaims, But your forgiving love is what makes you so wonderful. No wonder you are loved and worshiped!
It is amazing the number of people living in our community that are drowning in guilt because we cried out to God for mercy and then refused to recognize that beautiful gift. When we lived win Atlanta, I had the privilege to studying with a young woman who was actively practicing witchcraft. Needless to say her lifestyle was much different than the life many of us had lived. She was a delightful person, but she had a constant battle with these grey clouds that just wouldn’t seem to lift from her life. One night as we talked about her depression she shared that as a teenager she had become pregnant and made the decision to abort her child. She told me that she believed at her baptism, God washed away all of her sins except that one. She was living with guilt that she couldn’t put down.
Everyone of us need to be reminded of what D.L. Moody once said: “The voice of sin may be loud, but the voice of forgiveness is louder.” Knowing that the voice of forgiveness is louder than the voice of our sin, is what brings the psalmist to pray in the first place. Feeling the weight of sin brings him before the throne of grace. The Psalmist reminds us that we can never keep a complete record of our sin because God decides not to keep such a record. God’s willingness to forgive is based on His character as a merciful and gracious God who still offers us grace that is amazing. In His unconditional love He has removed the chains of sin from our lives.
Liturgy A Call For Mercy
Step Three: Waiting on God in Hope
If we just acknowledge our sin we are left to live out our days in despair. But this is a song of those who are going to worship God, that’s why in verse 5 we sing This is why I wait upon you, expecting your breakthrough, for your word brings me hope. Our response to our brokenness is hope. We repent in an effort to turn towards God, and stop trying to fix things on our own. We understand that left on our own we created this huge mess, so we can’t fix it on our own. So we wait, walk with God in hope. We truly believe that God is at work rebuilding our lives, cleaning up the mess we’ve made. Because we’re sure of God and His plan, we don’t give up; we trust even though we don’t understand.
Our communities are filled with folks who choose to remain in their brokenness; they give up and become victims of their hopelessness. Despair is spiritual decay which causes people to die within. The most profane word we can use is hopeless. When you say a situation or person is hopeless, you are slamming the door in the face of God.
But those of us who gather to worship, gather in hope. Hope is a renewing force, and faith puts that force to work. Hope does not deny our problems, it defies them. Hope means learning to live without fear, to be at peace with life. It means confidence in God’s care. If we truly believe that God loves us enough to offer us forgiveness and mercy, then we can live in hope while the world around us struggles with their own despair. That’s why the last step out of the pit is so important.
Step Four: Tell What God Has Done
Our song doesn’t end with hope, it goes on O Israel, keep hoping, keep trusting, and keep waiting on the Lord, for he is tenderhearted, kind, and forgiving. He has a thousand ways to set you free! Maybe you noticed this is the first mention in our psalm of Israel. After dealing with his own sin and receiving the forgiveness of God, now the psalmist is speaking directly to other people. He is addressing the congregation. He’s making his experience of forgiveness public. He’s taking his words out into the streets! He’s climbed onto the rooftop to sing God’s praises! He’s shouting at the top of his lungs, O Israel, keep hoping . . . He has a thousand ways to set you free!
Those of us who have first hand knowledge of God’s love, grace, and mercy are called, like the psalmist, to proclaim what the Lord has done. In this sense, we’re all supposed to be preachers, we are all called to give witness and testimony with words and deeds what the Lord has done for us. And why shouldn’t we?
Psalm 32 says: How happy and fulfilled are those whose rebellion has been forgiven, those whose sins are covered by blood. This morning we find reason to rejoice because our sins are covered by the blood of Jesus Christ. There should be joy in the house of God, and in this house of prayer because we recognize God’s infinite mercy. Because of God’s love and forgiveness we must live out the rest of our lives as walking billboards of His grace.
In 1863 the Emancipation Proclamation was signed into law. The word spread from Capitol Hill down into the valleys of Virginia, and the Carolinas, and eventually to the plantations of Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana. The headlines read, ’Slavery Abolished!’ However, the majority of slaves, in the South, went right on living as though there had been no emancipation. They went on living like they had never been set free.
One of the great tragedies in our country is that even after the evil practice of slavery had ended, the evil remained as men and women who were set free continued to live out their years without knowing anything about it. They had chosen to remain slaves, even though they were legally free. Even though emancipated, they kept serving the same master throughout their lives.
An even grater tragedy is that fact that many Christians have been set free, yet they have chosen to remain slaves to the same strongholds that have gripped them all of their life.
As we close this morning, we will participate in one more liturgy. During our time of invitation this morning I want to help you find the words, help you find confessional language, so that we can foster a community of freedom. I know that some of you today are a little freaked out by something the universal church has been doing for a thousand years. But it is my hope that you will see these words as a trellis to hold up and point your prayers to God.
As we offer the invitation this morning it is my hope is that you will not just say these words, but that they will become a part of who you are as we strive to find the freedom God calls us to. So please stand with me during our time of invitation as we say these words of confession and freedom together, and then we will pray.
Out of the depths I cry to You, O Lord;
O Lord, hear my voice.
Let your ears be attentive to my cry for mercy.
O Lord, hear my voice.
We wait for the Lord, like those who hope in God’s mercy.
God’s steadfast love endures forever.
Watch for God, like those who eagerly await the morning.
We watch for God, whose power redeems us.
Hear God’s hopeful word, like those who long for pardon.
Sing praise to God and rejoice in God’s love.
Loving God, we are Yours. We come as we are, with our cares and concerns.
We long to touch You and find healing in your embrace.
Strengthen our faith and heal our brokenness, that we may worship You with joy.
O Lord, there is forgiveness and healing with You.
Your steadfast love has the power to redeem our brokenness and make us whole.
Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy, Spirit have mercy.
A Call For Mercy
Most Merciful God, I confess that I have sinned against You
In thought, word, and deed, by what I have done,
and what I have left undone.
I have not loved You with my whole heart,
I have not loved my neighbor as myself,
I am truly sorry and I humbly repent, for the sake of Your son Jesus Christ,
Have mercy on me and forgive me; so that I can delight in Your will and walk in Your ways,
To the glory of Your name, Amen
We, Your unworthy servants, give You humble thanks for all Your goodness and loving kindness to us and all whom You have made.
We bless You for our creation and our preservation, and all the blessings of this life.
But above all for Your immeasurable love in the redemption of the world by our Lord Jesus Christ; for the means of grace, and for the hope of glory.
And, we pray, give us such an awareness of Your mercies, that with truly thankful hearts we may show forth Your praise, not only with our lips, but with our lives.
By giving ourselves to Your service and by walking before You in holiness and righteousness all of our days.
Through Jesus Christ our Lord, To whom with You and The Spirit, be honor and Glory throughout all ages
May Your forgiveness, Your love, and Your grace endure forever. Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, be merciful to me a sinner.
You have made us to be free,
But we crave the cheap comforts of our chains.
You have made us to serve others,
But we have eyes only for ourselves.
You have made us to love,
But we are inflamed with lust.
You provide, that we may be generous,
But we greedily hoard as if Your well will run dry.
You forgive time and again,
But we hold fast to the sins of others.
You offer light for our path,
But we insist on making our own way.
You are the God who saves.
Lord, save us from ourselves. In Your great mercy, restore and heal us, and grant us Your peace.