God's Gift of Forgiveness
A sermon based on Psalm 38
Sunday, March 3, 2013 – Lent 3C
It was pathetic. I'm sure that if you had been there, you would agree. There I was lying on my back, outside, in the snow, afraid to move. I cried for help, but Becky didn't hear me inside the house. And I didn't expect her to come looking for me, since I wasn't usually home this early. I left work several hours early that day.
Apparently one too many twists at the factory with my customary bad had taken its toll on my back. I felt it pop and through gritted teeth and trying to act tougher than I am, I told the foreman that I was quitting for the day. "Sorry about the line." Later, I found it out it was a bulged disk. Nothing requiring surgery, but it sure hurt a lot. I drove the 90 minute drive home with my back screaming at me the whole way. And after I parked the car I was walking toward my front door very carefully when I hit a patch of ice. I went down and there I lay, on my back, outside, in the snow, afraid to move.
Eventually I got the nerve to roll onto my side and on my hands and knees and crawled into the house. It was pathetic.
Well, if you think that was pathetic (and I do), King David was even more pathetic. His back was in searing pain. He was all alone, with no friends to help. And worst of all, he knew he deserved it. He suffered for his sins. And in that pathetic state, he cried out for help. But he didn't cry out to his wife inside the house. He cried out to God in prayer. He prayed that God would come quickly to help him.
Today, we again rejoice in God's gift of forgiveness, confident that when we cry out to him in our pathetic state, pleading with him to come quickly to help us, he is sure to answer. For Jesus' sake, we have God's gift of forgiveness. We read Psalm 38, a psalm of David…
1 O Lord, do not rebuke me in your anger or discipline me in your wrath. 2 For your arrows have pierced me, and your hand has come down upon me. 3 Because of your wrath there is no health in my body; my bones have no soundness because of my sin. 4 My guilt has overwhelmed me like a burden too heavy to bear.
5 My wounds fester and are loathsome because of my sinful folly. 6 I am bowed down and brought very low; all day long I go about mourning. 7 My back is filled with searing pain; there is no health in my body. 8 I am feeble and utterly crushed; I groan in anguish of heart.
9 All my longings lie open before you, O Lord; my sighing is not hidden from you. 10 My heart pounds, my strength fails me; even the light has gone from my eyes. 11 My friends and companions avoid me because of my wounds; my neighbors stay far away. 12 Those who seek my life set their traps, those who would harm me talk of my ruin; all day long they plot deception.
13 I am like a deaf man, who cannot hear, like a mute, who cannot open his mouth; 14 I have become like a man who does not hear, whose mouth can offer no reply. 15 I wait for you, O Lord; you will answer, O Lord my God. 16 For I said, "Do not let them gloat or exalt themselves over me when my foot slips."
17 For I am about to fall, and my pain is ever with me. 18 I confess my iniquity; I am troubled by my sin. 19 Many are those who are my vigorous enemies; those who hate me without reason are numerous. 20 Those who repay my good with evil slander me when I pursue what is good.
21 O Lord, do not forsake me; be not far from me, O my God. 22 Come quickly to help me, O Lord my Savior.
David was pretty pathetic, right? Literally, pathetic means to be in such a state that you move others to pity you. In the days that followed my bulged disk, I hoped that others would pity me so they'd get me a drink, take it easy on the homework, and give me a few more days off work. But my back pain was minor compared to what others have suffered and what others with chronic pain that never goes away suffer still. But even so, there are things that are even worse than physical pain.
King David was certainly worthy of pity. His health was failing. His back was filled with searing pain. His friends abandoned him. His own son sought to kill him that he could take the throne while his advisors helped his son. How lonely he must have felt. And worst of all his guilt was overwhelming. He knew he was suffering all of this as a consequence of his sin. God's arrows pierced him. God's hand was upon him. He knew that he deserved all of it… and worse.
Ever feel the way that King David did?
After all, we have health problems, family problems, and we certainly have guilt. We have sinned, not just against each other, but against God. We have sinned, not just in the wrong that we've done, but in the good that we haven't done! We have sinned, not just in our actions, but in the things we've said or left unsaid, in the things we've thought, or haven't thought.
We deserve the suffering that we endure. We deserve failing eyesight and weakened bones. We deserve failing health and searing back pain. We cause the problems in our relationships and deserve the loneliness that they bring. We deserve much worse for the pathetic attempts we make at usurping God, removing him from his throne, and placing ourselves on the throne of our lives. We deserve to be in immense pain, all alone, abandoned to ourselves, and abandoned to our guilt and our shame for all of eternity.
But we don't get it.
Why not? Because of how pathetic Jesus was. Now, don't misunderstand. I don't mean that Jesus was pathetic in the sense of him being laughable or absurd like, "Look at that pathetic excuse for a dog." I don't think he was pitiful in that he was inferior or inadequate like, "The customer serve at the store was pathetic." But Jesus was certainly in a condition that would move others to pity him. And how pathetic he was!
Even though this is a Psalm of David, Psalm 38 could almost have been recited by Jesus. Read it again this afternoon or when I email this sermon to you and read it from Jesus' perspective. God's arrows pierced him. God's hand was heavy upon him. Though he had no guilt of his own, the guilt that he carried—our guilt—overwhelmed like a burden too heavy to bear. Just picture him in the Garden of Gethsemane begging the Father to take the cup of suffering away!
But the Father didn't. His back was surely filled with searing pain as he was scourged. His wounds festered because of our sinful folly. His back was filled with searing pain again as he was stretched out on the cross and the spasms ripped through his body like daggers.
But there are things that are even worse than physical pain.
He was all alone. His disciples left him and took off running at the first sign of danger. His own Father, on whom he had always relied, now abandoned him on the cross because he bore the guilt of our sin. Oh, how overwhelming that guilt must have been—as if he had committed every sin you've ever committed, I've ever committed, the world has ever committed—as if he himself had done it all! And the Father looked away from him in disgust. All forsook him, even God. Now that's loneliness. That's hell. How worthy of pity! How pathetic!
But why was he so pathetic? Because he was sympathetic of our pitiful state. We were so pathetic, that we moved God to pity over our wretched condition and our imminent damnation. And Jesus love for you and for me moved him to not only pity us, but to act. He volunteered for the job! And the God who made the universe at his command willingly became pathetic to rescue you and me. How pathetic! How wonderful! Because by his empathy, his sympathy, and his passion (and all words, by the way, empathy, sympathy, passion have the same root—pathos—as pathetic)… he suffered when he thought of us going to hell and groaned in anguish of heart, so he suffered physically on earth and on the cross so that you and I might have God's gift of forgiveness.
Does that mean that everything will go well in your life? That you'll never have a bad back, that your friends and family will never dessert you, that your finances and relationships will always be picture perfect? No. Of course not.
God will still let us suffer. He'll still let us have bulged discs and slip on the ice. He'll still let us endure (sometimes horrible) pain, and loneliness and loss. We still might seem very pathetic. And he might sometimes allow this with the sole intent of lovingly rebuking us and disciplining us, even if it means getting us on our back so there's nowhere to look but up to him, to cry out to him in repentance and in trust. But he always allows such suffering out of love for us.
And as we do suffer, he promises that we will never be alone. Even if every friend and family member forsakes us, he never will, because the Son was forsaken by the Father on our behalf. Even if our strength fails and our bones break, our eyesight fails or we suffer chronic back pain, we know—with absolute certainty—that when we cry out to God in prayer, he will come quickly to help us. And finally he will take us to be with him where every hurt, every pain, every sorrow will forever be removed.
How pathetic we were! How pitiable in our lost condition. But not anymore! We're not pathetic! We're victorious! Even if we suffer horribly in this life, and seem quite pathetic, we're still always loved by God. We have peace with him through our "pathetic" Savior because we have God's gift of forgiveness. In Jesus' name, dear friends, amen.