Psalm 102 (Lent Midweek 4—God’s Gift of Forgiveness)
Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield, CT
March 21, 2012
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Our text is the Psalm for today, Psalm 102:
A Prayer of one afflicted, when he is faint and pours out his complaint before the LORD. Hear my prayer, O LORD; let my cry come to you! Do not hide your face from me in the day of my distress! Incline your ear to me; answer me speedily in the day when I call! For my days pass away like smoke, and my bones burn like a furnace. My heart is struck down like grass and has withered; I forget to eat my bread. Because of my loud groaning my bones cling to my flesh. I am like a desert owl of the wilderness, like an owl of the waste places; I lie awake; I am like a lonely sparrow on the housetop. All the day my enemies taunt me; those who deride me use my name for a curse. For I eat ashes like bread and mingle tears with my drink, because of your indignation and anger; for you have taken me up and thrown me down. My days are like an evening shadow; I wither away like grass. But you, O LORD, are enthroned forever; you are remembered throughout all generations. You will arise and have pity on Zion; it is the time to favor her; the appointed time has come. For your servants hold her stones dear and have pity on her dust. Nations will fear the name of the LORD, and all the kings of the earth will fear your glory. For the LORD builds up Zion; he appears in his glory; he regards the prayer of the destitute and does not despise their prayer. Let this be recorded for a generation to come, so that a people yet to be created may praise the LORD: that he looked down from his holy height; from heaven the LORD looked at the earth, to hear the groans of the prisoners, to set free those who were doomed to die, that they may declare in Zion the name of the LORD, and in Jerusalem his praise, when peoples gather together, and kingdoms, to worship the LORD. He has broken my strength in midcourse; he has shortened my days. “O my God,” I say, “take me not away in the midst of my days– you whose years endure throughout all generations!” Of old you laid the foundation of the earth, and the heavens are the work of your hands. They will perish, but you will remain; they will all wear out like a garment. You will change them like a robe, and they will pass away, but you are the same, and your years have no end. The children of your servants shall dwell secure; their offspring shall be established before you.
“I am like a lonely sparrow on the housetop” (Psalm 102:7b), so prays our psalmist. There are times in our lives when we feel like that sparrow. Alone, in a big empty space, without a friend in the world. But notice that for the psalmist this isn’t simply loneliness. What is it that has separated him from his friends? What is it that has brought his own mortality and fear right in front of his face? It is God’s indignation and wrath at his sin.
When God’s Law does its work in our hearts, we are alone and silent before an angry God. For remember, God does not overlook sin. Sin must be punished. As Paul said, “Through the Law comes knowledge of sin” (Romans 3:20). This is what the Law does. It crushes us, it shows us that we deserve death and condemnation. The Law casts us into hell. Remember, hell is complete separation from God. And sin is what separates us from God. We are not worthy to be in His presence.
So these sins cling to us and hold us back and down. These sins seek to keep you away from God and His mercy. Sin tries to blind you to your own true character as a beggar before God. But God’s Law will have its way with you. Like Jesus looking at Peter last week, God’s Law looks at you, and you see yourself for what you truly are: a sinner who needs redemption.
This is what Confession and Absolution is all about. This is what the Gospel is all about. The Gospel is about forgiveness of sins. The Gospel is about reconnecting you to the God who saves you. As the psalmist wrote, “But You, O Lord, are enthroned forever” (Psalm 102:12). He promises to arise and have mercy on Zion. He will have mercy on you. That is His promise for all eternity.
Let’s look at the Small Catechism again.
What sins should we confess?
Before God we should plead guilty of all sins, even those we are not aware of, as we do in the Lord’s Prayer; but before the pastor we should confess only those sins which we know and feel in our hearts.
God wants us to plead guilty of all sins, even the ones we are not aware of. We do this in the Lord’s Prayer every day. We also do this in the general Confession and Absolution on Sunday. But Individual Confession and Absolution is about what troubles the sinner’s conscience.
Last week I said that we don’t confess for God. God knows our sins. We’re not telling Him anything new. Rather, we confess for ourselves. We confess so that God will forgive us.
As a sinner, I want to hear that God forgives me. I don’t want to read about it. I don’t want to simply pray about it and wonder whether it can really be true. That is one of Satan’s great games. Satan loves to cast doubt on God’s forgiveness. But where Satan casts doubt, our Lord plants a tree of righteousness and certainty.
Remember, when you hear of our Lord’s Passion and death at Calvary, that is for you. He was abandoned by all, so that you would never be abandoned and left alone. He was flogged and spat upon, so that you would never bear those marks from God. He was given over to the hands of His enemies, so that you may remain in God’s presence forever. He died, so that you might live.
So when Satan flings your sins at you, when the world tells you that you are not worthy to be saved, when your own conscience casts doubt in your heart about your life and salvation, where do you flee? Flee to God’s word of absolution and forgiveness. Our Lord died on the cross so that your sins would be forgiven, so why cling to them? Confess them, and our Lord will fling them into the depth of the sea. As He said in Psalm 103, “As far as the east is from the west, so far does He remove our transgressions from us” (v. 12).
Every time you hear words about forgiveness from God, that is about Christ’s death on the cross. It is also about your Baptism. For it is in Baptism that God connected you to Christ’s death and resurrection, and it is in Absolution that He returns you to those waters of forgiveness again and again and again. That, my friends, is the Christian life.
So rejoice! God hears your prayers for mercy. You are not alone as a sparrow on a housetop. The God who laid the foundations of the earth, and who sent His son to die for you, will hold you in the palm of His hand and love you forever. In the name of Jesus. Amen